By ArbitraryWater 16 Comments
This blog is brought to you by me figuring that I should contribute to Sweep's great social blogging experiment, as well as the general idea that yeah, I should probably write more of these. With that out of the way, let's talk about disappointing sequels for a second, shall we? When I think about those, games such as Dragon Age II, Master of Orion 3, and X-COM Apocalypse come to mind as games that tried something different and were worse for it. While some of these games can still be good or at least decent on their own merits (DAII, but please let's not start that discussion again here), others are horrible, horrible trainwrecks that forget everything that was good about the prior titles in favor of their own stupid agendas (MOO3). Of course, as far as the vast internet is concerned, I don't think there has ever been as much widespread condemnation of any sort of sequel than Deus Ex: Invisible War, which I finished playing and am now blogging about for your pleasure. Which end does it fall on? READ ON TO FIND OUT.
Ok. Deus Ex Invisible War is a bad game. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has played it. However, without my exposure to the first game back in May and my exposure to the worthy successor Human Revolution now, I don't think I would've known that, because without any of that context Invisible War is still very much the same kind of game as either of its contemporaries. You play as an augmented robot man (or lady in my case, because I didn't want to be the dudebro on the cover) who can choose to solve problems either by shooting everything or crawling through a lot of vent ducts and not shooting anyone. The reason IW is not a good game is simply because almost every single aspect of it is done poorly, as if the developer was someone who had played half the first game, got very intoxicated and then proceeded to crank out a sequel without ever bothering to look at anything twice and wonder if it was a good idea. It's hard to believe that it's the same dev team, but yep, it's still Ion Storm, perhaps sans Warren Spector.
While the PC elitist complaint of "Consolization" and "Dumbing down" usually leads to me rolling my eyes at the old men in their wheelchairs raving against the gamebreaking feature that was "Autosave", it has actual merit in this regard. The RPG mechanics of the first game, for as poorly done as I thought they were, are done even more poorly here. You can have 5 of 15 augmentations at any time, and unsurprisingly some are better than others. Regeneration? Yes. Being able to cloak from robots and cameras? Yes. Collect Health from corpses? Maybe not... The problem here stems from the fact that you can easily max out pretty much all the skills that you want early on. With hacking maxed out early on, it's easy to get as much money as you need from ATMs, which along with the removal of the skill system (not necessarily a bad thing, but whatever) makes the pitiful rewards of sidequests not worth it most of the time. So, of course I didn't do any sidequest that forced me to go out of my way to do it. Because, in addition to not being worth it, the sidequests are usually pretty boring. There are some bright spots, such as informing on corrupt officials to a hologram of pop sensation NG Resonance or the petty conflicts between two different coffee chains, but yeah. They're lame.
But what about the main game itself? Well, I'm glad you asked. Being that this game had to run on the original Xbox without said console exploding, the environments are distinctly and blatantly compartmentalized into tiny cubes. Since the levels in the first DX were MASSIVE in a good way, by comparison it's easy to find the quest objective, do whatever you need to do, and then shoot your way out (By the way: Universal Ammo is a really, really stupid idea) or turn on super speed and just run past everyone (my tactic of choice for the second half of the game.) There's no real exploration and any sort of duct system is incredibly easy to find and navigate. I probably finished this game in 6 or 7 hours (for some reason Steam says I've only played 30 minutes), meaning that YOUR MODERN CONTEMPORARY ACTION TITLE IS LONGER THAN THIS GAME. Or, at least the way I played the game. I guess you could do every sidequest and play the game "Vinny Caravella" style, but the gameplay isn't good enough for me to have wanted to do that. In any case, it took me twice as long to finish Human Revolution and the first game.
But, easily enough, the worst part of Invisible War isn't the constrained level design, nor the various other poor gameplay-related decisions made, but the story. Within the first 15 minutes you are introduced to most of the cast of characters, who you are never really never given a reason to care about and introduced to two different factions you have no reason to care about. The world itself is set up rather poorly, basically being some sort of generic sci-fi dystopia that is never really fleshed out beyond occasional loading screen messages and some incidental dialog. Once again, it makes an amazing contrast to Human Revolution, which manages to establish its world extremely well as a hotbed of confict and social change. Heck, even the first game did it better. Thus, with this world set up the game proceeds to have two faction leaders talk into your earpiece telling you lame reasons to follow them while you travel around the globe (or, to be more accurate, you go to like 5 places) doing things for no real reason other than that's how you need to move the plot ahead. However, it's when the game ties itself in with the first Deus Ex that it crosses the line from mediocrity to hilarious badness. Not only are the first two factions you choose between part of the Illuminati (thus making whatever you did for either pointless in the grand scheme of things), but your character is a clone of JC Denton for no real reason other than "Just cuz". At that point, you choose between 3 factions (who, like the factions for the first half of the game, will continue to give you second chances despite the amount of their personnel you've murdered) and then are given one of 4 endings, two of which are basically repeats from the first game and one of which involves siding with the antagonist for poorly justified reasons. I do appreciate the 4th ending though, where you screw everyone over and without a strong guiding force earth is doomed to centuries of endless warfare. It's all so clumsily done that even by the wooden pseudo-philisophical "Conspiracy theories instead of creative storytelling" standards of the first game's plot it's still a letdown.
Even then, I guess I'm still glad I played this game. No, I'm not glad I "Played" this game, because the actual playing parts kind of suck. But now I know what everyone on the internet is talking about (Spoilers: You were right all along) and now I see why this game is so hated. Somehow, the same developer managed to make a worse version of the same game 4 years later with no real tangible improvements, and that's kind of sad. While I'm sure there was more going on with this game's development (basically, I blame John Romero) than just them making it for the Xbox, that clearly was a factor in how it turned out. Is there something that can be taken from this? Probably. Don't dumb down your already not especially smart games for an audience that won't buy them anyways. And with that, I'm off. To play some good games. Hopefully.