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.

Review: “Deus Ex: Game Of The Year Edition” (Retro Computer Game)

2017 Artwork Deus Ex review sketch

As surprising as it might sound, the very first time that I played “Deus Ex” was in 2016!

In my defence, I think that I once found a second-hand copy of it in a shop back in the day – but couldn’t get it to run on my old computer (which, even for the time, was ancient). Likewise, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance, so I actually played “Deus Ex” last summer.

Still, this isn’t to say that I’d never heard of “Deus Ex” before. It’s one of those games that is widely renowned as a classic. But, there are plenty of “classics” in a variety of mediums that I still haven’t seen, read or played.

In fact, the only reason that I ended up playing “Deus Ex” was the fact that it happened to be on sale on GoG during their summer sale, when I went on a small game-buying spree (so there might be some other retro and/or indie game reviews in the future). Since a couple of the screenshots vaguely looked a bit like “Blade Runner“, getting a copy was an absolute no-brainer.

The DRM-free download of “Deus Ex” ( the “Game Of The Year Edition”) I bought cost about £1.39 during the sale, if I remember rightly. This version also came with several downloadable extras, such as a MP3 copy of the soundtrack.

At full price, it apparently costs £7.99 on GoG. The full-price game is somewhat cheaper at £4.99 on Steam (although, at the time this review went out, there was a winter sale on Steam), although it’s a ‘barebones’ edition – with no extras, and with Steam’s internet-based DRM too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Deus Ex”:

Logo

“Deus Ex” is a cyberpunk sci-fi game from the year 2000, that is a strange combination of a first-person shooter game and a role-playing game.

The game is set several decades in the future, where the world has been ravaged by a plague called the “grey death”. The only reason that society continues to function is because those in authority have priority access to the limited supplies of a vaccine called “ambrosia”.

You play as JC Denton, a nanotechnology-enhanced agent (who looks a bit like Neo from “The Matrix”, if he was played by John Travolta) for a UN special forces agency called UNATCO. For his first mission, JC is sent to recover a stolen consignment of ambrosia from a terrorist group called the NSF….

This is JC Denton. And, yes, there's even an in-game explanation for why he still wears shades, even though the entire game is set at night.

This is JC Denton. And, yes, there’s even an in-game explanation for why he still wears shades, even though the entire game is set at night.

To say too much more about the plot would be to give away major plot spoilers (although there may be some mild SPOILERS later in the review).

So, all that I’ll say is that whilst current audiences will probably guess one of the plot twists within ten minutes of starting the game, the story contains a significantly higher level of complexity, intelligence and philosophical depth than most games from 2000 had.

Seriously, the game’s story is probably on par with a great movie or a good (non-superhero) comic!

Whilst this may not seem that surprising these days (or to people who have played a few “point and click” games) – for a FPS game released in the year 2000, it was probably quite surprising. This is probably why the game gets a lot of acclaim for it’s story to this day. For the time, it’s story probably seemed even more complex and unpredictable than it is by current standards.

One thing that I will say right now is that you shouldn’t judge this game by your first impressions of it!

In other words, the game gets off to a fairly slow start. Although I think that you can skip the tutorial level, it’s pretty much essential to play it if you want to understand some of the game’s more complex mechanics. Yes, this isn’t exactly your average retro FPS game….

Yay! A tutorial level! Everyone loves THESE! Still, at least you get to re-live your teenage memories of playing "Half Life" in this part of the tutorial.

Yay! A tutorial level! Everyone loves THESE! Still, at least you get to re-live your teenage memories of playing “Half Life” in this part of the tutorial.

In fact, the thing that initially made me wary about this game was the fact that the tutorial level contained a rather frustrating stealth-based segment. Since I absolute loathe stealth-based games, this didn’t exactly make me excited to play the main game. However, as I’ll explain later, the stealth mechanics are thankfully only an optional part of the gameplay.

After a cutscene or two (which can all be skipped, if you really want to. But this is one of the few FPS games where you WON’T want to skip them!), the game itself gets off to a relatively slow start with a mission-based level that is set in a very gloomy and mostly generic-looking military base in New York. But, don’t abandon this game! Trust me, if you get through the boring early parts, then it gets significantly better!

