Before KOTOR, there was Deus Ex.
As you start a new game, a character customisation screen pops up. Choose your gender, and your skin colour. The bland screen goes away and you're treated with an introductory CGI cutscene (only 1 of 2 you'll find in the whole campaign).
Chicago, 5:15 a.m.:
Circuit-boards begin to resemble high-rise office buildings, and as the camera goes down, helicopters descend onto the roof of one of these building. It's a windy and foggy early morning and through the mist are labcoat, masked scientists hurrying fanatically to climb onto the helicopters, with one scientist cradling a weighty, bio-chemical canister. He pants to catch his breath. The helicopter rises into the air and with a circular arc, whizzes by, out of picture. Now we zoom into the window of a building named only Tarsus. There's been a threat of a possible terrorist attack and the Tarsus Academy are trying to track down the assailant before it happens. A female and male scientist(whose face you don't see) confirm to see if everyone's evacuated. We cut to see a different clothed female walking calmly out of an elevator while every other scientist rushes by to the choppers. The female scientist asks of the male scientist if whether the terrorist has been found in the city. They're not sure of the attacker's motives or his location. Their eyes and ears, which are the Aero Security Bots, perform one last scan and then flies away. A mysterious robed figure emerges out of an alley, pulls out a pen-like device, activates it, walks out into the middle of the road, holds up the device into the air, and then silence. The device is a detonator, a blue-purple cloud emerges from the object, condensing into an icy, gooey liquid which encapsulates the mysterious figure and spreads out rapidly to the rest of Chicago. The nanite detonator has gone off, and when a lab guy presses the alarm, it's on. Chaos follows. Sweeping, electronic music ensues and Aero Security bots are in the race to destroy the blast before it spreads. But it's too late, and now buildings are crumbling apart, from this nanotech/EMP blast. Everyone's in a race to get to the helicopters before the oozing grey-purple mass envelops them, but one girl is strangely waiting. Once the helicopter is a distinctly high distance above the ground, this strange girl miraculously jumps some 30 feet in the air gets on board the escaping chopper. The musical score calms down.
Seattle, 4:30 am. The sun rises. Dawn.
"What do they already know about the Seattle facility?" asks the female scientist.
We have other options," replies the male.
"We aren't equipped to fight a war," interjects the female, worryingly.
"We're going to change the terms of engagement. It's our world, not theirs. We don't need cities or armies."
The camera revolves around the superhuman female. We zoom into her white, featureless eyes.
"We have the cells of the human body. An invisible weapon. For an invisible war."
Before I begin this review, I'm guessing anyone playing this Xbox version of the sequel has most probably never played the original Deus Ex game. This will be your first time being introduced to the cyberpunk, dystopian future of Deus Ex. Don't worry, though, as the game doesn't require you to know anything of the previous game, and in fact fills up the blanks from the ending of the previous game. The plot is perfectly understandable as a stand-alone product in this sequel. To make up for the somewhat confusing, albeit very dazzling, opening cutscene, your main mission at the start is to figure out just what the heck is happening. We're now at another Tarsus Academy and this is where you meet the main character.
You play as Alex D., a trainee at the Tarsus Academy, and you're a very special human being. You're genetically infused with nanites that can augment your skills and have extraordinary abilities. As you wake up, you have a chance to check out your crib, as small as a hotel room. As you mess around and pick up a basketball, you'll notice a new feature in the game. Physics. This wasn't in the previous game. I'll discuss about physics later on in this review. You're briefed with some info through a holocomm unit on the desk of your room, and you then head out. Don't expect to rest after the recent attack on Chicago, because cryptic enemies are still on your trail. Suddenly, an explosion occurs in front of a guard, and he falls down, dead. Talk to a SSC guard about the explosion, and he'll not worry about the dead guard. Your character says, "but he's DEAD!", and you'll realise Alex D. can be very inquisitive and funny at times. Talk to more people and you get to meet your trainee classmates who have varying opinions on recent events. They all significant roles in the main storyline. The first few hours of the game are spent figuring out everything that happened in the cutscene, from understanding who the scientists were, what is this place, who was that hot superhuman chick, who are your attackers, and what exactly was that terrorist bomb.
Once you have your first taste of action by pwning some sorry Order noobs and get out the claustrophobic Seattle "guinea pig" academy, this is when the RPG side of the game pops out. There's a very engrossing storyline you can follow, and it might pique anyone's views on what the future holds, and what philosophical viewpoints there might be in such a genetically rich new age. Issues are tackled maturely, this is definitely a much wiser story than you find in most RPGs. You explore around the city, talk to people, grab lots of items, and do quests or "Goals" as they're called. Since you're one of the very few biomodded people, everyone wants a piece of you. You and the other trainees from the academy are like freelance mercenaries, willing to do heavy-duty tasks in exchange for cash. There are three main factions in the game: The Order, the WTO, and the Templars. There's another faction called the Omars, who are a very thrifty race, biomodified, and love weapons. They're the black market, and give you biomod canisters. Biomods are your super-powers in this game, like there are force powers in Star Wars.
