by Paul Cockeram
The original Deus Ex was an instant classic because it challenged popular conceptions of First-Person Shooters and Role-Playing Games, blending the two genres so perfectly that it won Game of the Year awards for both. DX2: Invisible War magnifies everything good from the first title while bringing its own innovation to the table, creating a thrilling new game that's sure to receive Game of the Year accolades. Details like a more accessible user interface are also likely to attract new fans as DX2 makes itself available to more casual gamers.
Deus Ex mined the dark caverns of conspiracy theories and plunged players into a world of behind-the-scenes puppeteering and worldwide political manipulation. Those elements of uncertainty were a primary reason behind the game's success, for they exploited some of the Information Age's most troubling anxieties. Ours is a world constantly being assaulted by data in the form of images and noise, and we depend on pictures to get our news even as we recognize how susceptible these pictures are to manipulation. Because we gather our news from second-hand sources and can never be sure of what we're looking at, people are unrelentingly reminded of the impossibility of knowing the whole truth. Anxiety leads to fear. Deus Ex helped people investigate these fears, even to combat them, and DX2 continues the battle by confronting the same uncertainty on an even broader scale.
Deus Ex may also be credited with driving a new trend in gaming: according to most reliable demographics, the fastest growing population of gamers is women. Bill Money, the game's producer, notes that women in general prefer puzzle games to more violent titles, and Deus Ex certainly offered as many opportunities to puzzle through tight situations as it did to pick up a gun and start blazing. DX2 will stay true to this trend, offering multiple styles of game play from a tool-centric, ethically minded sneak-and-let-live approach through the more common grab-a-gun-in-every-limb-and-don't-spare-the-triggers. Notable is the fact that, where most FPSs emphasize new weapons in their sequels, DX2 emphasizes as many new tools and gadgets. Particularly exciting is a series of black market bio-augmentations that allow you to see through walls, steal the remaining life force from corpses, leap forty feet into the air, or be invisible to radar.
The Unreal Warfare engine was extensively rewritten for this title to evoke a darker, more brooding atmosphere. Since shadow is so integral to this game, both thematically and practically, great care has been taken to faithfully replicate its behavior. When enemies walk by a stationary light source, for example, their shadow flares large against the wall and then slinks away exactly as it would in real life. The physics engine attached to every object allows a superlative degree of interactivity with the environment, allowing players to actively change the world around them. Particularly notable in the demo was a halogen lamp that got knocked over and rolled across the floor, casting a spotlight through the room and foiling good hiding spots. Touches like this flesh out a game reality, making it as convincing as it is darkly beautiful.
But DX2 offers more than a pretty face. Emergent experiences in the tradition of Half-Life add spontaneity to game play, like when a monster breaks through a closed door to attack you because it sensed you from the other side. Unlike Half-Life, however, these emergent experiences aren't predetermined; rather, they're bound to the AI, so the patrolling monster might miss you at the door but sense you farther down the hall. Stealth becomes very important here, and DX2 acknowledges its import by having darkness and sound affect enemy awareness. Other intriguing features of AI are creatures with unusual behavior, like a ferocious fish that won't attack unless you're bleeding or a cybergenetic baboon that stalks along the shadows, watching with its glowing red eyes as it drops mines behind you to cut off your exit.
The AI allows a non-linear story progression, with responsive plot branches that promise an unprecedented freedom of choice. Qualities like this take DX2 from FPS into the territory of RPG. There are also a broad variety of game locations, including faithfully reproduced real-world places like Red Square, London, and Seattle. The story opens about twenty years after the events of Deus Ex, when humanity is finally starting to recover from a worldwide depression caused by chaotic technology and a secret, conspiratorial war. During the recovery effort to clean up biological and nano-tech fallout while securing food, water, and civil law, several political and religious factions attempt to fill the vacuum of power and faith by swaying events favorably toward their agendas. You must find the identities of these mysterious Illuminati figures, as well as the secrets of your own strange origins. This archetypal quest for self-discovery is set against humanity's own dark struggle to raise itself from despair into hope. Count on 20-30 hours of game play, though with 30,000 lines of dialogue, considerably more play is available for those explorer types.
Certain to make Game of the Year in a variety of genres, DX2 will hit stores some time next year.
PC screens shown above.