If you stick around, then not only will you be rewarded with the complex storyline that I mentioned earlier, but you’ll also be rewarded with some significantly more interesting and atmospheric locations to explore too. My personal favourite was probably the part of the game that was set in a futuristic version of Hong Kong, since this looks a lot like something from “Blade Runner”:

Dammit! Why can't the WHOLE game look more like THIS?

Dammit! Why can’t the WHOLE game look more like THIS?

Still, there are some cool-looking locations in the rest of the game too. Like this futuristic room near the end of the game.

Still, there are some cool-looking locations in the rest of the game too. Like this futuristic room near the end of the game.

Or the friendly-looking lobby of this joyful meeting hall for local philanthropists, paragons of moral virtue and ardent pacifists.

Or the friendly-looking lobby of this joyful meeting hall for local philanthropists, paragons of moral virtue and ardent pacifists.

In addition to this, the mid-late parts of the game are also significantly more fun than the beginning because you’ll have both a greater understanding of the game’s mechanics and also a much better array of weapons, items and nanotechnolgy at your disposal. So, don’t let the first few levels put you off from playing what is actually a really fun game.

The gamplay in “Deus Ex” is surprisingly innovative and it hearkens back to a time when the FPS genre was a hotbed of innovation and creativity. One of the first things that I will say about the gameplay is that it’s surprisingly open-ended.

There are multiple ways to complete each level, depending on your favourite playing style. Even though the game initially encourages you to take a stealth-based pacifist approach, it’s perfectly possible to play this game like a traditional (and mostly enjoyably challenging, if occasionally frustratingly difficult) FPS game.

In other words, if you see a couple of adversaries, you can either sneak past them carefully, render them unconscious with non-lethal weapons, or….

 ...Charge at them furiously with the crowbar of justice held aloft! No prizes for guessing which approach was my favourite.

…Charge at them furiously with the crowbar of justice held aloft! No prizes for guessing which approach was my favourite.

This extended player choice also extends to how you complete the objectives in each non-linear level. Most of the time, there are multiple ways to do this.

For example, if your route is blocked by a locked door, then you can either use up some of your limited resources to bypass the lock, you can find a key/passcode, you can (sometimes) blow the door to smithereens, you can occasionally hack a nearby computer and open the door remotely or you can find an alternative route (eg: a window, an air vent etc..) for getting past the door.

At this point, I should probably talk about the passcode system, since many locked doors require a 4-5 digit code in order to open.

Most of the time, you can find these codes via in-game documents or through dialogue. Although I think that the game keeps a record of all documents you’ve seen, it’s often quicker and easier to just keep a pen and paper handy at all times when playing this game. You’ll be using it a lot!

Another minor problem is that the game’s (otherwise well-designed) locations sometimes cross the line from being “atmospherically gloomy” to being “almost too dark to see anything”.

I understand that the copious use of shadows is meant to improve the game’s stealth mechanics (and because it looks really really cool 🙂 ) but, although the game contains a torch feature, this has a limited power supply. So, when this runs out, you can occasionally be reduced to stumbling around blindly in the dark!

This is a GOOD example of a gothic sci-fi environment. It's gloomy, but you can still see where you're going.

This is a GOOD example of a gothic sci-fi environment. It’s gloomy, but you can still see where you’re going.

THIS is either a Metallica reference, or a terrible example of gothic sci-fi done wrong!

THIS is either a Metallica reference, or a terrible example of gothic sci-fi done wrong!

Likewise, after you’ve completed your objectives, you sometimes have to trudge back to the beginning of the level (or a specific earlier part of the level) in order to progress. Whilst this isn’t too much of an issue in the smaller and/or more visually-interesting levels, it can be somewhat boring in the larger and more generic-looking “military base” levels.

But, apart from these minor flaws, the level design is absolutely superb. The game quite literally rewards exploration by either giving you points for exploring non-essential areas, or placing extra items in these area. Seriously, I love games that actually let you explore 🙂

If I remember rightly, this area isn't really THAT essential to the plot, but you can explore it anyway. THIS is why FPS games form the 1990s/early 2000s are better than many FPS games made since then!

