The PS2 Port Of PC Classic Deus Ex Is Highly Underrated
In the year 2000, as a new millennium dawned, Ion Storm unleashed Deus Ex on the world. This conspiracy-laden, X-Files-inspired cyber-thriller was and still is one of the most freeform, open-ended video games ever made. It's the peak of the immersive sim genre, presenting vast, intricate stealth sandboxes that encourage and reward creative, improvisational play. Ask someone to list games that define PC gaming and Deus Ex always makes an appearance high up the list. It's a classic in every respect, and still holds up today. The visuals have aged horribly, but the depth and scope of its design is as impressive as ever.
Yes, I'm a fan. But my introduction to Deus Ex wasn't the PC version. My crappy old Pentium 2, with its on-board graphics and lack of any kind of 3D accelerator, couldn't run it at the time. So I was forced to find another means to play this groundbreaking game I'd read so many breathless, praise-filled magazine articles and forum posts about. In 2002, Ion Storm surprised everyone by bringing this, the most PC of games, to the PlayStation 2. Some sacrifices had to be made, but the developer managed to get its incredibly complex game running on a console a fraction of the power of the gaming PCs it was designed for.
The PS2 port launched as Deus Ex: The Conspiracy, presumably because publisher Eidos thought the name was a bit weird and off-putting for a broader PS2-owning audience. The blurb on the back of the box was notably more exciting than the PC version too. "Eliminate, elude, or extract information from those who hunt you down using stealth, strategy, or sheer firepower," it read. "Will you be the charismatic master manipulator, the shrewd tactician, or the deadly avenging angel?" It's clear the publisher was trying to make this deep, cerebral, slow-paced game a more enticing prospect on the shelves of Gamestop.
As you might expect, in some ways the PS2 version was inferior to the PC original. Those big levels had to be split up into chunks because the PS2 couldn't hold as much data in its RAM. This meant a lot of loading breaks as you moved through the levels. The textures were lower res, which when you consider the fuzziness of the PC game was a significant downgrade. The usability of the UI also took a hit, because it had to be redesigned to suit a controller. However, despite its shortcomings, it was still a legit way to play an otherwise full-fat Deus Ex without having to spend a fortune on a gaming PC capable of running it.
In some respects—admittedly not very important ones—the PS2 port was actually an improvement. The famous opening cutscene, once rendered somewhat clunkily in-engine, was remade as a much more dramatic pre-rendered CG cutscene. The stirring opening theme was orchestrated. The character models were improved and more polygons were added, making the cast look less block-headed. Some of the levels were brightened up too, with additional lighting making locations like Liberty Island and Castle Clinton look less gloomy—but, importantly, while retaining the game's trademark dark and moody cyberpunk atmosphere.
There were some minor gameplay tweaks too. In the PC version, augmentations can only be installed when a medical bot is nearby; on PS2 you can install them anywhere. The three endings were also given a CG makeover. Between all this, the revamped controls, and the new controller-focused UI, it's clear a lot of work went into The Conspiracy. A game like Deus Ex, which was designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind, shouldn't really work on a console, but Ion Storm nailed it—and made the game available to a much wider audience as a result of its hard work. If this port didn't exist, I might not be the superfan I am today.
Alas, there isn't much reason to play it today. Deus Ex plays ball with modern PCs, and you can run it with even the most meagre specs. There's no reason to choose the PS2 version over it, if only to avoid those constant mid-level loading breaks. Moving through the city hubs, in and out of buildings, is particularly bothersome. But it served its purpose at the time, and it's an interesting game to have in your library if you're a PS2 collector. Not many PC games made a successful transition to console, but The Conspiracy bucked the trend. It's a quality port of a game that had no right running on a console with 4mb of video RAM.
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