Five Things We Learned From Deus Ex

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor
Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 10:00 am

In Deus Ex you are JC Denton, both a target of and passenger in the infamous "black helicopters" of conspiracy theory.
Ion Storm's short time on this earth was stained by hubris now legendary in the gaming community.  Everything from their lavish offices to their ad campaigns (which proved to inquiring minds that "you're a bitch" is not an effective slogan for a product) reeked of the type of rank overconfidence that can lead to humbling, humbling failure.

However, the company's track record is mixed -- more mixed than some prefer to remember.  In addition to the much-maligned frog-centric Daikatana, the game that earned the company so much ill will, there were other titles, like the more critically lauded Anacronox, and of course the sweetest fruit of Ion Storm's labors, Deus Ex.

Deus Ex is an immensely entertaining mix of conspiracy yarn, cyberpunk shooter and dystopian puzzle game.  It was one of the pioneers of immersive PC gaming and attached players firmly to their gravelly-voiced avatar, JC Denton.  And in addition to all these things, Deus Ex had its own brand of futuristic, no-nonsense teaching to impart to us all.

1.) There is more than one way to skin a cat.


JC can go around this huge robot, or he can go through it.

If there were a level in Deus Ex where JC Denton had to steal a cat from Majestic 12's Area 51 base and skin it, you know that there would be at least three ways to do it.  JC would be given the option of storming the front of the base and taking the cat by force.  He could also use his lockpicks to access the sewers and snatch the cat secretly.  Finally, there's always the tried and true technique of bribing a guard to let you walk in and out with the cat without any trouble.  All lead to the same conclusion: JC Denton's senseless and brutal act of violence against an MJ12 housecat.  But the road to that act of violence can vary wildly, depending on personal taste.

This remains one of Deus Ex's strongest points as a game: for every challenge there were a multitude of possible ways to achieve your objective, and thus even the more linear parts of gameplay felt subject to change based on your decisions.  The versatility of the level design taught us that while going berserk with a dart gun is always an option, it's rarely the only option.


2.) Make your educational choices wisely.


Augmentation -- the college education of tomorrow.

Player character JC Denton is, even untrained, a gigantic badass.  He wears sunglasses permanently, has a big black coat, and deflects criticism with a deft deadpan.  But he becomes downright formidible when he is given the chance to augment his abilities with nanotechnology.

The thing is -- just like our real-life decisions concerning what school to attend, what classes to take -- each choice of nano-augmentation affects JC's path in life.  Will he be a stealthy, lightning-fast ninja or a health-regenerating human tank?  And once you choose your nanotech that's what you're stuck with, just like you can't take back that degree in Music Therapy.  You are what you learn, so spend your precious skill points wisely, in-game and in-life.


3.) Symbols are important.


Even the players who didn't consider themselves hardcore patriots at the time they played Deus Ex were severely pissed of by the revelation that the Statue of Liberty had been demolished in the game's bleak version of New York.  An eerie addition to this is the fact that the WTC towers were not renderable in the NYC skyline of the game, something that became chillingly prescient a year or so after the game's release in 2000.  Both omissions go the show that the landmarks of today are important in recnognizing ourselves -- without them, the future and its inhabitants becomes more foreign and frightening.


4.) There is much benefit to being a good conversationalist.


For as long as RPGs have existed, the charisma scores of characters have suffered as bloodthirsty younguns pumped the strength and constitution points up, allowing their alter egos to heft bigger swords and sustain more potent blows.

But rarely is the art of conversation as important or as engrossing as in Deus Ex.  As JC Denton, you can do anything from convince a junkie to trade you his bombs for your future-heroin to talk to a bartender for an amazing amount of time about the politics of your era and the viability of a capitalist state.  Sometimes the dialogue was just as exciting and interactive as the gunplay, and just as high-stakes: there are several available narrative threads in Deus Ex where JC Denton comes perilously close to a sexual harassment suit based on his repeated forays into the ladies' bathroom at his workplace.

Being a skilled gunman or elite hacker is all well and good.  But if you can't talk to people properly, you'll be missing a lot in life.


5.) There is a coolness limit.



Combat knife: cool.

Full-length Chinese Triad sword: way cool.

Laser sword: saturated with coolness; cannot become any cooler.  As Star Wars taught the public beyond a shred of doubt, laser swords can be the basis of entire film franchises.  Deus Ex, by incorporating one, is automatically one of the best games of all time.

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