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Replaying Deus Ex

The new Deus Ex is coming out soon, and that seems like a fine excuse to procrastinate some more by replaying the first game of the series from my high school days. Here are just some random thoughts about the experience I thought I'd share, in case anyone else wanted to revisit the classic. I actually tried replaying it a few times in the past, to relive those memorable moments of sneaking around vents and popping fools in the head when they're looking for me (the nerve...), but for whatever reason it never dug its claws in me again. Until now...

So I reinstalled the game and applied all the mods found in this helpful write-up. Some of these mods actually tweak the gameplay a bit, but so far all of it has been welcome. The texture mods make everything look much nicer and far less pixelated, but of course temper your expectations; it makes it barely passable by modern graphical standards, but by no means is it "good looking." Still, the game was never about the graphics anyway, so it's just a nice touch.

The best thing about playing the game now is how fast the load and save times are. I remember the original game taking almost half a minute to load and save games - that was terrible considering my style of playing the game, which involved OCD-levels of quick saving and loading. But playing this game on my modern machine makes those actions snappy, and this makes the game much more enjoyable for me. Badabing, badaboom.

I decided that if I'm going to replay the game, I should at least take a completely different approach. When I first played through it, I took a pretty mundane approach of stealthiness with a focus on silencers and sniper rifles. This time, I remained stealthy, but decided to focus on melee weapons instead. Very soon I had maxed out my "low tech" weapon skills, and by the time I got the Dragon Sword, I was damn near unstoppable in melee combat. I was shocked to see that even the Commandos could be struck down with a single swing of my Asian light saber (ladies...). I was hoping to go through the game by minimizing kills, by using the blackjack and other non-lethal weaponry, but soon my impatience got the best of me and I started hacking away liberally with my sword like a lumber jack on a bad acid trip. SMACK SMACK SMACK. Yeah, that'll teach you to snoop around when you think you see a guy in civies. Amateurs.

Part of what makes Deus Ex such a fun game is all the options you get with the augmentations and upgrades. Soon, I got the invisibility and silent running augmentations. Boy, these augs combined with my sword skills took the game to a whole new level I had not experienced during my first play through. It is extremely satisfying to have some dudes chasing you, hide somewhere, see them bumble around like idiots, and then flip these augs on and run up to them like a boss and hack away. It is so NINJA. Or, like a lion, hiding in the bushes, waiting to strike. And the strike itself is a gracefully intricate and deadly precise sequence of well-practiced motions that are executed in the blink of an eye. They never saw what hit 'em. Hint: it was me. A ninja lion.

That reminds me of something Will Wright once said: one thing that makes gaming unique from passive forms of entertainment is pride. You can feel pride when you find some clever solution to a problem in the game. Deus Ex excelled at this by allowing you to approach the problems in a variety of different ways, all of which are supported by a system of consistent rules. Most games have one solution, and they either tell you the solution (in many modern games) or expect you to figure it out (old school adventure games took this to the extreme). Some games have multiple solutions and let you explicitly choose (many CRPGs do this using dialogue). It is rare to find games that have multiple solutions which are implicit in the rules system. So even though an NPC isn't telling you that you have various options (this happens a few times in DX, but rarely), you still can deduce all of them just by looking at the level design. See that vent? You may want to crawl in it. See that door? You may want to pick the lock or look around for a key. This allows you to feel pride for discovering these various solutions, rather than have some NPC present them to you on a silver platter. Furthermore, the rules system is consistent and complex enough that you will often find solutions that the designers never even thought of (or at least, it makes you feel that way). This allows you to feel pride for being creative. These are the kinds of fun that one finds abundantly in Deus Ex, and I can only hope that the new one contains these opportunities.

A quick example of this: there's one part in the game where you need to - tell me if you've heard this one before - sneak into some compound. It's guarded by some robot turrets that shoot you in the face if you trip some lasers. You could disable the lasers by hacking some computers, but that requires the use of some resources. My solution? There were some metal crates lying around, so I just stacked the crates in front of the turrets. Then I just waltzed through the lasers. The turrets aimed at me and shot, but all their bullets were blocked by the crates. Someone, hand me my Nobel Prize in Video Gaming.

So anyway, I'm having a blast playing through Deus Ex again, and I'm really looking forward to the new one. Rainbow Six: Vegas was awesome, and it looks like the team understands the first Deus Ex game (and more importantly, ignoring Invisible War, which I never even bothered playing). Games are fun, w00t!
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About stevesanone of us since 11:25 PM on 02.22.2008