Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Deus Ex: Invisible War

Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2003
System: PC (reviewed), Xbox
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

Today's Game for Lunch comes from guest blogger Michael Zenke of Slashdot Games and MMOG Nation.

In a nutshell: Oblivion's Neo-Futuristic Doppelganger

0:00 Oh, Ion Storm. Sadness. Man I'm old.

0:01 The graphics are shiny at 1900x1200 resolution.

0:02 We're looking at microchips ... and now it's the city from a top-down! Very classic. How is it that the 2003-era CG looks worse than stuff from a few years before it?

0:03 Terrorism with nanites? That can't be good.

0:04 Oh, it's a grey goo nanoswarm. Classic science fiction. Nice. The whole city and all of her citizenry are turned to dust. Talk about a dramatic way to start a game.

0:05 "We don't need cities or armies, we have human bodies. The perfect weapon for an invisible war." And we have a title!

0:06 There are only six generic choices for my avatar; two genders and three skins for each. That's a bit boring.

0:07 Ooh, tips. "Many weapons use a magnetic pulse, which can be used to disable bots and turrets." My first impression: Wow! It's System Shock 2 all over again. Oh I love games like this ... except my mouselook sensitivity seems really high. Must be getting used to console FPSes.

0:08 A hologram communication introduces me to Nassif, a woman who says she's my case officer. My name is Alex, it looks like. There's an explosion somewhere in the building, but she says not to worry about it. I'm skeptical.

0:09 Good thing: I can throw things around with some vague physics. Bad thing: my hotkeys make no sense. Why is 'V' my inventory key? Otherwise I have no complaints so far. Gaah, I love games like this. This is dangerous.

0:10 I'm picking up stuff left and right and adding it to my inventory. Soy chips abound. It really is the future. I step out into the hallway, and there's a dead guy out there. I'm pretty sure that's not right.

0:11 I can't loot his body, but I can effortlessly pick it up and carry it around. It's fun! I hold him like a box of pizza on my shoulder. Looking around the hallway is so much fun. There's little messages left on the 'away mode' for all the hallway doors, and they're very evocative of the NPCs that live inside.

0:12 I find my friend 'Billie', someone I've apparently been in contact with from Chicago (before my transfer to Seattle in the wake of the terrorist attack). All of a sudden I notice that everyone holds their arms out very stiffly to their sides in a really uncomfortable manner when they're talking. They look like mannequins.

0:13 I'm unreasonably excited about the fact that the toilet, sink, and shower all work when you use them. Why don't modern games have working details like this anymore?

0:15 I head downstairs to meet up with Nassif and get the plot moving. I'm still not technically at the game, unless the game is throwing around vaguely physics-enabled pillows in my apartment.

0:16 Nassif assures me that everything is fine, and I should head to the rec area ... even though as she says that someone tells her they're at a 'code yellow'. My fellow trainees are a bit odd. One's ridiculously cheery, and the other is an over-achieving prick.

0:18 The jerk NPC's facial mesh looks more polished than Alex does. Now I hate him even more.

0:19 Apparently I joined up with this spy group because 'what the hell.' That's not a great reason to start a career, really. More explosions begin, and I'm instructed to go find a multitool and weapon from my locker downstairs.

0:20 I load up on loot and steal my fellow trainee's stuff. The multitool lock hacking effect is really nice. A glowy beam connects your gadget to the target.

0:22 A security guard tells me to get out of the way of an incoming attacker. This is a somewhat obvious start to the game allowing me different ways to approach challenges. I can run in guns blazing, I can crouch in the shadows and slip away, I can use a baton to whack the villain upside the head ... it's a world of possibilities.

0:24 Billie reveals herself to be an inside agent for the Order, the religious group attacking the building. She says I'm a test subject, not a trainee. She says I should go get my biomods and then get out of the building. I don't see that I have a lot of other options, so I head back to my room. Why do my 'friends' always suck in games?

0:26 I help a security guard take out a Seeker by whacking him repeatedly with a stun baton. The game notes that he's not dead, just unconscious. I can even be 'non-violent' if I want to. Very nice.

0:28 The inventory system is a bit strange; there's an outer half-circle, and then an inner half-circle. I can select things from the outer circle by just using the mousewheel, and swap them between the two in the 'inventory mode'. It's not bad, just going to take some getting used to. Recordings overhead tell me that Billie has reprogrammed the building's security systems. I'm sure that won't be a problem...

