Written by  :  Lumpi (206)
Written on  :  Apr 10, 2009
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars

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A sequel designed around the limitations of the Xbox console

The Good

20 years after the events of the original Deus Ex, most of the world is under direct control of two organizations: The commercial and governmental WTO and "The Order", who reject materialism and genetic augmentation. You play a young trainee at the shady "Tarsus" military academy, who finds himself between the fronts of an "invisible war" after a devastating terrorist attack wiped out Chicago. You travel various locations such as Seattle, Cairo and Antarctica. As the game progresses you can choose your allies, find out more about the main organizations, the mysterious cyborg race of the Omar, virtual holographic pop-stars... or the fierce competition between two rivaling coffee chains. There is no distinction between "good and evil", just choices - and consequences.

Yes, you _can_ feel the talent of the original DX team in "Invisible War". The strong backstory can hold its ground and gives the gameplay some purpose. A variety of side quests and places to explore keeps you interested in a science fiction world which happens to be eerily plausible, once you look behind a surface tailored towards FPS gameplay. The action/stealth/diplomacy/hacking mix is still there, once again mixing FPS action with various RPG elements.

Music and voice acting is pretty solid. And the state of the art physics engine makes objects in the game world move a little more smoothly and realistically.

The Bad

But something is missing. And the more you look at it, the more you realize that about 2/3 of the game mechanics of the legendary predecessor have simply been cut without replacement - to make the game work on an Xbox.

That isn't just blind and paranoid jealousy towards a new platform. No, the developers were quite frank about how the memory restrictions of the console caused significant limitations which show in the ridiculously small level size, for example. While the first Deus Ex sent you on a mission on a life-scale rendition of Liberty Island, most of the levels in DX:IW consist of (literally!) 3 rooms and a connecting corridor. It just feels cramped, linear (yet you still get lost all the time!), claustrophobic and... unimmersive. Plus the prospect of seeing a loading screen every 25 meters gets annoying quickly.

Then there is the horrible interface. Let me try to explain it in pain inducing detail:

It starts with the HUD taking up 40% of the screen in a most annoying, circle-style layout. Text is in 24pt headline-size, so even small paragraphs of text which pop up frequently throughout the game go over multiple pages in tiny windows with huge, circle-shaped decorations on the side when they could as easily be of a smaller, more comfortable size appropriate for reading on PC monitors. Then there is the complete ignorance towards the possibilities of mouse input. No scroll-bars, no buttons to click for even the most obvious of tasks. Sometimes, the intro screen doesn't recognize mouse clicks and you have to navigate using Arrow Keys, Enter and Esc (that would be the 2 button + joypad controls the interface has clearly been designed for).

There are no quick save/load keys. Apparently, you cannot even change binds for items and augs for both of which only 6 slots are available anymore. The inventory has been reduced to 12 (maximally 15) indiscriminately-sized slots which individually do not distinguish between, say, a flame thrower and a soda can. Clicking stuff in the inventory and clicking another item makes the positions in the inventory switch instead selecting the next item. Drag and drop? A foreign concept to DX:IW. Annoying, to say the least. To bring up weapon modifications, you have to press the tab key(?!?) while having selected a weapon. Otherwise the tab key just throws stuff away. Because of the ridiculously big text and window-decorations, information for each item is reduced to a single sentence and ugly icons planted thoughtlessly into the middle of the screen. The rest of the space is used for permanent key-mapping info (because honestly, who would think of pressing the tab key to install weapon mods?). Every icon looks a slight bit too low res on every resolution above 800x600. Did I mention that I hate the "Neuropol" font? Normally, I wouldn't even bring that up, but it simply fits the whole story of one aimless and over-styled interface that singlehandedly manages to destroy a large part of the game's look and feel.

It doesn't stop there, however. DX:IW does not support wide-screen monitors, among other graphics-related bugs. The field of view is reduced to a smallish 68°, yet another thing to make perspective look more natural on far-away television screens - and bloated on PC monitors. Occasionally auto-aim switches on for no reason. Huge, white sparks fill the screen when punching a wood crate with a baton, adding to the Street Fighter style of graphics FX. I could go on.

To be fair, various of these issues have been addressed with a patch, but the list simply goes on and on and there is a philosophy to the game's design that simply cannot be fixed: This is a game built exclusively for the Xbox... and then ported to PC.

In order to make the gameplay more streamlined, everything but the most vital game mechanics were cut. Skill points? No more. Just genetic nano augmentations, most of which are identical to DX1's. The concept of settling for specific augmentations being a tough, one-time choice has also been removed by making them replaceable. Weapon mods are still available but now a pistol cannot shoot further than 20 meters without a "range modification"? And did I mention that there is only ONE TYPE OF AMMO FOR EVERY WEAPON?

What is really unfortunate is that they weren't even able to truly improve on the graphical issues that already plagued the first Deus Ex. DX:IW might indeed have been the first game to support real-time stencil shadows, yet the game makes no aesthetic use of it. The walls look as bland and gray as in IW's predecessor. And thanks to the unnaturally sharp shadows and emotionless faces, characters still look as if they were made out of plastic.

The Bottom Line

I remember the shock from playing the DX:IW demo for the first time. This was supposed to be the sequel to one of the best games of its generation?

I only picked up the full version for a bargain bin price, years later. Admittedly, like the first one, the game becomes better after playing for a few hours, yet it still feels disappointingly _small_ compared to its predecessor. So many gameplay options were simply cut without any new, innovative features to replace them. It's a game designed around limitations instead of pushing the limits. It feels like a game so afraid to overexert players, it decided to rather bore them instead.

Worth getting if you keep your expectations low - but certainly not a game worth the Deus Ex title.