Last week Ion Storm’s classic first-person RPG Deus Ex turned 20. The week before that I had written about the game for the first time, having played it through again over the winter, totally unaware of its imminent birthday. I don’t know why it took me just shy of two decades to write about given its enormous influence on my creative life (I first picked it up in…2002, by which time it had made its way into the Sold-Out Software range). It might be that I owe it something of a debt.
But so much has been written about Deus Ex over the years that I knew there was little value in going over the usual talking points. I decided instead to explore what it was like to be a part of this most immersive of games, with its rich, conspiracy-laden world. It meant venturing into the margins of its story, where a surprising amount of Deus Ex’s…let’s say purpose resides. And it meant talking about two characters that have always stuck with me and to whom I wished, in some small way, to tip my hat.
So, here it is. Happy birthday, Deus Ex. This was for you, in more ways than I knew.
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“This is not how death is supposed to be.”
So intones the recently deceased William Mason upon finding himself in purgatory and not…where, exactly? Collectively, we’ve lots of ideas on what the afterlife – should there be one – has in store for us. But we don’t know. It’s what makes this mortal plane of ours such a terrifying thrill.
Not so with video games. We know where death leads us: back to the last checkpoint or a swift return to the previous quick save. Death is a momentary impediment to progress, which is just as well because there’s often a shitload of baddies determined to scrub us from existence.
Weep for William Mason, then, who certainly didn’t bank on the afterlife being chock full of gun-toting ghouls and monsters. But then he probably hadn’t expected to look like a stylish cross between Ghost Rider and Overwatch’s McCree, either. You could do worse. Swings and roundabouts ‘an all that.
Slipping into Mason’s dusty boots I push my way into an empty saloon, which serves as the gateway to purgatory: a waiting room within a waiting room. I’ve little idea of what’s in store for me. I came here for West of Dead’s striking cel-shaded aesthetics, which create a world that often feels like a thick layer of ash caught in a time loop – forever frittering away without losing an inch. There’s farms and mines and towns, but in the words of one of our latter day cowboys, they’re more like someone’s faded memory of farms and mines and towns.
And that’s it as far as my knowledge is concerned. I was just excited to play something new.
The saloon’s sole occupant, the barman, doesn’t give any hints. He might have said “roguelike” and provided a definition, but instead seemed merely content to muse there’s east and there’s west.
East for the good souls.
West for the bad. Of course.
I’ll be going west, then. …
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