The first Deus-Ex blurred the borders between a role-playing game and a shooter, and did so with a riveting story too. While it does have its own flaws, it was better known for what it achieved than what it did poorly.
It is therefore disappointing that the sequel does not build on these achievements, but rather regressed.
The setting of the sequel occurs some time after the events of the first game, with the canonized ending being the unlikely union of the previous game's protagonist with its main antagonist. This also means that the protagonist in the sequel is no longer the same person. This can be disappointing to players of the first game who would have rather the previous protagonist reprise his role, but reconciling the gameplay with his now more-than-mortal status would be understandably difficult.
What would be less acceptable though is how much Deus Ex's version of the world has changed. Somehow, the concept of nations has disintegrated to be replaced by a near-global hegemony that controls the flow of trade and the world's now scarcer resources (despite the advancement of technology). Of course, one can argue that anything is possible in a fictional setting, but such an alteration that occurred in just a little more than a generation can be as unbelievable as it is astonishing.
The story designs also include a vast but loosely knitted organization that apparently emphasizes the pursuit of spiritual endeavours, in contrast to the materialistic quests of aforementioned hegemony. There is typically friction between these two groups, and this will be the backdrop that the player and player character will be thrown into at the start of the game.
Of course, conflicts between ideologically opposed factions are plausible and well-worn settings, but Invisible War's obvious and much promoted emphasis on conspiracies would not be able to avert the expectation that not all that meet the eyes will turn out to be what they seem to be. The plot twists that would come would have been better masked if the conflict is over competing interests or some other reason that is worldlier and more convincingly honest.
In other words, to the more perceptive of players or those who are avid fans of conspiratorial themes, there will not be much in the way of surprise in the game's story. In fact, they may even find that the story-writers have resorted to a deus ex machina to explain a major plot twist that turns the initial story setting around on its head.
Certainly not helping keep the plot twists under wraps is the background of the player character, who is given the sexually ambiguous name of "Alex" so that this person can be male or female, depending on the player's preference. Alex's background and the gaps in it are revealed rather early-on, thus giving more than a few hints that plot twists are on the way. Some players may even have déjà vu by then, if they consider the protagonist's status as a rookie intelligence agent.
Of course, it can be argued that any assessment of the story designs is highly subjected to the opinions of the beholder. However, not many would say the same about the gameplay, not least those who have experienced the first game.
Invisible War has done away with many of the first game's role-playing elements, especially skills. While the player character in the sequel is less fragile than the protagonist of the previous game early-game, there is no longer a significant sense of growth, and the former will certainly never become as powerful as a late-game version of the previous game's hero can be.
The sequel does retain the mechanic of nanotechnological augmentations from the first game, but a sceptical player who wants to see what of anything good that Invisiable War has retained from the first Deus Ex would not be satisfied by this. After all, the first game adopted themes of nanotechnology because the portrayal of nanotechnology, which is described as subtle and difficult to detect, does not require as much animations and graphics as other kinds of sci-fi themes. Invisible War conveniently adopts such themes, but even the implementation has less sophistication than that in the first game, giving an impression that the designers of this game are half-hearted at adding more to what has been done in the first game but reduced this mechanic further to enhance accessibility.
Granted, the new system of augmentation is a lot more flexible than that in the first game, which restricted certain augmentations to certain body parts, and which Invisible War doesn't do. However, the number of possible augmentations that the player can have at the time is reduced to just a handful, significantly less than that in the first game.
One would suspect that this was intended as the usual and typical method of encouraging replayability, but the augmentations are ultimately only as useful as the scenarios in the game allow them to be. Some of the augmentations, such as one that enhances movement underwater, are very situational and have little use elsewhere. This would not have been a problem if the game lets the player swap augmentations freely around and reimburse him/her with whatever biomods that he/she has spent, but that alas is not the case - whatever that has been spent, is spent permanently.
Furthermore, ultimately, the game requires the player to take to violence to complete certain pivotal moments in the game, including the finales. Of course, the player may still attempt to use subtler means to defeat enemies with, but the combat-oriented biomods are ultimately the more efficient ones. Of course, one can argue that the first game also had the same criticisms, but at least the previous game allows the player to use skills to compensate for anything that biomods do not provide.
Yet, there won't be much utilizing of biomods that the player would do in order to overcome enemies with. Most enemies in the game are rather dumb and have little more A.I. scripts beyond those for shooting weapons and moving around the environment to track down the player character, independently of any nearby colleague. They are smart enough to get towards the nearest alarm switch, but triggering the alarm merely has every enemy in the area adopt the abovementioned limited A.I. scripts, causing them to stray from their usual patrol paths, allowing the player to slip past, ironically. Exploiting their lack of wit and coordination doesn't require any biomods, that is for certain.
Of course, one can argue that such A.I. designs had been in the earlier game and even stealth-sneaker games. However, that Invisible War 2 doesn't do much of anything different in this matter and gives the player less tools to handle enemies with than the first game did leads to a diminished experience.
Next, there is the inventory system, which has also been overhauled. The game no longer uses the grid system of the first game, which is better suited for the more meticulous of players, and instead uses a more convenient inventory of slots. However, the slots are rather limited in number, and even essential items like energy cells that could have gone into a dedicated counter take up slots, of which petty items like food also occupy as well.
Such decent but otherwise tepid gameplay would have been alright if the motivations to slog through them had been strong, but they would not be so to those who demand gripping, well-executed stories. There are plot twists that inject new impetus into the pace of the story, but these are carried out with barely satisfactory voice-overs that do not emphasize the brevity of the current situation, the most disappointing performance being that of the main character himself/herself. The male voice-over in particular sounds even more disinterested than the female one.
In fact, the best voice-overs in the game are the synthesized ones, which are made for the less-human of characters. These ones are more convincing, at least.
The poor performance is exacerbated further with rigid facial animations. There may be decent lip-synching, but the rest of the character's face is still, with the exception of his/her eyes that merely bat and blink. There are some animations for body language, but these are so limited and oft-used for just about every conversation that their appeal would dry out soon enough. The only good design that a player can expect about interactions between the player character and NPCs is the camera angles, which does a pretty good job of getting a good angle of the characters' heads, faces, and upper bodies, even in tight places.
The complaints mentioned thus far would suggest that the game is lazily conceived. However, there are some good designs in it.
Perhaps the most convincing improvement that the game did over its predecessor is how it simplified the mechanic of ammo. In the previous game, every weapon had its own ammo, which goes into its own counter. While this was not a problem, the player could not exchange certain ammo for other ammo, if he/she prefers the use of one weapon over another. Therefore, the sequel's use of universal ammo somewhat addresses this concern.
However, this mechanic also does not offer any solution to the problem of the player having exhausted his/her ammo supply but needs to use another weapon to adapt to the current situation. It also removes the opportunity of a minor mechanic that is alternative ammo types, which is present in the previous game (though not implemented for every weapon). The game designers had attempted to compensate for this by having alternate versions of the regular weapons.
Speaking of weapons, the ones in this game are mostly revisions of the ones seen in the previous game. However, as have just been mentioned, they have alternative versions that are less common and have different properties that cannot be provided by weapon mod kits.
As for mod kits, they return in the sequel as a minor mechanic. Some mods, such as the reload mod that negate the inherent weaknesses of certain weapons are gone, which helps maintain the balance in the weaponry. Moreover, the player can no longer repeatedly upgrade a weapon until it becomes overwhelmingly powerful, which is perhaps a wise change as terrifically souped-up weapons can make the previous game too easy (if the player is judicious with the expenditure of ammunition).
The reduced choices are compensated by the introduction of some new peculiar mods, the most amusing of which is the Glass Destabilizer, which makes the weapon inimical to most transparent surfaces, though the mod is highly situational and is best appreciated for its impressive glass disintegrating effects (at the time of this game). Another notable example is Fragmentary Rounds, which impart explosive properties to any modified weapon.
Despite this, not all weapon mods can be used on every weapon, which is a wise design decision as some weapons would become so much more versatile as to be overpowered.
Some of the weapons, especially the more sci-fi ones, have secondary firing options that improve their versatility. For example, the Flamethrower, which was difficult to use in the previous game due to the physics that govern the spread of the flames and made the weapon as dangerous to the user as to its victim, now has a secondary fire option that lobs fireballs at range.
That there are such good and innovative designs among so many other unimpressive ones – and the latter affect the fundamentals of the game – can be rather disappointing and pose questions about the game's design direction.
The game's graphics are certainly better than those in the previous game. It would not be setting higher pars in graphical designs, but there are some notably impressive aspects to its graphics, such as the lighting especially when it is used to illuminate characters in conversations (though it unwittingly highlights the lack of animations in characters). The game's animations are a mix of wooden movements and motion-captured ones, giving the impression that the game's graphics designers are not working together well.
Sound-wise, the game performs mostly satisfactorily, with the exception of the aforementioned voice-overs. The sound effects for gunfire, explosions and other noisome occurrences are not weak, but they are not remarkable either. The same can also be said about the soundtracks (which fans of the original game would add that they are not as memorable as some of those in the first game).
In conclusion, Deus Ex 2 is a satisfactory title – but as one that is merely so, as long as one does not compare it with its more impressive and ground-breaking predecessor.