Taking Liberties: a Deus Ex story

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Tom Francis at

Wait, wait, I can explain.

When Gunther talks to you, he asks for a weapon. If you have a pistol, you get the option to offer it to him. If you don’t have a pistol, you can offer him a standard combat knife, which is (a) easily replaced and (b) hilarious to see him use. My pistol, on the other hand, is fitted with valuable upgrades, but refusing to hand it over would put me in Gunther’s bad books. Better not to have one to give.

After my gun clatters to the floor, however, Gunther just storms straight past me. I turn to find a guard behind: one who might have blown my brains out had Gunther not just made himself the most immediate target. Suddenly feeling faintly silly for throwing my primary weapon on the floor, I bolt for the corner of Gunther’s cell and cower until the shots die down.

They don’t, so I warily creep out anyway. The terrorist is dead, Gunther is gone, and the gun turret is shooting the shit out of a chair. Heh. OW!

The moment the chair breaks, the turret starts shooting me. I must have set it to target ‘Everything’ when tinkering with it to take out those terrorists. I exit the room badly shot up. Textbook, Denton, textbook.

Things go wrong in Deus Ex. It’s what I love about it most. It’s the reason I spend so much of my playing time laughing. It’s a logical game: the rules that govern how guards follow their patrol routes, investigate threats and respond to alerts are predictable. But it’s just complex enough that you frequently fail to fully anticipate it.

In the atrium, Gunther is sprinting out of the door with three more guards chasing him. Godspeed, agent. I sneak off up the stairs while they’re distracted. Two guards at the top are having a conversation that I, and most Deus Ex players, can now recite unthinkingly.

“Did they find the shipment?”

“Yeah, they got the whole supply. You can see the ships lights crossing the bay. Guess you were right.”

Actually I’m not really sure what they say after that, because I’ve invariably sprayed a fire-extinguisher in their faces and shot them both in the head.

That was the first moment I realised Deus Ex was something special: these two had killed me several times in a fair fight, and I found myself actually studying my inventory trying to figure out how to tackle them. They’re just two basic enemies. In how many games does that situation actually require you to stop and think? When I came up with the aforementioned solution – blinding them with fire retardant to give me time to line up point-blank headshots on each in turn – it worked. I was in love.

Of course, it’s only after I’ve fire-extinguished the both of them that I remember my rule: no direct killing. Damn. They’re going to get the foam out of their eyes in a sec, and I rather badly need them to not be alive by then. Ooh, an explosive barrel!

When I say things go wrong in Deus Ex, I don’t mean the way they sometimes go wrong in a game like Half-Life, where you might run out of ammo or get knocked down to 20 health. I mean ‘stand an inch too close to something you’re blowing up and you’ll lose both your legs’.

I lost both my legs. I have no legs. The guards have no bodies, granted, but I thought backing up a few paces would make this a relatively cheap win. Instead, it cost a leg and a leg.

I sit there on my stumps for a second, reminiscing about long walks on the beach.


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