In part one of our look back the Deus Ex series, we discussed the groundbreaking original game that was beloved by critics and players alike. In part two of this Video Game History special, we take a look at its less beloved sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War. Is the game as bad as everyone says it is? And if so, why is it that way? Was it a lack of understanding of the original game, or was it simply because lightning couldn’t strike twice? Read on to find out.
Shortly after the original Deus Ex was released, development began on a sequel. This new game would once again developed by Ion Storm, with Harvey Smith once again working on the game, and Warren Spector having stepped back to work on Thief: Deadly Shadows. Much like the last game, Invisible War was developed using a modified version of the Unreal Engine (in this case Unreal Engine 2), and would combine stealth, role playing, and first person shooter elements, with a plot that again centered around shady organizations that wanted to shape the world in their image. With all the pieces from the first game in place, it was time to see if lightning could strike twice. On December 2nd, 2003, Deus Ex: Invisible War was released for the PC and the original Xbox, the first time the game was released simultaneously on PCs and home consoles (the original released on the PlayStation 2 two years after the original).
Invisible War takes place twenty years after the events of the original. Since the team didn’t want to isolate anyone who played the original, all four of the endings that the player could achieve in the last game all happened at once, as the actions of JC Denton cause the world to fall into social and economic decay, and the Illuminati using this to their advantage and try to rebuild the world in their image. Players take control of Alex D (who can be either male or female), a new recruit in an organization called the Tarsus Academy. After the city of Chicago is destroyed, Alex must discover who’s behind the attack, and discover the truth about who they really are. Along the way, Alex can align with one of five organizations, including Tarsus, the World Trade Organization (or WTO), The Order, The Knights Templar, and the Omar. Which of these organizations you join will determine what missions you complete, who your allies are, and where you could go, though you could change your alliance at any time, and you could choose any of the game’s four endings (and one joke ending) regardless of which faction you sided with. Gameplay was very much the same as the original, with a few minor tweaks, such as the fact that you now had universal ammo, with the ammo be used up based on what weapon you used (a rocket launcher used more ammo than a pistol for instance), and many of the nano-augmentations of the first game are replaced with biomods. In addition, players are also given a “tool belt” which can hold up to twelve items for quick use.
Upon its release, Invisible War received great reviews from critics, with many praising the improved graphics, the physics engine, and the level of freedom when it came to player’s choices. However, the overall consensus was that the game failed to exceed the original’s high standards. While it was by no means a terrible game, and indeed many people applaud the developers for trying some new things, most agree that the game overall felt a little too simplified, and lost the complexity and player choice that made the original so great. While it was great that the story was more open than in the last game, the choices made throuhout felt hollow and lacked impact. While many of the augments of the last game were streamlined, many players felt it limited their options, as one particular augment for example made Alex invisible to security cameras, making certain chokepoints in the game incredibly easy. These problems were exasperated even more by the fact that the PC version of the game had technical issues, such as long load times, graphical bugs, even crashing.
Harvey Smith would later admit that development of the game was a bit of a disaster, saying, “This was a very difficult game for me… …I feel like we f** up the technology management of it, we had bad team chemistry, we wrote the wrong renderer, we wrote the wrong kind of AI, and then we shipped too early.” Additionally, he would go onto to say that instead of listening to what all players thought and liked about the original, the team focused more on what hardcore players didn’t like about the game, saying, “You will have some hardcore friend who will tell you the most extreme version of what you’re supposed to do, and that would be cool. And you will lose 90% of the audience if you do that… If you want to make an indie game, that’s fine, sit in a closet and make an indie game and release it for four guys on the Internet… I highly recommend that if that is what drives you.”
After Invisible War, only one more game was made by Ion Storm; the well-received Thief: Deadly Shadow, released on May 25, 2004. Shortly after this, both Warren Spector and Harvey Smith would leave Ion Storm to pursue different endeavors; Spector would go on to join Disney and found Junction Point Studios, the developer of the two Epic Mickey games, while Smith would go join Midway to make BlackSite: Area 51 in 2007, before leaving them and joining Arkane Studios in 2008 and working on Dishonored. In 2005, Eidos Interactive, who had purchased Ion Storm back in 2001, announced that the studio would be shut down. With its original creators off to do other things and the studio that had birthed it shuttered, the Deus Ex series would remain dormant until four years later, when the series would come back to life, and start a human revolution.
In part three of our Deus Ex retrospective, we wrap things up by looking at the third game in the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For many people, this was the game that helped put the Deus Ex series on the map, and introduced a whole generation of players to the level of choice and conspiracy theories that the series had become known for. Additionally, we’ll talk about a bit of what’s made the series so great, and why it’s held up after all these years in our final part of our look back at the Deus Ex series.