Back to the factions. There are three other Tarsus trainees that you meet. They all have their own agendas. There is Billie Adams, the girl you first met in the cutscene, she's the one with the short red hair. She's very suspicious of Tarsus' intentions with your use, and is very volatile. There's Klara Sparks, the nice blond girl who fights the good fight but is slightly naive at times. Then there's Leo Jankowski (great name). He's the renegade from the trio. A brash and funny fellow at times, but is always up for action. He doesn't want a part in this political struggle for the future of transgenics, and opts to join the Omars. All 3 of these trainees join different factions, which puts across the decision to you: who will you join with?
Your character will travel to many places around the world along the storyline. From the futuristic city of Seattle to the earthly Mediteranean city of Cairo and even to Antarctica, there's much variety in the locales that you'll be adventuring in. Each city has their own theme, and they're all big enough to highlight the superb level design. While Trier, Germany might be the smallest of the cities on surface, there's a whole Black Gate underground facility that you'll explore to make you appreciate the work the designers put into the game. The immersive nature in the game is led by changes in the story; for example there's a nanite dust plague in Cairo called Plague-11. One thing I noticed in Cairo was its authenticity with what you'd expect in Cairo. That is, expect to see a mosque, hear the alarms for prayer with the extremely clear-sounding Azaan. Too bad there wasn't enough dust flying in the game, but that's a minor niggle. Another place that is very authentic and fun to explore is Antarctica. It's cold, there's an abundant amount of snow, you can see people's breath, and there are many penguins milling around. Level design is overall very good, and there are usually multiple points of entry into a place if you can't walk past a security camera or guards patrolling. Many vents are dotted around a map and there are secret passageways that lead to more material rewards like biomod canisters, but the risk is there can be spider-bots and creatures sneaking around.
The quest system is designed very much like the KOTOR games: you talk to people, they give you a goal, and their goal pops into your datavault. However, none of the missions feel tacked on, like most other role-playing games. Even if the missions are mostly of the "bring that item to me" variety or to get more information about an organisation. At first, the only factions you get to work for are the Order, a religious sect, and the WTO, a commercial organisation. For ten or so hours, you should definitely try out each factions' facilities and talk to their representative followers. Each faction have very fleshed out motives and ideologies. Their leaders have different philosophies that have good intentions, but there are some radical followers who take their views to the edge. This might make them feel very hard to understand; at one point you think Lin May Chen of the Order can help you but then she gets mad if you don't kill a very important character, and suddenly turns all evil on you. There are many instances like this, and so you'll be hard pressed to find anyone in the entire game that you can entirely trust, even JC Denton.
Before you think about morality, I'll just inform you that there is none. Apparently the cyberpunk future is all about shady deals, means to an end, and lots of money. You being a mercenary of sorts, backstabbing factions should be the least of your worries when the cheque coming is big and anonymous. In other words, you don't get light or dark side points for doing specific actions. Of course, later on in the game, when you do certain goals for a certain faction, don't be surprised if some cronies from the opposing faction are sent your way. The story is well thought out, and there are quite a bunch of plot twists that will have you scratching your head, but in a good way. Characters from the previous game return and a lot is explained, but there are still questions to ask, specifically about the clones of a certain character. Side quests are generally very intriguing, from figuring out what's up with the headmaster of a Tarsus school to helping a gay Cultural Minister find a man. It's not like these side quests are just distractions, either, they're integral to the story and so everything still feels refreshing without getting stale. The Coffee Wars is a comedic highlight of the side quests, and occurs in every city you go to, so be sure to follow up on that quest. Plus, you hear a joke from the Queequeg's manager that will give away the biggest plot twist in the game.
The main feature of the game that sets it apart from other shooters is the RPG aspect of biomods. Through the gain of biomod canisters, you can use these to give you certain powers and abilities to overcome your enemies. There are five sections of your biomod architecture, related to different parts of your body. To spice things up, you can have either "clean" biomods or black market biomods. The ratio for each of parts of your body is 2:1 between clean and black market biomods, respectively. Use biomod canisters wisely, because you can have only one biomod power in each section and therefore, have only five biomod powers you can use in the game at any one time. Nearly all of them are very useful, depending on what kind of character you want to be. Although, trying out stealth just isn't as rewarding, and frankly a waste of your time with such AI, which I will discuss later. Biomod canisters are hard to find, and are almost like the holy grail in the game, because of their rarity. The entire reward of a whole mission can be just a biomod canister. Two-thirds into the game, though, you're given a generous helping of canisters in the core story and through many side-quests.
