Big Brother is watching you.
Deus Ex Machina. Directly translated, "God from Machine." The phrase actually refers to something that provides an unexpected and quite sudden solution to a difficult problem, a miracle of sorts.
In this case, the game is Deus Ex, and the problem is a web of government conspiracies that could jeopardize the fate of the world. The solution? Why, you, of course.
Straight from the mind of game design visionary Warren Spector comes a title that might very well change your definition of the term 'genre.' Spector is the same fellow who brought us groundbreaking titles like Ultima Underworld, the original System Shock, and the original Thief, each of which drastically altered the face of gaming at the time of their respective releases.
But if those previous games lit the fuse for change, then this current one is the stick of dynamite. Combining heavy duty role-playing with the quick twitch action of the finest shooter, Deus Ex presents a gaming experience totally unlike any you've seen before. Trust no one, believe nothing, and stay alert - they're out to get you....or are they?
The game takes place in the not-too-distant future. Aside from the nearly inexhaustible supply of computers and robotic life forms, not much has changed. The populace is still wary of the government, overcrowding has again reached epic proportions, and bad guys still sell drugs to addicts and harass upstanding citizens. The world is a dark, scary place, and Uncle Sam isn't doing a heckuva job making life any easier.
You play JC Denton, the newest member of an elite organization called UNATCO (United Nation Anti-Terrorist Coalition). It seems that the terrorists are causing more than their usual mischief and you are assigned to get to the bottom of things. As a nano-tech soldier, you're wired for business.
The underlying concept behind Deus Ex is giving power back to the player. This means non-linearity, multiple solutions to puzzles and unprecedented customizability.
The game is played from the familiar first-person perspective and runs on a modified version of the Unreal engine, so expect the usual eye candy. The tweaks to the engine are mostly felt in the high level of object interactivity. You can pick up and move just about everything, which comes in handy when trying to come up with creative solutions to odd situations. I never knew a desk chair could be so handy.
The other major change in the engine lies in the AI. In Unreal, enemies simply charged at you, zigzagging to avoid your shots. Deus Ex, however, picks up where Thief left off by giving the enemies, well... brains. Guards will react to both visual and auditory stimuli and will even run off to sound alarms if they spot you, so cleverness is essential. Create a diversion by tossing a bottle down a staircase, then sneak past to untold rewards.
Additionally, Deus Ex features distinct hit location detection. Shoot a guy in the hand to make him drop his gun, or just go for the head if you're in a hurry. Your character has hit locations as well. As different body parts take damage, various negative affects become evident. Get shot in the legs and you'll run slower; get shot in the arm and your aim grows worse. Of course, getting shot in the head too often has lasting implications.
At its core, Deus Ex is a role playing game. By virtue of various skills, weaponry and augmentations, you can play the game as a computer hacker, or an elusive thief, or a psycopathic one-man army...as well as every possible combination and permutation in between. This open-ended feel is made possible by numerous, deep, changeable character traits.
From the outset, you are given a choice of various skills in which to be trained. Thieving, conniving gamers will initially choose skills like Computers, Lockpicking and Electronics, whereas the more testosterone-laden types will revel in the various Weapons skills (rifles, pistols, demolition, etc.). As the game progresses and as you accomplish certain goals, you are awarded more skill points. These can then be used to either gain brand new skill sets or to upgrade existing ones.
But Deus Ex strays from traditional role-playing games by not limiting your character's development by adhering to strict 'classes.' If you train yourself as a hacker, you can still use the big weapons. Likewise, a Rambo-wannabe can still manage to use lockpicks and hack terminals, although with much less efficiency.
The absence of specific classes allows you to play the game in whatever manner you see fit. Someone who relies on hacking computers will have a MUCH different experience than a Quake-style frag maniac, and the enormity of the levels makes it nearly impossible to see everything one time through. Hence, the replay value is immense.
In order to accommodate the wide array of gaming styles, the levels and missions in Deus Ex can be completed in a multitude of ways (in a sense similar to Tenchu for the PSX). While you can certainly wander around looking for the "blue key" to open the "blue door," you also can talk to passers-by to discover a secret password, or climb in through a window, or hack the security system, or just try to break the stupid door down. You'll find that your character is better suited for certain styles, but there is no right or wrong way to solve a dilemma. The amount of freedom here is almost frightening.
Deus Ex features over 10,000 lines of spoken dialogue (text is included as an option), and the mouths actually move to match the words. All conversations are recorded, and the menus operate on a windows based system. This means you can copy and paste a keycode from your 'Notes' directly into the blinking cursor of a security terminal. You don't need to actually write down anything. Talk about gamer-friendly.
Currently, there is no multi-player. Ion Storm has indicated that they would like to see some multi-player capabilities, though the game will ship as a single player title. But considering the incredible depth of the gameplay, this is hardly surprising.
I've had the distinct pleasure of playing around with a beta version for the past week, and I'm just amazed at what Ion Storm has managed to accomplish. You don't merely play Deus Ex, you create it. By breaking through the shackles of genre, Deus Ex could mark a watershed moment in game design. This is certainly one to watch. Trust me....if you can.
Gamers rejoice! Deus Ex is planned to release in June for the PC.
Click to the screens to enlarge. More screens can be found here.