By Martin Keys / December 30, 2011
In 2003, PC gaming was undergoing a significant evolution. Deus Ex: Invisible War was among the first titles to incorporate the Havok engine and utilise many of the features in DX9's canon. While the latter merely acted to create the graphical advantage that the PC obtains about two or so years into any given console generation's life span, the former reinvigorated several genres, not least of which was the FPS.
To an extent Invisible War succeeded in showing us what Havok and DX9 were capable of. The physics are a lot of fun to use and abuse; throwing stools at coffee shop patrons and in turn trashing the place takes a while to get dull. It's then that you think to stop piling corpses in a humorous fashion and try to implement the physics to your practical advantage. It can be done, but not in an entirely satisfactory manner mainly due to the limitations in level design and AI, who seems blissfully unaware or uncaring of your antics until a trigger condition is met.
The AI was one of the major bugbears of the original, which unfortunately has not been revised in any way shape or form. One firefight that was requiring much quick-loading on my part I found to be avoidable by merely jumping onto a ledge 6 feet off the ground and shooting at the enemy who seemed to be incapable of combat on more than one plane. Stealth also suffers from a poor implementation of AI; amazingly the manual claims that detection is calculated in a way similar to Thief in that metal makes more noise than carpet, yet I found it impossible to remain unheard at any point in the game regardless of any conditions.
Losing the points system from the first game was another massive mistake. It was in Cairo when I went to see the woman whose kid I got enrolled in Tarsus that it hit me that there is no impetus to go and do the sidestories. At all. You don't gain experience, it doesn't (I presume) add to a final completion percentage. They are just there for you to do if you feel like it, and that's just not enough. You may get some credits, but there's so little to spend them on.
As for the biomods... at first I thought it was going to be tough because you could only have one from each category, but early on I decided to beef up the spydrone, at which point I became capable of dispatching bots in seconds thanks to my EMP blast. With that and my cloaks, again fully powered, I didn't even have to sneak in this game. Plentiful multi-tools meant I never missed hacking a computer. It's such a broken system, even though on the face of it it's nice to play, but on closer inspection turns out to have no depth at all. I was utterly gutted. How did they get it so wrong?
Like all other choices in the game stealth is binary and uninteresting: you are either invisible to your enemy or you are not. Unlike the first game the level design is so poor that there are rarely any extenuating factors on your choices. So there is no skill or imagination involved in the implementation of your (now fairly limited compared to DX1) skillset. The choice is there but why investigate alternatives when one is obviously best? I.e. just jump over the laser trip-wire rather than waste a multi-tool, which is nearly always an option in this game.
The major plot choices also follow this logic, and more distressingly have no bearing on the game. You will always be given an objective from a faction regardless of how many of their followers you have killed and how many of their previous objectives you ignored. Not such a huge problem if the plot were interesting, or even passable, which is rare enough in a game; but the plot here, though far from awful, is hugely inferior to its predecessor's, and its major twists fall somewhat flat given the short playtime (merely around 10 hours for me). The game's brevity, on the other hand, would not have been a negative point on its own, but when coupled with the ludicrously low level of challenge, even on Realistic, becomes unpardonable. (Funnily enough, Hard is actually a lot more difficult than Realistic; weapons do much greater damage on Realistic but this works both ways, effectively halving your adversaries' health, which is why Hard is my preferred mode of play as I like my enemies to go down after a semi-reasonable number of bullets).
And this is just a final nail in the coffin for what was, by some margin, the biggest disappointment of 2003 for me. The original was a masterpiece, it was at times clunky and overlong but with a ton of depth and satisfaction to be had. I thought an easy way to summarise the game would be through comparison to its big brother, but unfortunately Invisible War would seem to be a little waster runt born of lesser stock (possibly out of wedlock). This will be enjoyable for the first little while, but once the lack of depth becomes all too apparent and the awful level design kicks in (ANOTHER VENT, how convenient) you may find yourself booting up the original to muster hope for the third Deus Ex.