With the release of Deus Ex’s latest title, Mankind Divided, I’d like to kick this blog off by taking a look at what makes Deus Ex just so darn mesmerising.
To analyse what makes Deus Ex great, we first have to go back 16 years to when the original Deus Ex was released.
Let’s start with the Main Character: JC Denton. JC starts out as the naive, do-gooder agent. He wants the best for everyone, and believes in the justice system, but also (depending on your play-style) isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Because of the various routes and moral choices you must take throughout, JC has a calm, unemotional voice which translates well when he either wants to be an A-hole or a do-gooder. As you progress, you inevitably can make JC more powerful with Aug upgrades and improvements, effectively making him more badass.
Now lets look at the setting. The year is 2052. It’s the future. That means robots, interesting weapons, medical advancements, imaginative futuristic layouts and a degrading ecosystem.
Now throw the gameplay in the mix. Mostly first person, with cutscene dialogue in third-person, the player can interact with a ton of objects, from lamps to basketballs, from books to barrels, the interactivity makes for quite a different style of gameplay. The many dialogue options in the game serve to provide the player with a range of choices to make that have varying degrees of impact on the story and gameplay. The game also allows for either a stealthy approach or a guns-blazing approach to each mission, and provides a good range of weaponry to give the player either a lethal or non-lethal approach. The game even has exploration sequences in which the player can learn more of the world and its issues, even meeting people with minor impact of the story to serve as side-quests.
The themes, however, are probably the most notable of the series. In a dystopian, cyberpunk world, the game takes on the many conspiracy theories of government corruption, shadow agencies and Illuminati desires for manipulating and controlling the populace. Whether you are a believer or not, the game succeeds in at least making it believable in the world it is set. The techno score adds to the many layers of this dystopian future. The Gray Death serves as a virus that is plaguing the Earth, and is discovered (spoilers) to have been made by the government to control population growth, as well as profit from the rich to make themselves immune to such a thing, making a very obvious, and very believable class-divide.
So why mention all of this? Well, this establishes the outline of Deus Ex’s main success. People like choice, they react well to a story where they have an effect on what happens. People like multiple ways of achieving something. There is emotional involvement with moral choices. The story revolves around conspiracy, player choice and a world you can escape in, while at the same time realising that this all could actually happen one day. There are are a good percentage of people that believe in a corrupt government. The game has since become a cult classic, and is still regarded as one of the best PC games to date.
So, how does Invisible War add to this series success? Well, in short, it doesn’t. Invisible War places the story even further in the future, making the setting less believable to start with. There are no memorable characters and the game generally doesn’t add much more in the conspiracy mix that the first didn’t cook up already. You don’t control a cool character, or have any distinctive character traits like JC does.
In fact, Invisible War put Deus Ex on the shelf. That is until Square Enix decided to reboot the franchise with the considerably more successful prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
So what did Human Revolution do to make the series more successful?
Well, first and foremost, it reminded us of the original Deus Ex. Adam Jensen, the new main character, holds a lot of similarities to JC. Both hold a degree of biblical symbolism (JC – Jesus Christ, Adam – Adam and Eve), both have cool, unemotional voices, they both even wear their friggin’ sunglasses 24/7! In terms of success, making fans nostalgic is a good area to start.
Human Revolution was relatable, set in 2027, the near future. There’s name dropping of people in the here and now, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (at the time of release, Jobs was alive) These names we recognised. Then throw those names in with names we also recognise from the dystopian 2052, like Tong, Manderley and Bob Page.
Human Revolution appeals to the admirers of the human body, and implores to ask the question ‘how far is too far’ in terms of augmenting our bodies. See, one could argue we already can augment our bodies. Tattoos and piercings are augmentation. Laser-eye treatment is augmentation. Synthetic limbs for victims of war, hearing aids for the partially deaf – these can all be classed as augments. Human Revolution shows us what COULD be – intentionally replacing our own human arm with a mechanical one that can lift heavier weights, or our own eye for a synthetic one which can see through walls or skirts!
It raises these questions, and delves into what societies reactions would be to such a technology. How would religious people react? How would your partner react? How would the technology benefit the world, and what regulations would be put in place? It becomes more then just a game when such issues are raised with the player.
Besides all these philosophical questions it raises, it simply also has great gameplay. Expanding on Deus Ex’s original gameplay concepts of Stealth, lethal or non-lethal etc, it also has the benefit of having a more up-to-date engine and modernised graphics. It’s also set in the time of mechanical augmentation, before the time of JC and bio-augs. However, where Deus Ex 1 made out that mechanical Augmentations were bad, HR showed that they were anything but. Jensen’s mechanical augs allow him to punch through walls, have more sophisticated melee combat, and use his own body as a hacking system.
One very notable aspect of HR is the amazing soundtrack. Each and every piece you hear gives it that sci-fi feel, that techno nod. There’s even a theme at the start which is a clear adaption of one of the original tracks from DX1, just adding to fan nostalgia, and helping to further immerse the player in the environment.
Human Revolution also built upon the dialogue options the series was known for, having an augmentation specifically designed to influence the NPCs you talk to to open up more options not available without it.
In short, Human Revolution takes on board what the original Deus Ex did, and expands upon it.
So – what makes the Deus Ex series great?
- Believable Story
- Immersive world
- In-Depth world detail
- Cool main character
- Raises Philosophical Questions
- Confronts the player with Moral choices
- Allows player to approach situations in a variety of ways
- Amazing Soundtrack
- Subtly satisfies player nostalgia
Can you think of other reasons why Deus Ex is great? Please leave a comment to share your thoughts!
Thank you for reading