Review: “Deus Ex: Invisible War [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

Although the original “Deus Ex” is widely regarded as a masterpiece, it’s sequel from 2003 – “Deus Ex: Invisible War” – doesn’t seem to have gained this stellar reputation. So, when I saw that this game was on special offer on GoG last spring (it had been reduced to a little over £2), I just had to get a copy to see if it was really as bad as people have said that it is.

In short, it both is and isn’t a bad game. I’ll obviously go into more depth in the rest of the review. But, like with the original “Deus Ex”, it’s important to point out that you shouldn’t judge this game purely based on the early parts of it. However, unlike the first “Deus Ex” game, this sequel takes a lot longer to start turning into something a bit better.

That said, let’s take a look at “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Needless to say, this review will contain some PLOT SPOILERS:

The events of “Deus Ex: Invisible War” take place two decades after the events of the first game. Regardless of the ending you chose in “Deus Ex”, a catastrophic event called “The Collapse” happens sometime between the ending of that game and the beginning of “Invisible War”.

This event sets technological progress further back, leading to the world becoming a less centralised place. Like in the original game, the world quickly ends up being run by a series of mysterious and secretive organisations (the WTO, the Order and the Templars).

The intro cinematic looks really cool, and wonderfully cyberpunk. The rest of the game, on the other hand…

The introduction to “Invisible War” begins with a nanotechnology-based terrorist attack that devastates Chicago. Luckily for you, you are many miles away in the Tarsus Academy training centre in Seattle.

You play as a nanotechnology-enhanced soldier called Alex D (you can choose whether you are male or female) who has been in training for years. However, the centre is soon attacked by armed terrorists and you have to escape….

Unfortunately, some of your fellow recruits don’t seem to have enhanced intelligence. Seriously, “more demolition”?

Once you escape the academy, you find yourself on the (mostly) grey and boring streets of Seattle, bombarded by messages from several competing organisations, all wanting you to do stuff for them….

And, yes, these messages can get in the way of the gameplay! Likewise, this is pretty much the only vaguely cyberpunk-looking area in the whole of the Seattle segment of the game.

Before I really get into all of the technical details of the game, I want to talk more about the story and the atmosphere. When you start playing this game, you’ll probably be wondering how this is a “Deus Ex” game.

Apart from the occasional info-dump in the dialogue, a few background details, a greasel or two, and several amusing pieces of wooden voice-acting, there seem to be barely any connections between this game and it’s predecessor. Don’t let this put you off!

This might look more like a low-budget episode of “Star Trek”, but keep playing and it will turn into a “Deus Ex” game… eventually.

Yes, you’ll have to wait a while, but I can assure you that this is very much a “Deus Ex” game when it comes to the story!

Even though the earlier and middle parts of the game often seem like a totally different game altogether, you’ll eventually start to see a few familiar faces and locations again. These are – by far- the best parts of the game! Yet, you’ll only see them for a few hours at most. Seriously, this game would have been so much better if the rest of it was more like those parts.

Yes, JC Denton is back! But, only after you’ve played several hours of what can sometimes seem like a totally different game!

Still, the new stuff isn’t entirely bad. Yes, the fictional world of the game is less expansive and atmospheric than the original “Deus Ex”, but there’s still a fair amount of complexity and detail here. Suddenly being thrown into a confusing web of clandestine politics near the beginning of the game helps to give the game a conspiratorial cyberpunk atmosphere in a much more vivid way than in in the original “Deus Ex”.

Likewise, the game still includes a lot of interesting background details. Yes, the in-game documents are a lot shorter and the locations are often smaller or simpler, but there’s still a lot of background stuff. There are two competing coffee chains (who turn out to be run by the same company), there’s a famous pop star called NG Resonance who also exists as a friendly AI construct who will reward you for giving information to the authorities (although, if you meet her later in the game, the actual NG Resonance acts exactly like you’d expect a rich pop star to – which is hilarious!) etc…

Interestingly, if you don’t explore, you can go through the whole game thinking that NG Resonance is just a friendly hologram..

Rather than a thoroughly annoying celebrity.

Still, at the beginning, it’s a game that will barely feel like a “proper” cyberpunk game, let alone a “Deus Ex” game. But, as it goes on, it gradually becomes more like the cyberpunk “Deus Ex” game that it should have been from the very beginning.

Anyway, onto the technical details and the gameplay…

One of the very first things that I should say about this game is that it was primarily designed for consoles. What this means is that certain aspects of the gameplay have been simplified slightly (which is both a good and a bad thing) and that the various areas of the game are split up into smaller segments that cause a loading screen to appear between them.

Whilst these segments aren’t quite as tiny as some reviewers might have you believe (and some of them are relatively large), they’re a far cry from the vast expansive levels of the original “Deus Ex”.

