Yet with the sale of Deus Ex and numerous other properties to Embracer Group as part of the acquisition of Square Enix’s three major Western studios (Crystal Dynamics, Eidos-Montreal and Square Enix Montreal), it isn’t exactly clear as to the direction the Swedish giants will take things in the future.
What is certain is that there’s going to be some time before the dust settles and Embracer decides just how to play with their newly-acquired toys, meaning there could be a significant delay before Adam Jensen dons his built-in shades in readiness for a new adventure. With that in mind, here are ten games like Deus Ex that should keep series fans satisfied in the meantime.
Games Like Deus Ex
Developer: Arkane Studios Publisher: Bethesda Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
In terms of giving you the freedom to “do it your way”, there aren’t many games better suited to player autonomy than Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Arkane Studios’ flagship franchise Dishonored.
Playing Dishonored isn’t simply something you do, it’s both an experience that you savour and a skill that you hone. As numerous YouTube showcases will attest, Dishonored offers a captivating sandbox environment in which you are free to shape your experience within the parameters the game offers. From the numerous routes of traversal and entrance, the potential for different playstyles or the options as to how you employ Corvo’s deadly abilities, Dishonored treats you like a big boy and lets you get things done as you see fit.
Long may games like Deus Ex and Dishonored continue to hold commercial and cultural currency. Too often, games offer the illusion of choice while shoehorning players into a specific playstyle or down a preset avenue. Pre-rendered outcomes are all well and good for the Uncharteds of this world, but games still need to be explored, pushed and, ultimately, played with.
9. System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games / Looking Glass Studios Publisher: EA Platform(s): PC
Released in 1999 on the cusp of a new Millenium, System Shock 2 debuted at the forefront of a mini gaming revolution in which games were crafting stories with greater depth, vision and nuance than had previously been the case. Set on board a cyberpunk starship in 2114, System Shock 2 sees players assume the role of an anonymous soldier charged with constraining an infection spreading throughout the vessel.
System Shock 2 is a storytelling masterclass, even today, and demonstrates writer Ken Levine at the peak of his powers. Taking the form of an RPG survival horror rather than an out-and-out shooter, System Shock 2 gives players immersion in its eerie sci-fi world, even back when computer graphics were still relatively primitive by today’s standards.
System Shock 2 is also the spiritual predecessor to the BioShock saga, the franchise that really helped put immersive sims on the map for a new generation of gamers. If you want a game like Deus Ex that sucks you into its engrossing world with effective storytelling and some weighty ideas, dig out a copy of System Shock 2 wherever you can.
Cyberpunk dystopias and isometric RPGs go together like cyberpeas in a cyberpod, as, it has to be said, do detective sims and isometric RPGs. Look at Citizen Sleeper, Disco Elysium and The Ascent as proof.
Gamedec may be one of the lesser-known games on this list, but that’s no indication that it’s in any way lower in quality. You are a “game detective” tasked with solving crimes that take place inside simulated realities, gathering evidence and interrogating suspects and witnesses until you uncover the truth. It all sounds a bit odd, but this is cyberpunk role-playing — that’s the entire point.
The whole point of Gamedec is that, like the best RPGs, your choices and decisions have consequences, and consequence is very much the litmus paper buzzword for whether or not a role-playing game succeeds in its mission or not. Just like Deus Ex, Gamedec is about giving players choice, letting them play their way in order to shape the world just as it shapes them.
7. Observer: System Redux
Developer: Bloober Team Publisher: Aspyr Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X & S, Nintendo Switch
Like most good sci-fi horror, explaining the premise of Observer: System Redux can be a little bit like explaining how your microwave works to a complete stranger: it’s long and complex and much easier to just show them instead.
Observer takes the form of a first-person psychological horror in which you’re in control of Daniel Lazarski, a detective operating in Krakow and part of the so-called Observers police unit. What this essentially means is that Daniel can hack people’s brain implants with a nifty bit of kit called a Dream Eater in order to gather information and interrogate suspects. Then there are the usual gameplay elements of interacting with the environment, consequential NPC dialogue trees and even collectable items, all bolstered by Observer’s high-concept horror themes and expert world-building, with the game’s hacking sequences singled out for particular praise.
Observer’s Blade Runner-inspired roots (it stars Rutger flippin’ Hauer) are clear for all to see, meaning that if you like Deus Ex’s cyberpunk tone and aesthetics, Observer is a great place to go next. System Redux is the version to seek out since it offers additional gameplay mechanics, new secrets to find, a new, improved stealth system and some rather nifty quality-of-life improvements made in collaboration with players of the base game.
Developer: Arkane Austin Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
“Developed by Arkane Studios” is usually a pretty sure bet as far as seals of approval go, and while Prey may be one of the most underappreciated games ever put out by the innovative French studio, that’s by no means an indication of a lack of quality.
The game takes place on board the Talos I space station which hosts a scientific research team investigating a shapeshifting alien race known as the Typhon. As you might be able to guess, the crafty old Typhon end up escaping their confinement, leaving protagonist Morgan Yu fighting for survival as he looks to escape the station. As far as immersive sims go, this is about as immersive as it gets.
