Monday, September 19, 2011

Video Game Review - Deus Ex

So my video card is broken. Overheats when I play anything even slightly visually intensive after about 15 minutes, scales that all the way up to like an hour when I play something not visually intensive. Interestingly, I can get two hours or so if I'm playing a game released 11 years ago. Which brings me to Deus Ex! Called by some the greatest game of all time, Deus Ex is a distopian future action game centering around conspiracy theories. This is also a game where the developers forgot to paint the WTC into the skybox of New York, (in the year 2000, mind) and then handwaved it away by saying terrorists blew it up. That's not a joke, that actually happened. So basically what I'm getting at is that the developers of this game are psychic, and we should pay attention to this since it's actually our future.

I picked Deus Ex up during the steam sale this summer for $2.50 figuring I'd get to it eventually, since I had heard very good things about it. I've been busy, what with school starting, so over the past month I've put in an hour here and there into Deus Ex, since my video card can't play anything made within the last five years without crashing. So around a month ago I downloaded it, I installed it, I loaded it up, I hit new game, and then I closed the game and downloaded a texture pack.

Deus Ex puts you in the shoes of [Insert name here], but that doesn't matter, because the game will call you J.C. Denton no matter what you put in as your name. It's kind of amusing if you, like I did, put in "J.C. Denton" as your real name, assuming it would come up at some point, only to have such golden messages pop up as "Wow, it's going to take a lot of getting used to calling you by your code name J.C..." J.C. Denton, as the game will inform you is your name now, is a spy working for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition, or UNATCO, in the far flung future of 2052. A plague is sweeping the U.S., Paris is under martial law, Hong Kong seems to be run by various gangs and shut down completely, and your first day on the job, you've got to go save innocent people from terrorists inside the (now decapitated) statue of liberty.

The story is probably where this game shines the best today. The world it creates is filled with detail. The story is gripping, feels as high quality as a good spy film, and is filled with twists and turns that are unexpected. Even in today's day and age where game stories have come quite far, it still holds up to the story of a lot of modern games, with only a few personal favorites surpassing it, in my opinion.

Another plus for the game, is that it's the oldest game I know of that is fully voice acted, which is a plus. Pretty high quality audio too. As for the voice acting itself, it ranges from passable, to... Well it was 2000. It's forgivable. The only voice actor I found to be exceptional was the voice actor of the character Bob Page, who I honestly thought was voiced by John De Lancie until going to look it up just now. Seriously. He sounds like Q.

Another place the story shines is in the conversation system, which feels like a precursor to games like KOTOR, or Mass Effect. Plus, the big choice at the end of the game, which leads to which ending you get, is actually one of the best choices I've seen in a game. Without getting too spoilery, you're given three options, each of with has serious downsides.

In fact, Deus Ex feels like the precursor to a lot of modern games. Deus Ex stealth system feels like it probably helped inspire games like Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham Asylum, in that the stealth actually involves watching guard patterns and walking quietly behind people, instead of leveling up a skill, ala Fallout 3.

If stealth isn't your thing though, there's always another option. You can either go head on and take people down, or go via stealth, or take a long way around where you might not run into many people. There's usually three or four given answers to every scenario, making most builds viable within the game for every situation.

Speaking of builds, I like the game's skill system. As you complete goals, you gain points, which can be spent to upgrade various skills. These range from things like weapon classes, to lockpicking, to computer skill, to swimming. How you build your character will greatly effect how you play this game.

Since Denton is a prototype for a new type of machine augmentation in Deus Ex, there are various upgrades which you can gather throughout the game, granting you special abilities, all tied to a power meter. While some of these are very useful, at times I wished there were alternative passive augmentations, since the active augmentations weren't all that appealing. Again though, this was made in 2000, so a lot of forgiveness can be granted.

It's also a pretty good length game. I clocked in on my playthrough at 23 hours, which is still considered a fairly decent length for an RPG today.

Unfortunately, at times, the gameplay in Deus Ex does show it's age to a point where it becomes difficult to forgive it. For one thing, balance is pretty awful. The tranquilizer dart, for example is supposed to let you do a stealth, non-lethal takedowns. While it does this, it also only does it after several moments of the guard running in circles like a madman alerting all nearby guards that something is wrong with him, and that you are nearby. But the most ridiculous thing is the dragon sword. About halfway through the game you get a weapon called the Dragon Sword (read: lightsaber) which is so ridiculously overpowered that you may as well simply throw all your other weapons away, because this thing kills people in one to two hits. Except robots. You need grenades to take those down.

