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Deus Ex is back! YAY!

Deus Ex was one of those titles that nobody really expected. Released in 2000 by Ion Storm, a developer whose reputation was in shambles after the massive public failure known as Daikatana, Deus Ex provided a style of gameplay and storyline still unmatched today, four years later.

As I sit down and write this review, I think back and can say I was truly inspired by Deus Ex. It is still my favourite title ever developed to this day, even with so many new games available. Although the game engine is archaic by today’s standards, and the graphics aren't a whole lot better, no other developer has taken on the challenge of a first-person shooter and RPG hybrid as expansive and complex as Deus Ex. It really is sad to see Ion Storm close shop, and though they were riddled with problems from the beginning, they were able to produce such legendary titles such as the Deus Ex and Thief series. One more casualty of the gaming industry, and unfortunately it raises the question will we ever see another title like Deus Ex again?

In the original, you were JC Denton, a biomechanically augmented human. A plague known only as the "Grey Death" is slowly destroying mankind. The world is in chaos, terrorist factions are the controlling bodies, and nothing is what it seems. A cure has been developed, but it is a heavily guarded secret, and only a select few have access to it. Working as a UNATCO Agent, JC Denton traveled around the world uncovering conspiracies and secrets on terrorist factions and UNATCO itself. Deus Ex contains three completely different endings, depending ultimately on your decisions; the sequel assumes you selected the most probable of these outcomes. Without giving too much of the original plot away, you end up discovering and understanding who the real terrorists are, and after taking down the global communications network, it initiated a phase in history called the Collapse.

In Deus Ex: Invisible War, twenty years has passed since the Collapse. Details about that time are scarce, and some even believe JC Denton to be a myth. Few people truly understand what happened, and details are shrouded in mystery. You are Alex D, a biomodified human, and are involved in a lot more than you bargained for.

The story opens with an attack on the city of Chicago. Through the explosions and chaos, you are whisked away quickly into a helicopter and taken to Seattle. As the story progresses, you’ll learn the truth about Chicago, and uncover the secrets behind the WTO and Order Church, and ultimately be left to made a decision on whom to support. Later, a faction called the Templar Paladins come into play, a cult-like group of individuals who are strongly against biomodification, and will do whatever they feel is necessary to stop it and “restore humanity”. The storyline is complex, and you’ll only really understand it from start to finish if you’ve played the original to completion. Bits and pieces of the original storyline are scattered on the loading screen, but they only give small amounts of information, enough to get an idea of what is happening but nowhere close to understanding the history and scope of the overall plot.

My first thought when launching Invisible War was the overly complex interface. Although the opening sequence and menu system is slick, weapon assignment and inventory management seemed overly complex. The actual in-game user interface took a bit of getting used to, and with so many menus (pausing the game, biomodifications, and weapons and inventory management), it’s easy to get lost quickly. My only other issue with the menu interface is one issue that if you are receiving a message from one of your contacts within an organization, you cannot pause the game or assign weapons. Should you be in a firefight and receive a message, simply run for cover as you won’t be able to restore health or activate your biomodifications until they have finished speaking.

These biomodifications are a core part of your survival; they allow you to complete tasks that would be otherwise impossible. By installing biomod canisters, you gain additional abilities, whether it’s a strength upgrade for the ability to carry large barrels, regeneration to restore your health, or simply a thermal masking augmentation which makes you invisible to most bots. In addition to these “legal” canisters, black-market biomod canisters can be obtained later in the game, these allow “non-standard” functionality. The most useful of these black-market upgrades is hacking, which allows you to shut down surveillance equipment or steal credits from ATM’s. These credits are very useful for bribes and other tasks, and are often difficult to come by if you don’t “obtain” them from the ATM’s.

