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Machinations of 'Deus Ex' Near Perfection

August 10, 2000|AARON CURTISS

Take a dash of New World Order paranoia and mix it liberally with movies like "The Matrix," books like "Rainbow Six" and video games like "Omikron." The result is "Deus Ex," a PC adventure game that combines action and intelligence in a mostly perfect package.

The title refers to deus ex machina, a literary device in which a character appears suddenly to solve a seemingly intractable problem. For instance, Han Solo became the deus ex machina of the first "Star Wars" movie when he blasted the TIE fighters out of Luke Skywalker's way on the surface of the Death Star.

In "Deus Ex," the role goes to J.C. Denton, a United Nations operative who has been augmented with nano-technology that enables him to become a sort of human Swiss Army knife. He has a built-in headlamp and can identify friends and foes just by looking at them.

The world, you see, has gone to pot. There is the National Secessionist Forces, a group bent on breaking the Pacific Northwest off from the rest of the United States. Then there is Gray Death, a plague that's wiping out communities coast to coast. Dealing with all this chaos is the U.N. Anti-Terrorist Coalition, or UNATCO, the employer of our hero, Denton.

Most of "Deus Ex" takes place in first-person mode. Players move just as they do in "Quake" or "Unreal" and explore levels that include Hong Kong, Liberty Island and Paris. But as in spy games such as "Metal Gear Solid," "Deus Ex" places a premium on intelligence and stealth.

Blindly running into a squad of enemies may seem cool, but it's a quick trip to the morgue. Better to sneak around in the shadows and pick off exposed enemies without alerting their chums. Denton picks up all sorts of cool tools, including lock picks and little hand-held devices that help him crack into computer systems.

Oh, yes, there are also lots and lots of guns and other weapons--each of which Denton must learn to use effectively over the course of the game. See, Denton gets better as he acquires more skill. It's a nice touch of realism and keeps the game interesting.

One feature in desperate need of tweaking, though, is the animated cut-scenes that help tell the story. The acting stinks and the graphics aren't much better. For a story-driven game to really work, the story must be woven as seamlessly as the action sequences.

"Deus Ex" requires a Pentium II 300 with at least 64 mb of RAM, 150 mb of available hard disk space and a graphics accelerator. The publisher recommends a Pentium III with 128 mb of RAM, 750 mb of available hard disk space and a graphics accelerator with 16 mb of video RAM. I played on a Pentium II 333 with 128 mb of RAM and a 16 mb 3dfx graphics accelerator and experienced some problems where the frames locked up and there were several characters on-screen at the same time.

"Colony Wars III: Red Sun"

The "Colony Wars" franchise on Sony PlayStation has perfected the art of free-form space shooters. "Colony Wars III: Red Sun" drops players right into heavy firefights with some truly deadly weapons and gadgets.

There is a story to "Red Sun," but as with all the "Colony War" installments, it's a distant second to the action. There's really no need to understand the conflict's story. In the latest "Colony Wars," players essentially become mercenaries, picking their missions from a menu that ranges from simple escort duty to covert operations. Each comes with a bounty that can be used to upgrade ships with essentials such as the Supercooled AH Laser or the Decloaker Missile.

Learning to use the weaponry is a snap and so is control. Using PlayStation's analog controller, players can slip gracefully through alien canyons or streak across the cosmos in pursuit of a fleeing pilot. The sensible default assignment of controls such as thrust and fire makes flying easy so players can concentrate on evading the abundant enemy ships.

"Super Magnetic Neo"

"Super Magnetic Neo" sounds like a bad translation from Japanese. In fact, it's the name of the Sega Dreamcast game's main character, a hyperactive robot named Neo with a truly magnetic personality. This is the kind of game little kids love and parents want to throw out the window--sort of like Barney or Blue's Clues.

The premise of the game is simple: Pao Pao Park has been taken over by Pinki's gang, which consists of a 2-year-old in mouse ears and her two goons, Yasu and Gasu. Neo to the rescue for a cutesy adventure full of sugary characters and syrupy music.

Since his head is magnetically charged, Neo can attach himself to or bounce himself off other metallic or magnetic surfaces--depending on polarity. For instance, Neo can use the same polarity as a bounce pad to shoot into the sky and then reverse polarity to grab on to another surface.

It sounds more scientific than it is. Essentially, if Neo wants to bounce off a pink space, he needs to turn on his pink charge. To grab on to a pink space, he turns on his blue charge. This is done by hitting, duh, the pink and blue buttons on the Dreamcast controller.

Aside from Neo's magnetism, it is a pretty standard platform game that will look familiar to anyone who's played or seen "Crash Bandicoot." Of course, the graphics and sound are better, but there's not much new here.

Parents looking for a nonthreatening, nonviolent game for their kids would do well to check out "Super Magnetic Neo." Then leave the room.

*

Aaron Curtiss has no financial dealings with the companies he covers. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Essentials

Colony Wars III: Red Sun

* Platform: Sony PlayStation

* Publisher: Midway

* ESRB* rating: Everyone

* Price: $40

* Bottom line: Very nice

Deus Ex

* Platform: PC

* Publisher: Eidos Interactive

* ESRB rating: Mature

* Price: $40

* Bottom line: Almost perfect

Super Magnetic Neo

* Platform: Sega Dreamcast

* Publisher: Crave Entertainment

* ESRB rating: Everyone

* Price: $40

* Bottom line: Gooey

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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