From what I’ve read on Wikipedia, this is mostly because the designers created artificial parity between the Xbox and PC versions of this game – so, the game is coded to only use 64mb of RAM. There don’t seem to be any mods on the internet that can correct this defect either. So, the loading screens can take longer than you expect:

Yes, you’ll get used to THESE after a while. But, they can be frustrating at first, especially if you’ve played the original game.

Likewise, one thing that I noticed when I started playing “Invisible War” is that it’s surprisingly demanding for a game from 2003. After all, the vintage mid-2000s computer (1.8ghz single core, 2gb RAM, GeForce 6100) I played this game on can run games like “Doom 3”, “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, “Far Cry”, “Red Faction II“, “Quake 4”, “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” and “Half Life 2” on low graphics settings perfectly well. Yet, even with the settings turned down to minimum, this game ran slightly sluggishly during quite a few parts. However, it was still just about playable.

Anyway, in terms of the gameplay, it’s relatively close to the original “Deus Ex”. In other words, it’s an action/role-playing game that is played from a first-person perspective. But, whilst the gameplay is strongly reminiscent of the original “Deus Ex”, there’s less versatility in many areas. It’s kind of like “Deus Ex lite”, which is cool – but it might temporarily annoy you if you are a fan of the original game.

On the plus side, the multi-tools now have a vaguely “Harry Potter”-like animation. Expelliarmus!

For example, whilst there are sometimes multiple ways of doing the same thing (eg: bypassing a door by using a multi-tool, climbing through a vent or finding a key etc..), there don’t seem to be as many as there were in “Deus Ex”.

You also still have nanotechnolgy-based abilities that can be upgraded and chosen (plus, unlike in “Deus Ex”, the repair bots/medical bots have no recharge time). Likewise, although you can still find hidden stuff by exploring – there aren’t as many places to explore.

Still, you can sometimes find interesting places if you explore, like this dubious underground greasel fighting arena.

Plus, although you often get coflicting objectives (in addition to a fair number of optional side-quests), you can switch your allegiances fairly often during the game and, until the later parts of the game, there isn’t really a sense that you have to follow one path.

In some ways, this is actually a good thing though – since the predominant emotion in the early parts of the game is a confused sense of not knowing who to trust. So, the lack of a firm allegiance system is a forgiving way to let players make their own decisions. Plus, of course, it adds replay value to the game too.

However, the game will sometimes channel you along a particular path. For example, I’d originally planned to ignore the WTO chairman’s orders. But, you have to follow them here in order to progress easily.

The most significant gameplay change is probably to the ammunition system. Basically, all of your weapons share a single pool of universal ammunition. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the one hand, it can easily result in you running out of ammo in the middle of a fight. However, when you get your hands on the more powerful weapons (eg: the sniper rifle and/or rocket launcher), it also means that ammo is a lot more plentiful. But, fallen enemies have a habit of falling on top of any ammunition that they drop – which means that picking up extra ammo in during or after a battle can be a little bit annoying.

Even so, if you use the sniper rifle, then you’ll be able to fight from a distance – especially since, if you aim it properly, it will one-shot most enemies who aren’t wearing heavy armour.

In addition to this, one good gameplay change is the fact that – when someone gives you a passcode – the game stores and uses it automatically. One of the frustrating things about the original “Deus Ex” was having to physically write down lots of 3-5 digit passcodes (or trawl through in-game menus to find records of them). So, this change is extremely welcome 🙂

Plus, although this game was originally designed for consoles, it has a proper saving system too … and none of that modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish 🙂 Plus, even more joyously, the only “regenerating health” you get in this game is an upgradable special ability that costs resources every time you use it.

However, the combat in this game can be clunky at times. Although this is something that you’ll probably get used to after playing for a while, don’t expect this to be a slick, intuitive FPS game with totally accurate aiming and perfect AI.

Still, you CAN use this to your advantage sometimes. If you climb a ladder, not only will any pursuing foes not follow you, but they also won’t think to shoot upwards at you either.

Whilst the original “Deus Ex” excused the few deficiencies of it’s combat system by occasionally encouraging the player to take a pacifist path, there isn’t really much of this in “Invisible War” (you get a few non-lethal weapons and there are some basic stealth mechanics, but that’s about it). The only example I can think of is possibly one part of the game which seems like a stealth segment at first, but the objective requires you to “neutralise” some troops guarding a plane.

Still, if like me, you loathe and despise stealth segments in games, the fact that this area is more “use tactics” than “use stealth” is wonderful 🙂

In terms of the graphics, this game is fairly decent for something from the early-mid 2000s. But, the improved graphics aren’t taken advantage of as often as they should be. What I mean by this is that although “Invisible War” contains some really cool lighting and a few awesome-looking cyberpunk areas, these are relatively few and far between. A lot of the game takes place in generic buildings, city streets etc… Likewise, thanks to the limitations of the level size and level complexity, don’t expect to see anything too expansive or dramatic.

Yes, there’s a very short Hong Kong-based segment. But, looking at the city through a window is as close as you’re going to get to it.

