Retrospective: Deus Ex

Ghost of the machine.

You've read articles in which men of a certain age get misty-eyed about Deus Ex before. Throw an unwanted packet of soya food into the internet, and the first thing it will no doubt strike is an article bent-double around just what makes Bob Page tick.

I am, in fact, typing this with my right hand alone - the other is delicately balanced palm-up on my forehead in preparation for the dramatic swoon that will no doubt follow me writing the inevitable line: "And darling! What about the bit where Manderley told me off for going into the ladies' loo! That was so, so... meta!"

So first, let's cover some ground that all the other internet odes to Jeezy 'Chreezy' Denton probably don't get around to.

Number one: shiny floors. Deus Ex had the best shiny floors ever in games. Not everywhere (that would have been overkill) but floors like the one beneath the Versalife Hand/Earth statue would dominate reflective surfaces in games for years after.

Number two: the way the Men in Black talk with the most gut-wrenchingly neutral and emotionless voices ever put into an audio file.

Number three: the way a LAM grenade re-angles itself in your palm as you draw close to a wall so it can double up as a proximity mine.

Number four: the way you could check people's email while they were sitting, and looking a bit grumpy, a mere 12 inches from their keyboard.

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Majestic 12 was always a fairly presumptive faction name, but they did have high aspirations.

Number five: the greatest range of secret doors and cubby-holes ever concocted in gaming. Whether in a mysteriously descending phone box, Paul Denton's secret spy cupboard or a gun-rack hidden behind a painting in a posh French chateau - when it came to places where people could secretly stash a packet or two of tranquiliser darts Deus Ex was way ahead of the competition.

There you go then, job done. On with the expected...

A modern-times replay of Deus Ex is a fascinating experience. On one hand you get to relive the simple joys: pecking a UNATCO drone on the neck with a tranquiliser dart then watching him collapse inches from the panic button,or planting a LAM below said alarm then taking a few shots and sitting back to watch your prey haphazardly scuttering into a fiery death-trap.

On the other hand you complacently whip through the game, completely forgetting that in the days of Ion Storm the concept of an autosave was an intriguing novelty - and you suffer from your forgetfulness.

You also look back at your past self and wonder just how the hell (if you're anything like me) you didn't see that early twist coming when your co-workers are cyborg euro-villains and your brother is content to potter around putting flowers down the gun barrels of the NSF.

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His first day, and his co-workers are already pulling hilarious pranks on him. Before he knows it they'll be squatting on his desk and hitting him with a crowbar.

The biggest shock when going back to a decade-old game, though, is how much you've probably forgotten. Perhaps this, again, only applies to me - but whereas in an old game like Half-Life you can remember the story through set-pieces, in a multi-layered and complex narrative drama like Deus Ex (where different characters are notable for their opinions on how human society should be furthered), the old grey cells drop off on a few issues.

And with them go late-game hostage situations in petrol stations, MJ12 submarine bases and the fact that a character called Gary Savage even exists. I mean, I even forgot about the Greasels - pot-bellied reptile birds that strut around like Terry Pratchett's Swamp Dragons. To forget their existence must be a crime against the very greatest of misplaced videogame creatures.

I mention this because there are other events in Deus Ex that have stuck with me for the best part of said decade, a phenomenon that I strongly suspect is common among everyone who has played it.

Stuck in the forefront of your mind you still have those tentpeg moments of design genius that stitched the game together. Moments such as the flight or fight decision in the 'Ton hotel when three Men in Black and a cohort of UNATCO troops are calling you out, and about to blow the door of Paul Denton's room in.

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