Friday, 11 April 2014

Deus Ex: Invisible War (PC)

Today it is my great honour to present to you a selection of words and images chronicling my first experience with the game Deus Ex: Invisible War! Except it's not really my first experience as I finished the game years ago on the Xbox. I've got a terrible memory though so it'll be close enough.

I do remember that I didn't much like the game, at least not compared to the original, and I get the impression a lot of people share that feeling. Nice to see that the proper spinning 3D logo is back again though. It was replaced for the PS2 port of Deus Ex 1 with an inferior variation for no good reason I can think of, but all is well again.

(Click the gameplay screenshots to augment their resolution.)

The game begins similar to the first one, with a conversation between two conspirators. Only in this case they're discussing the evacuation of their facility as a precaution against a imminent terrorist attack. They don't know if they're the target, but apparently that's irrelevant.

Turns out they were right about the attack, but weren't quite quick enough to catch the lone suicide bomber before he could activate a nanite detonator and trigger an expanding wave that's turning everything it touches to dust.

The unnamed scientists send assault drones out to shoot the nanite cloud and that works out about as well as you'd expect, but they do at least manage to evacuate the last of their trainees onto helicopters before the facility crumbles into dust, soon followed by the entire city of Chicago. Bloody nanites.

Deus Ex Invisible War Alex D Portraits
But anyway, now I get to choose my character!

The original game gave me just five variations of the same face, but at least a few of them had a different hair colour. Though I suppose adding a second gender with its own model and voice actor does kind of make up for the appalling lack of a ginger option.


Here's some trivia for you, the first Deus Ex was also going to have a choice of genders at one point. I think it's a pity that they didn't implement it in the end, if only because now we'll never get to hear how the female voice actor would've delivered classic lines like "what a shame" and "a bomb!"

Surprisingly out of those six faces above, it's the female character on the left who is Invisible War's default protagonist; which is interesting as she sure ain't the one staring out at you on the box.

Then again, you can't trust the box cover, it lies. For one thing this one is claiming that three magazines gave it an excellent rating, which is clearly absurd. But it also states right there on the top that it's "ONLY ON XBOX" and yet I'm somehow playing a PC version!

See, it's on Steam and everything. Not that I personally own it on Steam, as I got my discs free with a video card and... hold on a second, who's that man on the right striking the pose from the box art?

You're not the guy from the cover! Who even are you?

I was going to let them off the hook for the 'ONLY ON XBOX' thing, as I assumed the Xbox version must have come out a few months earlier. But nope, it was a simultaneous release. They're just disregarding the PC version altogether.

You know what else annoys me? The fact that Deus Ex 2 is an Xbox game while Deus Ex 1 is 'ONLY ON' the PlayStation 2. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for how that worked out but still, people shouldn't have to own two machines belonging to the same generation to play through a game series.

Alright here I am in the Tarsus Apartments then apparently. I've only just appeared and already I've won a trophy!

I was concerned that since the game was made primarily for consoles this time it wouldn't let me type in the door keycode with my keyboard's numeric keypad, but it turns out I needn't have worried. It doesn't let me type in a code at all. C'mon game, a little extra immersion never hurt. Plus I loved the way I could unlock doors in the first game with codes and passwords I'd written down from an earlier playthrough.
Username: nsf001
Password: smashthestate
I am never going to forget that login. Or the door code 0451.

Oh whatever, there's no point whining about it now. The computer in the corner of the room is demanding my attention so I'll go check that out.

Ah, so my guy is called Alex D (and totally not Alex Denton). The game's using the Star Trek: Elite Force trick of calling both genders Alex, as the name works fine for either of them.

The computer is relying a hologram call from Dr. Leila Nassif, Director of the Seattle Tarsus Academy. She explains that he was just evacuated here from Chicago during the terrorist attack in the intro, and that there's absolutely no reason he should be concerned by the way the academy building keeps shuddering.

See that gun he's got holstered there by the way? No idea what's going on there, as I'm actually entirely unarmed right now. Maybe it's plastic toy from his childhood he carries for sentimental reasons, I don't know.

