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Deus Ex: Invisible War

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Ion Storm
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ First Person Shooter


Graphics & Sound:

I won't waste valuable space with a long, drawn out introduction to Deus Ex or its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War since we have a lot of ground to cover and I'm trying to make a deadline. Okay -- not really, but I just couldn't think of a better intro than to say Deus Ex came out a few years ago, wowed a lot of people with its flexible storyline, engrossing plot and immersive gameplay. Invisible War is the long-awaited sequel to the original and manages to build on everything that was good about its predecessor, providing one of the best gameplay experiences I've had on the PC this year.

Hmm, that wasn't as hard as I thought...

First off, Deus Ex: Invisible War looks phenomenal. As you travel though the game's worlds, it is amazing just how much detail environments sport. One of the more appealing things, at least to me, was how functional every level looked. Instead of roaming through random caverns and unmarked hallways, Invisible War puts you right in the middle of apartment buildings and city streets. This does a lot for the overall feeling the game portrays. The level of detail even spills out into other areas of the game. Character models look just as good as their surroundings, although there are a few times where the facial animations -- in particular mouth movements --look stilted and lagged behind words. However, I did notice slight improvements after the first major patch (which I recommend everyone get due to the marked performance upgrade). One of the highlights of the game is the lighting engine. The subtle shadows and light that play in each level add a nice life and atmosphere to the game's levels. However, I wasn't too wild about the 'Bloom' effect, which causes light to scatter more like real light (as opposed to the 'real' of the in-game light). I concede that this could be a problem with either my personal in-game settings or video card, but I found that the Bloom effect tended to blur and wash out big parts of the levels. This is one of those effects you're going to have to play around with yourself. The game defaults with Bloom turned on (until you get the patch), but you can toggle it via the in-game options menu.

Although it is a nitpicky complaint, I was a little disappointed with the selection of character models available when creating your in-game character. This is minor and doesn't lose any points for the game, but the selection is so slim it's almost not worth offering anything beyond choosing male or female. In fact, that's pretty much all you're offered -- only with the added selection of three skin tones of increasing ethnicity. But, like I said, this isn't that big of a deal since you only see your character during select story sequences.

The game's musical score is excellent and ranks as one of the game soundtracks I'd like to get my hands on (hint, hint). The audio tracks range from haunting organ melodies to some slick guitar licks. The game also features a few tracks from Kidney Thieves, which worked for me within the context of the game, but aren't anything I'd listen to in my car. Vocal performances are also good, as are the sound effects. Ambient sounds round out the audio package and help bring the entire game to life.


Gameplay:

Deus Ex: Invisible War takes place twenty years after the original and uses many elements of the original as the back story. This doesn't make having played Deus Ex a necessity, but it doesn't hurt either. The only important thing to know is that JC Denton (the hero from the original) caused a massive worldwide Collapse. The other events are up to you to discover.

Invisible War opens with a massive terrorist attack on Chicago. You play as Alex Denton, a student at the Tarsus Academy, who is forced to evacuate to Seattle after the attack. After a second attack on the Tarsus Academy in Seattle, you are drawn into a massive conflict between religious fanatics and businessmen. The overall story arc is very deep and confronts a number of big issues like the role of religion, or more to the point -- should one religion be mandatory; the role of science, its place in the world and playing 'god'; and human rights. I won't get too far into the story behind Invisible War because frankly, my experience will be completely different from yours.

The overall concept behind the game is to weave your own tale by traveling through different story paths depending on how you choose to solve puzzles, deal with enemies or handle other situations. Nearly every aspect of the game can be handled in at least two or three ways, or perhaps even more depending on other decisions you've made earlier. The entire game design is up to you -- making the game less of an FPS and more of a First-Person RPG (such as Morrowind). If a mission calls for you to get a set of files from an office, you can choose to sneak in and grab them without anyone knowing or pull a Matrix and waylay the place -- leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. If you choose to do so, it is even possible to complete the entire game without killing anyone.

The primary gameplay aspect of Invisible War is character development and how you choose to experience the game. Similar to Knights of the Old Republic (only a little deeper in my opinion), Invisible War gauges your actions and creates a game world based on those decisions. As the player, this requires you to think in advance of your actions and think through the logical consequences of what you are about to do. Sure, it might look like a good idea to shoot that guy -- but it could come back to bite you in the ass later since you might need him. Your actions will not only have some implications on you, but will affect others. If you choose to let someone live, they could just as well turn out to be a crazed murderer later on. Little things like this create a very cool dynamic that really makes you feel like you're part of the game. Invisible War does such a good job at drawing you into the game that you will start to think as your character. You'll develop relationships with NPC's and care what happens to them -- which will also play into the decisions that you make during the game. You stop thinking about what you would do and rather what your character would do.

