Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Deux Ex Invisible War review

Deus Ex Invisible War is the cyber-augmented action-stealth mini game with mini choices that have mini consequences in a mini cyberpunk world.

Oftentimes regarded as inferior smaller sibling to a game of rigorous consensus cultivation, Deus Ex sequel Invisible War is a steady silhouette among underrated pieces of cyberpunk sentiments. The most obtrusive shortcoming of the effort is identical with its delicate charm, as a toy game it is, no doubt, characterized by persistent limitations that define a game environment more similar to an obstacle course than to a sentient world, ready to exist without the average bystander NPC informing you of its current workings.

As an FPS delivery, Deus Ex Invisible War attempts to blend core gameplay components of various genres, fueled by the intent to offer the cyberpunk experience that remains capable to confront you with varied challenges and their consorting playing styles. Though the design decisions these elements are amended by do show moderate and even some severe imbalances, the game remains able to deliver a memorable moment for each and every mistake it commits.

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It is of no surprise that the driving force behind the whole story architecture comes in the form of different political and even religious factions, each pursuing their own agendas, making steep efforts to convince the player to line up for their cause. Deus Ex Invisible War is a multi-layered hybrid which seems to find solid fun harming itself at areas it delivers decently at. While the story paints a plot of solid movie script intricacy with elegant twists and an efficient use of the orthodox cyberpunk components, there are no records stored of the faction transmissions and of the dialogs the player will be involved in. The result of this utterly flawed design decision is that you will not be able to cultivate the fictional immersion which is served by the game, as the title fails to realize the obtrusive necessity to store the provided information for later scrutiny. It dismisses data into thin virtual air, instead.

The importance of the metal endoskeleton - just to try and be appropriate - is missed on by the living tissue. You will be subjected to the narrative building blocks by small snippets of textual and voiced transmissions, oftentimes arriving to you when you are busy interacting with the game world. What remains as a recorded form of the story is but the list of your current objectives, practically leaving you with just enough information to know where you should go and who you should give a hard time to. The absence of a verbatim record of the textual narrative content is the most painful shortcoming of this delivery and remains clearly unacceptable.

Immersion might pleasantly crush on you when a game exhibits sane wits on how to manage, how to offer its own resources. The developers of Doom 3 made a masterful decision when they did let you soak into your PDA to read emails and/or listen to audio logs with the effective game world being closed off from you for the time of your data consulting - though you could listen to audio logs while roaming on the map. When you closed off the PDA screen, the world of Doom 3 jumped on you again like a ferocious beast, knocking you off your feet with a very steep chance. One has to have the impression that this feeling is deliberately invoked by the developers and it is depressing to see the gap its absence is causing in the body of Deus Ex Invisible War.

The game has tall promises and an almost charming form of clumsiness when it struggles to fulfill the most focal ones of those. Deus Ex Invisible War is the cyber-augmented action-stealth mini game with mini choices that have mini consequences in a mini cyberpunk world. Though there is a healthy number of conflicting factions and related ideologies sketched with a steady hand, your choices of teaming up with any of them will be limited to two factions for a steep amount of gameplay time. To render these narrative constraints even more pronounced, your decisions sadly will have no particular effect on the future events to unfold, you have to be content with varied text messages from the respective factions. An even more weighty and quite legit criticism towards the game could be that you are free to decide among the four possible conclusions with the press of a button, regardless of the playing style and alliances you have cultivated up to that point.

It is worth mentioning that Deus Ex Invisible War delivers some decent dialogs along the way, many of which will give you more precise insights of the respective agendas of the different factions with central emphasis placed on what the factions think or do NOT think about the current prospects of humanity.

If the World

Though the game suggests steep ambitions about presenting an alternate reality with all things cyberpunk to- and in it, these small scale obstacle course environments do force the title to create a coating of passive pseudo detail around the world using tools of textbook linearity. While the mere accessibility of these elements are pleasant to recognize, their number is scarce and they exhibit zero function in the game world, except for their mere-, nevertheless somewhat fruity existence.

These atmospheric narrative solutions are constrained to be little else and not much more than interactive newsstands and passive conversations between NPCs. Sadly, the news and the occasional ads have a tendency of repeating themselves as result of a limited number of reported events, while the fresh ones are not exercising influence on the game world at all - understandably, as it is usually the outside world that influences the content of the news.