0:29 I enter my apartment, and Billie pulls the power on my apartment. The ceiling disappears, and reveals a pair of scientists observing the room. Creepy. One of them is shocked, and the other says 'Let's hope she has a sense of humor.' Heh.

0:30 I head through a hole in my apartment wall and move through an interstitial space, and start climbing over a ledge ... only to have the world disappear. Crashy crashy! Thanks, Steam! Let's hope there was an autosave there somewhere.

0:31 Yeah. Autosaved after I got out of the elevator on the apartment level. I kill the seeker in the hall with the guard and rush back through my apartment in a few quick moments.

0:33 I note that I seem to have generic 'ammo;' ammo clips taken from pistol-using Seekers refill my power on my stun baton as well. Oookay...

0:34 Through the interstitial space (no crash this time) and into the Biomod lab. Nassif says "you might as well install some biomods". That's gratitude. Apparently, the Order aren't the ones who attacked the other building in Chicago. So ... the group has a lot of enemies, apparently.

0:35 I grab a trio of biomod packs, which can apparently be slotted into up to five different mod areas. I am liking my shock prod and stealth approach, so I choose a foot mod that quiets my footsteps, and a pair of mods that should cloak me from humans and robots/turrets.
0:37 Now that I have them slotted ... how do I activate them. Hmm. No tutorial around. I have to go to the keymaps to find out the F1-F5 keys activate them. That seems like an oversight.

0:41 I head out and do some actual gameplay. I slip past a turret and camera with my biomods. My biojuice goes down as I do so. How do I replenish my goo?

0:42 The scientists who were watching me want me to guard them from a pair of Seekers heading up from the apartment level. A guy in the next room beyond tells me that a pair of gold beams will 'flatline someone in about a second'. I can hack them to turn them off, destroy them with a grenade, slip past them through a air duct ... lots of choices.

0:44 The Seekers come up from below and I shock them into unconsciousness. I don't know if I trust these Agency folks, but there's no reason I should let anyone die. I'm given a silencer for my pistol as an award.

0:46 I choose the stealth approach once again. I slip out into the hallway past the golden laser beams via the air duct, and then hack the thing into submission. I wonder if the way I'm playing is being noted anywhere? It doesn't seem like I have any kind of skills.

0:48 I'm about to head downstairs to the Academy's exit, when another Order agent contacts me. She says I can join up with them in 'lower Seattle', if I choose to throw off the Agency shackles. Everybody wants me to hurry up and backstab the other guy. Exciting.

0:50 I make my way past a pair of WTO security guards at the exit, and I'm free of the Academy for the first time. A comm-call tells me to report to the WTO right away. The guards warn me against going to lower Seattle. Many factions, many options. The game does a great job of making me feel like I'm in control of my destiny.

0:51 Billie once again reminds me of the Order's offer. If I want proof of the Tarsus Academy's evils, I'm given the option of slipping into Nassif's apartment to search her things. Now that I'm in control of my own destiny, it seems like I'm going to be given lots of opportunities to explore the implications of my missions.

0:53 I explore the area a bit. There's a coffee house near to the Academy, and overhear a discussion between the barista and a patron about competition with another coffee shop in lower Seattle. My first quest! I can slip into the other coffee shop owner's apartment to get the access code to the place.

0:55 Still just exploring the area, I walk past the inclinator down to lower Seattle. A trio of thugs stops me for a good old-fashioned mugging. I tell them where they can shove it, and they open fire.

0:57 I pull a fade as the security droid steps in to take them on. It's joined by the WTO troopers from back near the Academy. I literally have to do nothing as they're cut down. It's a great example of how the NPCs have their own goals and factions.

0:59 With that dramatic example of NPC interactions over, I head over to Nassif's apartment building. As I step inside, I get a com-call from someone at the WTO, who doesn't like that I'm there. She grudgingly offers me another mission as long as I'm in the area, to investigate the apartment of a diplomat. I guess even though I'm about to stab them in the back they're cool with giving me jobs? Nice. With that job under my belt, I end my time in Deus Ex.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? Are you kidding me? Warren Spector? Harvey Smith? Ricardo Bare was the lead designer on the project! It's like Christmas in my PC. I didn't play this back in the day because I heard some very negative things from old System Shock/Deus Ex players, but in 2007 this is a beautiful blast from the past.


Sorcy said...

Sigh ... stop making me wanting to play old games. I haven't enough time to play the new stuff as it is, now you are hooking me on Deus Ex again.

Nice Review, btw!

andileft said...

how can this be "oblivion's doppelganger" when this comes out first?