This interface is giving me GoldenEye flashbacks. Though unlike Bond, Alex is bioaugmented, so he doesn't have to look at his watch to bring up a menu. It's like having Google Glass embedded inside your eyeballs! Sounds great, except for the fact that he's one small glitch away from being stuck looking at this indefinitely.

Well I can't type in keycodes anymore, but they got the magic number in the game after all: 'Alex D - Apt. #451'.

Hey, how come Billie Adams doesn't get a hash in front of her apartment number huh? Very suspicious. Though I'm more suspicious about the fact that this map is apparently the entire level. Deus Ex's first map on the other hand is so big that it takes a minute and a half to sprint across end to end, and that has several floors to it.

Hey Billie, catch! Or you could just stand there with your arms out like a 3D model that hasn't been posed yet, that's good too.

Billie's concerned that our overseers are up to something sinister and the way they're flatly refusing to acknowledge that the building is clearly under attack right now is definitely helping her case. I try a few more times to knock the ornaments off her shelf, then give up and head for the level exit.


ONE LOADING SCREEN LATER.


Oh c'mon, just go in the net already! I'm starting to get a feeling that the trophy in Alex's room wasn't for basketball.

I managed to run into two more trainees along the way and we had a chat about things. Like how we're all part of a special program to create cyborg operatives to work as security for big corporations. Plus how I found a dead guy in the hallway on the way here, but it's apparently nothing to be concerned about.

Eventually though the staff have to concede that yes maybe there might be armed assassins roaming the halls out to murder us, and that I should go gear up so that I can defend myself.

There's only four equipment lockers here, so I guess this really is an exclusive program we're part of. Especially as two of us just transferred here from the former Chicago facility. With all the crap going on right now I'm sure my friend Billie won't even notice if I open her locker with my magic wand and help myself to her gear as well.

It seems that the lockpicks and multitools from Deus Ex have been combined into one tool which serves multiple purposes... called a multitool. This is interesting because they each had their own skill to raise in the original game and they often unlocked different paths. I guess the designers felt that this feature needed a bit of streamlining.

On the other hand it seems that I may be getting more dialogue choices this time around. Both Alex Ds (male and female) have very similar deadpan line readings; I ran two copies of the game simultaneously just to check, because I like to go the extra mile to provide only the highest quality words under all of these screenshots.

Actually I was curious about how the Xbox version compared to the PC game, and as far as I can tell the games are virtually identical, with the same tiny levels. The PC version has the advantage of slightly better textures in places, but the biggest difference is the frame rate. It's so much slicker on computer, even more than I would've expected.

Alright then, there's a terrorist out in the basketball court working for The Order, and I should probably go resolve that situation before he resolves to come into the locker rooms and shoot me.

Bang bang motherfucker!

Wait, did that actually work? I can actually hit people with bullets in this game from the very beginning? Well this is an interesting development.

In the first game JC Denton started off crap at everything until I invested a bit of XP into his skills, so at the beginning I'd have to stand still and wait patiently for the crosshairs to close before I could make an accurate shot. In this on the other hand I'm relatively lethal right from the start, even though it seems like they've taken out instant kill headshots to compensate. I went into the menus to check what pistol skill level I started with and found to my shock and dismay that the firearms skills are all missing. There's no skills or XP at all in fact; they've been stripped out in the name of streamlining.

Is the removal of gun skill levels a good thing? I'm not sure. It's generally considered better game design these days I believe to let the player's own skill determine where bullets are going to end up, and JC's ridiculously terrible aim in the first game sure made for some crappy firefights. But on the other hand his ineptitude encouraged the player to try other alternatives to a straight up shoot out. Plus it was so gratifying when I finally got his firearm skills and weapon mods maxed out and turned him into an angel of death.

There we go! Finally got something into that net.

Though I'm kind of feeling bad now for shooting him dead instead of trying to sneak past him or knocking him out. Then again I would like to keep my SSC guard allies alive if possible and that means neutralising threats decisively, so fuck it! Killing spree it is.

Man, my inventory is full already? Oh it's because I'm dragging four pistols around. That's easily fixed

But what have they done to my beautiful grid inventory? I get just twelve spaces, six in the bag and six in my toolbar, and that's it. Deus Ex gives you thirty!

Deus Ex (PC)
Look at all those boxes! Also the original Deus Ex gives a little extra information on the side, with trivia such as the weapon damage.

The augmentation system has been given an overhaul as well. In the original game I'd find a certain augmentation canister such as legs or eyes etc, then I'd go to a medical bot to get it installed, giving me a choice between one of two upgrades. For instance if I got an arm augmentation I could have either combat strength or lifting strength.

But here I collect generic biomod canisters that can upgrade any body part. Though I'm still stuck with choosing one of two possible upgrades. The twist is that there are also black market upgrades which open up a third option. In this case I get to choose between a cloaking power, environmental protection, or hacking. Cloaking OR hacking, seriously?

I decided to choose cloaking, but I'm already regretting it. I mean only a crazy person would pass up on hacking, so it's got me doubting my sanity.


A FEW ROOMS LATER.


I'm out of the building! Free at last.

Except I'm not really free, because I've got all kinds of people talking to me in my head and I can't get rid of them. The guards waiting for me outside the Tarsus building told me to report to the WTO air terminal, and now Billie Adams and the Order are telling me to do the exact opposite and meet them down in Lower Seattle. How is it that all these people know exactly what I'm doing at all times? Am I streaming this to twitch.tv or something?

Also hang on... this is a city center?

This is a city center? Just this tiny area I'm looking at now? It's basically a small shopping mall, without the shops! There's a lower floor, but that's all narrow staircases and twisty corridors. It's like the level designer had a small cube's worth of space to fit the map into, and wanted to pack in as much as they could.

Deus Ex (PC)
Here's what Deus Ex's opening level looks like as a comparison. See those three dots down there on the bottom right? Those are people. Plus you can enter the statue building and go up all eight or so floors to the top. There's even a sunken freighter to explore off one of the piers if this isn't enough for you. Granted it's a tiny map compared to, say GTA3's city, but it makes up for that in the details. Invisible War's levels have been downsized considerably with no benefit.

It's also a bit of a shame that the jump forward into the future has cost Invisible War the charm provided by the first game's real world settings. Somehow being able to see the Space Needle out of a window doesn't help all that much.

Hang on, I've managed to find a shop!

Like all coffee shops it's named after something from Moby Dick, in this case Captain Ahab's ship (with QueeQueg being one of his crew), and I'm already starting to have concerns about the manager's state of mind.

I mean seriously, he wants me (a complete stranger) to go to his rival's apartment, steal the door code to his shop and then throw a grenade in there to destroy his coffee beans. It's like he doesn't have the faintest clue just how expensive grenades are.

There's no trading opportunities here by the way. This NPC is purely a quest giver.


SOON.


I decide to put the arson on hold for the time being, and made my way up to the train station room to catch a ride to this WTO air terminal I'm supposed to be going to, but the guy at the ticket counter is starting to worry me as well. I don't know whether it's those crazy staring eyes, the gun he's got on his back, or the fact that he's charging five times the standard price for a Metro Pass, but something about this seems off somehow.

There's an air vent nearby so I suppose I could crawl in there and secretly press some buttons to open the Metro door, but I think I'll try a more creative approach first.

There we go! I've blocked the deadly laser gate with a sci-fi thing and now I may safely proceed. Those yellow beams aren't the lasers by the way, they're actually holographic warning beams to tell people that if they try to go that way they'll be incinerated. Gotta love a world where they use deadly force to stop people from riding the train without a ticket.

Hang on, why am I trying to get past these guys non-violently anyway? They've probably got the real attendant tied up in the back somewhere, hoping that some suave augmented hero will come along and save him.

Have a face full of street justice, asshole! See how you like that nonsense.

Wow, I'm honestly surprised that my baton is so effective; it only took a few rapid fire hits to the head knock him unconscious. Though now his friend in the booth is looking even more agitated, so I should probably hide somewhere to ambush him as he comes out.

Oh crap, the thug's shotgun has gotten jammed under the door! Now I can't get the door closed, or pull the gun out again. Wow, I honestly can't remember this ever happening in a game before.

Amazingly I was able to solve this through real-world logic, by throwing a heavy thug at the door to knock it shut then picking the gun up. Then, with the last thug knocked out, I ran inside only to find the real Metro Pass seller in a storeroom, dead. My heroics were ultimately for nothing. Didn't even get XP for my trouble.

Right, what was I doing? Oh yeah, I'm taking the Metro to the WTO air terminal to report in.


SOON, AT THE WTO AIR TERMINAL.


The WTO guards were very clear that I had to report to Chief Morgan immediately and stay away from The Order, but there was nothing said in regards to furniture so I decided to take the opportunity to perform a little advanced feng shui after my meeting had concluded.

It's not my fault! Just walking into a chair is enough to send it flying across the room, how am I supposed to resist a temptation like that?

Anyway, Chief Morgan explained a little in our chat about the Tarsus incident, and that she wants me to investigate my former employer and figure out what they're really up to. So my next job is to break into a penthouse belonging to the Minister of Culture in a building called the Emerald Suites and snoop around. Assuming I want to work with the WTO that is.

I saw one of the other augmented agents from Tarsus working in an office across the room, so I decided to go over and catch up on what's been going on. Also I left a timed explosive under the pile of chairs before I started the conversation, because of very serious game-testing reasons.

I'm testing to see if I can find any fun in this game. The results so far are intriguing, but I'll get to that later. Okay, I remember seeing a door leading to the Emerald Suites back in Upper Seattle, so I'll ride the Metro back again.


LATER, AT THE EMERALD SUITES.


Interesting; it seems that I have at least two ways to get up to the Minister of Culture's penthouse suite. I can get into the broken elevator shaft, dodge the arcing electricity, use a multitool to hack into a power box, then climb right up. Or I can just pay this janitor all my money.

I think I'll go look for the third option. Shouldn't be hard to find considering how tiny each level is.


SOON.


Aha, nailed a security bot on the roof of the building with a single EMP grenade. There's a lot of security up here just to defence a couple of skylight windows, so I reckon I must be just above the Minister's suite. Plus like I said, it's a tiny level and this is the only bit of roof I can get to.

I hacked the security system, dropped in through the skylight like a cat burglar, smashed a lawyer in the the face with my baton like a ninja, and then got shot in the gut by his bodyguard like an idiot. When I was finally done knocking him out too I decided to hide the bodies by throwing them up onto the ceiling fan like an asshole.

So far, so good, except for one small problem: this isn't the Minister's penthouse suite. I have no idea where I am or who these two are.

Ooops.

Good luck trying to clear that mess up, vacuum bot.

The guards back outside in the hallway didn't really see the funny side of my case of mistaken breaking and entering, so I was forced to pro-actively defend myself with my rapid-fire baton. Now I have to start moving the bodies around to get at their ammo packs, because an enemy's items all drop out of them after they're taken down, and they usually land on top of them. It's like the game wants me to throw people everywhere.

Okay then, I'm gonna get a multitool out and go check that broken elevator shaft then.


LATER, IN THE PENTHOUSE SUITE.


See, I knew I should've taken hacking instead of cloaking! Fortunately I changed my mind earlier and overwrote my previous biomod choice with a black market canister. Such a waste of a skill point.

What sort of lunatic has a triplaser activated machine gun on their ceiling anyway?


LATER.


After snooping around the penthouse I reported back to Chief Morgan (three loading screens away), then met another NPC at the air terminal who gave me a side quest to investigate a shady bar owner. So more two loading screens later here I am, snooping around again.

I'm supposed to be looking for a balance sheet, but I'm more interested in this AI simulation of a real pop star. NG Resonance here is friendly and knowledgeable, she always takes the time to chat with her fans, she remembers everyone she's talked to and what they talked about last... and she's eager to hear about any suspicious activity I have to report. She's so brazen about the fact that she's a surveillance tool that she even pays me her 'standard informant's bonus' for giving her info.

It's funny to think that back in 2003 entertainment devices that spy on their users for the government were considered sci-fi.


SEVERAL LOADING SCREENS LATER.


Okay stuff happened and now I'm in Lower Seattle to hire a pilot. But first I thought I should show off how the shops work in this. It's basically the same set up as Deus Ex: on occasion I'll meet a guy with things to sell, and talking to him eventually brings up the option to hand over money for them in a dialogue choice. There's no way to browse the trader's inventory or sell any of my own gear.

Actually that's not entirely true, as that locked box behind him definitely looks like it might contain his wares. I could always knock him and his bodyguard out and then go have a bit of a browse.

In contrast to the 'city center' upstairs, Lower Seattle looks a lot like an actual place, though it's still only tiny. There's a street running off screen the left, but apart from that this is basically all of it.

I didn't use a cheat or a console command to get up here by the way, I just climbed up the old fashioned way. Alex D's got a decent jump height and can pull himself up ledges, Thief-style, so it really wasn't much trouble to get onto the rooftops.

I'm obviously not supposed to be up here though, as: a. the graphics are glitching out everywhere, and b. I can actually see a fair bit of scenery from up here. Invisible War HATES letting me see things; every level has to be all small rooms and winding hallways.


SOON.


Man, I'm starting to regret going wandering now. I decided to check out the Heron's Loft Apartments, seeing as they were just through one of the doors in Lower Seattle and now I'm up against guards working for a local smuggler.

A high ranking member of The Order got in contact on my brain radio earlier to let me know I'd be doing people a favour by taking these folks out, and doing a pilot a favour by getting his VTOL jet out of their hands, so I figured I'd come in, crack skulls, and get myself a ride to the next WTO mission area.

The trouble is that I can't really take on guards and bots, especially not in full view of a turret, so I'm trying to stealth it for once. Right now that's mostly involving a lot of hiding under this staircase, as this enemy just doesn't want to go back to his patrol. I think he can hear me walking around as I didn't choose to get the silent running augmentation earlier, though it's hard to know. I can definitely hear his friends walking around and talking amongst themselves, and that bloody bot next to him. If only they'd split up so I could make my move.

I know, I have a plan!

I'm going to run up to them one by one and hit them repeatedly with a baton! It's so crazy it might just work!

Man, I hope I come across some actual villains soon (or a stun gun), as all my lethal ranged weapons are sitting in my inventory useless and unloved right now. These SSC folks aren't actually all that evil so my augmented moral code insists that I play relatively nice. I guess I should just be grateful that stunned guards never wake up.

A bit of hacking to disable the turret and... I'm done! The landing zone is mine. Though the goal isn't showing up as being completed. I don't get what I've done wrong here, every single guard is down and I even knocked out the evil smuggler (and shoved her in a crate for safekeeping). Is the mission bugged or... oh hang on, I've just figured it out. 

There was one last guy outside guarding the entrance. Into the dumpster with you!

Man, look at that perfect aim; only took me twenty attempts to make that shot. Alright, time to go find the pilot and tell him he can get to his jet now. We have places to go.


LATER, AT THE GREASEL PIT BAR.


Actually screw this guy; he's a tool and I've found a cheaper pilot in the meantime anyway. Okay I admit I only put this shot in because I was amused by that compass crown I stuck over his head. I think I really must be getting tired now.

Infiltrating his personal space is basically the only thing I can do to bother him while we're here in this bar though, as the owner has installed an anti-weapon device to lock out all my guns. This is phenomenally stupid for two very obvious reasons:
  1. It also locks out my melee weapons, like my metal baton. I don't care what shutdown codes you send, you're not going to deactivate a solid metal rod.
  2. Only bars have this weapon deactivation technology. Not the WTO air terminal, not the super secret Tarsus labs, not the black market tech smugglers, just this pub and presumably others like it.
Anyway, I'm all ready to leave Seattle, but there's just one slight issue with my plan to hire the other pilot: I have to go and fight my way through a WTO landing zone to give her an opportunity to take off. Guess it makes sense that the only pilots still hanging out in this shithole are the ones that are stuck here.


1, 2, 3, 4... UH, A WHOLE LOT OF LOADING SCREENS LATER.


Holy shit, I've reached a level with some scale to it! So the engine CAN render wide open spaces after all.

Also I've finally got myself a stun dart gun! Now there's considerably less need for me to ambush enemies around corners. I can just run out, shoot someone twice, then run away again until the sedative takes effect.

Okay sometimes it takes more than two darts. Still, you can't criticise my aim at least!

You know what I can criticise though, now that I have used more than one gun? The fact that they both use the same ammo. I'm not even just talking about them using universal ammo pickups, I mean they both share the same magazine of ammo. Plus there's no reload button!

This to me is not great game design, because it discourages the use of high power weaponry. If I find a flame thrower or whatever that burns through my ammo quickly, I can't just have fun with it for a few seconds and then switch back to my pistol or dart gun when it's out, because they'll be empty too.

Mass Effect 2 also uses universal ammo pickups, but in that game collecting one increases each gun's individual ammo stash. It's a more enjoyable system because it encourages using a variety of guns instead of just sticking to the most ammo-efficient weapon.

Anyway I've got the helicopter, I can travel to the next mission area now, I think this is a good time to turn the game off.

Though I'll leave you with one last cryptic screenshot without context. I'd say that it's an obvious Doctor Who reference, except it's kind of a decade too early for that.

Creepy.


CONCLUSION

Like I said earlier, this isn't my first run through the game, but I am honestly shocked at how much I'm enjoying the game this time around. I guess a decent frame rate and a change of perspective can make a big difference.

I don't think it looks as cool as Deus Ex, it definitely doesn't sound as cool as it's missing the iconic dynamic soundtrack, and it feels really claustrophobic by comparison. Plus Deus Ex had some terrible voice acting at time, but at least the NPCs had some character to them. The most interesting character I've found in Invisible War is a simulation of a pop singer.

But on the other hand the physics system is much improved and interaction with the world feels more natural. For instance, at one point I wanted to get up onto a roof, so I opened a door leading inside, Jackie Chan'd myself up onto the top of it, then jumped up the rest of the wall from there, just like a real person could do in the real world! Even found some loot up there. It'd take a nice big stack of boxes to manage the same trick in DX1. Though I also went also exploring in Lower Seattle as well and you saw how well getting up onto the rooftops worked out for me there.

It feels like the developers have made a real attempt to address what they saw as flaws in the first game, with mixed success. For example, some people got frustrated in how that they were railroaded into siding with one faction in DX1, as the reactivity is based around gameplay choices rather than story choices. In this however you can choose to complete objectives for two different factions on a case by case basis, along with the various opposing NPCs in the side missions. Not sure I appreciated the way that everyone seemed to be watching me during my every move, giving commentary on my decisions, but hey it suits the themes at least.

Though the developers also apparently saw the complexity of DX1 as a flaw, and tried to streamline the RPG elements it to make it more accessible. XP is gone, skills are gone, ammo types have gone, weapon stats have gone, the grid based inventory is gone, the reload button has gone. Sure DX1's skills kind of overlapped with the augmentations in function and DX:IW's biomod canisters do provide a fair amount of character improvement in their place, but they have their own problems (like forcing me to choose between cloaking OR hacking, c'mon son.) Plus as rewards go, finding another weapon or grenade I can't even pick up due to my tiny inventory is a poor substitute for a bit of exploration XP.

Though hey, at least I can explore. The gameplay choices that made the first game so special are present and correct, the ability to fuck around and make up your own solutions to situations is definitely there; if you squint at it this does resemble a true Deus Ex game. Plus I want to play it some more so the game gets a star, simple as that.

Awesome, now I can finally cross Deus Ex: Invisible War off my list and never speak about it again. But don't let that stop you leaving your own thoughts about the game, the article, my site or whatever in the comment box below. If you don't, then someone one else is going to come along and fill it with their own opinions instead, so you might as well.

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