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Ex: Invisible War
Score: 9.5 / 10
This has the potential to sound a bit
presumptuous, but I have no qualms with statement that the original Deus
Ex was one of the most remarkable achievements ever crafted by the hands
of mankind. As a result, it's only natural that my expectations were
extraordinarily high for the sequel. While Ion Storm decided to trim
some parts of the game, everything that made the first game great are
present in one of the Xbox's best games.
Deus Ex: Invisible War picks up twenty years after JC Denton, the
protagonist from the last game, had destroyed the global communication
network and brought the world to a new dark age. However, society has
rebuilt and is once again the same
futuristic dystopia filled with corrupt
governments, rich corporations and a whole lotta bums. At the center of
this is Alex D. (you can choose either male or female), a young student
at Taris Academy for those who dig biomodification. Things get hairy
when Alex's school is destroyed (along with the entirety of Chicago) and
a vile conspiracy is exposed - that their mentors are really spying on
them and performing
experiments. Tossed out to deal with the real world, it's up to Alex to
discover why s/he's a guinea pig and discover the scheming minds behind
Undoubtedly the key concept being the greatness of Deus Ex is its
open-ended nature. As soon as you finish the opening sequence, you'll
have competing corporations requesting that you run missions for them.
None of these organizations seem completely trustworthy, and all seem to
have some ulterior agenda that could be contrary to your own. The
religious Order seems to have some groovy ideas about equality, but
often times feels like a cult. The WTO enforces world order and does a
good job of bringing about peace, but is often ignorant of the plights
of the common people. As the plot progresses, trying to separate the
good guys from the bad guys just becomes even more confusing - naturally
you begin to learn why Alex D's are in such high demand, and what impact
he has on the future of humanity.
You can switch sides constantly throughout the game, and while the game
still follows the same general linear path, whom you choose to trust
will alter the final level, as well as what side missions are available
(which there are plenty of - I've definitely never played a game that
involves you getting involved with a business war between competing
Not only is there an underlying sense of paranoia underneath every
decision you make, but you're constantly questioning your own social and
political ideologies. Some of the themes presented in the game almost
had me reaching for de Tocqueville's heavy Democracy in America to fully
grasps the concepts of an utopian society. Very few, if any, games like
this truly force you to confront issues like these, and that facet alone
is enough to elevate the game to masterpiece status.
But there's a lot more freedom of choice than just how the story flows.
Every obstacle has at least two different methods to be conquered with.
You don't feel like bribing those guards? Well, either shoot them in the
face or find the vent shaft that reaches right beyond their feet. If
you're toe to toe with a gigantic robot, you don't need to blow it up -
it's just as well to turn on your thermal cloaking to sneak by it, or
use your bot domination skill to take it over and use it as your own
personal killing machine. The open-ended approach almost makes the game
feel easy, but rest assured, if you choose the most direct (i.e.
violent) route, you'll have your work cut out for you. The general
design limits the amount of ammo you have, and unless you set the
difficulty to the lowest possible setting, you'll find that for all of
the bio-modification Alex D has, he'll keel over pretty easily. Still,
no longer are you faced with trying to find an obtuse solution to a
scripted roadblock - the fact that any problem can be solved by method
makes Deus Ex feel more like reality and less like a game.
Most of these concepts are evolutions of what was found in Deus Ex, but
other elements have been altered somewhat. First off, the original had
an experience system that let you customize the skills that you wanted
to become the most proficient in. This has been tossed totally out the
window - your customizations are limited to a set number of bio-mods
that allow you to upgrade certain skills, like self-healing, faster
running, or invisibility. The simplification of this character building
system ends up being the proverbial two-edged sword. On one hand, you
don't need to play hours of the game just so your character can use a
sniper rifle - just pick one up and blast away. On the other hand, the
developers forgot the whole point of a role-playing game - that you
start off weak and, through hard work and experience, you craft a
character that you can truly call your own.
The role-playing element isn't the only aspect that's been slimmed down.
Invisible War as a whole is much smaller than original, as the maps are
mostly pretty lean. Even with tackling some of the extra missions and
getting all of the endings, my total play time was around ten hours. I
have no idea how long the original was, but it felt like an absolute
epic of extraordinary magnitude. The fact that there are so many
different ways to do things and vaguely different story threads to
follow add plenty of replay value, but it definitely could've been
longer. Still, the advantage of having a short game is that the
storyline is wound much tighter and flows much faster.
Other minor aspects have either been altered or cut out entirely. There
is a single ammunition type for all weapons, which sounds weird, but
actually makes dealing with your arsenal much more manageable. While
once again every line of dialogue is fully voiced (with better acting
than the original), the music never changes during action or
conversation, staying static (and mostly mute) nearly all of the time.
And while you can still hack into computers to disable security cameras,
you can't sneak in and read e-mails on personal computers. These aren't
major, but some of these were nice little touches that really added a
nice layer of extra polish, and their absence is slightly saddening.
More important than these minor quibbles are the performance issues -
the PS2 only did a competent job with the original Deus Ex, and while
Invisible War fares slightly better on the Xbox, it's still not as good
as it should be. The loading times between areas and after deaths are
often thirty seconds (or longer). The frame rate is stable during most
of the game but takes a dive during the combat - it even freezes
momentarily whenever an unarmed enemy takes out their gun. It never
becomes unplayable, but it inadvertently ends up steering you away from
the action approach and more towards other methods.
Due to its length and absence of skill building, Invisible War doesn't
QUITE surpass its predecessor. But then again, the only way that would
really be possible is if it somehow traveled back in time and eliminated
the original from existence. The core gameplay is still here, just as
good as ever, and it still has that absurdly addicting quality that
makes it impossible to leave it alone. The end result is unquestionably
one of the best games you'll find on the Xbox and definitely a worthy