6.5 / 10

6 minutes


  • Okay game on its own, awful as a sequel to Deus Ex
  • The worst: too many decisions were made to keep it console-friendly, rather than PC-focused, resulting in a watered-down game (no skills, simplified weapon system, smaller levels)
  •  The best: enemies drop what they’re carrying, ability to choose gender, fun side stories

I recently picked up Deus Ex: Invisible War on Steam for the Walmart-bargain-bin-special price of 97 cents. Just how bad is it, anyway?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. This is a game that was released in 2003, and it certainly looks like it. Some (okay fine, just me) might say it looks even worse than its predecessor, the critically-acclaimed Deus Ex (2000).

As the successor to Deus Ex, it’s a complete and utter pile of gray goo.

My take is one that probably echoes most reviews: Invisible War is okay as a standalone game – it’s entertaining enough – but as the successor to Deus Ex, it’s a complete and utter pile of gray goo (see intro video scene in Invisible War).

The Story (spoilers ahead for Deus Ex and Invisible War)

The end of Deus Ex had vastly different endings, depending on how you decided the world should be governed: you could destroy the hub for global communications (bringing the world back to pre-Internet times), merge with an AI to become a benevolent supergod (capable of making the Best decisions) or bring the Illuminati back to power to rule the world from behind the scenes.

Invisible War starts twenty years after the first game, and instead of choosing one canon ending from Deus Ex, the developers [Ion Storm] merged all of the endings: JC destroyed the hub AND tried to merge with the AI – which fails, leading up to the events of IW –  and the Illuminati return to power.

The Internet goes bye-bye, the Collapse happens, and the world plunges into another Dark Age. Two organizations rise up from the ashes: the World Trade Organization [WTO] and the Order. The WTO rebuilds cities into enclaves and argues for free trade while the Order is an attempt to merge all religions into a SuperOmegaReligion ™.

Meanwhile, you’re a busy-bee student at Tarsus Academy in Chicago. At the start of the game, you narrowly escape from Chicago after the city gets turned into some kind of goo.

Where Everything Went Wrong

Invisible War undid almost everything that made the original so great: experience points/leveling skills, weapon complexity, and expansive levels.

All of the weapon proficiencies were completely left out to the point where your character is essentially a crack shot at the beginning of the game.

In Deus Ex, your character earned experience points (skill points, technically) that you could use to upgrade skills such as weapon proficiencies (Rifle/Handgun/Heavy etc), Computers/Hacking and Swimming. It gave you a kind of purpose for completing missions and side quests, and also encouraged you to take the stealthy approach since you would get more skill points.

There’s none of that in Invisible War, and instead certain skills – like Computers – were transferred over to biomod abilities.

All of the weapon proficiencies were completely left out to the point where your character is essentially a crack shot at the beginning of the game. You just don’t have any weapons yet. Of course, this is boneheadedly remedied in the first hub area, where you can get your hands on a Shotgun, Boltcaster, SMG, Sniper Rifle, and the unique Toxin Blade (most OP weapon in the game). That’s 3/4 of the weapons in the game, in the first thirty minutes. The design team must’ve felt like Santa when doling out all this stuff to all the kiddies (players).

In both games, you could customize your weapons with certain mods. While mods that improve reload time, accuracy and clip size haven’t changed, Invisible War does bring three new mods that let you shoot glass windows without triggering alarms (kind of cool), and add EMP (okay) and explosive damage to your shots (okay part 2).

One last weapon change needs to be mentioned: IW uses a one-ammo-fits-all system while Deus Ex had separate ammo types for each gun.

Personally, I value the realism with having to keep track of different ammo types and actually being forced to reload. But I could understand that not everyone wants that and some people are just really goddamn lazy. Including the developers.

I’m also not a fan of Invisible War’s pathetically tiny maps. I mean, when the first level of Deus Ex – a game that released three years prior – is larger than any single level in the entire Invisible War game, something is wrong.

I’d read a rumor somewhere that Ion Storm was forced to make the maps much smaller due to the smaller memory storage on the Xbox. That would explain a lot.

Sadly, the Invisible War engine couldn't handle rendering pyramids.

…And What Invisible War Does Right [more spoilers]

It’s not all bad in the world, and Invisible War is certainly not a complete failure by any means. There are plenty of some good takeaways from the game, especially for game developers.

First off, when you take out an enemy, you get their equipment. That’s their gun, a grenade of some sort, and spare ammo. God, I wish more games had this for the sake of realism. Guns shouldn’t just break because its owner died (sorry, System Shock Remake demo).

The reality of this is that you get access to the same guns way earlier in the game and so after a certain point, any gun that drops is useless (picking up a gun does not give you ammo, unlike Deus Ex). But one of my pet peeves is playing a game where you kill all these enemies and you get…squat.

The next game in the series – Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) – solved this by allowing players to pick up enemy weapons and just had them count as regular ammo if you already owned that weapon.

There are some good stories being told in Invisible War, though it feels like these are relegated to second-tier characters. I’m not a huge fan of the main story, but I wouldn’t say it’s anything horrible – just lacking compared to its predecessor. Kind of like everything else in this whole game right?

One NPC that you’ll find strewn throughout random places in the game is a holographic pop star named NG Resonance. At first, the hologram seems like it exists just to chat with her fans and entertain people, until it starts asking you to investigate the back rooms of a club. And then you find that you can actually rat out other ‘perps and get rewarded for doing so.

Turns out, it’s another surveillance tool used by the WTO to police crime. In a fun twist, you get to meet the real NG Resonance who’s actually a giant brat (you also have the option to bribe her manager as part of a different quest). You can even knock her out and brag about it to the ‘gram.

There’s another fun story involving a mysterious helicopter pilot.

The short version is that you rescue a helicopter and its pilot from the clutches of the WTO who flies you around for free (as opposed to Sid “Stereotypical Jackass” Black). She gives you some advice from time to time, and also mentions that she’s looking for someone and as soon as she finds “him”, she won’t be available any more (boo hoo, she’s getting hitched?).

You end up having some interesting interactions with her, including one where she tries to land at Cairo International Airport…except the international airport hasn’t existed in twenty years and there’s no more international air travel. Awkward!

There’s also this mildly strange thing where she smells really bad you never actually get to meet her. Why is that? Well, it’s because she’s really an AI who was ordered to find a Very Important Character twenty years ago. She never found him, and she never stopped looking.

I really liked this side story. It kept you wondering throughout the game, what’s the deal with this pilot and who is she searching for?

You can choose your gender. It’s rather telling that almost twenty years after Invisible War was released, most games don’t have this option.

I guess this might be a spoiler, but the end of the game pits you against any number of bad guys, depending on your choices and is probably the most fun you’ll have shooting stuff. Even here, the map – which is supposed to be based on Deus Ex’s first level – needs to load four different areas.

Also, after finishing the game and kicking me back to the menu, Invisible War proceeded to change the resolution on me to 1024 x 768. Just another fun feature from the fine folks at Ion Storm.

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4 years ago

[…] thought of this game intro after spending around 15 hours playing through Deus Ex: Invisible War. In the beginning of IW, you’re a student at an elite academy that escapes to the Seattle […]