It's really not and it isn't just because of the controls. Like I get that this was probably the first time lots of people were exposed to these ideas but it still felt like a kids game in certain weird ways while approaching very mature ideas, all of which I think helped it fill this niche at the turn of the century to where most people view it with a kind of nostalgia goggles. The overwhelming impression that I get is people specifically enjoyed it because they were under 20 when they first tried it. Like, probably 15 year olds.
I've already written at length here about than once about why I think Deus Ex sucks I think?
but suffice it to say that the real problem hobbling it to me is the fact it's not that original and is basically just a 90s kitchen sink that came years too late and arrived just in time to seize on very obviously dated elements like The Matrix
and The X Files
and goth fashion just enough that probably it still gives people nostalgia, but that it was not remotely groundbreaking either for narrative outside the vidya medium at least
nor especially for the mechanics.
Frankly the thing that I found most telling about everybody who raves how good it is is the fact that they try to say it was innovative but they never ever seem to bring up System Shock. Why? Because they were probably too young to have played it.
This has all made me realize that Eidos is basically a bunch of hacks who quite frankly just got really lucky and somehow popularized their game whereas the makers of things like Marathon and System Shock did not, most probably due in part to the fact that only a select small number of us even had access to gaming in the early to mid 90s and that by 2000 vidya while still being considered a "nerd" thing was already mainstreamed and popularized. But when you look at a game like System Shock and SS2 the whole argument that it was "innovative" completely falls apart. Having damaged limbs is in fact the sole defining thing I can even think of and many of the augmentations are not useful in fact I'm pretty sure I finished it with mostly just using heal. Almost all the other elements were pioneered instead by the System Shock games.
Having only beaten it in like 2017 or 18 or whenever it was I can say that I'm not impressed from a more objective standpoint. Bear it in mind that this is a year 2000 game. Most of the things one might be misled into believing are notable about it were already tried and common stock back then, for years in some instances including non-linear levels or puzzle solutions. I do not know why games often had a level with 3 stages though. VTMR's level structure was exactly the same in that regard.
I lastly think that the real reason people remember it aside from the more mature concepts (which is probably what people mean by innovative because back then with a few very notable exceptions like Starcraft, Fallout, Planescape etc most games were incredibly banal and childish in their stories if stories even existed at all, with Jedi Academy and VTMR being two good examples) is the fact that JC Denton's voice acting was so poor that it crossed over to the other side of memorably comical. I'm pretty sure what they were going for is him being an unfeeling robot much like the cyborg lady whose name I forget atm but given his dialogue it became probably unintentionally hilarious. Like I'm pretty sure that for example when you fry that girl's father or you outright kill him yourself and the line goes
>that's a shame
that it was at least originally meant to convey his loss of humanity to cybernetics. I personally think that they bungled it and ended up trying to play it all for laughs, which is the main thing people end up remembering it for I have no idea why so many games insist on giving NPCs good voice actors but making the PC flat, dry, and sometimes just bad it's like a half measure between fully voiced player and silent player character
I think that part of the reason I am especially so harsh on the game is not just because I genuinely didn't enjoy any of it nor was I impressed by the sporadic namedropping like a college freshman of a couple book titles etc. but because I can also take it in the context of Deus Ex HR, which unlike the first wasn't a bad game but which really exemplifies the ham fisted to downright idiotic handling of ideas from Eidos. What it helped emphasize to me was how thoroughly derivative and contrived a lot of things are and how much they really didn't have a lot of fresh ideas themselves. It made me feel like their studio was run by pretentious guys wearing OBEY caps when in HR I could see dozens of places where they really couldve dealt with things like identity, class, moral relativism, the mind, state power, the list goes on and on except at least HR was fun to play.