Saturday, 13 June 2009

My favourite levels of all time, Part 2

UNATCO Prison break - Deus Ex

Okay, if for some reason you have never played Deus Ex, go and do it now. Seriously. I'll wait.
Finished? Good, wasn't it? Now we've got that out the way, I don't have to worry about spoiling the story for you.

Deus Ex is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made, providing a perfectly combined balance of cyber-punk story, player character development (though it's not really a true RPG), satisfying action and magnificent set-pieces. The true joy of the game was being able to tackle missions however you wanted; in many other action games, one 'tactic' is considered preferable. You may be persuaded to try stealth and have little ammo with which to tackle guards. You may be a regenerating superhero with stacks of ammo, and hence be persuaded to use force. Where these games often fall down is not really letting you try other tactics to overcome problems, or, if they do, have these alternate methods be nowhere near as efficient as doing things the way the developers intended.

Far Cry did get some of the way towards this ideal, and I'll be talking about that later in this series. However, for me, the true master of do-as-you-like gameplay was Deus Ex. For instance, the first level was a sandbox full of enemies, whom you could tackle them however you wanted. Silently stun them all with the cattleprod and hide the bodies? Execute everyone with sneaky headshots? Maybe run in brandishing your shotgun and kill before you get killed?

As you trained in each discipline, you became more skilled at it (andconsequently, relatively LESS skilled in other areas). Further customisation was available in the form of bio-mods, allowing game-changing special abilities. Obviously, you became less able to branch out by the end of the game (and it became relatively easy to charge in and hack everyone to death with the super nano-sword you pick up at one point), but the level I've picked is fairly early on.

The level uses that old, old cliche in video games; you get captured and all your weapons get taken away (this used to be a very widespread phenomenon, and it's still in use today... Bioshock? Check. Half-life? Check. Max Payne? Check.). You get thrown into a prison cell without any of your gear. Then, a friendly computer hacker pops your cell door half open; how you proceed now is COMPLETELY up to you. As you have no gear, even taking on the cell-block guard can be tricky. First time through, I spent around 30 minutes getting past him in his chair and the security camera monitoring the corridor!

The rest of your way out through the prison is littered with obstacles you can tackle in multiple ways; for instance, a pair of hulking robots patrol the corridor around the armoury. You can steal some high-explosives to put them out of action, sneak up behind them to shut them down, or, when you find the control console, hack into the security system and convert them to your side. Plenty of plot development happens over this level (such as finding out some truths about your brother AND yourself), but the crucial twist comes when you finally get out the front door... and discover you were in a secret prison on the level below your own office.

A place where you previously felt safe is now the scene of your own escape; you get to drop in on your own office to grab any supplies you've left there and chat to the few friends you have left in the organisation, before finally making good your breakout.

You can see a guy attempting this level without killing

To summarise, this level has real freedom to tackle it how you want. Never before in a game had I felt like I was actually there and the virtual world would respond to whatever action I took; it felt like the game was telling a story particular to me, tailor made for my own character and style of play. Pure genius.

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