This is what set Deus Ex apart from other games and what helps to make Invisible War such a unique experience. You're not playing the game to just shoot stuff. Instead, you have a reason for engaging in combat (if you choose to do so). The experience is defined by you, not the developer.


Difficulty:

Given that you are defining your play experience, the difficulty level will also be a little different depending on how you do things. Judging from my experience, things felt like they were on pretty even ground. Rarely did I run into an area that I find to be too easy and if I was having a tough time in a situation, I would just change my tactics. Morality plays a big role in determining how easy (or difficult) of a time you'll have in Deus Ex: Invisible War. The idea of 'right' in the game is what you think 'right' is, not what the game has already predetermined it to be. In addition, your idea of 'right' may not jive with an NPC's view of 'right'.

Pacing also contributes to the difficulty level. During the game you'll be invited to perform tasks for various gangs and other NPC's. In the beginning it's a good idea to try and play both sides of the ball and not piss off one faction. This will give you access to better equipment early on. Take advantage of this while you can, because you won't be able to do it the entire game.

Getting into the shooter and stealth aspects of Invisible War (the game is more than an interactive morality play after all), it isn't all that hard and gives a good challenge. The combat aspects of this game were tight and responsive, all the marks of a good shooter. As with the original game, the stealth aspects still need work and are harder to pull off than they should be. Enemy AI is less-than-impressive, especially when compared to the rest of the game. The main problem, which is something that hurts the impact of Invisible War, is their lack of awareness to what is going on around them. You can walk into someone's office, loot the hell out of it and they won't notice. At the same time, guards seem to be trapped in their own little worlds at times. You can literally gun down one of their buddies in plain view and they won't do anything unless you make a lot of noise -- then they come running.


Game Mechanics:

The skill system from Deus Ex has been reworked for Deus Ex: Invisible War. Instead of developing your skills based on actions, you can install Biomods, which will enhance performance. These include abilities like night vision, enhanced aiming, regeneration and stealth. One Biomod will even let you interface with computers such as ATM's - giving you lots of free credits. You can switch out Biomods at any time during the game. Black market Biomods can also be purchased and sometimes offer better abilities that 'Official' ones, but can also malfunction or carry other negative effects. The weapons selection is varied and can also be modified. Weapons also benefit from a unified ammo system, so all guns use the same ammo. This is both a good thing and a bad thing as it ends those sticky situations where you run out of ammo for a really cool gun, but it also makes very little sense logistically.

The game's interface has been streamlined this time around, meaning you no longer have to worry about memorizing and keeping track of long lists of hotkeys. Most actions, other than crouching and jumping, are all wired into a single action key. This makes performing tasks much easier and gives the game a more console interface feel (which I liked). The keyboard may have around 106 keys, but that doesn't mean I want to use them all. When performing certain tasks, such as hacking into a system or picking a lock, the tools will automatically equip. Using items and equipping Biomods can be done in one of two ways. You can hotkey them, making them easier to use during gameplay or you can pause and equip them in the menu. The controls are generally good, but suffer from a few problems. Jumping presents a few difficulties, particularly when trying to climb over boxes or ledges. When jumping, if you don't nail the leap you end up flying backwards a good distance, which is annoying. There's also no auto-pickup option in the game, meaning you have to pick up every little thing people drop. Usually, it is not too much of a problem since an on-screen message tells you 'pick this up', but enemies have a tendency to fall on their weapons. This gets annoying since you then have to pick them up in order to get to the good stuff.

Invisible War also features a pretty nice little physics system. Objects fall in a realistic manner and it is possible to bounce balls around. Unfortunately, this doesn't play too much into the mechanics of the game and is there more for show at times. Most of the time, I just played around with the physics engine to be an asshole. Walking into rooms and knocking things off shelves didn't have any handle on what went on in the game or how people saw me, but it gave me a nice feeling inside to show the in-game NPC's how much of a tough guy I was because I could knock stuff off tables and shelves and break them. I also found an odd sense of satisfaction in throwing basketballs at enemies before shooting them.

As I mentioned in the first section, make sure you get the patch before playing since it takes care of many of the loose ends that plague the game after first installing it. The HUD becomes much more user friendly and the game runs smoother. Some of the AI problems are also fixed.

Deus Ex: Invisible War is one of those rare games that is less of a game and more of an experience. Ion Storm should be commended for once again pushing the boundaries of what a game is and giving players something that they can play multiple times and experience in multiple ways. It is not a flawless game, but is something that shouldn't be missed.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.3 GHz (1.7 Recommended); 32 MB video card (64 MB Recommended -- GeForce MX cards not supported); 2 GB HDD; 256 MB RAM (512 Recommended); Direct X 9
 

Test System:



Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.7 GHz; Radeon 9100 128 MB; 40 Gig HD; 640 MB RAM; Direct X 9

Windows Airborne Assault: Highway to the Reich Windows Firestarter

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated