Deus Ex: Invisible War Review
Deus Ex: Invisible War can be highly rewarding, as long as you're willing to look past some problems along the way.
Sci-fi action and intrigue are deeply intertwined in Deus Ex: Invisible War, the sequel to 2000's Deus Ex, a first-person cyberpunk thriller in which your decisions--as a cybernetically enhanced secret agent--ultimately decided the fate of the world. The original Deus Ex earned considerable acclaim for its cerebral storyline and its seamless integration of role-playing elements, which collectively added up to a memorable and surprisingly open-ended experience. Invisible War shares many great qualities with its predecessor, though it inherits most of the same shortcomings. It's also one of the first games to make extensive use of dynamic lighting and (relatively) realistic physics, though these rather impressive technical features also have certain drawbacks. The sum total of these factors can be highly rewarding, as long as you're willing to look past some problems along the way.
At first glance, Deus Ex: Invisible War appears to be a science-fiction themed first-person shooter, but, like its predecessor, it's really more of a role-playing game that's played from a first-person perspective. You play as Alex D. (whose gender may be chosen at the outset of the game), a trainee at Tarsus Academy, which is a school for gifted youths who graduate to become covert operatives. In the introductory sequence to Invisible War, the city of Chicago is wiped out by a terrorist attack that was seemingly targeted at Tarsus. You and some of the others from Tarsus manage to escape and are transplanted to another Tarsus campus in Seattle. The game itself begins when you awaken in your new apartment. You're asked to report in with the other Tarsus trainees, but now something else is amiss. You soon find that there seem to be at least a couple of different factions interested in either the destruction of or the acquisition of Tarsus' student body--your "student body" included. The storyline of Invisible War is comparable to that of the original game in that the premise is, by all means, intriguing and original. Additionally, there are a number of surprises waiting to be discovered. However, this isn't really a character-driven storyline. Right from the start, you'll be very mistrustful of virtually everyone you meet. The world of the game is every bit as cold as it appears to be.
Of further note, Invisible War's story becomes much more interesting later on as it starts to tie in with that of the original Deus Ex. Yet this is also the point at which those who are unfamiliar with the particulars of the first game's plot will probably start to feel bewildered. Invisible War includes a little bit of background material for those who haven't finished the original game, but, as with most any direct sequel, you'll have trouble getting as involved in the story unless you have the experience of the original to draw upon.
Anyway, you'll quickly learn that there's much more to Tarsus than meets the eye. Once you leave the facility (or, once you manage to escape from the facility, depending on how you look at it), you'll then get to wander around Seattle looking for some answers. Your journey will eventually take you to other parts of the world, including Egypt and Germany, and soon things will start to become clear. Invisible War isn't entirely open-ended, but within each main segment of the game, you'll be able to travel in and around a central hub area of some sort. From here you'll be able to subsequently take on assignments from various characters--at your discretion and at your leisure.
You'll frequently be asked to accomplish mutually exclusive objectives for competing factions. For example, one side will ask you to acquire the plans for a powerful experimental weapons program, while the other side will ask you to assassinate the scientist in charge of the project to slow the program's development. You can be consistent in your decision-making and single-mindedly follow your gut instincts, or you can attempt to play the sides against each other. Or you can just follow your whim, thus reserving the right to double-cross those who would probably just as soon do the same to you. In addition to the main objectives, numerous less important side quests tend to be available, such as a number of missions that let you arbitrarily pick sides in an apparent corporate struggle between two monopolistic coffee corporations, each reminiscent of a certain real-world coffee corporation. These and all your missions are clearly and concisely tracked in a logbook, and an onscreen compass and lots of signage throughout the game's environments should collectively keep you from getting lost or stuck.
There really is no clear sense of right or wrong in this game, which is interesting--though odd--and not always conducive to a satisfying experience. It's great that you're free to choose whether to side with one creepy organization or another and that you can be just about as fickle as you want with every step of the way. Everyone wants your help, so they're willing to keep giving you second chances if you stab them in the back. Since you'll probably be hard-pressed to actually appreciate the motivations of any of the characters who ask you to do things in this game, you won't usually care exactly what happens, or to whom, as a result of your actions. The characters themselves aren't well developed, and the game's artificial intelligence is terrible--if not missing. For instance, you can usually blatantly steal things from off of characters' desks, right in front of them, without any consequence, and you can brandish your submachine guns and sniper rifles in public without anyone batting an eyelash. These types of things conspire to make the characters in the game seem lifeless and unconvincing, thus undermining any dramatic impact.
Just as you'll constantly have a choice about whom to side with, so will you have different options available as you attempt to go about specific objectives. The main options involve force and stealth. In practice, you'll probably rely on a combination of these two elements. The game's manual asserts that "deadly force is always a choice, not a requirement" in the game, which means that it's theoretically possible to go through Invisible War without killing anybody. But that's like saying it's theoretically possible to finish the game in one sitting without ever saving your progress. Yes, you could do it if you really tried, but there's no reward for all that hardship, save for whatever personal satisfaction you'd gain from the accomplishment. In practice, you'll probably find yourself following a fairly obvious path of least resistance through Deus Ex: Invisible War.