Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Deus Ex

Entry updated 21 February 2022. Tagged: Game.

Icon made by Freepik from


Videogame (2000). Ion Storm (IS). Designed by Warren Spector, Harvey Smith. Platforms: Mac, Win (2000); vt Deus Ex: The Conspiracy, PS2 (2002).

Deus Ex is a First Person Shooter which borrows many elements from Computer Role Playing Games. Notably, it includes the ability to improve the player character's skills by training and Nanotechnological augmentation, creating a persona specialized in such activities as sniping or stealthy intrusion. The gameplay centres on missions performed by the player, which can typically be completed in a variety of different ways, including infiltration, negotiation and hacking into computer systems. Physical combat is rarely required to complete an objective, but is generally an option. As the title suggests, the game is centrally concerned with the creation of gods from the fusion of men and machines. The player's role is to decide whether such a god should be born, and if so, what form it should take.

The player's character is the significantly initialled J C Denton, a newly trained agent for the United Nations Anti Terrorist Coalition, a group formed to fight the anarchist factions which are increasingly common in the game's Dystopian vision of mid-twenty-first-century Earth. Society is collapsing due to the spread of the "Gray Death", a lethal Pandemic for which there is no cure, only a vaccine restricted to the rich and powerful. The player rapidly finds themselves involved in a web of overlapping conspiracies, with participants including the Illuminati and Majestic 12, an organization supposedly founded by the US government to investigate UFOs. Many fictional works are evoked by this milieu, notably Grant Morrison's Comic The Invisibles (1994-2000) and the late Cyberpunk novels of such authors as Bruce Sterling. The game's plot (for which the lead writer was Sheldon Pacotti) is multilinear (see Interactive Narrative), with side branches which typically fold back into the main story, leading the player towards a single ending. There, they must decide whether to destroy the global communications network (thus bringing about a new Dark Age in which there will be no global masters), award power to the Illuminati (who will rule humanity for their own good, with an unseen but powerful hand), or merge with the AI Helios and become a benevolent god. This question has no right answer; any of the final sequences which follow the player's decision could be considered the best.

The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003 IS, Win, XBox) designed by Warren Spector, Harvey Smith and scripted by Sheldon Pacotti simplifies the series' gameplay, primarily by removing most of the role playing elements, while making the plotting more complex and multilinear. Set 20 years after the first game, Invisible War presents a more post-Cyberpunk vision of the future, suggestive of such novels as Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (1995). Interestingly, the game does not define the choice that its player may have made at the end of Deus Ex, but instead presents a world formed by a fusion of all three options. Denton is assumed to have combined with the AI; however, this melding failed and precipitated a breakdown in global communications known as "The Collapse". Subsequently, the Illuminati acquired a great deal of power, controlling both the dominant World Trade Organization and its apparent opponent, the religious Order, from behind the scenes. The player character, "Alex D", is a Clone of Denton, constructed without their knowledge as part of an attempt to find a cure for their original, who is in Suspended Animation following the failure of his unification with Helios. The game's story revolves around the attempts of the various conspiracies to recruit Alex and gain control of the character's unique biology; typically, the player will begin by agreeing to work for every faction but be forced to make choices when they are assigned incompatible tasks. In the end, there is another ultimate decision, between Denton's vision of a perfect Posthuman democracy, the Illuminati's dream of a benevolent world dictatorship ruled from the shadows, the totalitarian theocracy espoused by the descendants of the Knights Templar and the desire of a cybernetically linked Hive Mind for global anarchy.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011 Eidos, PS3, Win, XB360; 2012 Mac) is a late prequel, designed by Jean-François Dugas and scripted by Mary DeMarle in collaboration with various writers including James Swallow. In spirit, this work is something of a loving homage to the first game; the gameplay is strikingly similar, though the world of Human Revolution seems less operable than that of its predecessor, and there are more sequences where the player is forced to engage in combat. In a future nearer than that of the original game, the world is increasingly divided between those who can afford cybernetic augmentations and those who cannot. The protagonist, director of security for a bioengineering company, is severely injured in an apparent act of industrial terrorism and must become a Cyborg in order to survive and investigate the attack; increasingly conspiratorial revelations follow. The ambience could perhaps be described as transhumanist noir; this is a world of augmented prostitutes and anti Cyborg cults, where hidden factions struggle to control the direction of humanity's artificial evolution. As in the previous games in the sequence, Human Revolution ends with a choice which has profound consequences, here one which will determine the world's future attitude to human augmentation.

The involving atmosphere and convincing world-building of the Deus Ex series are consistently impressive. Frequent references are made to other works with complementary themes, including such sf and sf-like novels as G K Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908) and Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger! (October 1956-January 1957 Galaxy as "The Stars My Destination"; 1956; rev vt The Stars My Destination 1957; rev 1996). Deus Ex and its various descendants are some of the most powerfully multilinear games yet created; their flexible mission structures and intricately branching plots are notably effective at allowing the player freedom to act as they think best.

Related works: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Missing Link (2011 Eidos, PS3, Win, XB360) is an expansion which tells a linear story interpolated into the narrative of Human Revolution, while Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Tactical Enhancement Pack (2011 Eidos, PS3, Win, XB360) adds various new weapons. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) is a six-issue Comics series associated with the eponymous game, written by Robbie Morrison. Similarly, Deus Ex: Icarus Effect (2011; vt Deus Ex: The Icarus Effect) is a Tie by James Swallow which serves as a loose prequel to Human Revolution. Deus Ex: The Fall (2013 Eidos / nFusion Interactive, iOS), designed by Jean-François Dugas, Tyler Munden and scripted by James Swallow, is a sequel to The Icarus Effect intended for play on mobile devices; its design resembles that of Human Revolution, with a similar combination of FPS and CRPG elements. [NT]


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies