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Deus Ex: Invisible War

Developer: Ion Storm | Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 12/02/03 | Genre: FPS

The original Deus Ex was released in 2000 and was later claimed as Game of the Year by many publications. What made it so great? It was choice. What I mean is that Deus Ex gave the player an unprecedented amount of choice with respect to how he or she wanted to proceed in the game. While some look at the game and think of it as a First Person Shooter, those that completed Deus Ex know that shooting is only one choice among many. Deus Ex wowed critics and gamers by offering level designs in which exuded real world believability and multiple ways to attain goals. Sure, the main character, JC Denton, had plenty of weapons available, but shooting guards wasn't the only way to get what you wanted. Having conversations to gain important information, bribing people, disabling security systems, searching for alternate ways to break into areas and sneak around, or back to option one, blowing stuff up, are all possible ways to complete an objective. Another cool thing was that you could not "fail" a mission. Unlike many FPS games, you could not fail your mission simply by blowing up the wrong computer or killing too many civilians. You don't start your mission over. Instead, there's always other ways to complete your mission, or you might just have to suffer the consequence of not doing the best job possible. The story moves on. That was another great element. Deus Ex took a grand, and somewhat clich?� theme of global conspiracies of power and completely believable and engrossing. In addition to various weapons, tools, and other items, JC Denton was an experimental type of government agent whose body has been modified by nanotechnology, or microscopic machines which gave him superhuman abilities. The cool thing was that, throughout the game, players could make choices about additions and upgrades to these modifications, or "biomods" as they're called. No, Deus Ex is not a First Person Shooter, it's a Role Playing Game.

After all the critical success, Deus Ex fans have been eagerly awaiting the sequel. While you don't need to have played the first game to understand most of Invisible War, it would help, and it would make you more interested in what's going on now. I don't think it would be a spoiler to tell you a little bit about the previous game and how it leads up to Invisible War. The player took on the role of JC Denton, a government agent who, in the beginning, is primarily concerned with the activities of a terrorist organization as well as a plague that may or may not be related to them. It took place during a time not too far from now, around 2050. It was much like the world today, with only moderately more technology widely available. The nanotechnology was still experimental and in the hands of the elite. Throughout all of this he eventually begins to uncover the secrets of a global conspiracy that not only goes through, but beyond the US government. All of this was presented in a very convincing and interesting way. There were three different endings to the first game. Invisible War takes place 20 years later. During gameplay, you'll only hear of vague references to what happened at the end of the first game. Somehow, shortly after, and perhaps because of what JC Denton did at the end of Deus Ex, the world's economic and social systems collapsed. So while the first game's setting was not too unlike the world of today, the world of Invisible War is quite different. Nanotechnology is much more widespread than it was in the past, and governmental systems are completely different. There are no longer governments with militaries or police forces. Almost everyone (cities, corporations, and others) hires them from a commercial security force. The World Trade Organization has risen up and created several independent communities of stability all over the world among their lesser governed surroundings. It's sort of feudalistic. They provide prosperity and security for its citizens, but they may be neglecting others and bee seen as too elite. Their major political opposition is The Order, a kind of global church that has two purposes. One is to try to create stability and peace by uniting all religions. Its second purpose is to try to subvert the policies of the WTO and mobilize minds against them. The Order believes that the policies of the WTO directly oppose their philosophies on how to bring peace and stability in the world. These are the two major powers in that you will deal with in the game, but there are also several other smaller, but still significant factions that play a role in the plot. In Invisible War, you play as Alex D, a young man or woman (your choice) who is a top student at the Tarsus Academy, the place where members of the commercial security forces are trained. Following an attack, things are thrown into disarray and you have no option but to set out and start discovering things for yourself. It might not seem like it a first, but Invisible War will start to have some major tie-ins with the first game eventually.

As I said, Deus Ex gameplay is about choice. Invisible War takes it to an even higher degree than the first game did. In the original Deus Ex, you had many options on how to complete your objectives, but now, especially after having played Invisible War, your actions still seemed very directed. You could play how you wanted to, but the goals you were trying to attain and your overall role in the story were still directed. Invisible War has a much more emergent story line because not only can you choose how you progress through specific challenges in the game, you can choose who your character works for. This isn't a simple choice either. It's not like Invisible War is the only game that lets you choose a side. However, in Invisible War, thinks are much less black-and-white then they are in most games. What is the best or right thing to do is never entirely clear, and it depends largely on your own feelings. Who do you believe? Which ideas do you think are better? Which is the lesser of two evils? These are things you might have to ask yourself when deciding what to do. In the beginning of the game, you can play all sides, and you should. It helps you learn what the various organizations are about. It gives you a lot of entertaining story and will help you decide how you want to play later on. This is important because later in the game, you're not going always going to be able to please everybody. You're going to have to choose who you want to help and who you want to piss off. All of your decisions have consequences. Sometimes, you won't have a way of entirely knowing what those consequences may be in the future. Even though Alex D is his/her own character, when playing, I also felt the need to project some of myself onto him. For instance, I felt guilty killing innocent security guards simply because I wanted to snoop around somewhere that I didn't belong, so instead, I made an effort to just knock them all out. Because the world of Deus Ex is so interactive, you do feel the need to become involved. Aside from your role in the larger political plots, you can also become involved in several side stories. They are not necessary to complete the game, but you might learn more about the main story or score some valuable items. Even in these side stories there are often difficult choices to make and some choices may oppose the will of another character's side story. Like I have been saying, choice is the overbearing theme of the game. In most games, you need to progress through in a very linear fashion, or at least, you have to do practically everything a certain way to proceed. However, in Invisible War it's all up to you. For instance, in one of the first areas of the game, there's a nightclub. You can go into this nightclub and chat it up with everybody in there, learns some valuable information, and make valuable contacts. Or you could just walk into the nightclub and kill everybody in there without saying a word. Or you could skip the nightclub entirely. It's this kind of choice that makes Invisible War so different. In any other game, you would have to restart the mission because you killed too many civilians, or you killed the contact who would tell you how to get to the next level, or something. In Deus Ex, things just move on and you'll have to deal with the consequences.

After all of that, I haven't even talked about the concrete gameplay elements yet. Invisible War looks a lot like a First Person Shooter because that is a large part of what you can do. There are various weapons, such as pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and machine guns, and more. Weapons now have secondary functions as well. You'll probably be using weapons primarily against human enemies, but there are also hostile security bots and animals to deal with should you get yourself in that situation. However, enemies can be avoided entirely by using your other tools. You can hack computers, pick locks, and simply explore the environments to discover other ways to go where you want besides killing all of the guards. There are plenty of people to talk to and they often give you important information that can be used to gain entry into buildings or any number of things. Biomods can also offer up other solutions. Biomods can do several things. For example, there are biomods that let you see through walls, take control of bots, jump very high, or lift very heavy objects. There are many more biomods. You will have to choose which biomods you install carefully, because you cannot have them all. Which biomods you have will later affect how you solve certain problems. Unlike the first game however, biomods are not permanent. While you can still only have a limited amount, you can now "overwrite" an old biomod with a new one if you decide that you'd rather have something different.

The controls are better than the first game. The jump button now allows Alex to mantle as well. How many times in a game have you thought something like, "Yeah, that ledge might be too high for me to jump onto, but if this was the real world, I could still climb onto it." Well, now Alex can do that. By holding down the jump button, you can climb onto ledges, into air ducts, etc. This just helps your interaction with the world in the game feel more realistic. The generic 'action' button is now more useful and it equips the appropriate item or performs the appropriate ability when you click on an object. For instance, click on a locked door, and your multitool (lock picker) will automatically be equipped. Click on a computer terminal and (if you have the correct biomod), you'll begin to hack it. This is better than the first game in which the action button was pretty much only used for opening doors, pushing buttons, and lifting objects. Now things are more streamlined and you won't have to fumble around as much to select the right item or activate an ability. Speaking of abilities, that is something they simplified in Invisible War. The first game had an arbitrary numerical skills system. Every time you completed an objective, you go some skill points which you could then allocate to different skills such as lock picking, aiming, or even swimming. While a skill points system is customary for most RPGs, in the world of Deus Ex, it seems too arbitrary and breaks some of the believability. Instead, some skills are inherent with certain biomods, and other skills were just done away with. A couple other things have been streamlined as well. While it was a somewhat clever idea, the space management of your inventory has been done away with. In the first game, you had to arrange your possessions on a grid. While it was a clever way to represent the limits of the amount of stuff JC Denton could carry, it frustrated most players and caused them to spend too much time messing with their items rather than just playing the game. Now you simply have a set number of items you can carry, but you don't have to worry about how large each item is and how much space they take up on a grid. You may hear some diehard PC fans complain that Invisible War has been "dumbed down" for the Xbox. For the most part, I think the simplifications are improvements that allow you to concentrate on the real gameplay. There is one simplification that I think is ridiculous though. It's the universal ammo. Every weapon in the game, from pistols, to flamethrowers, to poisonous dart guns all use the same ammunition. Yes, it doesn't make any sense. You can find a few in-game references that try to explain it, but that doesn't satisfy me. While it doesn't ruin the gameplay really, it just seems silly to me, and that harms some of the believability of the game world.

There has also been an issue with combat in general. Compared to the first game, the weapons in Invisible War feel too weak. A bullet in the head should be enough to kill a man, but in Invisible War, it takes several. Likewise, a shock with the stun prod or stab with a knife does not kill fast enough, and this ruins some of the stealth elements of gameplay. Thankfully, Eidos released patch that actually makes headshots more damaging for enemies. It still doesn't feel as good as the first game, but it's much better. It's nice to see that they actually responded to complaints and improved the gameplay with a patch (it also fixed other problems too). Combat it is not entirely satisfying, but it is just one facet of a multifaceted game. Had Deus Ex actually been an FPS game, then the effectiveness of the weapons might be an issue. However, in this case, combat is still just a possible solution to a problem, so you can still choose this option and it doesn't detract from the overall gameplay.

