A lot of problems, but an ok game.

User Rating: 7.5 | Deus Ex: Invisible War PC
There is a small group of games that are so revolutionary, so ambitious and vast in scope that, while they may have a great many faults, one can be very forgiving in their criticism. Baldur's Gate 2, Morrowind, and No One Lives Forever fall into this category. So did the original Deus Ex. Deus Ex had so many faults and shortcomings that they would have absolutely crippled an otherwise average game. The enemy AI was atrocious, the sound effects and voice acting were laughable, the graphics were awful and the performance was ridiculously poor--they had to release a patch just to get the game playable on Direct3D cards. But Deus Ex wasn't an average game. It's open-ended multi-solution gameplay, excellent RPG elements, great setting and storyline, and truly unique atmosphere made it one of the greatest games of all time. So with the sequel the developers should have had a fairly straightforward job, right? Address the shortcomings in the original while keeping the same magic that made the first game so spectacular. Unfortunately this isn't what Ion Storm decided to do. For reasons I'll never be able to fathom they set about fixing everything that wasn't broken while completely ignoring the two biggest faults of the original. The end result is a game that's average at best, but when compared to its predecessor it's pretty much a travesty. The first warning signs came with the extremely ill-conceived demo. Never in PC gaming history has there been an uproar from the gaming community as there was with the Invisible War demo. It revealed for the first time just how much Warren Spectre and his team at Ion Storm had gutted the much-beloved Deus Ex model. Petitions were circulated to try to convince the developer to take the game back and fix it, even at the cost of delays. It was in vain. When the game was released it confirmed what everyone had feared: this was not the Deus Ex they'd hoped for. Even if they had released a game with the same strengths and weaknesses of the original I would have been happy. Or at least happier than I am with this. Because not only did they keep the weaknesses, they added a slew of new ones. The new faults exist for two main reasons. First, the game was released concurrently for the PC and Xbox, and thus had to cater to the Xbox's inferior hardware, particularly its memory restrictions. And these aren't just graphical problems, it also means the levels are ridiculously small, nothing like the sprawling areas of the original. And second, Warren Spectre and his team have some really bizarre ideas regarding "accessibility". They claim they want to make the game accessible to everyone, but in reality they removed most of what made Deus Ex such a great game. While the quality of the graphics will be discussed in the appropriate section below, it must be noted here that this game is a ridiculous performance hog. Even hugely powerful systems will have trouble running it. For a game that sacrificed everything that made its predecessor good for the sake of being easy to play, they sure made it as difficult as possible to get running acceptably. In fact out of the box it shipped with most of the Xbox settings for screen size and lighting, they had to release a patch just to fix this oversight. The game has now been patched to the point where it's a bit more reasonable, but still, when accessibility is your goal you probably shouldn't release a game that requires tweaking *.ini files just to get running. If you finally do manage to complete the surprisingly tough mental exercise of just getting the game to run, you'll be treated with a game that's been drastically dumbed down from its predecessor, supposedly in an effort to prevent you from having to think too much. Why they did this is anyone's guess. The changes range from the innocuous to the mildly annoying to the straight out offensive. Here are some of the bigger ones: All ammo in the game has been replaced with a common energy system that powers all weapons. Apparently it was too difficult to keep track of the different ammo types in the original. I for one didn't have problems with it, but oh well. The energy ammo system is not so bad as some have made it out to be. The weapons themselves are still unique enough to offer variety in their own right. It's still a mystery as to why they would do this, the original wasn't broken. The original's lockpicks and multitools have been combined into one tool, and--here's the worst part--they are not dependent on any skill system. Which means lockpicking / electronic hacking amounts to a pure logistics question: "Do I want to spend 3 of my multitools on this?" There's no option to specialize in lockpicking so that future problems would be easier. This leads to the game's worst change for the sake of "accessibility": the skill system has been removed. Completely. Warren claims it's been folded into the biomod system, but this is a joke. The original game had strong RPG elements with great character customization and specialization. Invisible War has almost none of this. Oddly enough, this time they went to the effort of giving you the choice between a male or female protagonist, with all the added voice-over work required for that. Warren, a word of advice: when you completely rip out the meaningful character customization options, nobody really cares whether or not they can play as a dude or a chick. Adding to these insults is the fact that each level in Invisible War is incredibly small. I honestly can't remember ever playing a first-person game where the maps were this tiny. And this is in a game that's supposed to portray sprawling cities! Supposedly this is because of the Xbox's memory constraints, but I've seen Xbox games with far bigger levels than this. And given the obvious problems Warren's team has from a technical standpoint (they really do need to hire some skilled programmers), I find it difficult to completely fault the Xbox for this. Warren said in an interview that this forced them to adopt the mantra "Smaller and deeper." No Warren, it's just smaller. You ripped out everything that made the game deep. The game's storyline has much the same flavour of the original (this is good), but you aren't given nearly enough background information to properly establish the setting and global atmosphere (this is bad). The original struggled with this too, but you were given lots of newspapers and books to read. Invisible War has much less of these story resources. It still has the cyberpunk atmosphere of the original and has some pretty cool tech ideas. It still, in a more limited degree, has the stealth-based multi-solution gameplay that made the first game so famous. So if you'd never played the original Deus Ex you might find Invisible War tolerable enough to be fun. But those of us who played and loved the first Deus Ex will find Invisible War an enormous disappointment. Thankfully the ear-bleedingly bad voiceovers from the original are gone. Or most of them are, anyway. The game offers a lot of voice work and most of it is pretty good. The game's music, in the few places you'll hear it, is quite good, but it's really only found in places like nightclubs. But the weapon's sounds aren't great and the environments are devoid of any background noise. Granted, you want to be able to hear the enemy soldiers' footsteps, but there should still be background noise in a city centre or back streets or industrial facility. This lack of sound really hurts the immersive factor, though admittedly not nearly as much as some of the game's other shortcomings. The sound is decent but doesn't even come close to making up for the game's failings.

