Deus Ex is a video game developed by Ion Storm that was originally released for PC in 2000. The game introduced many innovations in game design, mechanics, and gameplay, including a branching storyline and reactions to player actions based on play style. It has become one of the most critically acclaimed games in the industry and is widely regarded for its influence in promoting story-driven games capable of critical thought and analysis. Delving into complex themes of humanity, corruption of power, technological advancement, and the idea of freedom versus security, Deus Ex is a seminal work in speculative fiction using the medium of video games.
The game is set in a dystopic near future in which the gap between rich and poor has reached unprecedented heights, where corporations influence and in essence run governments, and secret organizations vie for power in an underground war. Domestic terrorism is on the rise and riots have become a constant presence, prompting the formation of a militarized, anti-terrorist branch of the UN, called UNATCO. Compounding all of this, the world is afflicted by a plague called the “Gray Death,” the synthetic vaccine for which is in extremely limited supply and is thus primarily available only to those in crucial social positions, such as government officials, or those with power and influence, such as the wealthy and the intellectual elite.
Players enter this world in the role of protagonist JC Denton, a UNATCO agent who has been given special enhancements through nano-tech augmentation. Initially, JC works as a diligent soldier in the war against terrorism alongside his brother, Paul. However, during a mission to recover some of the Ambrosia vaccine stolen by a terrorist organization known as the National Secessionist Forces, it is revealed that Paul has been working for the terrorists against UNATCO as a double agent. Confused by his brother’s traitorous actions, but convinced that he must have a good reason for doing so, JC pursues his brother in a quest for answers. When JC finds him, Paul reveals that UNATCO is secretly controlled by the corrupt businessman Bob Page, who is artificially limiting the supply of Ambrosia in order to exert his influence over the world’s governments. Paul has joined the NSF’s efforts to discover the vaccine’s composition and fight for the common man, eroding Page’s influence by increasing the supply of Ambrosia in a fight against corporate corruption.
JC joins Paul and the NSF to fight against UNATCO and Page’s powers. When the two are captured by UNATCO, a mysterious entity named Daedelus helps JC and Paul escape and tells JC that UNATCO is under the control of Majestic 12, a secret organization headed by Page. The two flee to Hong Kong to meet with hacker Tracer Tong, who asks JC is to infiltrate the headquarters of VersaLife, a pharmaceuticals and bio-engineering company owned by Page. There, he discovers that VersaLife is responsible for creating and manufacturing the Gray Death. JC destroys the Universal Constructor which produces the virus and escapes with plans detailing the virus’ composition.
Analysis of the virus’ construction reveals that the design is identical to the work of the Illuminati, an underground organization that used to run the world’s governments with a secret hand. Tong sends JC to find Morgan Everett, one of the organization’s last surviving members, to enlist his help in fighting against Page and the Majestic 12. Everett reveals that Page was a former member of the Illuminati and that the virus was originally designed for augmentation purposes, Page having stolen the virus, redesigning and releasing it as a plague. Everett confirms that, with the destruction of the VersaLife Universal Constructor, Page can no longer manufacture the plague and will be seeking another UC to continue his plans.
JC is then sent to Vandenburg Air Force Base, which has a UC, to defend it from Majestic 12. The attack is repelled, but the UC is damaged, which the NSF and its allies need to manufacture the Ambrosia vaccine. While there, JC also finds out that Daedalus is an artificial intelligence, and Everett attempts to release the program into Majestic 12’s network to gain control of their systems. Page releases his own AI, Icarus, to counter Daedalus, and the two programs merge into a new, independent AI, Helios, with control over the world’s communication systems.
When JC retrieves schematics of the damaged parts to repair the Vandenburg UC, Page intercepts the transmission and launches a nuclear missile to destroy the facility, ensuring his base at Area 51 will be the only one in the world with an operable UC. However, JC is able to redirect the missile back on Area 51 instead. He then travels to the site himself to finally confront Page and end the conflict.
Once inside Page’s bunker facility at Area 51, it is revealed that Page intends to merge with the AI Helios to become an all-powerful dictator through absolute control of all the world’s technological and communication systems. JC is contacted by Tong, Everett, and Helios, asked by each in turn to eliminate Page and further their own agendas: Tong asks JC to destroy the global network, sending the world into a new dark ages but removing people from the grip of corporations and the control of secret organizations; Everett asks JC to remove Page and destroy the Majestic 12, allowing the Illuminati to regain power and resume guiding the world’s governments toward enlightenment; Helios asks JC to merge with its systems instead of Page to become a benevolent dictator over the world and its people. Players are left to choose which path to take.