It's interesting playing Deus Ex 10 years after its release. Doubly interesting for me because this is the first time i've played it.... ever. There's no rose-tinted glasses to improve my experience. No past knowledge of controls or levels or AI to exploit. Even worse, I have all the knowledge and experience of nouvelle gaming – all the improvements and accoutrements afforded the modern gamer and their games of choice. Usually, in this cutting light, the games of the past just do not hold up.
Deus Ex does.
I often say that gameplay trumps graphics and this is definitely a case of that; though in its time Deus Ex was no slouch in the graphics department. I'm about 7 hours into the game and enjoying it a lot. People often extol the multitude of choices available for the player when talking about Deus Ex and, yes, every level has multiple paths on which you can walk..... narrow paths, but (marginally) different nonetheless. Going in with no expectations of the game I haven't been disappointed with these options so far but ultimately they seem a lot more shallow than some people might lead you to believe – they're not so far from the choices available in System Shock 2 or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (which SO needs a sequel!!) in that what you specialise in with your augmentations and skills tends to dictate what method you use to bypass whatever obstacle is in the way.
What sets Deus Ex apart from other games like the ones mentioned is the pseudo-RPG mission mechanics with primary and optional secondary objectives available from various places within the mission areas. There just isn't another game that I can think of that combines this multifaceted mission approach that is often found within RPGs with the linear-ish plot and interface of a traditional first person shooter.
On the poorer side of things the dialogue isn't great, nor is the voice acting but then they're not any worse than 90% of the games released today..... and that's the saddest thing about this and various other games from that golden era of PC gaming: that games really haven't improved much over the last ten years. Even Half-Life 2, the second coming for PC games, showed little in terms of gameplay improvement over its predecessor – it was all prettied-up and the set-pieces were all perfectly calibrated for various play styles – but the “go here and do this for no real reason” element of the early behemoths of gaming was still there. Not only this but story and plot were pretty much espoused in that game in favour of “experience” and they only really came to the fore during the subsequent (and excellent) episodes.
Looking back, there was so much promise coming into the new millennium for gaming and yet overall I don't think we've really hit those expectations yet. There's always room for growth and it's nice to be able to mull over what worked and what didn't and then try and emulate and evolve what has gone before. However, i'd like more games to emulate the other excellent games that aren't Half-Life from around the 1995-2001 period. Half-Life is great and I do enjoy the games and appreciate what they've brought to the gaming landscape but when every first person shooter you play reminds you of the meticulous set-pieces and emotionally-charged dialogue and inter-character relationships of Half-Life 1 and 2 you get to wondering where the other influences should be.
I'm tentatively looking forward to Deus Ex: Human Revolution as I want what Deus Ex had to offer but with the influences of Half Life to bring it all together. It may be that this is the first game of its type to make something more than Half Life in a different skin.