One of the greatest strengths of the Deus Ex series is the plotline, and the numerous tasks you are given to complete. Often, you’ll end up with conflicting tasks, for example, killing a specific individual may please one faction, but will enrage another. In the end, as long as you haven’t turned everyone against you, then you likely are doing quite alright. You have to pick your alliances, and weigh each task carefully to determine your greatest benefit. Invisible War has a primary plotline, but is also offers a wealth of side tasks that can be completed for additional rewards such as biomod canisters, weapon upgrades, or simply some spending money. Invisible War offers a variety of unique weaponry, each with a specific purpose. One of the strangest decisions made by Ion Storm was the fact that all weapons pull ammo from a common supply, which means your rocket launcher and pistol use the same ammunition and simply deplete it at different rates. Although this simplifies management somewhat, it can be overly frustrating at times as you waste more ammunition, especially since it is extremely difficult to come by. The game features the basic firearms, pistol, shotgun, SMG, and a sniper rifle. With that said, once you obtain the sniper rifle it’s unlikely you’ll use many of the others again, as heads shots are an instant kill and it’s easiest to sit fifty feet back and take your enemies out one at a time. These types of weapons are upgradeable; enhancements such as a silencer, ammo reducer, and glass destabilizer are available. Strap a silencer on your sniper rifle, and you’ve got a virtually unstoppable weapon in your hand.

The EMP is one of the most efficient and useful weapons in the game. Mounted as a secondary fire on the Mag Rail rifle, or more simply as a mine or grenade, it has the ability to permanently disable both military bots and other electronic devices such as security cameras. Strategically placing an EMP mine, or tossing a few spiderbombs (small spider-like mechanical robots that fire light EMP bursts) can make all the difference at whether you survive a battle. And with ammo so difficult to come by you’ll find yourself stocking up on grenades and mines as they do not deplete the ammo supply.

The soundtrack for Deus Ex: Invisible War is phenomenal. Take a calm and relaxing melody and fuse it with a bit of techno music. Finally add an orchestral feel, and you’ll end up with a similar style to that of the Invisible War soundtrack. In fact, Eidos and Ion Storm have freely released the soundtrack for download from the official Deus Ex website, and I so thoroughly enjoyed the musical score I just happen to be listening to it as I put together this article. The background music varies significantly depending on the environment, and really helps build an engaging and enjoyable atmosphere. The sound effects themselves get the job done, but aren't anything in particular to write home about. Gunfire, EMP blasts, and footsteps are all included, but they don't really show the same level of detail and dedication that is present in the other elements of the title. One of the more unique aspects of Deus Ex: Invisible War is the ability to select the gender of your character at the start, and the title includes different voiceovers for both the male and female roles. The voice acting itself is well-spoken and well-written, adding another enjoyable element to the game overall.

Deus Ex: Invisible War isn't perfect. The storyline is captivating, and will keep players coming back for more, but the physics engine has its flaws. One of my big issues with the title was that objects do not seem to be weighted correctly. Whether it’s a chair or simply a coffee pot, you can send these objects flying across the room like a baseball. When you hit a spectator with an object, they barely flinch and usually do a little complaining, but don’t really react much besides that. You can hit a civilian with a table, and nothing really comes of it, having them pull out a gun would have made for a much more interesting game.

Invisible War is not the same as the original; it is a very different game altogether. One of Deus Ex’s greatest strengths, and weaknesses, was its sheer complexity. Customizable upgrade trees and skill points to increase specific character elements have been simplified significantly or removed altogether in some cases. While this helps to get new players up to speed and reduces the learning curve, it does hurt the title overall. For the Xbox, these changes are more than acceptable, as on a console these complexities would really be overwhelming for a platform that is primarily geared towards fast-paced shooter. For the PC version these customizations were more than welcome as they added yet another dynamic element into the mix.

In comparison to the first, Invisible War is a much more linear storyline. Deus Ex allowed players to go pretty much where they wanted, when they wanted. You could travel around huge environments, and while Invisible War has a similar feel, the environments are significantly smaller. In addition to this, the load times between each environment are excessive, and are lengthy enough that they really become noticeable and slow down the gameplay. Fortunately, the environments themselves are very diverse and span across the globe. You start in Seattle, a city across a much divided landscape. Upper Seattle is a WTO controlled territory, rebuilt after the collapse; it is heavily patrolled and guarded by the WTO and a private security force. Lower Seattle is built on the ruins of the pre-collapse city, the streets are lined with poor and hungry citizens, only an inclinator links the two vastly different living conditions. Throughout your journey, you'll travel through Cario, Egypt, and Trier, Germany. You'll also visit a notable location from the original, but that would give away a bit too much of the plot. These environments are very diversity, and the cultural representations are definitely noticeable. A lot of time and effort has been taken to develop environments that not only help drive the storyline, but also serve to reflect the conditions in each part of the Deus Ex world in the post-collapse civilization.

