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Deus Ex: Invisible War

Ivan  

According to Deus Ex: Invisible War's in-game time counter, I have played through approximately three hours of Ion Storm's futuristic action RPG. In this time, I have learned the true beauty of being granted total and complete freedom in a videogame. That beauty (keeping in mind I'm six times more juvenile than you) is the ability to mercilessly slaughter every single person in the game. I'm no random murderer, mind you. First, I guide my lovely, soft spoken female version of the game's protagonist, Alex D., through the many dimly lit locales of the play world, careful to explore every basement and to speak to every techno babbling soul of Invisible War. Many of the NPCs offer sub quests and then properly reward completion of these quests with money and trinkets -- exploration can reap similar benefits. After I accomplish these minor tasks, I hurt them, a lot. Thus far I've managed to massacre an entire hotel of people, a training academy, a courtyard, a slum, a nightclub, a metro station and a glorified elevator (it's a really big elevator). Believe it or not, Ion's opus has yet to force a failure onto me.

The point of Deus Ex, its story and its gameplay, is genuine approachability. For every situation there are multiple outcomes and multiple means to achieve these ends. Nearly every choice has a consequence. If one is done, it will likely alter the story and affect the other potential choice. Me, I take a somewhat different approach. I do both choices, and then I kill everyone around me. It doesn't care if they're critical to the subplot or just standing around at the bar, they will die. The game has thus far been careful to not let mission critical characters into my gun sights, but I expect that will all soon change as I progress further and further into the mysterious underbelly of this post "collapsed" future.

Some decades after the escapades of JC Denton, civilization fell and then rose up once again. Now, in this tumultuous nanotechnology driven world, powerful weapons wielded by fanatical terrorists are causing civil unrest and hold Earth on the brink of destruction. As a soon to be pivotal figure in world affairs (even if I have to kill my way to the top of the food chain), I will meet people, choose sides, and then unravel the entire game allied to a single faction or multiple factions. Of course, my pistols want to do other things.

Gameplay this time around is very much like the original Deus Ex, but fans of that one will notice a few changes. Most, I believe, come from simultaneous Xbox development. We've yet to post updated hands-on impressions from that build, but this PC one features a simplified interface and simplified gameplay mechanics that seem to have been influenced by the other. For instance, the inventory system has been drastically changed. It's still the accessible belt versus the inaccessible backpack, with extra menus for maps, logs, and communiques, but slotting objects is a couple of clicks with no drag and drop. This doesn't sound like much, but when you don't know what benefits a level three bio-mod upgrade has until you reach level two, and when you don't know exactly what weapon upgrades a particular gun can support until you buy and try them, you'll start to wonder why deeper, more PC platform specific interface considerations weren't implemented. Fiddling around with the contents of your glorified purse not withstanding, it's still the same walk around, skulk around, talk to people, and solve problems game that made the original so damn neat.

At the heart of this is the many ways in which a problem can be solved. Me, I obviously like the direct, make you bleed approach. But I also recognize that I could have used a ventilation shaft to circumvent my enemies (since ventilation shafts are pretty much freaking everywhere). Or, if I didn't want to soot up my new leather pants, perhaps I should have purchased a pass code from the wino on the street, picked the lock on the door myself, hid in the shadows and bid my time until the right moment to strike, or simply blown the door off the hinges and waded through a sea of bodies. There are limitations to all of this approachability, though. For instance, the nightclub owner will recognize that I have killed the lawyers infesting a nearby hotel before he even asked me to off them (a very amusing conversation, in fact), but after he grants me access to the VIP lounge, which is ironically just before I murder him, the very important freak up there won't seem to mind that I've "energy sworded" every person at the bar to death, including his comrade the proprietor. Upset that he's not upset, I'll kill the freaky frogman. Even though just seconds ago he offered to sell me bio-mods and weapons, his corpse drops nothing of value. It's a touch of frustration in an otherwise believable, if incredibly dim world.

Oh yeah, Invisible War is gorgeous, but it's quite possibly one of the darkest games I've ever seen in my entire life. We're talking about Thief level darkness at certain points -- darker even than what I've seen of DOOM. This means you'll want to keep a handy supply of energy cells in that refined purse, because those Mag-Lite nano-augmented eyes of yours are going to be working overtime. Despite being cast in shadows (I think making the metro station nearly pitch black was a little overboard), Deus Ex still features some truly amazing graphics. Just about everything in the world seems to be meticulously detailed or bump-mapped or at the very least powered by Havok physics. This means that it's possible to throw a giant bump-mapped box down a flight of stairs, watch its shadows change depending on the nearby light source, and then see it slam into an enemy and perhaps knock him over, assuming your strength augmentation is up to spec. Pretty neat stuff. If facial animations were better and the game managed to run at a steady framerate on my GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, I'd wager this to be one of the prettiest titles seen in some time.

Right now I've barely scratched the surface of Deus Ex, but I am thus far, wholly impressed. The game is gorgeous, the fiction is engaging, and the play is faithful to the original (I am curious to see how it all plays out). And, even though I'd very much like a more satisfying flame throwing experience (it's a dreadful effect), the feeling of Deus Ex is quickly returning. It takes a while for it to set in, but when it does, and you finally realize that you truly can do pretty much whatever you like while exploring this grand world, building your character into a super force to be reckoned with and unraveling this complex plot, it's simply impossible to deny.

So? Will it be worth your wait? Yes, I certainly believe so. I think performance will be an issue with a lot of people, but the gameplay in this RPG is exactly what you might expect. I'll be back with a review sometime around launch (early December).

Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in 1UP.





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