Now to the shooter aspect of the game. It's not done as well as other shooters in terms of balancing, but credit goes for the game trying to be as deep as an RPG and still have a lot of FPS action. You will notice that instead of there being ammo clips that make you reload or anything like that, there's a unique feature called universal ammo. Basically, this type of ammo can be used for all weapons and is tied into the future of technology just like you'd think it to be. Different rifles or weapons use up the ammo at different rates. There's a multitude of weapons to gain, and pick up from dead bodies, but nearly all of them are the typical ones you get; pistols, SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and the framerate-whoring flamethrower. Of course, this being the future, all these weapons look futuristic and you have the ability to modify their abilities. You can pick up weapon mods in the game that allow you to put on various useful devices like silencers, increased damage, glass destabilisers, EMP capability, increased refire rate and so on.
However, as soon as you get the sniper rifle about 9 hours into the game, then everything becomes a lot easier. All of the weapons sound great, and look nice. There are some unique additions to the grenade apartment like the scrambler grenade, that you can use to control bots, and EMP grenades. There are some situations in which you can't rely on just the rifles, so these grenades come in very handy. Nonetheless, there are some redundant weapons that you'll probably never use, like the energy blade or the flamethrower. A downside to the universal ammo feature is that the game becomes incredibly easy. No worries about your sniper rifle not having enough ammo, but then it doesn't become challenging like in other FPSs where a sniper rifle is limited in ammo and would be used in necessary situations. It's not all doom and gloom. The rocket launcher is pretty kickass, and will be your go-to weapon if you're up against those armored Templars. Not just that, but you can guide your rocket through the air in first-person mode with the alternate fire mode. And let me tell you, it's incredibly satisfying blowing someone up with their backs turned to you! If you're going for a stealthy route, you might want the energy blade, and some other melee weapons like the stun prod, but all of this is unneeded due to the fact of one thing: A.I.
The Artificial Intelligence is, for a word, terrible. What you might associate with AI in most shooters has no relevance here. None of the enemies will ever take cover, and they'll never take any initiative other than being your trigger happy pawns. Their only routine is staying where they are, and strafing sometimes. When you're shooting at them, they shoot back, instead of doing anything else. If every single Templar and Order person wasn't carrying a SMG, this would be a long walk in the park. You'll probably never die in a fight with human enemies, although the bots give a decent challenge. In order to defeat most bots, shooting them will not do. Invest in some stealthy biomod powers, like Thermal Masking or Bot Domination if you want to challenge a Gatling gun or rocket launching turret. The only real challenge in the game comes at the critical point of the game when a new enemy form is introduced; the power-armored Templars. Just by looking at them, you know you don't want to mess with them. They're suited up with intimidating Mechanical suits, ala Robocop. They're completely invulnerable to most weapons, and their only weak spot is a tiny triangle on their back which is very hard to hit because they're always moving, unlike most retarded enemies. To have more insult, they have the most powerful weapons in the game, being equipped with Mag Rails, Flamethrowers, and Rocket Launchers. The first time you get your hands on a rocket launcher is through killing one of these enemies. They're not exactly intelligent, but when you're facing a bunch of them in one place, and with those rocket launchers, you certainly don't want to charge in unless you have a very well thought out plan. This is the part in the game where you actually need to use strategy to get past them, and it can be either incredibly frustrating or rewarding if you like tactics in a game.
What is worth mentioning is the excellent sound design. Not just for the weapons, but also the sounds in the game. When you open a building's door, it sounds futuristic. Switching weapons sounds cool. Interacting with devices like security computers and opening lockers sounds realistic. Even opening up your menu sounds cool! Just the little details that make up an immersive experience. Electronic and trance music dominates the game's score, and there are some great minimal pieces at some spots. Club Vox is a place with only three songs, but you'll notice they're very gothic rock songs with female singers. One song has some controversial lyrics to do with God and homosexuality, which in another way fits the angry, beatdown future of Deus Ex. Invisible War has some excellent dialogue, and notable voice acting performances. Onto the voice acting, Alex D. has a dry, inquisitive voice but he can be very sarcastic at times. Leo Jankowski has a great voice, perfect for his gung-ho personality. Fantastic voice acting all around. The expressive voices make up for the obscure lack of any facial animations or emotion on NPCs' faces. If it weren't for the lack of any facial animation, then characters would be that much more fun to listen to, but again this is a minor issue.