And, sometimes, the game looks as cool as THIS 🙂

But, the locations willl also sometimes look as dull as THIS too 😦

In terms of the voice acting and music, this game is acceptable. The game’s soundtrack is nowhere near as distinctive or memorable as the soundtrack from the original “Deus Ex”, but it isn’t exactly bad either. The voice-acting varies a bit and can sometimes be a little bit wooden, although this is part of the charm of the classic “Deus Ex” games.

All in all, this is one of those games that is something of an acquired taste. No, it isn’t as good as “Deus Ex”. But, the fact that they tried to make a “lite” version of the game that will run on early 2000s consoles is absolutely adorable. So, I have to applaud the effort, even though the PC version should have received more love (eg: resolving the RAM allocation limit problem I mentioned earlier)

Yes, there are a lot of clunky elements to this game. But, no, you shouldn’t judge it by the first few hours. The later parts of this game are actually good, even if you have to trawl through a fair amount of the game to get to them. Even so, if you can get used to this game’s many flaws, then there is a good game lurking in there. Or at least a “so bad that it’s good” game. So, it’s probably worth waiting until it goes on special offer before buying it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Four Reasons Why We Enjoy Things That Are “So Bad That They’re Good”

I’m sure that I’ve written about this subject before, but I ended up thinking about things that are “so bad that they’re good” recently.

This was mostly because I ended up playing part of a computer game from 2003 called “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Although it’ll be a while until I post a full review of it here, it’s a perfect example of something that is “so bad that it’s good”.

If you’ve never heard of this game before, it was the sequel to a game from 2000 called “Deus Ex” (which is widely regarded as a masterpiece). The sequel, on the other hand, isn’t a masterpiece. I could spend quite a while listing it’s many faults but, strangest of all, I actually find them to be slightly endearing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable.

1) Forewarning and curiosity: One of the reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because the audience is often forewarned of this fact by either reading reviews or just by looking at the packaging/promotional material for something. For example, if you see a DVD in a bargain bin with a slightly cheesy title and some slightly shoddy cover art, then you know that it probably isn’t Oscar material.

However, hearing that something is hilariously terrible will probably make you curious about how or why it gained that reputation. As such, it means that you are likely to start watching, playing etc… the thing in question with an attitude of amused curiosity. This attitude generally results in a much more enjoyable experience than if you just approach it in the way that you would approach an “ordinary” game, film etc…

However, if the audience isn’t forewarned, then these things lead to nothing but disappointment and frustration. So, forewarning is a key part of why things that are “so bad that they’re good” can be enjoyable.

2) Adorability: Simply put, things that are “so bad that they’re good” are adorable. This is because they are often examples of someone really trying to make something good using whatever limited skills or resources they have.

For example, one of the reasons why “Deus Ex: Invisible War” is such an endearingly terrible game is because, unlike the original “Deus Ex”, it was originally designed to also run on the original Xbox console. Since this console wasn’t even close to computers of the time in terms of processing power, memory etc.. there were a lot more limitations. As an example, here’s how the first two “Deus Ex” games depict nightclubs:

This screenshot from “Deus Ex (2000)” shows part of a sprawling nightclub with a large dancefloor and several large balconies.

This screenshot from “Deus Ex: Invisible War” (2003) shows the whole dancefloor of a nightclub. Yes, this little room is the entire dancefloor!

Yet, the people behind the game still tried to make a good “Deus Ex” game with these limited resources. Yes, they failed. But, the fact that they actually tried is extremely adorable.

Things that are “so bad that they’re good” are enjoyable for the simple reason that they show us someone trying to make something great. They show us that the people who made these things were enthusiastic. They are examples of hope and ambition.

3) “I can do better!”: I can’t remember where I read this, but I vaguely remember reading something about the horror author Shaun Hutson – where he apparently pointed out that one of the things that got him into writing horror fiction was reading a badly-written horror novel and thinking “I can do better than this!“.

If you are a creative person (or want to be one), then seeing things that are “so bad that they’re good” can make you feel better about yourself by comparison. It can also make you feel less disappointed about your own failures, for the simple reason that other people fail too. It can also motivate you to actually create something just to see if you can make something better.

4) Cheapness and counterculture: Finally, another reason why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because they are often both cheap and (most of the time) non-mainstream. Since things that fall into this category are often either made on a low budget, are sold at a reduced price to recoup any expenses and/or are quickly dumped in second-hand shops by unsatisfied customers, they often tend to be slightly on the cheaper side of things.

So, we tend to feel like we’re getting more value for money when we find something that is “so bad that it’s good”. It also reassures us of the quality of any more expensive things that we’ve bought too.

Likewise, there’s a certain perverse thrill to looking at films, games etc.. that are widely considered to be terrible and unpopular. There’s a slight sense of sticking two fingers up at popular culture telling us what we “should” watch, read, play etc.. So, this can also explain why these kinds of things can be so enjoyable.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