Say It With Me, Children: “Day Use”, Not “Deuce”

I totally slept on the original Deus Ex games back in Ye Olde Gaming Times; I was a Mac/PS gamer, and PC gaming was a sort of terrifying black sewer complex of command line prompts and hardware incompatibilities. Many years later, I was intrigued enough by the reputation of Warren Specter’s open-ended FPS to give them a shot. Sadly, I found they just hadn’t aged well enough to retain my interest past the opening Statue of Liberty level. Maybe I suck, but as I recall the experience, Deux Ex was firmly rooted in the “I’m not telling you shit, Mr Player; just die until you figure me out” school of game design that’s been all-to-slowly dying out this last decade or so. It’s too bad really, as I normally tend to enjoy games with a strong non-combat component, but for whatever reason the experience not only didn’t grab me, but was actively repellant, so I mentally shrugged and set the whole thing aside.

And now, here’s Squenix with the trailer for a nice, current-gen entry to the franchise! Will it retain the previous games’ multiplicity of approaches and update them with nice modern design touches? Almost undoubtedly. Will it be able to set itself apart from all the other games that have built on its fight/sneak/talk approach to mission choice?

Uhhhhhh… Maybe. Watch the video after the jump and we’ll talk.

Ok, this game is officially going to be retitled Deus Ex: Knife Jogger. You couldn’t stuff more Blade Runner in a trailer if you just played the trailer for Blade Runner. Other than that the whole thing plays like a mashup of The Matrix and Metal Gear Solid 4, with a sprinkle of REM’s Losing My Religion just in case the rest of it wasn’t silly and self-important enough.

Fyre, I think we need to MST this thing. There’s just too much laughable shit in it.

I’m aware that this is only a cinematic trailer, and it’s only the trailer I’m making fun of; I really wouldn’t mind a choice-heavy FPS with a kinder, gentler, stupider learning curve than the old games. I’m concerned, though, that to properly create a game like that would be really expensive. “Expensive”, in this case, is synonymous with “unlikely”. Put simply, the more a game’s content costs, the more likely it is that it will all be thrown up on screen. This isn’t unreasonable. The people who spend the money making a game look great want all of that to be apparent; they want reviewers to be stunned by the feast of experience, and they want us to feel like we got our money’s worth when we read those stunned review and go out to plunk down our $40-60. But making sure the player sees it all means shepherding them through it all.

Big budgets result in linear games a lot of the time. I’m not saying all the time. In particular, there are a lot of big-budget sandbox games that don’t drag you through every single bit of scenery in the whole world just to make you oooh and ahh at yet another overpass or canyon. However, a lot of those sorts of games save their real shit-hot cutscenes and voice work for the bits that are mandatory, leaving the optional stuff at a lower rung of the budget. As an example, Mass Effect was fully voice-acted and cutscened to the hilt, except if you decided to go galaxy hopping and hit up all the weird little backwater planets to mine minerals and kill pirates. There was stuff to do there, but a lot of it was spelled out to the player with text boxes – text! – if there was any flavor added at all.

That’s fine if you have a consistent linear narrative with deprecated branches, but it seems to me that if you are proposing a game with multiple equally valid and mutually exclusive paths you need to give each of these paths the same budget. That’s budget as in time spent writing, designing, creating art and sound assets, animation, balancing, all that shit. Every time you add a branch, you are adding expense that is actually that much less likely to be seen on any given playthrough. The budget evident in this cutscene – that is, big – suggests that the budget for each branching path of gameplay will be too big for the number of branches that Deus Ex built its reputation on. I’m prepared to be wrong, but that’s my major concern about Deus Ex 3 pending any sort of information about the mechanics of play.


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