Crapshoot: The Deus Ex mod set in a fan forum

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. Shortly before the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, he checked out the original Deus Ex's Nameless Mod, where everyone gets to rock cool trenchcoats.

With the exception of Invisible War, the great shame of Deus Ex's legacy is that almost nobody's ever really tried to beat it. Vampire: Bloodlines got the closest, E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy, uh, exists. A few others have taken on board individual ideas, like offering stealthy options, or giving you a sack of gadgets. Nothing however has that same hook of being dropped into a world with a bag of tricks, and invited to make your own way through it. Will Human Revolution finally be the successor we're all longing for? "Hopefully!" I say, in the shifty tone of one who finished it about two weeks ago, but isn't allowed to give away any actual details for another week or so. Still, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Unless you follow the mod scene though, it's likely that you've not played one of the best things to come from Deus Ex, and one of the best single-player mods in general. Meet The Nameless Mod, one of the coolest attempts to recreate the original magic, and a fine adventure in its own right. What better way to whet your appetite for the official sequel? Team Fortress 2 weapons? Bah! Prepare to enter Forum City, where conspiracy and intrigue aren't simply life and death. They're Serious Business.

The Nameless Mod is what happens when fandom a) gets its hands on a tool like UnrealEd and b) goes completely insane. It started as a simple gimmick, not set in the Deus Ex universe itself, but in a Tron/Reboot style version of its fan community back in the early 2000s. Everyone you meet is supposedly an avatar of a real person, and many of them—including your character, Trestkon—actually are. Everything is dark and rainy and crumbling not because of the machinations of old men using the Earth as their personal stress ball, but because that's how everyone agrees they should be. Asking a prominent figure "Is there anything in this city which DOESN'T have some secret complex in the basement?", the response is simply "I doubt it. Everyone here is a Deus Ex fan, remember?"

Originally, The Nameless Mod was as goofy as it sounded—a few inside jokes, being put together to entertain the community. Except it grew. And grew. And grew. And finally, it exploded. The final mod took 7 years to create, with two full-length campaigns, five endings, over 14 hours of voice acting, side-missions, tons of secrets, new weapons, and much, much more, to the point that calling it a fan project honestly doesn't do it justice. It's a whole new Deus Ex game,  only with more jokes, fourth-wall breaking bits and vast amounts of cheery copyright infringement as far as the eye can see.

As Tretskon, you're a former member of the community who left a couple of years ago for personal reasons, brought back to help the moderators out of a jam. One of their number, Deus Diablo, has gone missing, upsetting the balance of power between the city's many factions—most importantly the evil WorldCorp, as led by the endearingly mental Scara B. King. Both sides want you on your team, and both have a full campaign and modest-to-great rewards if you agree, though it's no spoiler to say that there's more at stake than whether or not a few trolls get bonked with the banhammer. I'm not going to say much more than that, not simply because I don't want to spoil the good bits, but because a lot of them just don't sound that good outside the context of the game. Like the spork. A spork is a weapon here, as is a foon. Why? Because. When mixed up with the rest of the weirdness though, in a world that doesn't consider them even slightly unusual, the bits come together surprisingly well.

Silly as many of the details are, the game is no joke. The early areas can be a little off-putting, at least potentially, simply because they're by far the most self-referential or reliant on you being a hardcore Deus Ex fan. One early area for instance (completely optional) is a fan-fiction store, whose owners do nothing but reel off endless speeches about the original game's story that you do not give a crap about. Other bits, like the newbies everywhere demanding to know how you get on 'the boat', are in-jokes you don't need to understand, but will probably feel a bit alienated by not being in on. One or two would be easily ignorable. In the first map, you'll bump into about a million and three of the buggers.

After the opening though, things tighten up a lot. The original Deus Ex never stops being important to the world, nor is the meta side or in-jokey humour ever lost (this is probably the only game you'll ever play where your Mission Control guy will interrupt your adventures to let you know he just did really well in a game of DOTA), but the focus soon shifts firmly towards The Nameless Mod's own fiction. It doesn't matter that you almost certainly have no idea who the characters are originally based on. 

Tristkon himself is JC Denton with a little bit more history, especially in interactions with characters like Kylie, his former colleague/lover and current enforcer for WorldCorp, or Phasmatis, his friend amongst the moderators. The others run the gamut from completely original cyberpunk characters like the sadistic AI Shadowcode to complete crazies like Ghandaiah, who immediately accuses Tresktcone of being a 'boob suit' and gives you a bit of XP simply for enduring his babble. Scara B. King is far and away the most fun though, bouncing from smug glee to spluttering anger, while almost never even managing to get poor Triskion's name right. The fool. It's worth siding with the baddies just to get more of his dialogue, though you won't be disappointed on either path.

What really stands out about the game though is that you can see exactly where the development time went. It's much rougher than the original Deus Ex, no question, but generally holds its own against it—and in more than a few cases, even surpasses it. Behind that, the attention to detail is almost ridiculous. You know how you can climb walls with grenades, or punch in a passcode you simply remember from a previous game? So do The Nameless Mod's designers, and while they won't necessarily stop you, they will call you on it. Didn't like the way Deus Ex railroaded you into going against UNATCO? Here, you really do get to pick sides, and chop and change a bit as you learn more about the situation. 

And that's not even touching the ridiculous amount of stuff on the computers and in conversations, from the barman who'll play several rounds of "Guess the Quote" for the sheer hell of it, to the aforementioned fan-fiction store and its in-depth information on incredibly obscure stuff like Ada, the missing AI from the original Deus Ex you were originally going to go and deal with in a cut mission set on the moon.

The Nameless Mod is more than just a mod. It's a love letter to a great game, and a living testament to the fandom it earned. What better prize could Deus Ex receive than to inspire something that doesn't simply revere it, but really dug down deep to understand and honour it in ways that no scores or breathless retrospectives can ever hope to match? That it's also a great game in its own right definitely doesn't hurt. Yes, you do have to make a few allowances for its in-jokes, rough patches and extended development, and it may take an hour or two before the world of Forum City really clicks, but if you ever loved the original Deus Ex, you won't find a better swansong for its decade at the top.

Download it here. A copy of the original Deus Ex is required, obviously, but if you're anything like me, you've got five of them already. And a finished copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Not that I'm gloating about this, of course. That would be incredibly mean. Cough. Cough. Ahem.