A good game from Ion Storm but does not deserve to be called Deus Ex in any way.
First, let us understand why Invisible war would have been great without that Deus Ex title? Well if you've played Ion Storm's critically acclaimed Deus Ex released in 2000, you'd know. That game not only set a standard for itself, but for a lot of other games that spawned years after its release. It revolutionized the FPS/ARPG hybrid in a whole new way. Famous modern games like Crysis and BioShock might as well have learned a thing or two from that very legendary game. So obviously, if Invisible War is a Deus Ex game, it's normal for anybody to have high expectations from it. That's where it disappoints real bad.
But without that burden of a name, Invisible War could be just any generic FPS/ARPG hybrid and no one would care how it becomes. It's not a totally bad game: It's got good graphics for its time. It uses real time lighting effects, a hardware taxing feature seen in only a few games back then, like Doom 3. Sound is passable and although the voice acting tries to be good, it clearly doesn't live up to that. Gameplay wise it's got many customization options- you can customize your weapons, your alliance and even yourself. Speaking of alliance, it's one of those games that make you decide the plot points. Every choice you make can have its difference. Although the outcome is never too severe to be unable to change your mind later on, it's a nice touch. Few console games for the XBOX were like that around that time.
You character has special enhancements called Biomods. You must find Biomod canisters and install a Biomod into one of your six Biomod slots. The first one is always taken up by the 'light' Biomod. The remaining five are up to you to fill up. These Biomods can have various powers from turning you invisible to destroying enemy projectiles from afar. They can help you run super fast or heal your injuries. Most Biomod require a fuel called Bio Energy. Bio Energy is limited and must be replenished for the player to continue using Biomods so this nifty feature of the game cannot be abused easily. Installing the same Biomod over itself will upgrade the Biomod by one level, increasing their efficiency even further. As long as you posses Biomod canisters you could overwrite older Biomods with a new one anytime or upgrade existing ones. Combinations are endless.
Weapons have mods too. Some are those basic ones like silencer and some are more unique like EMP converter, which adds EMP damage to your weapons, which are effective against all forms of electronic security. Weapons have an alternate fire mechanism which works just as anyone would expect- the sniper rifle's alternate fire is a scope and the shotgun's alternate fire is a smoke bomb. There are also special weapons with unusual alternate fire like the Assassin Pistol. Unlike a regular Pistol with a flashlight as the alternate fire, the Assassin Pistol has a scope instead, eliminating the need for sniper rifle most of the time.
These weapons and many other little secrets like Biomod canisters, credit chits and keys are hidden all over the map for the player to find. Discovering secrets and finding alternate routes is a reward in its own way. Speaking of which, there are absolutely more than one way to solve a mission. If the mission requires you to blow something up, you could fire rockets after rockets at it. Carry an explosive crate and fire at it from a distance or take over a powerful robot and use it as your tool of destruction. The possibilities are many and that's one of the few charming sides of the game.
There are even the occasional stealth sections, where you can play hide and seek with your enemies. You are even given the choice to even disobey a command given by a NPC. For example- if you are required to kill a certain NPC you can kill them as you're ordered, knock them unconscious, spare their lives unharmed or even work for your former target and assassinate your original mission provider. This level of freedom is seen in a few games, especially in first-person shooters where missions and gameplay tend to be extremely liner.
Even in all these complexity the game is kept surprisingly simple- too simple to be honest. You'd get used to using the weapons as soon as you get them. Combat is straightforward if you want it to be. Or you can go the other way and snipe them from the shadows. The Biomods are easy to use and the game controls are fluid.
By now, you're probably wondering this- how the heck a game like this can be bad? Well, like I told you- it's all in the name. The Deus Ex name is not for every game to carry. And Invisible War definitely does not deserve to be a part of it. To know more about Invisible War's failure you must know about the original's success. Read on-
Deus Ex was an Action RPG / FPS hybrid. This spiritual successor to another hit game called System Shock 2 showed the world how experience based skill system, character customization, decision making ability and immersive storytelling could work like a charm in a First Person Shooter, a genre previous known to be extremely liner and straightforward. Deus Ex was a surprising success from Ion Strom- a company reputed for making really bad game development decisions. Deus Ex helped Ion Storm live way beyond its expected age. When the earlier branch of Ion Storm was shut down because of the Daikatana Disaster (Google it!), Warren Specter formed his own Ion Storm team and created Deus Ex. This Ion Storm went on to create more games Thief: Deadly Shadows and Deus Ex: Invisible War. And this is where it did wrong.
PC Invisible War is firstly a console port from XBOX, and a very direct one. It ran on Unreal engine 2, an engine pretty taxing for the XBOX. So the game design itself was so restricting that sacrifices had to be made. Game maps were cut short and separated by loading screens which lasted for at least 10 seconds. They were so short you'd feel claustrophobic by just looking at the walls. Where Deus Ex had nearly open world maps, Invisible War's short and cramped level design was unacceptable. On the top of that, the game was dark- too dark at times. The original Deus Ex also happened entirely in night-time but it was colorful and bright where it needed to be. The look and feel of Invisible War, which has an extremely futuristic setting, doesn't seem futuristic at all sometimes. Most of the times you'd be dwelling in slums and shanty areas, which sometimes appear as if they're from Victorian age. Only torches were replaced by burning barrels and joyful civilians were replaced by emotionless NPCs.