Now the most enjoyable part of the game, and the best time waster of sandboxy games, has got to be physics. A feature lacking in the previous installment, the developers must've thought this would be a cool new idea. They were right. First, let's get this out of the way. The physics are technically unrealistic and jokingly bad. You'll realise this very quickly when you play around with a basketball in your room at the Tarsus Academy. Regardless, it has this guilty pleasure to a game. Just like you like murdering as many bystanders as you can in a GTA game, it's the same level of mindless satisfaction here. Since the AI is pretty darn terrible, you can save your game and then go on a murder rampage in a whole city (Cairo is preferable). Once you've killed everyone, get some flaming barrels around a corner and dump the bodies there. You have now experienced the wonder of burning body bonfires, even with the framerate chugging to an absolute crawl. Framerate is a bit laggy at times, especially when it comes down to rocket launchers and fires. But other than that, it's not that worrying. The only realistic physics you'll find in this game would be glass objects like vases and coffee cups. These are the only breakable objects in the entire game, and they smash into many pieces. Just wasting time in the game with the physics is a lot of guilty fun. Throwing objects at NPCs garners humorous responses and throwing dead bodies in front of civilians will make them run away like water does to a cat.
Controls in the game are very easy to figure out, sticking to the layout of most console shooters. Switching from weapon to weapon is done by pressing the B button, shooting is with the Right Trigger and alternate firing modes are with the Left Trigger. There is one major problem with the controls: your biomods. To access them, you need to use the D-Pad and press right to scroll down the biomods. During a firefight, this becomes a big waste of your time. The only biomod you'll try to use most of the time, which are easily accessible, are the Light and Regenerate powers since they're situated near the top. Using other strategic powers will best be handled in the menu screen by hitting the Black button, when you pause the game and then getting back into the action. You'll be using the menu a lot when coming across the more difficult sections of the game involving bots and human enemies. But the menu system is robust, in that you can configure where you want to put your weapons by switching positions from your store and in-game menus, and so only the important weapons are located on the in-game menu.
The longevity of Invisible War is impressive for an RPG that doesn't have millions of typecasted side quests and generous helping of longwinded cutscenes. Doing every single thing in the game, from adventuring the levels and obtaining useful items, to doing every quest, will leave you with at the most of 25 hours of entertainment. There's no shop in the game where you go to buy items or anything, so there's no 'grinding' aspect to the game unlike most other derivative RPGs. While it is disappointing that there are only two cutscenes to speak of in the game, and going from one city to another happens instantaneously, it's a minor issue considering the amount of practical gameplay that's being offered. There are four endings of the game to speak of, but they're all centered around one point in the game so it's not you have to play the entire game again. This is very similar to another series that's borrowed heavily from the Deus Ex series, which are the KOTOR games from Bioware. While all four endings are fun to work at, and backstabbing corporations is always rewarding, they're way too short and ask more questions than answer. Unlike most game endings, you don't leave with a happy black-and-white ending but more of a questioning one. Each ending is the fulfillment of that particular factions' philosophies, which is predictable but at least it's something. Jc Denton's ending is definitely the happiest of the four, but also raises questions of whether a perfect society of Borg-like consciousness is necessary for righting previous wrongs in previous human governments. The Omar ending is the most fun but also the hardest since you have to eliminate all three of the factions, and the ending is more of a throwback to the result of an Apocalypse, but mankind will venture on indefinitely.
(P.S. There's a trick you can do where you can get to a secret wrap party of the game in another dimension where you see main characters of the game dancing in the Club Vox setting. Many funny and raunchy datacubes lie within, detailing Warren Spector and the crew's fun with the making of the game)
To conclude, if you're up for a refreshing RPG experience that isn't all about dungeon crawling and levelling up an anonymous character, then this game is definitely for you. If you like the sandbox design of games where you can do whatever you want with minimal risk of moral slapping on your hands, then this is for you. It brings the deep elements of RPGs into an approachable design with the biomods and blends the genre of first-person shooters in a satisfying matter. It's not the best mixture, but it works to be enjoyable and is highly rewarding if you can put the time in it. While the endings of the game aren't as satisfactory, they're definitely thought-provoking, even if feeling tacked on. Maybe this was due to time goals of Ion Storm, so the endings couldn't have been expanded, but it's not like a sequel is suggested which is slightly demeaning. With a thought-provoking story and engaging characters, you can't help but be immersed by the cyber-thriller nature of Deus Ex: Invisible War. You should definitely pick up this game now, since it's probably extremely cheap (I purchased it for the equivalent of $6). An experience you can't miss, and an innovative experience, once you get past the problems.