From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. This week… what? No, it’s nothing to do with Deus Ex.
When I first started playing Deus a few minutes ago, I played with a rule: steal Tom Francis’ gimmick. If I die, I have to start from scratch, or secretly load a save and hope nobody notices. This is the first and only part of this diary, in which cries for realism in games are finally heard. Meet Deus. It’s the FPS where you can get a lethal sore throat, die of insect bites, and sometimes have to amputate your own limbs. Oh, health kits, we never knew how important you were to us until you were gone…
Life 1: In Which Cake Is Not Provided
As I parachute down onto the world of Alcibiade in the body of mercenary survival expert Trepliev1, I have three burning questions. First, what the hell kind of hero name is Trepliev1? Am I a man or an AOL account? Second, why do I appear to be landing on a hostile planet with no weapons, and no equipment except a Tron costume and half a medical kit? Even the guy from Far Cry 2 was better prepared than this. He may have forgotten his malaria shots, but at least he remembered to bring a gun. Third, I wonder who that man waving at me from the ground is. Is there any chance he’s just forgotten he’s holding a knife? Maybe it’s to cut a slice of special Welcome To Alcibiade cake. I hope it’s chocolate.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Stabbed by non-cake offering bastard.
Life 2: In Which There Is Revenge
“Call that a knife?” I tell him. “This is a fist! Because I don’t have a knife!” He doesn’t seem impressed, but since he follows the ‘jump around like a loony’ method of fighting, I quickly beat him down to the ground and liberate him of his weapon. Inside his hut, I figure he won’t be needing his possessions, which turn out to be a T-Shirt labelled ‘AWE’, a tin of carrots, a flask, and a fish.
AWE stands for “Alien World Exploration”, and since nothing in the game has told me what I’m meant to be doing, I decide this would be a good time to check the manual. It turns out that Trepliev1@aol.com is a former “Robinson”—a scout officer for the interplanetary government who recently got up to all kinds of hijinks in this game’s prequel, Robinson’s Requiem, only to decide that he was a sucker for punishment and wanted another chance to have his eyes torn out by birds and leave him staring at the side of his own nose. (This could actually happen in that game.) He promptly signed up with the titular DEUS, which stands for, and this is the sound of a scenario writer trying way too hard, DEfend US. They’re effectively bounty hunters, and Trepliev1@aol.com’s latest mission is to track down and take out all the members of an evil terrorist group called the New Crusaders. All five of them are on Alcibiade, and presumably were smart enough to bring along some actual weapons and robots and things instead of a pack of aspirin and a relatively decent right hook. I’m just saying.
By the time I’ve finished reading that, it’s night time. I head back into Mr. Nocake’s hut for 40 winks, but wake up in the middle of the night. Unable to sleep properly, I go for a moonlit ramble and—
CAUSE OF DEATH: Fell into swamp. Drowned.
Life 3: In Which I Discover That Medicine Is Hard
“Me again!” I tell Mr. Nocake, flooring him in a single punch. I collect his stuff and arm myself with the knife, this time being extra careful to watch my step. Not far away, I meet an equally unfriendly native armed with a bow, but he doesn’t seem to understand the whole concept of ‘ranged combat’ and barely manages to nick me before I stab him.
Things don’t go quite as well with a guy with a spear, who appears practically immune to knives. I finally take him down, but not without my health screen turning several unhealthy shades of doom-red. To the medical kit! That will… oh.
Healing in Deus isn’t a case of glugging down some futureworld health potion or slapping on a bandage. You have antibiotics and aspirin, thread, disinfectant and plasma, and that’s barely a sample of the full kit you have to assemble during the game. The scanner to the left shows you what’s broken, but only if you have power. On the right, Trepliev1@aol.com is shown in his full glory. Nowhere does the game simply tell you how to cure what ails you, only which parts require treatment.
In this case, I appear to be bleeding from the gut, so my gut reaction is to put a bandage on it and hope the problem goes away. I sleep. It does! Hurrah! I’m the best doctor ever. I do seem to have splotches appearing in front of my eyes, but I’m sure that’s nothing. I forge on and soon find some more supplies on a dead body even worse prepared for this planet than I am—a packet of antispasmodics, and a can of throat spray in case I get a bit of a cough. Feeling pretty good, but suddenly breathing quite loudly, I continue exploring, and find a village of cave people who say hello by hurling rocks at me. I kill them with some well-aimed shots from my bow, pausing only to open up the medical scanner to find out why I suddenly appear to be having an asthma attack. It doesn’t say anything useful though, so—
CAUSE OF DEATH: Hypotension (Low blood pressure)
Life 4: In Which I Perform Some Science Experiments For Science.