Conversations between the NPCs are passive in a sense that you do not get a chance to be involved in these triggered bystander affairs. They will be activated or deactivated when you are in the appropriate vicinity and there is usually but one conversation available per pair of talking NPCs waiting to be approached to deliver their dialog about the current ideological state of the world/room you are in. There could be two additional choices. First of all, you may have the chance to initiate a branching conversation tree on your own with an NPC, or, you could start up the one sided smalltalk sequence pretty much all characters of the game prove to be excellent at. Luckily enough, the writers have put effort to give charm and relative relevancy to these lines and it is never a bad idea to click each and every sentence out of an NPC.

While all of the above initial observations might seem to be legit pointers of the memorable-, almost delicate shortcomings of the delivery, once you accept these conditions and examine the elements Deus Ex Invisible War fills its playground with, you could find a precious commodity among them which you could call fun.

The settings of the game are structured into individual hubs, connected by brief loading times waiting to be triggered once confirmation is given of the inherent rampant desire to invade another location of the world. The general pacing-, the general tempo of the title is rather smart and simple in its nature. Reminiscent to the mythic RPG hack and slash delivery Diablo and its spiritual follower Hellgate London, Deus Ex Invisible War gives you relatively safe locations the other hubs are gravitating around.

A thorough exploration of these safe areas involves the collection of all available information, which is happening by talking to all the NPCs you can find in these central areas. This is the number one- and the only method to access and automatically commit to side quests, as rejection opportunities are even scarcer in the game than side quests are. Having obtained the necessary information about your current situation and related options via interacting with the NPCs and getting automatically subjected to direct transmissions from the rival factions, you are free to play as you wish to play. At least, it is the sweet promise of eternal contact comfort you are so accustomed to hear and so ready to experience. Also, it is the sweet promise Deus Ex Invisible War is not afraid to deliver, either.

One has to recognize that the game does a better job than what it does get consensus credit for. First let's see the types of challenges the obstacle course environments will shock and/or entertain you by. The game invites you to cultivate a unique playing style composed of the respective elements of the two general approaches it offers: covert ops and terminator. Do you want elements from the Duke Nukem style, or would you prefer to remain unnoticed and get the job done with minimal - if any - damage caused in living tissue?

What prevents you though from deliberately leaning to one particular side? Nothing at all, even better: Deus Ex Invisible War almost makes a good job of recognizing and implementing the concept of flexibility, invoking though blatant shortcomings as hideous mates to the solid and smart solutions it also exhibits in the exact same area.

Cyber F(r)(i)ght

The central problem - if you want to call it that - with Deus Ex Invisible War is the game's incapacity of sanctioning the player efficiently. The worst thing that could happen to you in this game is the necessity to live on with the word conscience written in your soul lettered from the casual gallon of blood you HAD to spill in a certain hub of the game. No matter who they were or were not, your radical verdict will have no actual effect on the gameplay, the most you can confront with as a narrative result, are text comments, whenever you do something that you were not exactly asked to, yet the developers took the time and researched every paths you could take and delivered a sentence to reflect on those with practically passive, weightless words lying interactivity and living awareness. Do not worry, or do JUST that: you will not be able to kill vital characters. Whom you can kill: the game has no need for. Who the game needs up to a certain point: will remain alive to that point.

Deus Ex Invisible War does not seem to excel at rewarding the player who shows willingness to complete objectives with a more delicate approach. If the game world is unable to present dangerous consequences if you kill the guard and no additional results are plausible if you exhibit delicate presence - then why wouldn't you kill? For the sake of immersion? Immersion is what you play for, immersion is not what you do not kill for.

Fortunately, fighting is a decently realized aspect of the game with many solid ideas invented and successfully incorporated into- and in it. Deus Ex Invisible War exhibits a large chunk of its charm throughout the fight sequences. There are these Spider bot grenades in the game, for example. Once you throw one of these, it will assemble itself to a mechanical spider and will do a decent job of protecting you. When I tried to pick a lock with a Spider bot companion around, the little machine suddenly started to observe what I was doing and warned me that lock picking is clearly unacceptable and I really should stop this behavior. On the other hand, Deus Ex does not come short of hilarious moments when it tries to resonate a sentient spirit in itself. You kill a soldier with a sniper shot. The soldier dies. The animation of his teammate instantly switches to the "!alerted!" mode. He proudly jumps to the exact same location his teammate was just killed off from, in order to reveal his devotedly realized "!alerted!" mode, assuring the player of being the grateful beholder of a gaming experience that finally has that cinematic drama and sense of proper life in it. I showed mercy to that dude. Wait, did I?

