15 Years Of Deus Ex, And Its future

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Despite having gone through a fair bit of trouble to put together a big list of gaming-related anniversaries that will occur this year, one occurring today — the 15th anniversary of the original Deus Ex, snuck right up on me. I didn’t have any time to revisit the game, but I think the recent E3 presentation of the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided offers an interesting contrast when thinking about what game that game is shaping up to be and what it could be.

I only first played Deus Ex a little bit before Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out but found it to be a nonetheless extremely impressive game. I don’t know how much more strongly I can recommend it and its brethren like System Shock 2 and the first two Thief games, especially to the modern gamer who plays a lot of BioshockElder Scrolls, or Fallout. I’ve written whole articles in the past about why today’s console gamers should investigate those late 90’s first person PC classics. They offer much more of what you find in the aforementioned modern games and in many ways pull off the ideas better.

Yet, I will probably never get around the intrinsic aversion some people have to PC games, even if they’re games that will practically run on a toaster at this point. I admit ThiefSystem Shock 2, and Deus Ex all require mods (that are still receiving patches in 2015) to properly run on modern Windows and will still only play on a mouse and keyboard. Maybe the Steam controller will help this fall. These kinds of games are actually what I’m most interested in testing it on. And hey, if your game really has to be legitimized by a simple black box where a single company puts a gate around all the software, there is a PS2 version of Deus Ex which you can download on PlayStation Network.

Anyway, the point is Deus Ex is still a larger and deeper game than Human Revolution, and probably Mankind Divided when that comes out too.

The 25-minute E3 demonstration of Mankind Divided is certainly promising. It looks like a sequel that improves upon Human Revolution’s strengths and flaws in almost every way, maintaining the first person sci-fi RPG feeling. It seems like it will give players more options, have an equally intrigue-laden story, better combat, and a similar degree of freedom in its environments. Human Revolution’s level design made it a very good first person action game compared to the other ones we’re getting these days, but still feels pretty tight and boxed-in compared to the original game’s. I already see it in Mankind Divided too.

In the E3 video I got the impression all the environments looked like they were made of boxes stacked on top of one another. This was of course only one environment, but something about it looked very video game-like to me. To be honest, the stealth in the new Deus Ex games looks like it has more in common with the last couple Splinter Cell games. The components of the levels — the obvious chest-high walls everywhere for instance, seem designed around features that are there to constantly assist the player. The difference in Human Revolution and Mankind Divided is Eidos Montreal purposed those components to promote a good degree of player choice, which ultimately preserves the soul of Deus Ex, even if it’s in a different shell.

Compare this to the E3 presentation of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The level in that video is far more spacious and varied,  taking the player through fields into buildings seamlessly. It looks more convincingly like a real place and less like a video game level. The stealth and level design in the original Deus Ex feels much more similar to this than to its own successors. Actually, upon playing Dishonored a second time I think that game is structurally extremely similar to the first Deus Ex. They way the two games handle the balance between stealth and combat, they way they break up missions, and the way they handle non-player characters is almost identical. I’m not comparing the two in terms of quality, but having the same level designer has made the two more similar in that aspect than most people seem to have realized. Deus Ex still offers a lot more opportunities for player choice and emergent gameplay though. If you can’t wait for Dishonored 2, maybe you should play Deus Ex.

Mankind Divided is probably going to be a great game, an excellent game even, but I’m just thinking about what could have been. What if it actually did end up having larger levels planned out like plausible places in the fashion of the original game or even MGSV, combined with its already interesting game mechanics and storytelling? I think it would elevate Mankind Divided from an exceptional game to, frankly, a seminal one.

I can really only end this by making another plea to try and check out the original Deus Ex. One of the most impressive things about it from a content standpoint is fan campaigns are still being made for it as of last year. There’s a recently released one out there that’s supposed to offer over 20 hours of new gameplay! 15 years later this game really is a gift that keeps on giving.

BULLETS:

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