“Do you have any salt?” I ask Mr. Nocake before killing him, but he doesn’t answer. His friends are all on a low-sodium diet too, so I check my inventory. Even if I’d known, I wouldn’t have any hypertensive pills in my medical kit. This time, I resolve to keep my blood pressure high by running everywhere and thinking of boobies. If the game isn’t going to provide me with the equipment I need to survive, maybe I need to think a little outside the box. Opening up my first-aid kit to re-examine my equipment, I take a moment to remember my years of intensive medical schooling.
In this case, the best idea I have for beating low blood pressure is to tie tourniquets around all my limbs, so that the blood will be more ‘concentrated’. I use the syringe to extract it from those limbs and pump it straight into my manly chest. I pop a quick sleeping pill to give the blood a chance to get used to the New Order, but wake up with a head infection. I pop an aspirin for that, and some vitamins, because why not? In an attempt to hurry up the healing process, I also take another sleeping pill. And then five more, because I often have trouble with insomnia on alien planets.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Natural
Life 5: In Which I Take A Cyanide Pill
“Hey,” I said, ” Is that a cyanide pill?”
CAUSE OF DEATH: Took a cyanide pill.
Intermission: Meanwhile, In The Next World
It’s worth mentioning that Deus has one of the—if not the absolute—strangest death sequences I’ve ever seen, especially considering that it’s a game with no supernatural elements. You die a lot, and this is what happens every time Trepliev1@aol.com bites it. Just watch.
Life 6: In Which I Explain Interesting Things About Gangrene
Mr. Nocake’s corpse doesn’t seem moved by my lecture on first aid, but I see it as part of my duty to share what I’ve learned. How else will he, or any of his other grunting friends, ever know these things?
“…so if you do tie tourniquets around all your limbs and they go rotten, even a whole pack of aspirin won’t cut it,” I finish. “Oh, and stop attacking people or or I’ll empty your skull with an ice-cream scoop.”
This swampy death-course is looking very familiar as I make a bee-line back for the caveman village with a stockpile of arrows. “You should put a bandage on that,” I shout, nailing one in the eye. “But disinfect it first! It’s just common sense! And you? Yes, the one dying at the back! Take more vitamins!”
Having earned the right to, as we mercenaries like to think of it, ‘loot their shit’, I loot their shit. It turns out that one of the natives was actually one of the terrorists I’m hunting, which is handy. Their chief was equipped with axes, and I decide they’ll probably help too. Using the first to find a nearby cavern and the second to ward off the pterodactyls en route, I find myself surrounded by lizard men. Then, by lizard men corpses. Then, in victory, and for no apparent reason, I suddenly find myself screaming at the top of my lungs and running straight into a bonfire. Paging Dr. House!
I suck it up, swallowing some aspirin for the pain, and following the path ahead into a series of dark caverns full of rabid dwarves. My immediate response: “Bugger.” They’re a good deal tougher than anything I’ve fought so far, but not even close to the ultimate threat—a random crash.
CAUSE OF DEATH: General Exception #DD4534543
Life 7: In Which I Cheat Like A Bastard
Mr. Nocake seems surprised to see me land with a grenade launcher in my hands. In fact, he rather goes to pieces. The lizard men don’t know what to do when faced with a laser rifle, but quickly work it out. Some might say that punching in a cheat code isn’t in the spirit of this kind of survival game, but I beg to differ. You’re meant to use all the resources at your disposal.
Google is a resource at my disposal.
As part of my ‘access all stuff’ cheat, I also have a full medkit, along with all the toys I might have collected during the game. Atropine! Blood analysis! Bone repairing tools! The kind of stuff that you’d expect Trepliev1@aol.com to take with him by default, if he wasn’t such a total klutz. Just looking at it all laid out makes me angry at him. In fact, I decide to punish him for his stupidity. I make him pick up his laser blade and amputate his own arm. Normally, this is something you only want to do when a limb gets gangrenous or bitten by something hyper-toxic. Here, as with making him suck blood out of his leg and re-inject it into his arm with a rusty syringe, it’s all in the name of sadistic entertainment.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Annoyed God. Was Smited.
Conclusion: In Which Things Are Concluded
And that is where I left poor Trepliev1@aol.com, a bleeding corpse in the middle of a swamp, his last words a non-comprehending “…why?” Deus isn’t a good enough shooter to be worth forging through, nor does it have even close to enough story to make it a compelling RPG. Really, it’s more a novelty than anything else—a reminder of just why most games are happy to say “Here’s a medkit” or regenerate health instead of actually worrying about putting your leg in a splint after a long fall. Deus Ex did however take at least a bit of a leaf out of this game’s book (though not consciously, I’m sure) with its damage system. There, as here, you could break a leg and be left crawling around the map. In both cases, it proved less fun than it might sound. About as much fun as a broken leg, in fact.
A broken leg with gangrene. Covered in leeches. As you slowly drown. In a cave. Alone.