The related challenges are not particularly diverse. The stealth aspect of the game greets you in the form of organic and robotic guards on observable patrol patterns, backed up by security cameras with the urge to spot you and sound the alarm, let alone their capability of activating the turrets. Fortunately, there are different methods to imbue your actions with an EMP - electromagnetic - punch to them, while you could always rely on even more dramatic methods, granted that the right equipment is at your disposal at the right time. The scramble mines and scramble grenades are among your most valuable tools. One has the impression that their power harms balance. The huge military bot of the game is not a construct to be afraid of. It is a construct you feed a scramble grenade for. The military bot will become your ally for a decent amount of time, which will be enough to let the military bot kill every hostile entities in its vicinity, even better/worse: it twill be enough to let you demolish the military bot itself. It will not switch back to hostile once you, as its master, harm it to de-function and beyond.

The maps of the game that are connected to the central hubs are mainly small and moments which they truly shine by, are scarce. Scarce, yet, present. I especially like particular portions of the Antarctica sequence which I regard as the strongest architectural extreme of the game, while the Black Gate Ruins in Trier takes the meaning of the word "uninspired" to places only untamed cosmos dared to dream of so far.

Level design, in its nature, is fond of utilizing the exact same techniques and finds little if any urge to deliver surprises later on. The main approach the program utilizes is to offer multiple paths to reach certain (check)points of the maps. This, of course, is totally welcomed and gratefully acceptable, yet, these alternate paths are oftentimes identical to different vent shafts. You will spend a healthy amount of time in vent shafts in the game. Not too much, but a healthy amount.

Item Romantic

The title delivers acceptably in spite of the accessible items you will find throughout the world. As mentioned, grenades and mines are highly useful and their types do come in crystal sobriety and much welcomed predictability. Let us be sane for the sake of one stolen moment. If you would place an armed concussion grenade beside a locked container or a wooden door, the damage probably would be enough to convince these material constructs to submit to entropy so you could take a peek of what they were concealing from curiosity up to this point. Oh. Wait. The contents of the locker probably would be massively damaged, as well. Deus Ex Invisible War is kind enough to mimic the behavior of matter in the fluent sense that it will not force you to have your inner ninja take over whenever something is locked AND remains content with the state, as the game gives invincibility to non-activated inventory items. You are free to blast away almost every door and almost all containers, which is not to say that you should, but it is nice to see that the developers kept evident focus on imbuing the storage- and environmental devices with a realistic durability model.

The number of items the player is capable to carry around at a given time feels sanely-, yet strictly limited. The carrying capacity could be increased gradually using Biomodification. The game shows inconsistency in the inventory management and remains proud of it, as you will be able to stack up additional pieces of a certain item if you already have a slot occupied by that type of item, but an additional and different kind of item will require a free inventory slot, regardless how much extra pieces you could pick up of an item type which is already in your possession. The game remembers the position of objects you have dropped, so stashing is a solution, too. There is only kind of ammo used in the game, with decent, nevertheless mini fiction backing up this model. Weapons are modifiable by weapon Mods, while their duration remains infinite. The cause of this: their durability is not being measured. As result, it has no awareness that it should do anything else than being infinite.

Plug and Play Inter-Race

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The game delivers the cybernetic implant component by the introduction of the Biomod system. A Biomod is gained upon selection, while the right of the selection requires the accessibility of a Biomod canister. Deus Ex Invisible Wars delivers both standard issue and black market Biomod canisters, these illegal ones being illegal because their color is different and they house the modifications that you will find especially shady uses for.

The most profound problem with this subsystem is the scarcity of the available Biomods. Simply put, there is not a whole lot of them, in fact, there is but a few of them and it seems rather hard to find modifications of which you will instantly know you simply not want to exist without.

Granted, the game exhibits an occasional, nice sense of balance and a related readiness of keeping it, but, one has the impression that this cited sense of scarce balance is only present so you could be staggered by its total and complete absence later on. Let us see an example. There are three basic methods of becoming hard to detect in this game, with an additional fourth approach of bewildering efficiency of not playing the title at all. As for the first three, Deus Ex Invisible War quite fortunately recognizes the different surfaces and makes the sound of your footsteps behave according to the intensity you move with, plus, the game remains welcomely aware of the material quality of the floor, as well. You make even less noise when in a crouching position, even better: crouching reduces your visibility, too. For short: you could make yourself harder to detect using the strictly analog way. Then, there comes the Biomod method.

