What is an RPG? Anyone can break down the acronym, spell out “Role Playing Game”, and define the genre as “a game where the player assumes the role of the primary character(s)”. Of course, everyone who has played an RPG can vouch that games of this nature are much more then simply “filling a role”. RPGs are known, primarily, for their stories. An intricate tapestry of dialogue, back story, and events, their stories captivate players and lure them away from one reality to another. In the past, distinguishing an RPG from any other type of game was an uncomplicated task. In recent years, however, the lines drawn between “RPG” and, say, “Action-Adventure” have become blurred, obscured. Debates have risen, arguments have sparked, and throughout all this gamers, reviews, developer’s alike attempt to define their games suitably to meet the requisites of one type of label or the other. However, one must wonder: is it really so difficult to differentiate modern day RPGs from games possessing “RPG elements”? When the notions of “NPC-driven quests” and “turn-based combat” are abandoned, what do gamers have to pinpoint an RPG? Their senses, of course. That “gut feeling” one gets when playing a game.
A lot of arguments were drawn over whether or not Deus Ex: Invisible War was an RPG. Although numerous sites had filed its predecessor under that category, many thought it to be a mere “formality”, obliging Eidos’ description. Review teams began to dissect Deus Ex: Invisible War through definition. They asked questions like those mentioned earlier. Is there exploration? Is there NPC’s? Is the game story-driven? While these questions can be answered, how do these conclusions define the game? No, it takes the experience, it takes playing a game to “define” it. Gamers will just know “this is an RPG”, or “this is not an RPG”. Deus Ex: Invisible War is by no means orthodox to the genre. A First-Person perspective? Guns? Cyberpunk settings? This seems to be more like a distant relative to Unreal Tournament 2K3 than Final Fantasy or Breath of Fire. Rest assured, however, the sequel to the acclaimed Deus Ex is indeed an RPG; perhaps even more so than the aforementioned “big name” series of the genre.
Invisible War takes place twenty years after the crippling global conspiracy that transpired in the original Deus Ex. The player is situated in a world stricken with poverty and war, side effects of the Great Collapse – a world-wide depression and the repercussions of J.C. Denton’s actions twenty years prior. Various organizations and corporate factions battle for control in government through the use of terrorism. To defend the innocent and down-trodden, and begin the restoration process, factions such as the WTO and Tarsus Academy have been implemented. The former is responsible for defending terrorist attacks, and repairing and restoring technology and, of course, order, to North America, Europe, and Asia. The latter is a training facility, bringing the best of the best up to speed in order to utilize their talents in the world’s ceaseless troubles. As per Deus Ex mandate, nothing is what it seems. The player finds themselves once again in control of a Denton, faced with choosing, ultimately, the outcome of the world’s next major change. Alex D, the protagonist, is a student at the Tarsus Academy and a subject to experimental biomodification.
At the start of Invisible War, the city of Chicago, Alex D’s home, is brought to ruin by a Terrorist attack through the use of nanotechnology. In a matter of moments, the city is changed from a metropolis that once pierced the heavens with its height to a pile of debris. Thankfully, Alex and his peers were safely transported to Seattle and placed into the Tarsus facility for their protection. Of course, this is hardly much safer. Not a day goes by before Tarsus falls under the attack of the Order, a religious cult dedicated to the restoration of “natural balance” in life. It is in this attack that one of Alex’s peers, Billie Adams, reveals the truth behind the Tarsus Academy and its biomodification experiments. Biomodification is the imbuement of modular nanotechnology implants into living tissue. It is also the primary cause for the Order’s establishment. It is this faction’s belief, ushered by their leader Her Holiness, that biomodification will lead to the collapse of humanity as it goes against the very essence of nature itself. Billie Adam petitions Alex to join with the Order, and to take back the life Tarsus sought to deprive him of. It is in that instant that Alex D is thrust into a maelstrom of conflict and conspiracy.
From the slums of Seattle, North America, to the streets of Cairo, Egypt, Alex D’s journey for truth and absolution possesses no bounds.
At its core, Deus Ex: Invisible War is a game about choice. It is set up in such a way that the player can make a decision regarding virtually every aspect of the game. Aside character customization and design, the player can designate Alex D’s allegiance to whatever factions present in the game they choose. Stay true to the WTO, or side with the “rebellious” Order, or perhaps walk neutral grounds, the choices are open. Let those muggers have Alex’s jacket, sell it to them, or have them answer to the still smoking barrel of one damn menacing pistol loaded full of fragmentary rounds. This approach grants much more freedom then the conventional RPG, where the player is usually taken for a ride on linear rails. Instead, exploration, NPC questing, and variety are the emphasized factors of this idealistically non-linear Role Playing Game. Once again, these are conveniences that have been diluted in today’s modern RPGs, where the players are given practically no liberties as towards the outcome of the game. Also, different endings become available depending on what choices the player makes and how the game’s challenges are approached.
Like so many of Deus Ex’s other features, its battle system is the intricate blend of action-adventure qualities with those typically found in a First Person Shooter – done ever so flawlessly. When examined cursorily, Deus Ex: Invisible War appears to be little more then a typical FPS. A variety of weapons are at the player’s disposal, each limited in use by ammunition. Upon closer inspection, however, the true originality of Deus Ex can be brought into light. Like a cyberpunk twist on the foundation of Zelda, Deus Ex’s gameplay can be altered by the nature of the biomod employed. There are a total of five bodily functions biomods can influence; each slot allotted three possible biomods. Two are standard, and one can be purchased from the black market. Only one biomod per slot can be activated. There are two types of biomods: active and passive. Active biomods must be manually activated, and will drain Alex’s bio energy during their use. Passive biomods, naturally, are automatically triggered when needed. From enhanced vision to an invisibility cloak to augmented speed, biomods can shape and alter Alex D to be as unique as the player desires him. Excusing story-demanded engagements, almost any other encounter can be avoided by properly engaging the stealth aspects of Deus Ex in addition with stealth enhancing biomods.
The modifications don’t end there. Weapons, also, can be customized with special devices. Lessened ammo usage, EMP damage, dissolving glass, increased damage and range, these are just a few of the available weapon mods the game has to offer. Endless possibilities can be found by juggling these weapon mods with the various weapons of Deus Ex, which include the likes of pistols, shotguns, and mag rails.
As previously mentioned, combat isn’t the only solution when Alex D becomes endangered. In some cases, more…furtive actions can be taken. In others, bribery and trickery are an option. Similar to Ubi-Soft’s Splinter Cell, Alex D can take advantage of shadowy and dimly lit sections of an area in order to sneak past a threat, be it Templar, Order, or petty street thugs. Not all enemies allow for the ninja’s touch to be employed, however. Mechanical enemies, such as the dog-like sentries, require the use of an EMP to disable them in a fashion other then unloading round after round of ammunition.
As far as the original soundtrack for Deus Ex: Invisible War goes, its features pretty “typical” compositions suitable for a cyberpunk setting. Ambient and eerie, the soundtrack fits to the game’s atmosphere as synergistically as the result of its sound. A mix of organs and various synthesizer tones, Deus Ex’s music is like a watered down inspiration of Blade Runner, a cyberpunk classic. What makes really makes Invisible War’s soundtrack stand out, however, is the incorporation of the Kidney Thieves. For those unaware, Kidney Thieves are an eclectic, industrial band comparable to KMFDM. Six of their songs off the album “Trickster Reprocess” have been included in Deus Ex’s storytelling, adding a touch of life to the bar and club areas within Deus Ex’s traveled cities. Like its predecessor, and most games these days, Deus Ex utilizes the talents of voice actors to aid in the game’s storytelling. Like before, their quality and performance is not something anyone should run home and tell their mother about. In fact, at some points it’s just plain…monotonous, lifeless. Ultimately, the player finds themselves focusing more on the subtitles and the scene at hand then listening to the voices of the characters. This deficiency is Deus Ex’s only glaring flaw, as inadequate line delivery sometimes steals away from character’s vivacity, causing them to lose any unique appeal they may have comprised of otherwise.
Deus Ex: Invisible War is by no means a “gorgeous” game like its upcoming cousins Half-Life 2 and Doom III are. At the same time, Invisible War is by no means “ugly”, “sub-par”, or “outdated”. The only suitable description for Deus Ex’s graphics would be attractively run of the mill. The game meets today’s average standards for a PC title, falling short of dazzling or amazing anyone, but retaining an undeniable likeability to them. Regrettably, games like the above mentioned have been given hype alongside of Deus Ex: Invisible War, diminishing any credit that could be given to its visuals by comparison. Nonetheless, Deus Ex is still a game with looks worth giving a soft whistle about. Character models are realistic in appearance, complete with wrinkles and age lines across faces and hands. While striving for the “realistic” feel, the developers still set the game’s visuals apart from the kind of hype-realistic visuals seen in some of Square’s forays in graphics. The game’s animation leaves much to be desired, with facial features and jaw movement consisting no more of three or four positions. Since the game is viewed through the eyes of Alex D little can be said about walking, running, or action animations. The NPC’s are devoid of fluid animation, leaving them with rigid, stiff movement. As far as detail in design goes, Deus Ex is adequate. Clothing is given layers, decals and designs, form, and in some cases texture. The game’s environments are made realistic by rusted pipes, burned doorways, and a slew of holographic advertisements meant to bring the feel of “city life” into this pseudo-futuristic world’s atmosphere.
Similar to the Max Payne series, Deus Ex utilizes an exemplary physics engine. Many of the objects found throughout the game’s environments are fully interactive. Lamps, chairs, boxes, even corpses can be moved about or even used as a weapon, or a means to solve some sort of dilemma temporarily. This level of interaction is rarely found in console titles, and allows for a bit of humor to be found through goofing off while playing Deus Ex.
It’s unfortunate that such a truly original, truly amazing game is limited only to Xbox and Personal Computers at this time. While most homes have the latter as an availability, the hardware requirements for running Deus Ex are rather demanding, calling for a 1.3ghz processor or higher, 256 MB’s of RAM, a 32MB DirectX 9.x compatible graphics card, and two gigs of HD space. While this may not seem like much, it must be made clear that these are the bare minimum for meeting the game’s requirements. They will in no way do the game any justice in terms of exhibiting its striking graphics and keeping the framerate to a tolerable level. For those willing to break out of the molds “orthodox” or “conventional” RPGs have cast them into, Deus Ex: Invisible War is certainly a worthwhile title to justify owning an Xbox, or purchase for those who may already own the big green death machine.
Terrorism, betrayal, political conspiracies and crisis. What more can RPG enthusiasts ask for? Deus Ex: Invisible War delivers in almost every way possible. Dynamic gameplay with diverse, distinct, and unique scenarios and outcomes, enthralling storyline, alluring visuals and effects, and a rock-solid soundtrack that plants the flag marking Deus Ex’s dominance in its field. For those seeking a new taste in gaming, a new blend or twist in the domain of RPGs, let Deus Ex: Invisible War is the answer to their wishes, prayers, and curiosity.