Review by Blastinus

"The game doesn't compare to its predecessor, but it's still a good FPS"

When Deus Ex hit the stores, gamers everywhere were ecstatic. Here was a first-person shooter with RPG elements, a compelling plot, non-linear levels, decent voice acting (a rarity back then), and a heaping load of weapons and modifications. When talk was made of a sequel to this wonderful game, the gaming community was on the edge of its seat. How could any game possibly live up to the legacy that Deus Ex created?

Now that Deus Ex: Invisible War has been long released, gamers are still asking that question. To say that the game fell short of fan expectations would be putting it lightly. This is likely the reason why the reviews of the game were particularly merciless in their treatment of it. In my opinion, had the game been released on its own, independent of the Deus Ex tag, it would have been thought of as a truly top-notch first person shooter. As such, this review is based on the viewpoint of a stand-alone game.

Gameplay

The game is played entirely from a first-person perspective, though you can see your character whenever you enter into a conversation with an NPC. As in the previous game, there are various dialogue choices that determine the course of events in the game. Also as with the original, the game offers you a selection of quests you can do for various factions, most of which will tick off other factions at the same time. A lot of the quests are optional, but offer good rewards if you do them all. Also like the previous game, most of the levels are very non-linear, giving you several paths you can take to accomplish your objective.

When it comes down to controls, Deus Ex: Invisible War is a typical FPS. WASD moves you around, the mouse aims and shoots, etc. Where DXIW differs is in its special add-ons. Your character can augment his/her abilities by the use of cybernetic biomods. The effects of these biomods can either be passive, such as a biomod that increases your character's strength, or active, like a controllable spy drone. The main way they differ is in their consumption of energy. The active biomods need to be turned on manually, and drain energy for the whole time they're on. Passive biomods are on all the time, and don't drain energy at all.

Unlike the original Deus Ex, Invisible War's guns use a universal ammo system. Different guns consume different amounts of your universal ammo, and gun-wielding foes drop clips for you to pick up. Guns simply draw from the cache of ammo when they fire, so there is no need to reload. They can also be given various modifications, such as increased damage or a silencer, though they are limited to only two per gun. There are also several melee weapons available, including the energy katana from Deus Ex. These do not take ammo, and actually do increased damage if you attack the enemy from behind.

In addition to all those features, Deus Ex: Invisible War also uses the Havok engine, allowing your character to pick up pieces of the environment as well as corpses. If your character has the appropriate biomods, s/he can even use these items as a weapon, tossing them into people with about as much bone-crushing force as the Gravity Gun. You could also use these items as cover during a firefight, or even hide your suspicious actions from the watchful eye of the law. You could also, theoretically, hide dead bodies for stealth purposes, but I never found a reason to do that.

Now, this is one area where DXIW does slack a bit compared to Deus Ex. Even with all these features, the game is still simplified quite a bit when you examine the game with the tagline before it. First off, while Deus Ex had separate tools for hacking electronic devices and picking locks, DXIW incorporates both these actions into one tool. Not only that, but Deus Ex also had a different sort of ammo for each gun, requiring you to use the guns creatively to fit the situation. Such a thing is not apparent in DXIW, where the only difference in ammo is the amount expended per shot.

Story

Following the events of the original Deus Ex, where apparently JC Denton followed every single one of the paths available (beats me how that worked), the world has become divided into a multitude of factions. Most of these factions are what you'd expect: the WTO is the military, the Order is extremely religious, the Knights Templar is opposed to biomodification, Apostlecorp is all about biomodification, and the Omar run the black market. The first four factions are constantly opposing one another, while the Omar are in the middle, reaping the spoils of the conflict.

The story of the game gets off to a great start, as a lone member of the Order is seen walking down the streets of Chicago. As he's walking along, he stops in the middle of the street, and pulls out a little push-button device. Once pressed, the device releases a swarm of nanites that begins to completely obliterate the city (ah, nanites. The ultimate sci-fi plot device). In response to the catastrophe, the local Tarsus academy (of which your character is a member) evacuates its student body to the academy in Seattle. Your character, known as Alex D (as if that doesn't raise some alarm bells in your head), doesn't get long to enjoy his new accomodations, as this academy finds itself under attack as well, forcing your character to run for his/her life.

