Taking place 20 years after the events in Deus Ex, Invisible War reveals a futuristic world where basic needs are left unmet. It is a world on the brink of chaos after the dismantling of the mighty biotech corporations, a world where multiple religious and political groups now lust after power. Thus begins the sequel to 2000's critically acclaimed first-person shooter, which finds players investigating the different factions struggling for control to determine which groups are beneficial and which are a threat. Enhancements to the core engine include a retooled physics system, refined AI, added character animation, and more choices on the part of the player.
As in the original game, the style of play helps shape the game as it progresses, from how characters interact with the protagonist to the types of situations encountered. Each potential conflict can be resolved in a number of ways, through peaceful means or through violence, using stealth or a show of force. Characters can once again outfit their bodies with an array of biotech parts, some of which include the ability to see through walls, disappear from radar, regenerate from critical hits, or jump 40 feet in the air. The non-linear story takes players from Seattle to remote locations in Cairo and Antarctica.
Invisible War takes place in 2072, 20 years after both the events of Deus Ex and the worldwide economic catastrophe known as the Great Collapse. You play as Alex D, a nanotech-augmented agent-in-training of player-dictated gender who's just had a very nasty escape from Chicago. It seems that a suicidal terrorist triggered a horrifically destructive nanite detonator in the center of the Windy City, with the sole purpose of wiping out Tarsus Academy, the special school where Alex and friends are training. Alex and his/her fellow classmates barely escape to the alternate Tarsus location in Seattle, but their safety won't last. They'll soon find themselves pulled between several diametrically opposed factions, each with different visions of how the post-Collapse world should be shaped. As Alex D, it's up to you to choose sides and use your enhanced abilities to make a difference in this high-tech, vicious, and Invisible War.
Deus Ex: Invisible War is far from a conventional sequel. Ion Storm has sought to refine and consolidate many of the features of the first game to create a more accessible experience, and in this it's definitely succeeded. For example, there are only a handful of keys to bind, making Invisible War's controls remarkably simple for a first-person adventure of such depth. The interface, too, is friendly and extremely useable, outside of maybe a few oversights related to the inventory screen and mouse support. Compared to the hardcore-slanting PC original, Invisible War is the very definition of pick up and play.
However, some of the more dramatic gameplay changes will likely cause some controversy. Ammo, for example, is now unified; one single type feeds every gun in the game. There are no more robot-killing sabot rounds, no more (useless) flare darts -- one type fits all. The skill system has also been removed, in favor of an expanded and more tightly designed biomod (think: superpower) system. I can say without a doubt that these changes simplify parts of the gameplay; no longer must you manage different types of ammo, or hoard skill points to grow your character into a good sniper.
Know what? I'm okay with that. Ion Storm has correctly concluded that those were not the key features that made Deus Ex such a wonderful, groundbreaking experience. It was, rather, the free-form, open nature of the gameplay, the way it let the player do things how he or she wanted to do them rather than relying on scripted sequences and forced failures to shuffle players forward through a preordained course of action. This is what makes Deus Ex gameplay special, and it is fully present and accounted for in Invisible War. The game's tagline is "Wage war as you choose," and that's exactly what it lets you do.
For example, say you're trying to infiltrate a base, and alarm-tripping security beams bar the way. What's an agent to do? Well, you could use your Neural Interface biomod to hack a nearby security computer and turn them off. Or blow them up with a concussion grenade. Or use an EMP grenade to temporarily jam them. Or find a powerbox and cut the power. Or climb nearby shelves and hop over. Or use a multitool to override the control panel. Or find another way in. Or walk right through because you already dominated the nearby turret. Or ... well, I could go on. In Invisible War just about every situation has multiple valid solutions, and the only limits are the wide-open game rules, your imagination, and available resources.
The svelte new biomod system helps here as well. Each of your five upgrade slots can house one of three potential biomods. They're laid out quite intelligently, so there are always meaningful pros and cons to consider. Even minor changes to your loadout can really affect your playing style. For my first game I played an "anti-bot" character with Thermal Masking, Bot Domination and Neural Interface (hacking). Next time I'm thinking I'll get more physical, focusing on Strength for sword use and heavy object throwing and Cloak for sneaking up on organic enemies.
Even the plot is more fluid than you might expect. After a smooth opening sequence / training area in which you get to allocate your first four biomod canisters, you're let loose onto the mean streets of Seattle. Immediately, two of the game's warring factions contact you, pulling you in completely different directions. As the game helpfully explains, there is no right or wrong choice here; you're in control of your own destiny, so you can blaze your own path through this post-Collapse world of corruption and intrigue. The designers have done a great job of thinking of all of the myriad possibilities that such freedom entails, and I was frequently surprised when a character would offhandedly refer to something I did hours ago.
When I first started playing Invisible War, I was in heaven. The first four hours passed in a blur. "Five stars!" screamed my brain, as I thrilled to the delightfully sophisticated exchange I was having with the virtual idol singer in a seedy nightclub. Once past the initial joy of experiencing a new Deus Ex, though, I started to notice some cracks in its facade. Combat, for example, feels rather odd due to a lack of feedback when hitting a target. They don't twist, or jerk, or get thrown back; they just stand there and keep firing. It's really just a presentation issue, but bothered me nonetheless.
I should also mention the story. While ultimately good enough, it feels muddy and aimless at first, and fails to live up to the enjoyably messy, globe-trotting plot of the original game. And while Alex D is alright, he/she fails to be as compelling or as interesting as the original Deus Ex's JC Denton. A lot of this is due to the merely passable voice acting. Alex D, male or female, just doesn't have much charisma. While JC had an almost comical lack of inflection, at least his voice was distinctive. There are far, far fewer cringe-worthy voices than in the original Deus Ex, but I still found myself wishing Ion would have hired more professional voice talent for some of the weaker characters. I suppose we should just be thankful that there's nothing even close to the horror of the original's embarrassing Hong Kong voices, which made Shenmue's sound good.
The AI is also somewhat disappointing. Deus Ex had notoriously terrible AI, so Invisible War's is undoubtedly an improvement. It still can't be called good, though. I want creatures to react when I tap the glass that separates us. I want enemies to team up and rush me down so I can't just pick them off. I want frightened NPCs to run from danger, rather than into it. The AI still makes for a fun gaming experience (hell, even the first game's did), but it's hard not to pine over its shortcomings.
My biggest disappointment with Invisible War is that it's much smaller in scope than the original -- there just isn't as much content as before. I spent 46 hours (plus deaths) on my very thorough initial playthrough of Deus Ex, while it only took me 15 to get to the end of my similarly thorough first jaunt through Invisible War (and tack on 45 minutes or so for each of three additional endings). Now, granted, this game is all about replayability, and I certainly intend to play it many more times. But the same was true for the sprawling first game, which still managed to be extremely long, and satisfying throughout. Similarly, Invisible War is also a lot lighter on optional "color" content, such as readable datapads. (Newspapers and emails are completely gone.) I absorbed just about every bit of text I could find in Deus Ex, right down to the hyper-detailed weapon descriptions. There's not nearly as much in the way of reading materials in Invisible War.
For veterans of Deus Ex, playing Invisible War is like visiting the same playground you frequented as a kid, only now the fences feel a little closer, and the jungle gym seems a little less complex. Regardless, the core values that made Deus Ex excellent are highly apparent in Invisible War, making it a must-play for anyone looking for a fun, intelligent action/adventure game. Is it as great as its forebear? I'll say no. That said, Invisible War is still an excellent sequel to Deus Ex, which, while lacking its scope, smooths over many of its roughest edges and provides a decent conclusion to the current story arc.
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