Invisible War is a first-person shooter / RPG hybrid that heavily emphasizes stealthy gameplay. Though its RPG elements have been severely handicapped compared to its predecessor, the game still holds to this general formula. There are a good number of quests, many of them optional. There are a great many NPCs to talk to and some interesting locales to visit. Since the skill (and consequently the "level up") system has been removed, character customization comes down to the biomod system. And even here it's been reduced from the original. You have five customizable biomod slots, and with each you'll choose one upgrade from three options. Supposedly each slot has two "legal" upgrades and one "black-market", but other than being harder to find there is absolutely no adverse consequence to choose the black market ones. These biomods do let you customize your character to some degree, but they aren't entirely balanced. There are some that are virtually essential (i.e. computer hacking), and others that are so extremely helpful (i.e. bot domination) that they dwarf their competitors. Oh, and don't worry if you choose one that you end up not liking: the choice isn't permanent, you can change biomods in any given slot anytime you find an upgrade canister. Unfortunately the biggest fault of the original is still here: the enemy AI is as stupid as can be. When Deus Ex was released in 2000 this was forgiveable, especially considering how good the rest of the game was. But today, with the likes of Halo and Vietcong demonstrating some very believable AI, Invisible War just seems ridiculous. You'll end up treating the patrolling guards as walking surveillance cameras, because that's about as bright as they are. The game still manages to throw some interesting puzzles your way. You usually have several options to choose from in any given situation, and if Rambo is your role model then the old tried-and-true guns blazing method can work. The combat system is decent, and the weapons have that good "feeling" so that they seem fluid and natural. Ammo is scarce, however--this is intentional, as the game does not encourage run-and-gun tactics. And even if you find lots of ammo your maximum carrying capacity is small. So most times you won't just be asking yourself "How can I get past this situation?", but rather "How can I do this without spending too much of my ammo?" The weapons themselves can be upgraded, and this weapons modification system is one of the few aspects of the game that is better than its predecessor. There are now 8 (or maybe 10, I forget) possible weapon mods, including everything from silencers to accuracy improvements to recoil reduction to EMP attacks (makes your weapon hurt mechanical enemies) to the ability to destroy glass silently and without triggering alarms. Weapons can usually have two different modifications attached. The result is that there is an enormous range of weapon capabilities. A shotgun that has an EMP upgrade and ammo conservation is a much different weapon than a shotgun with rapid-fire and reduced recoil mods. The much-ballyhooed dynamic lighting and physics systems, while looking pretty, add absolutely nothing to the gameplay. Prior to the game's release Warren was making it sound as if these would produce gameplay that had never been seen before. It was all smoke and mirrors. Nevertheless, if you ignore the multitude of shortcomings compared to the original, Invisible War still offers some interesting gameplay. It's just a shame it fell so, so far from the standards set by its predecessor.

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