Invisible War presents a world with unparalleled interactivity in a game. I know I've already said it a thousand times, but the game is about choice. To make a game like this, you need to present a world that is as realistic as possible. These aren't just levels that you go through. You need to use the environment around you to solve problems. The first Deus Ex allowed you to interact with so many objects. Now, in Invisible War, this is greatly enhanced. The game uses the Havok physics engine which is simply amazing. We've seen it before only in Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. The Havok physics engine allows the 3D objects of a game world to accurately simulate the effects of forces. All objects have incredibly accurate collision detection, and they all move in incredibly accurate ways. Everything can tip, roll and tumble, and all of the objects have a good feeling of mass. Bodies have great collision detection too, only they are too floppy. One problem some people have been complaining about is that now that we have this more elaborate physics model, every item that the player walks into is knocked over. I see the problem, but I don't think it's too big of a deal. I think it's something that game developers are just going to have to tweak and experiment with. This type of realistic physics for all game objects is new for gaming, and I think it will just take time to adjust to see what works and what doesn't.

Likewise, there is also an amazing new lighting and shadowing engine. It's unlike anything you've seen in a game before. Every object and structure in the game casts a real time, dynamic shadow from any light sources nearby. If these objects or light sources move, then the shadows also move, stretch and fade accordingly. It looks amazing and is the most accurate representation of light and shadow that I've seen in a game so far. Coupled with the physics, you can see some pretty amazing scenes. For instance, you can knock a tall lamp over, and wall the lamp falls and collides with the walls or tables according to accurate physics models, all of the shadows in the room will stretch and move as the light falls. It looks amazing. As with the physics, there are still a few instances where you can see something that doesn't happen in real life, but that's nitpicking. It's amazing technology. Also like the physics, the lighting/shadowing is important since you can hide in shadows to reduce the chances of an enemy seeing you. It also just helps to create a more realistic and believable world.

The sounds help to do this as well. You'll play in a variety of environments (another strong point of the game). From guarded facilities, to city streets, to apartments, to outdoor areas, you'll be hearing all of the sound affects to go with these varying locations, and sound is part of gameplay too. Enemies can be alerted by the noise you make, and this includes the sound of your footsteps. Walking on carpeted areas is much quieter than walking on a tiled floor. Again, this also helps to immerse you into the game world. There's a good mix of music to suit the various moods of the game. It definitely fits the sci-fi feel. Also, the kidney thieves created the club music for the appropriate areas in the game. While it's not the kind of music that I usually enjoy, it's very fitting for the certain game locations that it's used in, and it's cool that they have these songs in there to make it seem like a real place. One thing I was disappointed with was the voice acting. All of it sounds too much like they're acting. It's not horrible, but I do wish it was a lot better, because there's a lot of voice acting in the game. You can talk to a lot of people in the game and some of the voice acting is not convincing enough.

Graphically, the game is top-notch. As I said, the lighting/shadowing engine is a marvel. The texture detail and geometry construction is good as well. They did a great job of creating detailed environments that you can believe exist. Although the facial animation isn't excellent, it's good enough, and the general animation is well done. I only have one complaint about the graphics, or rather the art design. With the enormous amount of people that you meet in the game, you would have thought that they would have used more skins. It seems like every time you turn around, you see a person whose face is identical to another person you just spoke with. I'm exaggerating, but still, there are not nearly enough unique faces in the game as there should have been. It's strange when the lawyer you are talking to now has the exact same face as the mugger you just killed on the way in who looked just like the crazy dancer at the club who looked just like the security officer in the last city who?Ķ etc. It ruins some of the engrossing nature of the game and reminds you that you're playing a video game.

Regardless of the various faults of this sequel, Invisible War greatly improves upon the original gameplay. You now feel like you have more freedom to play how you want to play. It is not any specific gameplay enhancements that improve the gameplay so much. Yes, the new lighting and physics engines are really cool, and do provide new situations, but it's the overall design of how these different organizations give you so much information and so many different objectives that improve the gameplay. I feel more like a part of the game than I have in any other game, and it's really cool. I think that all PC gamers should pick this game up to see for themselves just how different this type of game design is. The emergent storyline and the sense that you have an active role in what's going on and how things turn out is unlike anything else right now aside from the original Deus Ex. In fact, I would suggest that if you haven't played that, to go buy a copy of the original Deus Ex for the PC and play that through too. Not only is it a good deal ($10-15 now), but it's a really good experience. Deus Ex gameplay is a unique and amazing experience that you shouldn't miss.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 01/27/04
ESRB Details: Blood, Violence
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Screenshots for Deus Ex: Invisible War

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