By far though, the worst THING in this game, is INVENTORY TETRIS. For those not in the know, inventory tetris is a terrible, TERRIBLE inventory managment system, where you have a certain number of slots, and different items take up a larger number of slots, in a specific arrangement, which makes you spend time that SHOULD BE SPENT shooting terrorists/shadowy government agents, arranging your inventory. It's not fun. It's not a good system. It was a bad system then, it's a bad system now. If you think that there is any reason inventory tetris should exist, you are wrong. If you want to make me only carry so many weapons, fine make me equip or drop weapons. If you want me to only carry so much, fine, give me slots ala WoW, or weight ala the Elder Scrolls. ...I'm getting ahead of myself though, I still plan on playing the new Deus Ex game, and from what I hear THAT has inventory tetris, which is, as far as I'm concerned, a SIN in 2011. But I'll get to that, at some point.

So, bottom line, is Deus Ex still a fun game 11 years later? Absolutely. I had fun with it, and I'm glad I played through it, even though it's not required playing for Human Revolution, since that's a prequel. Deus Ex might show it's age here and there, but it's still a very good game, and considering that you can get it for $10 on Steam, and it won't take any fiddling with to get working, I would give it a recommendation in a heartbeat.

Buy this game if:
You want to check out where a lot of the systems used in modern RPGs got their start, or you just want to play through a darn good distopian espionage story.

Don't buy this game if:
A game that does show it's age somewhat too often is enough to turn you off. Also: INVENTORY TETRIS UGH.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No Chapter This Week (I'm Sorry)

Yeah, there's not going to be a chapter this week, unfortunately. I had a few big homework assignments both this week, and this weekend. I really do feel bad about skipping so many weeks, but life has been really busy. I'll try really hard to get a chapter out next week, and hopefully keep getting chapters out on a weekly basis instead of the bi-weekly basis they seem to be coming out at so far.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Murder On Deck 36 - Chapter Six: Deck 210

