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Friday, April 12, 2024

Great moments in PC gaming: Killing Anna Navarre in Deus Ex

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Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Deus Ex

Year: 2000
Developer: Ion Storm

The mission to kill NSF leader Juan Lebedev aboard his 747 in one of the early Deus Ex stages seems like a straightforward part of your job as an up-and-coming UNATCO goon: Get on the plane, waste the guy, head home for celebratory drinks. And for a lot of players, that’s exactly how it went. JC Denton is a cutting-edge killing machine, after all.

But Deus Ex is a chatty sort of shooter, and so even though I didn’t have the non-lethal options that were on the table in my first missions, I had a chance to converse with my target a little bit before I pulled the trigger. Eventually, though, my hard-ass boss Anna Navarre busted in, really pissed off, and demanded that I quit goofing around and do my job. She also warned, helpfully, that if I didn’t, she would. One way or another, Juan was going down.

That’s how it seemed bound to play out, anyway. But it’s not. It isn’t immediately apparent (or at least, I don’t recall it as such), but you can opt to protect Lebedev and take out Navarre instead. The infamous Flatlander Woman is a seriously tough opponent, but I managed to pull it off, and suddenly found myself in a completely unexpected situation: My supervising agent was dead, the guy I was meant to kill was very much not dead, and everything leading up to that point, including my budding career, was now completely off the rails.

It was brilliant. Remember that this was 20 years ago, when Steam didn’t exist—the internet as we know it didn’t exist, really—and so a game’s secrets and surprises were much easier to keep. And by all rights, I wasn’t supposed to have that kind of freedom in a videogame anyway. The script says I have to kill this guy. Anna says I have to kill this guy, and she makes short work of him if I try to weasel out of the job. She can’t be stopped. But she can.

For me, that’s the moment that made Deus Ex: The realization that if something seemed out of bounds but maybe possible, I should try it. It completely changed how I viewed the game world, and how I played the game—and, for better or worse, my expectations for everything that followed. This is why people still talk about Deus Ex as a landmark videogame. This is why:

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