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Monday 24 November 2003

What went wrong? [muz]

Those of you who consider yourselves to be in any way serious gamers will have no doubt played the gem that is Deus Ex. Developed by Ion Storm (no, not *that* one, the good Ion Storm), under the leadership of Warren Spector (of System Shock 2 and Thief fame), it was a worthy successor to those two titles. A story driven FPS/RPG hybrid set in a grim cyberpunk-esque future, with mega-corporations and conspiracies galore.
Story aside, the game simply 'felt' nice to play. The inventory and skills interfaces were functional and simple, and didn't get in the way. And as it was based around the Unreal engine, the shooty-shooty bits were pretty nice too.
Beyond this superficial layer , the players choices actually had an impact on gameplay and story. Dialogue changed depending on the order in which objectives were completed. There were plenty of 'side-quests' to keep one diverted, if one so chose. The skills and augmentations selected for one's character made a marked difference in the style of play required.
Deus Ex is one of the few games that deserves to be played through again and again. Indeed, it is still installed on this gamer's machine, for when he feels nostalgic for a bit of story-driven FPS action.
Understandably, when word of a sequel percolated up out of the ether that makes up the interweb, there were excited whispers. Anticipation. And other suspense-laden words that I can't think of right now.
So, as soon as word reached me that the demo had been released on fileplanet, I wandered off to download it, salivating at the prospect of what had happened to the world after the end of Area 51...
I needn't have bothered, really. The demo is... mediocre, at best. The inventory interface has been redesigned in order to accomodate those without a mouse and keyboard, as the XBox version has been developed concurrently with the PC version. I have no objection to this in principle, but surely it would have made sense to make use of the mouse and keyboard more fully in the PC version? Moving on... the graphics, while not shoddy, are nothing spectacular. The goals/inventory interface is too obtrusive, taking up far to much of the player's field of view. Text (from conversations, radio transmissions, even item descriptions) is huge! And rather than scrolling conveniently in a log window at the top of the screen, all conversation now fills the middle of the HUD, obscuring your view of the world. The player is now limited to having a maximum of 12 items, and ammunition is unified. There is no reload mechanic as such, one just keeps on firing until one is dead, or the enemy i! s.
Add to this a demo that has .ini files set to read only so configuration changes are not saved, and a default mouse sensitivity that means a slight twitch has the player's character doing a 720 on the spot*, and you can see why this gamer was less than impressed.
It's not just me, is it? I'm not elevating the first game above it's station in the gaming pantheon, and I'm not judging the demo too harshly, I hope? These being the case, I can only ask.... what, exactly, went wrong?