At the time of writing for this article, the mainstream North American media is bombarding everyone with the Democratic presidential nominee race. What does this have to do with Deus Ex: Invisible War? Between Howard Dean standing up for issues before it was popular and Joe Lieberman fighting against terrorists before a certain president could pronounce the names Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the original Deus Ex was a game about the war on terrorism before it became a reality. In fact, the publishers have deemed Deus Ex the future war on terror.
And they're right too. Invisible War opens up with an evacuation of a facility in Chicago. People are scrambling to get out of a lab facility climbing on to the last few helicopters before the city is engulfed in some nano/bio attack. Chicago is wiped out. There are next to no survivors. And the city-states that emerged from after the first game are thrown into turmoil as the incumbent international organization, the WTO (loosely based on today's World Trade Organization), wages a war against religious zealots from The Order.
The backdrop is one of interest and complexity. Invisible War is filled with people who are enhanced by nano-augmentations similar to JC and Paul Denton in the first game. Ever since JC Denton pulled the plug on what is best described as the world Internet system, the governments collapsed. The United Nations disappeared but at least the golden key to world domination was taken away. This is known as the Collapse. With the game set initially in Seattle, it is eerily like James Cameron's defunct show Dark Angel.
You begin the game assuming the persona of Alex D, an orphan in Chicago who was enrolled into the nano-augmentation program under the Tarsus Academy. Tarsus is responsible for grooming special agents for use in the corporate world, mostly security, sabotage, the usual CIA spook stuff. Unlike Grand Theft Auto III, the protagonist does quite a bit of talking as some of the story revolves around the archetype of the search for self. The actor hired for the male Alex D is completely vapid and instils no energy into what you would expect from a young recruit. The female Alex D fares a little better, but considering this is one person you will be listening to for most of the game, it might have been better to go with Hollywood caliber actors.
Invisible War picks up right after the Chicago terrorist attack. Alex D is transferred to Seattle by Tarsus and an attack on the base by The Order frees Alex D from Tarsus supervision. Out in the world alone, all sides are trying to woo the protagonist into working for them. One of the tenets of this title is the fact that no decision is ever wrong. So you can play one side, for example, go straight from the Tarsus ruins to work for the WTO, or you can play all sides, balance WTO, Order, and other sub-faction agendas against each other so you try to get the benefits of all.
That's completing objectives on a macro level. On the micro level, this concept also exists. One mission calls for the assassination of a lawyer inside an apartment building. You can pretend you're making a shipment to get inside. You can disable security bots from the roof and snipe the target. Or you can climb through secret shafts to get in. The choice is up to you. Invisible War is sophisticated that way, although the gimmick of having air vents connecting all sorts of places is a convenient device on the developer's part.
Carrying out actions in the virtual world will have repercussions elsewhere. Because of the open-ended nature of the game, you could conceivably complete or fail mission objectives before you even get the mission. And with this title, it's alright to do such a thing because the game is scripted so in depth it literally can handle all the motions you could throw at it.
Most people who are veterans of the first title will have no trouble easing into Invisible War. A lot of the functions have been simplified though. Unfortunately, some compromises to get the game playable on a console are for the worst. Hacking computers, for example, is much less challenging. You simply go over a computer and you press hack. A progress bar will report how successful you are. But with the automation, you gain a lot of things. There's no need to fiddle around to find key codes as locked doors will automatically open for if you know the key. Still, I preferred the original product's complexity. The news terminals now use audio to play the latest headlines but in the original, the terminals were interactive. It gave the world a little more depth.
Skills development has been discarded in favor of focusing on
nano-augmentations only. The nano-augmentations have been enhanced to accept black market augmentations from a shady group of pro technology, pro augmentation people known as the Omar. Some of the cooler ones include Bot Domination, which lets you control robot drones, turrets and cameras. But for the most part, some nano-augmentations are more desirable than others. Neural interface, used to hack computers and such, is probably a pre-requisite if you want to finish the game without too much hassle.
Having been in the works for so many years, Invisible War looks and sounds great. The bloom effects give a nitty gritty feeling to the environments - something like Blade Runner. The only disappointments are some voiceovers and weapons. The shotgun, for example, never sounds as menacing as one ought to. Load times are not bad but those without near top of the line machines will have to settle for reduced resolution and details. Of course, Invisible War works by stitching close quarter maps into a convincing world. There are plenty of locked doors and walls to fence you in; even more so than the first game it seems.
I'm not sure if veterans of the franchise will have an easier time than newcomers. At the beginning, you're bombarded with so many different organizations and acronyms it seems like a completely brand new game. But as the story moves forward, and the Dentons get involved in the story, fans will find some familiarity in both people and places. That's about four hours into the game though.
As a whole, Invisible War isn't a lengthy title. It does have multiple endings that will encourage replaying of the game. They're fueled by moral decisions made during the course of play.
Ultimately, if I were to describe Invisible War in a few lines I would have to stress that the game's edges have been softened for the mass market. Many of the original's complexities have been watered down for easier consumption. Because it takes place so much further into the future, it also loses some of the familiarity. The United Nations no longer exists and in this game you lack a brother whom you can trust and depend on. There's no clear right or wrong, good or evil side in the game. That's supposed to be a feature. But it's a double-edged sword. At least with the United Nations, I knew where I stood. With the various pretender successors in this title, you never really get a solid attachment to anything or anyone. You don't care as much about the protagonist. And that is something that made the original game so great. Sadly, it's not as pronounced here.
The issues that surface in Invisible War are timeless. Does technology corrupt people or do people corrupt technology? Can people be trusted or must there be an enlightened leadership to steer them? Such questions could be asked outside of this context. That they are asked in the game makes the product that much more mature and engrossing.