Game Guide: Deus Ex

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Deus Ex is the latest first-person shooter from Eidos and Aspyr, and it's based on the same game engine used in Unreal. But don't let that make you think that this is just another game featuring a one-man army wading through legions of monsters. Deus Ex plays like a cross between Eidos's stealthy PC game Thief and "Blade Runner," with big, well-designed levels like those in LucasArts' PC game Jedi Knight.

In Deus Ex, you play a "nano-augmented" government agent with a kit of tools James Bond would envy, and upgradeable skills give the game the feel of a role-playing game. There are the obligatory switches to pull, but they're located intelligently -- you'll rarely wander around unable to open a door. There's no map, because the missions feel natural, and are set in familiar city locations (New York and Paris, to name two) or buildings that are laid out predictably according to their function (such as airports and subways).

Much of your adventure is gathering information about events in the world at large -- and the real challenge is figuring out the grand conspiracy. But you can learn all that from the opening cut scene -- beneath the surface, there's more to learn. Here are some tips that will help you get up to speed with Deus Ex in no time.

When Deus Ex begins, you must create your character -- and choose appropriate skills. Any points unused initially will carry over into the game, but you'll accumulate skill points (slowly) as you finish missions and explore, so don't feel any urgency to upgrade your traits immediately. It's better if you delay upgrading for a while: you can spend points at any time, but once you've spent them, you can't downgrade and gain those points back.

Most of your character's skills will function whether or not you've upgraded them (with one important exception: computer hacking). You'll get little reward for specializing, especially in combat skills, since further upgrades cost a fortune but only provide incremental improvement. Instead, invest those points in lower-level upgrades to other attributes -- they'll give you more bang for your buck.

When it does come time to upgrade your skills, be sure to choose the right ones. Here are some specific skill suggestions, in order of their usefulness:

Computers. This important skill needs one upgrade before you have any hacking ability. At higher levels of skill, you can control many turrets and defenses, but even with one upgrade you can get critical clues and turn off cameras. When hacking, your ICE Breaker timer is counting down -- be sure to disengage from the terminal before it runs out or your Bioelectric energy will be drained. You can always hack again in a few moments. Be sure to hack the ATMs for credits, too.

Weapons. Each upgrade adds a little accuracy, range, and speed. Choose your combat style and upgrade a pistol or rifle. Heavy weapons are hard to move with if you're untrained, but you can put them away while moving if you want to spend your upgrades elsewhere. Low-tech combat skills improve your strength in a melee, but hand-to-hand combat is very rare in Deus Ex -- knives and crowbars don't affect droids, and guards will usually run or circle away from you while shooting.

Lockpicking/electronics. These skills change the rate at which one lockpick or multitool works, producing more bang for the tool. This upgrade is useful but not critical, since good exploration will usually turn up enough tools to suffice; and there's usually an alternate solution if you're short on a resource (in a pinch, you can blow open doors with explosives). Lockpicks are a little more scarce than multitools if you're considering which one to upgrade.

Medicine. Better healing and less damage are nice, although careful explorers can keep damage low.

Swimming. Once in a while a long swim will be one way to solve a mission, avoid danger, or explore further. A swimming upgrade will avoid drowning damage, although it is possible to tough it out and heal afterward, instead.

Environmental training. Improves the duration of armor and wearable gear, but the duration is rarely an issue.

In addition to choosing skills, you will have to manage augmentations, money, and your inventory.

Augmentations. Although the prospect of added abilities seems exciting, most of Deus Ex's "Augs" require activation (and thus advanced warning) and the more useful ones consume energy quite quickly. Exploration Augs (Speed, to jump farther, Muscle, to move or stack heavy blocks) often provide access to new areas, while combat Augs are hard to incorporate into your practiced combat tactics.

Money. You can earn or find credits in your missions, but money in Deus Ex has little use. Sometimes you can buy information (a clue or password) or some weaponry (weapon mods are nice to purchase, but don't bother with ammo). You never accumulate enough to buy much and the prices are outrageous. So saving money should be a low priority.

Inventory management. Deus Ex has a ridiculously limited inventory. You can carry one or two big weapons and a handful of other items. You can carry plenty of ammo but cannot fit all weaponry into your inventory. You'll find yourself choosing between a lot of useful gear, because you want to keep your flamethrower around. Try to rely on stackable items, like medkits (other minor health/food items should be consumed immediately or ignored), bioelectric cells, grenades, lockpicks, and multitools. Add a couple of big guns and a melee weapon to open crates and you're at the limit. (After all, why carry binoculars if your gun has a scope?)

Exploring is always worthwhile. It's important to collect resources, and the more you explore, the more experience points you'll get. Most areas have a back door with fewer guards than the front entrance, and you can find most passwords and codes just lying around if you look carefully.