If I remember rightly, this area isn’t really THAT essential to the plot, but you can explore it anyway. THIS is why FPS games form the 1990s/early 2000s are better than many FPS games made since then!

One innovative feature in this game is the fact that you have a choice of several upgradable “augmentations” which you can give your character during the game. These allow JC to do things like regenerate some of his health, to spend longer underwater, to run faster etc..

All of these “augmentations” drain a power meter, so they have to be used (and chosen) carefully – but they are one of the major things that makes the later parts of the game significantly more fun than the earlier parts of the game.

The weapons in this game also include a limited upgrade system. But, although there is a decent array of both realistic and futuristic weapons (some lethal and some non-lethal) on offer, you’ll probably just end up using the three or four that you really like (in my case, the crowbar, the dragon sword, the pistol and the GEP gun) because….

Well, at least you can carry more than two weapons....

Well, at least you can carry more than two weapons….

You also have a limited inventory, with different items taking up different amounts of space. Although items of the same type can thankfully be stacked (eg: seven power cells will take up the same amount of space as just one), this also means that you’ll have to plan your weapon and item choices very carefully. If you’re used to playing old-school FPS games, then this will probably be frustrating at first but it soon becomes an interestingly challenging part of the game in it’s own right.

This theme of player choice is tightly-woven into the game’s settings and storyline too. I’ve already mentioned the non-linear explorable levels, but you can also have some mild degree of influence on the game’s plot too.

This is Juan Lebedev, a senior figure in the NSF. UN law states that you have to arrest him, but one of your colleages has different ideas...

This is Juan Lebedev, a senior figure in the NSF. UN law states that you have to arrest him, but one of your colleages has different ideas…

For example, a scene in one of the earlier parts of the game presents you with a moral dilemma. You have been tasked with catching a senior figure in the NSF but, when you find him, he quickly points out that he is unarmed (and that it is against UN law to shoot him).

A few seconds later, one of your more violent and fanatical colleagues shows up and orders you to shoot him, or she will. You then have the choice of either shooting the NSF guy yourself, walking away (and letting the other agent shoot him) or killing the other agent (in order to save the prisoner’s life). Someone is going to die in this part of the game, and it’s up to you to choose who it is.

Seriously, this game has a level of genuine maturity and philosophical depth that was almost unheard of (except for in “Point and click” games, what few of them remained back then) in the year 2000. In fact, a very critical part of the game revolves around making a gigantic philosophical choice that has no clear “right” or “wrong” answer. This is how you make a genuinely “mature” game!

In terms of length, this is a proper full-length game. This is the kind of game which you can play for a couple of hours every day (with the occasional 3-4 hour marathon session too) and it will still take you at least a week to complete it. One of the cool things about retro games is the fact that they are actually a decent length, and “Deus Ex” is no exception to this!

As for the voice-acting in this game, it’s reasonably good. Most of the time, it’s so good that you won’t even think of it as “voice-acting”. However, when you are playing some of the levels that aren’t set in America, expect to hear at least a few dodgy accents (this is probably most noticeable in the levels that are set in France. Although some of the voice acting in the Hong Kong level isn’t exactly stellar either).

Likewise, like in a “point and click” game, you actually get to choose some of your own dialogue sometimes, which is really cool.

Most of the dialogue choices are fairly "realistic" but I love this one which lets you choose whether you want to sound like a cheesy 1980s action hero or not LOL!

Most of the dialogue choices are fairly “realistic” but I love this one which lets you choose whether you want to sound like a cheesy 1980s action hero or not LOL!

In terms of music, the soundtrack is amazing! Whilst it isn’t quite as good as the soundtrack to “Blade Runner“, it is occasionally vaguely reminiscent of some parts of it – albeit with a slightly faster tempo and more of an “electronic” sound. As I mentioned earlier, the download of “Deus Ex” that I bought from GoG comes with a MP3 copy of the soundtrack, and it’s worth buying for this alone!

All in all, I can see why this game is renowned as a masterpiece. Yes, it certainly has a few flaws (especially near the beginning) but, if you are willing to persevere with playing it, then you will find a FPS game that is like no other. You will get to enjoy an intelligent, complex story and have the sheer joy of playing a game that lets you play it the way you want to.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.