As expected, I found the second week of Deus Ex to be a lot more relaxing than the first week. I had a better feel for the game and my character had a full inventory; this meant that my brain could stop seeing potential disaster every time I failed to be perfect at something and start letting me enjoy going through the levels, letting me appreciate the environments and world-building.

What I wasn’t expecting: the plot started to get more interesting. It turns out that your brother is on the side of the terrorists, that the big military government organization you’re part of isn’t always on the side of the angels. (Big surprise, I know.) I liked the way this was revealed, with you making it through a terrorist base only to discover at the end that your targeting icons were green instead of red, and then to learn that the reason is that your brother has asked the “enemy” forces to stand down.

I didn’t so much like the way you were forced to join the NSF almost immediately after that: I trust my brother more than my former coworkers, but at that point in the game the NSF and UNATCO looked like two organizations that had dubious motives and were both way too violent for my tastes. (At least in the real world, in the game I hand out bullets like party favors. Um, like arsenic-laced party favors?). So I’d really rather have some time to sort this out, instead of being forced to quickly and affirmatively choose to throw in my lot with the NSF. Still, better that than a game in which you stay with UNATCO the whole time; and my subsequent misgivings about the situations where I was encouraged to kill UNATCO troops (i.e. my former coworkers) are something I’m not used to experiencing in a game.

Another change that I wasn’t expecting: I believe (though I could be wrong) that the frequency/density of hostiles in levels is decreasing. In the first week, my favorite part of the game was the UNATCO HQ, where you could wander around a reasonably rich environment without worrying about hostiles at all. In this week, the MJ12 prison had some number of hostiles, but there weren’t very many of them, and they came in small groups, giving a very similar effect: I could spend most of my time just sticking my nose in places.

Hmm, that’s actually something worth thinking about: what is the purpose of enemies in narrative games? I’m pretty sure they have some purpose; I also suspect that a lot of narrative games could have a lot fewer enemy encounters without their narrative structure losing anything. I’ll have to think about that one. (The joys of twittering while blogging: before finishing this, Matthew Gallant pointed me at this Man Bytes Blog post.)

(A similar point, which I hope I will find time to expand into a blog post soon: what is the point of failing songs in Rock Band? I was playing in world tour mode with Miranda today; I generally enjoy the game more when I’m playing in expert mode, but if I do so and we run into one of the wrong two (or three or five) songs, then I won’t be able to make it through the song, which is no fun for either of us. And I’m not sure there’s a good reason for me to have to make the choice of less enjoyment versus failure in that context.)

I continue to be pleased with the VGC’s choice of second game, and in particular I’m very impressed by the quality of discussion in the forums. I’m very curious what next week’s play will bring.

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