All NPCs behave oddly. If you walk up and talk to them they start talking, but turn towards you in a robotic manner after several seconds. They way people turn about like mannequins make things look less immersive. The original Deus Ex had less impressive graphics and emotions were still non-existent. But people's behaviors were effective enough to be immersive. Also, during conversations, NPCs and even the player character pause so long after finishing their sentence it totally ruins any cinematic feel that was possible to have.
Several things that made the original immersive and open ended is gone or dumbed down. The original had a part based health system- you could lose your legs and be forced to crouch. You could lose your arms and cannot take aim. All those are now replaced by a straightforward health system. You can no longer swim around for exploration. You can no longer manually enter numbers from your keyboard to electronic keypads. You can no longer type in random login and password in computers and see if you could access them. These little things added realism and created a feeling like you were living in that virtual world. This game feels so much like just a game.
The BioMod system is actually a simplified version of the original's Augmentation system. In the original, players could carry upto nine Augmentations excluding the light. Although that was more permanent, it added a more of like a consequence and personal feel to it. Completely removed is the skill system from the original. The skill served as an alternative to augmentations which used bio energy. There were several skills you could train yourself in- weapons, grenades, electronics, swimming and even computers. You could boast to have created the minimally augmented super spy. Or a super augmented war machine. All that is no longer possible in Invisible War.
Another big flaw is the HUD. The HUD is circular in shape, as if trying to mimic the retina. But it completely eluded the developers that it obstructs the FOV many times. The in-depth inventory system from Deus Ex, which was very much like established ARPGs like Diablo, was omitted in favor of a generic simplified tool belt. There is one belt to select items from and another belt which acts as a reserve. The inventory micromanagement was an involving aspect of the original. But this game practically wants you to be as less involved as possible.
Yet another awkward flaw is that all of the game's weapons share the same ammo pool. So called the 'Universal Ammunition System', it shows how the games developers were lazy enough to not create separate ammo for every kind of weapon. Stronger weapons use more and weaker weapons use less but that's not the point. Even if you are carrying six different kickass weapons, if you run out of ammo, you are carrying six pieces of useless crap.
It seems that just about everything else that Deus Ex did right, this game does it wrong. The game's music is boring and totally lacks any form of inspiration at all. That upbeat soundtrack that would kick in once you are engaging a hostile doesn't happen here. Heck, I replayed same combat sequences in the original over and over just to hear that wicked cool soundtrack. AI is smarter than the first game but way glitch. If you're not careful, you could have your best ally turn hostile on you just because you accidentally hit something important in a firefight. And survival is hard because all the life saving items and augmentations of the original is now either gone or replaced with Biomod equivalents that don't directly protect you much. And every time you die, they show you a stupid message saying Terminal Life Sign, prompting you to click the only button there is and then go back to the main menu. I mean, we deserve the option to load the last save or something at the very least. The original did this but in a much more tolerable way. After you died the game would hover over your dead body for a while and then load the main menu. Not to mention the Quick Load feature were available everywhere, be it main menu or in game. Invisible War's quick loads don't work in Main Menu.
The game lacks finishing in every way imaginable. Bugs are not tested and the story has this half-done feel to it. The story goes like this- after the events of the first game, the world is put into chaos and various factions attempts to seize this opportunity to rise for power. 20 years later, Alex D, the player character, who can be male or female, is approached by these various factions to do their bidding. You can choose who to work for but you'll be disappointed to discover your choices have no effect in the long run. Even if you butcher a faction's soldiers to death, the next mission they'd still have enough faith in you and try to convince you why their faction is better than the rest. Sometimes the missions are designed so that if you do one faction's bidding, you openly piss the other off. But by the end game, everyone is once again willing to forgive you and beg you to execute their plea. There are multiple end games depending on whose plea you actually executed. But it's all a matter of saving at the right spot and choosing a different option every time and you'd get to see all possible endings without much problem. And you can finish the game well under 10 hours, after looking for ever secrets, doing ever quests and collecting every items possible. The original could span well over 20 hours without these bonus explorations and item collections.
The conspiracy story is nowhere near as cool as the original's. The NPCs are nowhere near as interesting to talk to. They just threw in some philosophical terms in the dialogue just because they had to and never bothered to check if it sounds stupid or not. Concepts totally impossible by realistic science fiction- a theme the original followed, is now ignored and several plot points will sound absurdly nonsensical. Some characters from the original returns but you'd find them void of charm or proper intentions. All this sums up to equal a lazy writing and a slapped up story.
The game also lacks major polish as you'd never see anything remotely cinematic beyond the opening FMVs and conversation cut scenes, which are badly executed anyways. Worst of all, after the badly directed and unimpressive ending sequences you are not even treated to a credit scroll. The original did a lot more than that. It even showed you transitioning from one area to another. It lacked FMVs but whatever it did with in-engine cut scenes, Invisible War could never achieve.
Finally, I finish writing this game review of Invisible War, which took me over an hour to write. I conclude by saying that while Invisible War should be fun for anyone who never played Deus Ex, it is an absolutely horrible experience for any Deus Ex player. I give it a 6 our of 10 from a combination of both kind of reviews. Ion Strom never lived long enough after this to create a follow up sequel which fixed everything. 8 years later, Square Enix owned Eidos Montreal released a Deus Ex prequel which, in all honestly- is leagues ahead of Invisible War in all aspects. Even so, it's not as great as Deus Ex was and this legendary game series is yet to see a game worthy enough to beat the original's incredible feat.