As with the environments, character and object models are nicely presented. I noticed a few moderate clipping issues, but nothing that really degraded the quality of gameplay. Lighting effects are included as well, but don’t particularly play a big role in the game. For example, one of the default biomodifications is a “light” enhancement, similar to a flashlight in your brain. Throughout the entire game I don’t think I used this enhancement at all, the lighting in each level is bright enough that is really doesn’t require it. Explosions and short-circuiting bots are a nice addition, but I noticed that explosions especially result in a big hit to the framerate, even on the Xbox. You’ll need a powerful system to run the PC version to it’s full potential; fortunately the Xbox version is able to keep the framerates acceptable in most cases throughout the game.

To be completely honest, when I first started Invisible War I was disappointed. The gameplay seemed clunky, and the storyline wasn't nearly as interesting as the first. After about an hour had passed, my opinion had completely changed. True, the physics engine has its flaws, and the controls are very difficult to learn and master, but once you get past these initial hurdles the storyline seems to envelop you. For two solid days, I could only put down the controller for bathroom breaks and the occasional meal, its addictive nature is unbelievable. Unfortunately, towards the end, I found the game seemed to drag on a bit, especially when facing very powerful bots with virtually no ammunition. The game features four distinct endings, although you don't have to go back far from the completion of the title to choose which way the game will end, and this will likely lead you to simply replaying those few minutes rather than completing the entire title again from a different perspective.

The AI in the original Deus Ex was lackluster and it sometimes felt as if the word intelligence was missing completely. Not much has changed in the sequel. Enemies commonly run around in circles while you snipe them off from a distance. Or, if you prefer the more hands-on approach, you can stand directly in front of you enemies no more than fifteen feet away in broad daylight, and they'll mention that they've "heard something", but just stand there dumbfounded when you blow them away with a shotgun. Your allies are only slightly better; they often will run directly into your line of fire, and then get really upset when you accidentally shoot them due to their own stupidity. In some cases, enemies are overly aggressive, but these instances are few and far between. Most of the time, you can slowly pick off large groups of soldiers one at a time, and then hide behind a dumpster until they lose interest and walk away. Ion Storm should have really put more work into refining the AI in the Deus Ex series, one of the real downfalls of Invisible War.

My only other gripe with Deus Ex: Invisible War is that the title really is too short. It only takes somewhere in the range of twelve to fifteen hours to complete, and that includes most of the side tasks. This really doesn't compare to the original, which had an average of thirty to forty hours of gameplay, and I can think of where I was up to nearly eighty hours at one point taking my time and living the experience for all it was worth.

Invisible War may not quite live up the standards set by its predecessor, but in the end it is still a very feature-rich and incredibly addictive title. The physics and interface issues may be minor hindrances, but are virtually negligible when you encompass the sheer enormity of the title. Unfortunately, the long load times and numerous crash bugs plague the game. If you can look past these issues, then Deus Ex: Invisible War is well thought-out title, and any fan of the original should definitely take a look.

Presentation 8 The cut scenes and opening menus are slick, but the in-game interface is overly complex. Visual 8 Very solid. Environments and object models are nicely detailed, although a few clipping issues are present The Xbox is able to handle the graphics fairly well, but you’ll need a high-end PC to run this one at full detail. Audio 9.0 The soundtrack is superb, a combination of techno and relaxing music. Voiceovers are also well spoken, and the addition of both male and female characters is a nice touch. Gameplay 8.0 The physics engine may have its quirks, but Invisible War offers a very immersive gameplay experience that should please most fans of the original. Replay Value 7.0 Its bugs can be frustrating, and although it’s fairly short, Invisible War offers large number of side tasks that should keep you busy for a while. The ability to make decisions that dynamically affect the storyline is a welcome change to the standard shooter genre.

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