Smartly enough, Deus Ex Invisible War simulates two different kinds of outer awarenesses that could detect you: organic awareness and artificial awareness. Both require a different kind of Biomod to be cloaked from. How does all this relate to balance? Well, your player character could possess the Thermal Masking Biomod to shield her/him from artificial awareness such as cameras, combined with the Neural Interface Biomod that lets her/him connect to computers and hack them in order to take solid control of surveillance or even turrets on higher Biomod levels. It is safe to say in this regard that the game lets you play the silent hacker archetype with all the required tools accessible, but if you would want to conceal yourself from organic enemies by Biomodification, then you would not be able to connect to a casual computer, as the Cloak Biomod - the one that conceals you from organic awareness - and the Neural Interface Biomod - the one that lets you hack - are in the same category and can not be relied on simultaneously. Which, of course, is an obstacle that would be the first to be eliminated by every sane trader in the game world.

Fortunately enough, the system does not show interest of forcing you behind certain boundaries. You have three options per modifiable body part regarding the extra function you want for the respective anatomical region. But here is the catch: only one modification per category could be selected and activated. In other words, there are certain things you will not be able to pull off in one run. As mentioned, Biomods are obtained or perfected by using up Biomod canisters. Activating a Biomod is but one step-, and also is the bigger part of the fun. The smaller part of it is the mere absence of it, as activating these delicacies will require energy. You can replenish your energy levels by using up Energy Cells or by visiting a Repair Bot.

If you would want, you could overwrite your current Biomod with a different one, then, if need would dictate, you could rely on the original Biomod which you changed earlier. Notice that this is the moment by which the game exhibits flexibility with an elegant price to it. You could change your Biomod configuration, but it would cost you and the currency is called a canister, be that a regular- or an illegal one. In addition, the mere accessibility of a spare canister is not necessarily sufficient or fruity enough to realize a transformation you may have plan for. Suppose you have the maximal level of 3 of a certain Biomod. Want to change the Biomod? You could. But the new Biomod you select will start out at level 1 and you will need 3 canisters of the appropriate kind to regain the configuration that you are currently riding with.

These RPG elements are begging to be played with, but they are clearly lacking resources, unfortunately. The fact that the game is rather fond of giving away Biomod canisters, does not seem to be as a result of flawed resource considerations. One has the impression that the developers wanted the player to be able to play around with her/his Biomods on a more involved level and change the body configuration frequently, as need dictates. But need does NOT dictate and this is the saddening part of it. There are chances that you will end up with two separate collections of canisters, one composed of regular- and one composed of black market hardware. There are simply not enough options offered, the game screams for a Biomod palette three- four times the size of this mini selection. A shame and even a bitter of it, as the developers found some truly memorable moments to showcase and emphasize elements that were realized in the game pretty much flawlessly.

One example would be the Speed Enhancement Biomod, which, in my opinion, is one of the most essential and most solidly and sanely implemented function of the palette. With level 3 Speed Enhancement, you will have a harder time colliding with the incoming rocket than you will have trying to avoid it, but, what I found to be extremely rewarding, were the occasional comments coming in from the game world whenever I activated the function in order to improve my position in a dicey situation. I recall being spotted by a pair of the big, bulky, power armored soldiers of the Templar faction. Though there is a split second of hope asking me if I would like to cultivate it, I dismiss it on the voice of the Templar instead which I am about to hear with cautious astral ears, checking my initial options behind the large crate that serves as a temporal cover. Massively temporal it is, no doubt, as the Templar finds the corpse of my hope and probably invokes the iron pleasure of it I never knew it was part of. In the next moment, I hear them exchanging words and then the heavy sound of metallic footsteps rumble across ignorant concrete. It have seen and heard all before, horror and even twisted fun of blood included. These Templar hulks are a literal pain to kill as they blow into your face upon their submission to the proper ideology, so I choose mine in a rather orthodox fashion: it IS shameful to run. But it DOES have its uses. Especially if you are fast at it. I active the Speed Enhancement Biomod, I take five steps backward, then, when there is only the width of the crate which separates me from the ones who seek radical revenge on me - I run and I jump. The mere experience of leaving the two Templars behind me with my body being in the air 15 meters up from the ground, is hugely rewarding on its own. But Deus Ex Invisible War gives me the definite shiver on the skin and in the casual soul and I remain eternally grateful for this for its developers, as the virtual wind brings the frustrated groan of the Templar to me:

"BGAARGH! Biomods!"

And the one question to remain, to roam and roam in cyber-augmented cerebral cortex under pale cable rainbow, is this: what multitools are used for in the game?

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Sunday, September 6, 2009


The Shadow of Your Smile, When You Were Gone Will Color All My Dreams and Light the Dawn.
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