Just like Deus Ex, Prey is adept at pulling you into its brilliantly realised world in which there are no easy answers or safe places of refuge. If you play games like Deus Ex for their atmospheric qualities, you don’t have an excuse for skipping out on Prey. Unless you’re scared, that is.
5. Thief: The Dark Project
Developer: Looking Glass Studios Publisher: Eidos Interactive Platform(s): PC
Everyone owes it to themselves to go back and play at least one of the original Thief games. More recent franchises have hogged much of the limelight in the stealth department, but Looking Glass Studio’s hugely influential trilogy deserves to be considered up there with the all-time greats of the genre.
It’s easy to become hyperbolic, especially with the benefit of hindsight, but the adventures of Garrett and his abnormally long phalanges made for some of the best gaming experiences of the late 90s and early 2000s. For Deus Ex enthusiasts, the Thief games’ distinctive iconography, slightly cerebral bent and clear steampunk influences will scratch that similar itch nicely. Deadly Shadows and The Metal Age are both well-worth investigation, but The Dark Project is the go-to as the game that started it all.
Much like Deus Ex, The Dark Project features bold and ambitious storytelling the like of which was still only in its infancy in the gaming world, a story that throws its protagonist into the centre of a fantastical conspiracy around which powerful forces are swirling. Hugely atmospheric, supremely crafted and immensely influential, games like Deus Ex and The Dark Project are partly responsible for shaping the gaming landscape as we know it today.
Sometimes people, products and even games are misunderstood in their own time. Like Vincent Van Gogh or Emily Dickinson, Arx Fatalis’ legacy has seen its legacy grow to a peak that it never really achieved when it debuted back in 2002.
Ok, Arx Fatalis wasn’t perfect, especially with regard to its crappy interface, but so much of what made the best games of the time excel was also present within the game’s DNA. At a time when contemporary releases like The Dark Project and the original Deus Ex were winning praise for their immersive storytelling, Arkane Studio’s own effort was also garnering critical success for continuing this trend of refined, engaging storytelling and effective world-building.
Sadly, the game never quite found the audience that it deserved, failing to sell in the numbers Arkane had perhaps hoped. Maybe people were just put off by the Latin.
Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Platform(s): PC, Sega CD, PlayStation, Sega Saturn
Want to look cool in front of all your friends as you cultivate an image of yourself as a kooky maverick with off-piste tastes? You need Snatcher.
Yes, it does sound like a somewhat ambiguous title, but Konami’s hugely influential graphic adventure game was, like everything that came out of Japan in the 1980s, way ahead of its time. Influenced by the cinematic sci-fi of 1980s Hollywood, Snatcher takes the form of a graphic adventure game in which you take control of Gillian Seed (another unfortunate name) as he tracks down so-called “Snatchers”, humanoid robots with nefarious intentions. Substitute in the word “replicant” and you’ve got the right idea.
Ok, so it was released in 1988, but so what? Age is no guarantee of redundancy just as youth is no guarantee of excellence. Directed by a young Hideo Kojima, Snatcher was way ahead of its time in bringing mature, in-depth storytelling to videogames at least ten years before it became even close to becoming mainstream.
2. The Ascent
Developer: Neon Giant Publisher: Curve Digital Platform(s): PC, Xbox Series X & S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5
If you play games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided for their strong aesthetic and evident cyberpunk influences, you could do worse than to hunt down Neon Giant’s indie RPG The Ascent.
Set on a high-tech arcology in a dystopian future (aren’t they always?) on a world known as Veles, players take the role of a worker enslaved by the megacorporation known as The Ascent Group. With echoes of recent RPG Citizen Sleeper, the world of The Ascent is controlled by The Ascent Group, only for it to mysteriously crumble and leave its arcology to descend into anarchy, infighting and chaos.
It may not be quite as in-depth and polished as games like Deus Ex, but that’s something to be expected when you consider that roughly a dozen people worked on The Ascent in comparison to the hundreds of workers much larger studios have at their disposal. What you do get from the Ascent is a vision, a game that feels tangibly alive and flesh-out despite its relatively generic premise, and that’s what immersive RPGs are ultimately all about.
1. Project Snowblind
Developer: Crystal Dynamics Publisher: Eidos Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS2, Xbox
You simply cannot talk about games like Deus Ex and not mention Crystal Dynamics’ Project Snowblind.
In many ways, Project Snowblind is the Deus Ex game that never was, a spiritual successor to the iconic first game that started out its life as a fully-fledged instalment in the Deus Ex canon but eventually evolved into its own distinct title. With Ion Storm swapped out for Crystal Dynamics, the devs who would go on to make the rather decent series of mid-2000s Tomb Raider games, the game retained much of its original Deus Ex identity thanks to consultation with original studio Ion Storm.
All of this is clear to see in the finished product, a game that looks, feels and plays very much like the Deus Ex game that never was. From protagonist Nathan Frost’s nanotechnological enhancements, the presence of big-tech military corporations and the ability to manipulate one’s environment in order to progress, Project Snowblind is about as Deus Ex as it gets. It’s not quite up there in terms of its legacy or, admittedly, its quality, but Project Snowblind shares so much of that Deus Ex DNA that it’s still hard to pass up for fans of the franchise that ultimately helped to spawn it.
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