Deus Ex is a pleasant game to explore since there are no useless or unnecessarily convoluted areas to throw you off the scent. You can find plenty of secret caches, places to disarm defenses, and defensible areas or areas with cover to use when approaching guards.

Be sure to crouch when approaching guards and you will rarely be noticed, even in the open. Take notice of grates and manhole covers, since many levels are riddled with tunnels. Also, try to use blocks as cover, and move and stack them in order to reach high windows.

Speed is often as important as stealth. A well-planned dash can see you through many heavy security areas with only a few stray shots; it's a good alternative to trying to disarm all trip wires and turrets. There's always a way into everything, but sometimes the result isn't worth the effort (like using two lock picks to get into a chest that has a flare and some ammo you don't use).

Try to initiate conversations along the way. You can pick up side quests (for example, helping bystanders with their problems, and picking up experience and sometimes rewards in the bargain), get clues, and intercept passwords. Your log will track all the information you gather, so there's no need to take notes. Also, despite their protests, you can get away with searching your colleagues' offices or checking their e-mail.

Finally, when you return to a location on a later mission, revisit any caches you found. They will usually have generated a few new items.

One note: During exploration, ladders pose a deadly challenge. Ladders are hard to descend from the top and easy to fall from when glancing around; use extreme caution. There's no reliable way mount from the top without falling, but looking down while moving forward works better than backing down. The silver lining: guards will lose track of you if you climb ladders.

Deus Ex opponents move fast and aim well -- once they take notice of you, they will circle, crouch, and strafe. In short, the AI at work in Deus Ex would certainly excel at Quake.

The solution is stealth and aiming. A little practice with a scope will perfect the single head-shot takedown. Target location matters and opponents can take several arm or leg shots, but a surprise head shot is usually fatal. The levels are also well planned, with alarms for guards to sound and coordinated responses to intruders. However, the AI "forgets" quickly if you hide, and the response is sometimes aimless when you encounter guards off their patrols. Figuring out the patrols and avoiding trouble permits you to thin out the ranks of guards before facing them en masse.

Individual weapons are upgradeable with mods found throughout the game. Use them immediately and try to concentrate mods on a few weapons you plan on keeping. Despite what the game's documentation suggests, each successive mod has the same effect. If one mod yields +1, two mods yield +2...although there is a limit to the number of mods of a specific type per weapon. The scope mod lets you be a sniper with just a pistol, and the long range of the sniper rifle is rarely needed. The recoil mod is really only useful for automatic weapons.

Here's the rundown on a few specific Deus Ex weapons:

Stealth pistol. With a scope upgrade, you can thin out any guards silently and easily. This weapon does less damage than a regular pistol, but the stealth ability is worth it. You won't notice the damage difference for those nice head shots. Rely on and upgrade this weapon.

GEP gun. This item launches rockets that take out any droids and defenses, and can open doors in a pinch. The GEP Gun makes a good choice for your first mission because it's hard to find one in the field.

Flamethrower. This is a critical weapon to carry, so make room in your inventory for it if at all possible. It's perfect for that occasional situation where you get swamped with guards because you've tripped an alarm, or if you know that a guard is about to walk through a doorway. Its range is very short, but waiting around a corner or just inside a doorway for them to approach is a perfect tactic to handle any number of guards safely -- usually you can flame them before they get a shot off.

Knife. You only need one melee weapon, so open crates with your knife.

Grenades. Use gas on a room full of guards to incapacitate them; use EMP to disable electronic defenses or dreaded droids; use LAMs to destroy defenses or droids, or as brute force lock picks. Grenades also stack in your inventory, which is a nice space-saving side benefit. Grenades can be attached to walls to explode upon detecting motion, which is a good way to avoid a difficult encounter if you can scout the route of an opponent. Sometimes, you'll find them already armed on walls -- approach quickly to disarm and you can collect them. (Be warned: this technique requires a lot of practice and saving the game repeatedly.)

Not-so-useful weapons include:

Shotguns. Most guards wear armor that makes normal ammo useless.

Automatic rifle. Recoil makes it impossible to aim a burst unless you're an expert.

Nonlethal items. Some nonplayer characters will be impressed if you are less violent, but nonlethal methods are much less effective. Don't bother with them. Embrace your dark side.

Deus Ex should be played as a stealthy first-person shooter, with exploration and gathering information as its keys. The real strength of the game is that each location is pleasant to explore, and the puzzles have many solutions but are never trivial. With a little practice, combat becomes surgical and quick, so the pace is fast enough that the missions can actually fit into a coherent story line. Deus Ex plays like the story of a high-tech, clever secret agent. That agent is you.

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