The elevators themselves were behind a massive gate, with one security guard in a booth surrounded by bulletproof glass the only one with the power to open it. The speaker on the side of the booth crackled to life as the man in the guard uniform spoke into a microphone. “Please place your elevator pass in the slot below,” he said. I looked down and saw a large, metal slot just large enough for the pass to fit through. Although it hurt to pass with what was undoubtedly the most valuable object I’d ever seen, I slipped the piece of plastic through the slot. The guard grabbed it from within the booth. As he flipped the plastic over, his eyes widened. I supposed it wasn’t often that he saw elevator passes like this— All access ones. Most cards have a maximum deck they allow you to reach, only ones issued on official business allowed all deck access, and it wasn’t often Deck 36 got visits from officials, only to inspect the engines. To see someone like me, grimy and obviously not from the upper decks, handing him one, must have been quite a shock.
I decided not to let the guard question the pass for too long. “Is there a problem, or can you please stop holding me up?” The guard shook his head. “Uh, no, sorry sir. Go ahead, please be seated in the courtyard, I’ll call the elevator. ” The metal gate slid open. I quickly walked through into the courtyard. There were four glass tubes lining the wall of the ship, heading straight up into the ceiling, and down into the floor. There was a small bench on one of the walls of the courtyard. The courtyard was nice by Deck 36 standards, no graffiti at all inside, even some potted plants placed in the corner, although they were withered as though no one had bothered to water them.
I sat down on the bench and waited. It was a long time before one of the tubes lit up with bright green lights. I suppose those four elevators were all they had for the entire ship. It took forever to get one where you needed it, but travel between decks was rare. Finally a platform slid down the lighted tube, and into place in the floor. The doors of that tube lit up, letting me in. I rose from the bench and walked over.
I entered the glass tube. It was very small, only wide enough for me to stand in, certainly not large enough to fit another person. The floor panel was as stable as any piece of floor in the ship, but there was a small ring of darkness around it, from which I felt a gust of cold air, which I assumed was at least one factor holding it into place. Another speaker, this one in the floor panel, I suppose, said “Destination sir?” “Deck 210.” I responded. I could tell the guard was shaken by my request, but he responded “Yes sir… It’s a round trip pass. You’ll be issued another card to return at the booth at your destination.” and after a moment, the floor began to rise.
It rose slowly at first, into the ceiling, which became the floor. At first I could distinctly make out the floors as I passed them, Deck 37, Deck 38, Deck 39, but then the elevator began to rise faster and faster, until it became too fast for me to keep count any more. Before long, each floor was a blur as I passed it. It was a disorienting feeling, seeing the ship go by so quickly, one I didn’t much like.
Before too long had passed, the elevator began to slow, more rapidly than it had accelerated. The floor locked firmly in place, and the doors slid open. I stepped out of the elevator and the floor slid down immediately as I stepped off of it. I was slightly lightheaded from looking out the tube on the ride up. This feeling magnified though, as I saw, for the first time, what an upper deck actually looked like— Not just AN upper deck, THE upper deck. It didn’t get higher than this.
My first thought was how clean it was. It wasn’t made of gold either, for that matter. It was, however, a lot bigger than Deck 36. Not wider, mind you, but it was much taller vertically, easily three or four times the height of Deck 36, which was already pretty tall. This however, was incredible. I’d heard of skyscrapers before, massive structures of concrete and steel built back on Earth, but I never imagined there were skyscrapers inside of Hope, which already touched the stars. What was really incredible though, was that the roads seemed to curve around the massive structures, linking together again, creating a massive spider web of sidewalks high above, reaching up and up to the sky.
Then I finally managed to pull my eyes away from the skies when someone said, impatiently, “Are you done?” There was a guard staring at me angrily from her booth. “Yeah.” I said. “Yeah, I am.” I walked to her. There was no wall around the elevators here, no bulletproof glass protecting the guard of the elevators. Why would there be? It’s not as though people were hurrying to leave this deck, after all. Instead the courtyard was exposed to the sidewalk. Where the gate would have been, there was an enormous fountain. It was a sculpture resembling Hope, hovering above a pool of water. The sculpture alone was easily the size of my entire quarters, back on Deck 36. Water rose from the basin, a quickly moving stream, which swirled around the sculpture. It seemed totally natural, looked amazing as though the water were flowing completely on its own. It, and the statue, must have been held up with some sort of anti-gravity. Surrounding this incredible sculpture though, was grass. Real grass. I’d never seen grass before, we didn’t have it on the lower decks.
I took the return card from the woman, who seemed disgusted at the sight of me. I suppose my grimy clothes repulsed her, or perhaps it was just me that repulsed her. Either way, after taking the card, I took off, looking for a security station. I probably should have asked her, but I didn’t like her attitude. I passed the fountain, walking on the sidewalk running outside the small circle of grass circling the fountain.
The lowest level of this deck, at the base of the enormous buildings was bustling with people. As I passed them, making my way down the streets, I realized that as I passed them people began staring at me. Mind you, I wasn’t much better, there were several of them I stared at too.
On Deck 36 we pretty much wear whatever we want, although everyone onboard is issued a navy blue uniform. As a security officer, I’m required to wear the shirt on it, not that people usually care, so I usually wear that shirt, and a coat over it. Here though, everyone wears uniforms, but not like the ones we have on Deck 36. While the base design is the same as our uniforms on Deck 36, the colors here are not uniformly navy blue, instead they have all sorts of spectacular colors, hot pink, bright orange, dark green, the color was unlike anything I’d ever seen on the grimy worn down clothes of Deck 36. However even beyond the uniforms, the people of Deck 210 had some baffling fashion trends. I saw people who had so many piercings their head must have been more metal than flesh, but not normal piercings. Rivets, pieces of metal injected into, or fused with, their faces. I saw hair that looked like it must have used similar artificial gravity as the fountain to stay up. I passed
After wandering the deck for what must have been at least an hour, I finally saw a sign that said security, and made my way over to it. I stepped inside. Again, all eyes in the room fell upon me. This was considerably different from the security station downstairs. It was at least four times as large, and the desks were sturdy. The walls were clean, and had the same metallic sheen as a lot of the rest of the deck. The officers themselves here wore silver uniforms that seemed to almost sparkle in the light.
“Can I help you sir?” One of the men near the entrance said. I responded, “Yeah, can you tell me where I can find Gregory Taylor?” As the words left my mouth I saw the officers began to glance at each other, and heard whispers pass through the room. “May I ask who’s asking?”, said the officer. “Ryan North. I’m a security officer down on Deck 36, I have some questions for him.” Again, muttering passes through the room. “Sir, Gregory Taylor is currently taking some time off, coping with the loss of his son. As I’m sure you understand, he doesn’t especially want visitors right now. Please, could you come back in, say, a week?” Obviously I could not, so I did what I had to do. I lied. “Listen, I’m here on official business. I’m the officer on his son’s case, and I need to ask him some questions, now please, where can I find him?”
This time the whispers got even louder than before. I wondered if they’d ever even seen someone from a deck as low as 36. Either way, saying I was on official business was enough, and they gave me Gregory Taylor’s address, and I made my way toward his home.