Wednesday, September 05, 2018

First Play Review: Deus Ex: Invisible War

The 2003 sequel to the sublime Deus Ex is regarded by many PC gamers as a lacklustre shitty console port which shouldn't even be spoken in the same sentence as the original. However as it was a sequel to something I enjoyed, and I only paid €1.74 for it in a March 2016 sale I thought that it might have been worth a few hours.

The first bug I encountered was that my mouse wouldn't work on the menu screen. This would have been okay as one could still [arrow-key] + [Enter] around the main menu, but the problem is that it wasn't just the main menu but ALL in game menus as well and DX2 has several including inventory and a biomods screen that would be beyond frustrating. Among the half dozen fixes or workarounds for this bug, one is apparently reducing the Windows custom scaling resolution from 150% [in my case with a 28" 4K screen] to 149%. Barely noticeable when looking at the screen but apparently redefines the X/Y axis of the mouse enough for the game to detect it(?).

The next major bug was that the game would minimise to the desktop every time you transitioned to a new map. Now this would have been tolerable if it happened in Deus Ex as it's levels were quite large. Sadly the issue is extremely annoying for DX2 as due to the console constraints for the game (2003 consoles were woefully inferior to PCs of the age), the levels were only a fraction of the size and so transitions/loading were much more frequent and so this white screen/minimise to desktop issue would manifest itself every few minutes. The final straw was a crash as I was entering a nightclub and but when it crashed, my desktop resolution was set to the game's resolution (a maximum of 1080p or so) and it wouldn't allow me reset it back to normal until I actually restarted the computer! 

I found this situation untenable but a solution presented itself in the form of this mod created by an industrious individual called snobel who has done similar work for the Thief franchise. The Visible Upgrade mod fixed the resolution, mouse and the level transition issue as well as increased the visual fidelity to more than satisfactory standards. I had a fully working game and in 4K, huzzah!

Once the game could actually run it was grand. DX2 was developed by Ion Storm again but really for the the Xbox as opposed to the PC. It's not just the level size being smaller, it was many things including the whole 'simplification' of the inventory and biomod aspects (console players couldn't handle complex systems like those of Deus Ex), the complete removal of the skill tree making your 'Alex D' character just 'good at everything' paled in comparison to depth one could sculpt DX1's J.C. Denton and it's loss was significant, reducing the character to nothing but a generic protagonist. The control system was awkward and it was obvious that one of the Xbox 'sticks' selected weapons, while the other handled biomod abilities which could not be mapped beck to your DX1 control system but instead use the numeric keypad to activate. What a mess!

I felt combat overall was substandard for what's essentially an FPS. Weapons felt weak in comparison to other games of the time. Whomever had the idea to green-light the notion of using a single type of ammo for all weapons from a pistol to a rocket launcher was a complete moron because when you run out of ammo for one weapon - you run out for all your weapons! This must be the dumbest thing I've ever encountered in a game like this. At one point I had to replay a level using different tactics because in the end I was left fighting an ED209 type mech with a fucking sword! Also, I never got to use the sniper rifle because as I've mentioned before, the levels aren't big enough in length or height to ever require a sniper rifle. The default pistol would kill everything as accurately, it was silenced, and used less of the universal ammo. One could say the sniper rifle was a misfire (chuckle).

Thankfully the plot was more interesting than the gameplay, set 20 years after the Deus Ex, and the world is only beginning to recover from the catastrophic worldwide depression caused by the ending of the previous game. In the chaotic period of recovery, several religious and political factions see an opportunity to re-shape a worldwide government to their agendas, understanding that the right moves now could determine the shape of human society for decades- even centuries- to come. In this techno-nightmare, you play a part in the dark struggle to raise the world from its own ashes. I do think that the branching choices and storylines, while not up to RPG standards, are certainly a better employed device than in DX1 and you feel and see the consequences of your actions before one of four different endings are played out based on those choices. At 10 hours to complete its about a third of the size of it's predecessor, but this length is comparable to games at the time.

I choose a female Alex D because Laura Bailey is a much more recognisable name and voice to whomever Christopher Sabat is. That said, any voice would have been better to the monotonous drone of Jay Anthony Franke who put in an almost robotic performance as J.C. Denton in both games. I'll add that Alexander Brandon's score was superior here to the score he and Micheal Van Den Bos crafted for DX1, but by this time games were using high quality soundscapes, even if (as here) it was just keyboards and where afforded - orchestral scores.

Pros: Good story. Freedom of choice with regards to how it ends is superior to the original. Impressive soundscape and voice-acting.
Cons: Game is broken and looks shit today without user modification. Weak combat. A console game at heart.

Deus Ex: Invisible War is available from Steam @ €6.99 or GOG @ €8.09, but is frequently on sale for just €0.97!

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