Monday, 22 August 2011

PC: Deus Ex, Looking Back... Part 2

With the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the 24th August, we have been taking a look at the two previous games in the series. Last time we looked at the original Deus Ex, a game many look back fondly, now we turn our attentions to its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War. Make no mistake about it, Deus Ex: Invisible War is a much trickier game to judge so long after its release than the first game. The reason for this is that whereas Deus Ex had its flaws, looking back it's hard not to be swayed by the new mechanics it introduced at the time, by the endearing not-quite-achieved scope of its ambition. Deus Ex: Invisible War in many ways had the deck stacked against it, the mechanics were already familiar to gamers and it had to tread the fine line of introducing enough new elements to keep the gaming experience fresh while retaining enough of the original to appeal to returning fans.

So, in a way, the backlash it received seems almost inevitable. I say backlash, the game itself received very favorable reviews, it was the returning gamers, however, who vocally criticized the game onlien. They took umbrage at the fact that the sequel wasn't the first game, and that it made concessions to intuitive controls and more accessible mechanics.

And yes, the game did simplify the control scheme with far less hotkeys and less reliance on mouse-pointering, and yes, the game did away with the skill system limiting your customisation options to biomods and weapon-mods, Deus Ex: Invisible War has it where it counts - it is true to the spirit of the original. That the game manages to successfully operate its branching game mechanic in the detail and to the level that it does is still impressive to this day. You are able choose your own way to tackle objectives and indeed which objectives you even tackle. This became abundantly clear to me in a recent playthrough early on when, having gone to the effort to obtain a key for a room through subterfuge and bribery, sneaking in without any unnecessary murders, I died as a result of the security system. Frustrated as I had forgotten to save for sometime, the next time I shot everyone and blew the doors open. Made me feel better, at least.

Strange, soulless eyes...
There are also genuine improvements over the original game. The graphics are the obvious one, they are hugely improved. The leap between the two games can't be over-emphasised, the world in Deus Ex: Invisible War comes across as much more detailed and true-to-life. That's not to say there aren't quirks, I did notice every other character's eyes were a separate object to their bodies, bright white and clearly defined... for some reason my character's eyes were a texture plastered over the face. 

The game also opens in a much more narratively satisfying way. Deus Ex's big opening scene is pretty much "Welcome to the dock, pick a weapon, go do this mission on your own, it's kind of a test". Invisible War has a much more constructed, narrative-based and relevant opening, one that's arguably more emotionally satisfying. You, as the gamer, and the character are both thrown into a situation that you don't really understand, unsure of what to do. It ties in your learning curve inextricably from that of your character, making the world that much easier immerse yourself in.

Oh, that's alright then...
Invisible War is a tighter, more streamlined experience than the first game, and that's not a backhanded way of saying it is shorter than Deus Ex, which it is. Rather, it places more emphasis on those key features from the original, the branching narrative, the story, the atmosphere, and in doing so opted to simplify the interface and RPG elements.

Does that make it worse than the first game? No, it makes it different. Invisible War is oft overlooked in the history of gaming, sometimes seen as a footnote, the less-influential sequel to a brilliant game. That is to do it something of a disservice, because Invisible War is a good game in its own right and one that at times experiments bravely with what worked so well in Deus Ex.

And more importantly, it has that sacred hallmark of a Deus Ex game, the ability to shoot anyone and everyone in the face.

Look out for our upcoming review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

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