From the Seattle academy, Alex D will be constantly given opportunities to aid or oppose the various factions. As s/he goes through the story, s/he will discover a web of lies and deceit running through everything that s/he is told or shown. Often, the twists that the game presents will be quite unexpected, though sometimes they can get to the point of being pretty confusing. By the end of the game, all the plot points will be summed up, but before then, you may be wondering exactly what your character's motivation is. Another difficulty I found with the plot was that no matter how much you favored a certain faction, by the end of the game, you could go completely full circle and decide to support a new one. It's kinda like Knights of the Old Republic, but I'd rather not go there.

Graphics

One thing that Deus Ex: Invisible War definitely surpasses its predecessor in is the graphics. While Deus Ex had great graphics for its time, the more advanced engines released since then pretty much required that the graphics be updated. The game runs on a heavily modified version of the Unreal 2 engine. While their version doesn't have as high a polygon count as Unreal 2 itself, making the character models a little shabby, Invisible War instead has a great deal of dynamic lighting. In fact, it's possible to carry around a lot of the light sources, causing the shadows to indeed adjust themselves accordingly.

That said, almost every point in the game is set at night, meaning that there is a great deal of shadow and darkness as well. There is a free biomod that gives you a little light, as well as another one that grants you nightvision, but a simpler solution is just to pump up the brightness. Your character will find him/herself stumbling through dark spaces all the time, so you'll never have an occasion where you need to ease off on the brightness.

Despite the lower quality of the characters, the environments themselves look fantastic. Aided by the dynamic lighting, the places that Alex D walks through will be suitably atmospheric. The streets of Seattle definitely feel like you're walking through an actual city area. Unfortunately, the quality of the game also means that the various sections are significantly smaller then in the original Deus Ex. Similarly to Half-Life 2, you will find that the action in the game is regularly interrupted by a checkpoint every 5 minutes. You may feel by the end of the game that the dynamic lighting really isn't worth the hassle.

Sound

Here is one field where I haven't got a lot to complain about. Sound plays a crucial role in your travels through Deus Ex: Invisible War, especially when you're attempting to travel the stealthy way. Your enemies make footsteps as they walk along, alerting you to their presence as well as their proximity. Similarly, your character also creates noise when he walks. The faster he walks, the more noise he makes. Ultimately, the muffling of footsteps is so important for stealth players that there's even a biomod that allows you to hide the sounds that you make. Besides footsteps, you'll also hear conversations in varying volume as you get closer and farther away. Speaking of conversations (man that sounds weird), the voice acting in this game is moderate to very good, depending on who you're talking to. There are no voice actors who deliver a truly cringe-worthy performance, though I found a couple of a certain influential character's lines (you'll know which one when you see him) to be a little over the top.

Difficulty

Here is where the game seems a little off. The game offers four modes of difficulty: easy, normal, hard, and realistic. While it seems fairly regular, the labels are quite false as to the actual difficulty. This has much to do with the presence of a certain distasteful biomod known as the Strength Boost and a weapon known as the Baton. With the combination of a fully-upgraded Strength Boost and a baton, I was able to knock out almost every human foe in one or two hits. Adding to that another biomod that allowed me to do EMP damage to robots, I hardly ever had to worry about those foes either. I actually went almost all the way through the game by just running up to foes with the Speed Boost and bashing their skulls in. Going even further, I found that a fully upgraded spy drone could take off almost all the health of every single enemy in the game, meaning that I didn't even need to put myself in danger of being hit.

Now, if the AI adjusted to fit this new threat, then there might be some hope for this rating. However, most enemies will just stand stock still, moving occasionally from side to side, and attempt to fill you full of lead. The friend/enemy system also seems a bit strange. On the first hit, most friendly characters will still remain friendly to you, even if you shoot them in the head with a pistol. However, if you go into a restricted area, enemies will shoot on sight, no questions asked. Not even a, "You're not supposed to be here." It seems a little disjointed.

Overall

It's hard to say what the results would have been if Deus Ex had not been so awesome. Perhaps this game would have been hailed as an example of true genius at work, instead of the disappointing sequel it became. Who can say? What is certain though is that this game has a great deal of strong points that definitely outweigh its faults. At the very most, however, it doesn't come even close to matching the fame and wonder of the original Deus Ex. It is still very worthy of being bought, and you'll definitely want to replay the game on higher difficulty levels. It's the only to get any challenge.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/08/07

Game Release: Deus Ex: Invisible War (US, 12/02/03)


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