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SummaryBehold the greatness of Deus Ex: even its butchered sequel still rocks
The GoodI am a huge fan of the first Deus Ex. I consider it one of the greatest and most important games ever made. Like many other fans of that Warren Spector masterpiece, I was impatiently waiting for the sequel; when I laid my hands on it, it made me shrug my shoulders more than once, until I decided it was not worth my time. However, I found myself coming back to the game in my thoughts; eventually, eight years later, my interest having been revived by Human Revolution, I gave it another chance. I found myself genuinely absorbed into it, to the point that I had to say to myself: yes, this is an inferior sequel, but it's still interesting and fun.
All the annoying simplifications aside, the core gameplay still feels very much like Deus Ex. If played on advanced difficulty levels, Invisible War delivers a very similar experience that is, for the most part, as rewarding as the original. Yes, the city hubs suck, but the actual hostile areas (levels of first-person shooters) are fantastic. Every single level is a joy to explore: there is stuff to be found everywhere. See that bench? Look under it; you might find a multitool or maybe an energy cell. See this corridor leading nowhere? You can bet there is something at the end of it.
The whole game can become a giant scavenger hunt; and even though they went a bit over the top with that (thorough exploration rewards you with more items than you will ever need), it is great fun from the beginning to the end. I love collecting items, sometimes just for the sake of it, and Invisible War is great at satisfying this instinct.
Alternate routes are not just available sometimes: they are everywhere. Each level has branching paths accommodated to different styles of play. Don't want to spend multitools to disable laser beams? Maybe you could crawl through a nearby vent; but beware of spider bots. Any given area can be tackled by using different means - not necessarily by seeking out alternate routes. Tired of all this crawling? How about walking in gun-blazing, and dispatching of those giant robots with the EMP secondary fire of your mag rail? Be my guest. Think it would be too challenging? Activate a biomod that makes you invisible to robots, and quickly run past it. Every approach has its obvious advantages and disadvantages, but the bottom line is that the player can switch gears at any time, allowing for fluent gameplay that never becomes frustrating. This cardinal aspect of the original Deus Ex was immaculately carried over to the sequel.
The graphics are not only noticeably better than in the first game; they are decidedly among the finest visual examples of its generation. The great lighting and shadow work makes every place look atmospheric. The world of Invisible War is also fully interactive. Objects will physically react to your actions; you can move, knock down, throw, destroy, and interact with pretty much everything you see. Every single item, no matter how unimportant it is, can be picked up and put elsewhere. Moving items sometimes rewards you with a discovery of an alternate route, and throwing chairs and crates at enemies (with an appropriate biomod installed) is very satisfying.
Last but not least, I think the story of Invisible War is great. Yes, the awful voice acting ruins a lot of it, and the initial stretch is confusing; but when the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, I became fascinated by the story. It is clever, intricate, and thought-provoking; it is philosophical, intellectual, and ideologically mature. I was very curious to know how it would all end. I found myself genuinely interested in the prospect of the future painted in the game, and began to think myself what would I do if the choice of shaping that future were given to me. Even though many dialogues are too dry and "scientific", some of the conversations (especially those where representatives of different ideologies are trying to justify them to the protagonist) are simply brilliant. You gather a lot of information about the setting by reading books and listening to news; the game's world is rich and convincing. The story also ties in very nicely to the events of the original game.
The BadWhy the hate? This is a sentence I've encountered on more than one website dedicated to the series. Many fans of the original Deus Ex loathe Invisible War; while I do not share this sentiment, I can certainly see where the hate comes from.
It's all been discussed many times before: removal of role-playing elements, unified ammo, dumbed-down interface, claustrophobic hubs. Side quests are always great, but the player needs to be rewarded for completing them. Without experience points, money would be the only reward; however, money is useless in the game. You cannot buy anything except food, and you don't need it. Even if you could buy other items, you wouldn't need to: everything is plentiful. Biomod canisters, in particular, are as common as bread loaves. I'm actually glad they removed shops because those would have made the game even easier. But of course it would have been better if they balanced all this without cutting out anything.
Unified ammo - there is no way around it, it's not a good idea. Yes, I found myself rejoicing when I realized I will never run out of sniper rifle ammo. But that ruined the whole "you must survive with whatever little you have" aspect of the game; it went contrary to the concept of using different means to solve problems.
The interface bothered me enormously until I realized I could turn off the item display in the HUD by making it completely opaque. Wandering around in cities that consisted of a few narrow corridors was even less agreeable. Worse yet are the painful loading times: minuscule locations are separated from each other by loading screens announced with an ironic "do you want to travel to..." greeting. Travel? You call opening a door and stepping through it traveling?
But even all those flaws, taken together, couldn't ruin the game for me. What came really close was something less tangible - a certain aspect of design and presentation that kept bothering me. A feeble, but constant unpleasant feeling relentlessly accompanied my playing sessions. I knew I could deal with all the simplifications. I struggled to deal with the tiny size of the cities, but the design of hostile levels made up for that. What I truly disliked in this game was its cold, calculated nature. It is as if somebody took some cool aspects from the first Deus Ex and carefully combined them together without infusing them with passion. It gets better as the game progresses. The story eventually opens up, and the familiar intellectual drama of Deus Ex returns with fanfares. But I still couldn't shake the impression of artificial, deliberate planning.
Invisible War did nothing to correct the flaws of the original game. They bothered me more in the sequel than they did in the predecessor: three years have passed, and the second game lost a lot of what made the first one great, so I expected that they will at least address the weaker aspects of the original. Bad voice acting and moronic AI are still there. Hostile areas still tend to be monotonous and abstract - although, to be honest, they felt somewhat better than in the first game.
The Bottom LineInvisible War is a curious game. So obviously and irritatingly simplified, it still manages to entertain. It owes everything it has to its predecessor and adds little of its own; but plunging into the interactive world of global conspiracy once again is still rewarding. Invisible War is not a good sequel, but it's very far from being a bad game.
Another reviewer passed the following verdict on Invisible War: "it's not as good as the first game, but it's still much better than all this crap out there". I think there is much truth in this statement.