In 1997, John Romero of Ion Storm Dallas approached the producer of System Shock, Warren Spector, said "Make the game of your dreams. No limits" and the end result was the creation of Ion Storm Austin and their first game; Deus Ex.
Deus Ex is a First-Person Shooter/Role Playing Game with a heavy emphasis on stealth and thinking carefully about your surroundings. The game provides you, from start to finish, with a number of ways to solve every single problem put in front of you. The level design is open ended enough for any method of completion.
The game is inspired by Looking Glass Studio's System Shock and Thief and as a result, the freedom you have to approach and complete your objectives is simply staggering. You are given a huge world to explore, some tools you might want to use to complete your objectives and let loose upon your environment. Careful exploration is needed to uncover all of the hidden gadgets, secret tunnels and small story elements.
The only time you will ever receive a Game Over is if you die. There are no penalties for doing things your way and the game dynamically changes as you play. People in the game may think differently of you if you don't do what they expect of you and may effect certain things as you progress through the story.
Speaking of Story, the story of Deus Ex is one of a heavily political and conspiratorial nature. You play as JC Denton, an agent on his first day with the UNATCO, an organization that deals with the growing rise of foreign and domestic terrorism in the early twentieth century. It does not take long however for JC to discover that he is merely a pawn in a huge political game that leans far beyond his own understanding.
He will have to travel far and wide to gather the help he needs from unsuspecting allies. Hong Kong, Paris, New York City and various US locations will be visited, all of which have a fitting Tech-noir feel and stellar music to match. One listen of the music for Hong Kong and you'll never forget it.
Being an Role-Playing Game as well as a shooter, Deus Ex allows you to customize your character to your preference. The game features a skill system that will allow you to improve JC in a number of fields. Like big guns? Master the Heavy Weapons skill and go in with the GEP Gun blowing people and locked doors to bits. Want to silently infiltrate every location with skill and precision? Master Computers and Lockpicking to open doors, hack security machines, ATM machines for money (if you don't find any bank account details lying around) and read e-mails for clues about the environment you're in.
Another notable part of Deus Ex are its unforgettable characters. Every major character in the game has a well rounded personality with their own expectations of you. What you do in the world or tell them can affect how they treat you which might be crucial in your immediate future.
There are boss battles in the game too but some may be avoided entirely by learning information from other characters. If you do walk into a boss fight, you even have the choice of running right out the door behind them and not bother engaging them at all! When was the last time a game let you do that? Things might even happen to that character later on if you don't fight them.
With all the above praise, Deus Ex is not without its small faults however. Some of the levels are huge and empty of detail, forcing long walks if you want to get anywhere specific in a short amount of time. The large empty levels also make the game feel a little devoid of life in some places. A lot of areas that look as if they should be full of people, are completely empty except for maybe two or three characters at once.
With every conspiracy theory under the sun under the microscope in Deus Ex, you must learn to question everything and trust no one. You may even find that things that this game was talking about in the Year 2000 are happening right now or have a very real possibility to happen at some point during our lifetimes; wealth and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor across the globe, omnipresent electronic surveillance, technical augmentations that can enhance the human race beyond what nature intended and much more.
It's a roller-coaster ride of a game that everyone simply has to play to experience at least once. Your favourite game was probably inspired by this piece of art so do yourself a favour, set next weekend aside and play this game already. You will never leave the house without your tin-foil hat again!