There are few games I consider perfect, as far as this is even possible. Deus Ex is one of them. What is so remarkable about the game is that it hasn’t just a great story, it’s a game where the story is inseparable from the gameplay itself. Oftentimes games with a great story feel like that whoever created the game actually wanted to write a book or make a movie, and doing a game was the fallback plan. Some of the best plot developments in the game are a result of the many choices you make. Whether you play a mostly peaceful hacker who avoids killing people when it’s unnecessary or a trigger-happy killer whose answer to every provocation is violence: How you play isn’t just an option for different modes of gameplay, it leads to different NPC reactions and makes you feel like the story is evolving around your actions, not you following a predestined path like in many games.
And then there’s the setting. The dense mix of cyberpunk with conspiracy theories and near-future political intrigue is something
that still, after all these years, feels very present to me. I can start up the game anytime and dive into its world without much need of adjustment. Despite all the SFnal elements, the nanotech, the man-machine interfaces and so on, it still feels like it’s a future that might just be around the corner. All the characters that appear, whether human or transhuman, have worries that I find much more tangible than those of characters in the more numerous fantasy RPGs. Granted, I love science fiction much more than fantasy, especially the transhuman/ posthuman futures, but few games, whether science fiction or fantasy or else present such a cohesive, comprehensive vision that makes you forget your surroundings and still feel like it is more than just escapism.
I play games because I like playing games. Sure, it’s tautological, but also true. Whenever I see a game that has a great story, but horrible or just mediocre gameplay, I wish I had read the book or the movie that wasn’t made. But when a game offers great gameplay, presents an engaging narrative and does manage to explore all the question that linger in my mind about where we are going as a species, man, then I’m in heaven. Often, the best science fiction is found in books. Movies, comics and games always seem derivative of ideas that have been old in prose fiction twenty or more years ago. But every few years each of these mediums present a vision of the future in a way that feels both unique and fresh and most of all, one that couldn’t have done with the same impact in prose fiction. Deus Ex is exactly that, an original take that references older ideas yet doesn’t feel like just another re-hash of old science fiction with a little bit of gameplay tacked on.