Monday, January 24, 2005

Byte: Invisible War

In the almost post-coital lull after Half-Life 2 and Vampire Bloodlines, I've been trawling back through my collection for games to play; games which I've bought but never really played enough to do them justice.

At the top of the queue was Deus Ex: Invisible War. The prequel still rates of one of my very favourite games, but Invisible War didn't really grab me. Principally because that even when it came out, it was one of the most desperately UGLY games I've ever seen. This was a consequence of the co-development of the game for the Xbox. The lighting effects are pretty spectacular, but they come at the consequence of the texture quality and poly count. Ion Storm's vision of the future seems to be a dystopian grey, and it may well be an accurate one, but that hardly makes the game the most welcoming and accessible in the world.

It's a shame, because once you get past the hideous exterior, and the somewhat lacklustre introduction, Invisible War is actually a very decent game. There's a lot more ambiguity than in the prequel, which is good, because if the first Deus Ex was lacking something, it was the ability to take sides, and I always felt that it forced you to ally with the NSF too early.

Here, you have three separate factions; the Omar, the Order and the WTO; all of whom are vying for your loyalty in the post-Collapse Deus Ex world - the Collapse being the outcome of J.C. Denton's actions in the original Deus Ex. The Omar are perhaps the most straightforward and self-serving of the three factions. Cyborgs, and technology fetishists, the Omar are only interested in finding new technological and biological advances that will allow them to live in hostile environments.

The Order, on the other hand, are much more enigmatic, and harder to fathom. Claiming to "promote balance" and taking on the mantle of the fallen religions, you can't help feeling that the Order has a not altogether noble agenda, and is also the faction most prone to splits. The opening carnage of your escape from the Tarsus Academy is due to an overzealous attack from one of the Order's captains.

The final faction is the WTO - the World Trade Organisation; the one organisation of the pre-Collapse world strong enough to survive the Collapse brought about by J.C. Denton's actions. Having invested in the reconstruction of the world's cities (forming safe "enclaves"for the elite) the WTO seeks to promote stability through economic growth, and by regulating the markets.

These three factions all want you to do certain tasks for them - and you have to pick and choose your loyalties, because working for one faction will preclude you for working for the others - the WTO and the Order have a particularly adversarial relationship. This makes your choices carry a little more weight than in its predecessor, as unlike other RPGs, you can't please all the factions all of the time. A good case in point is finding a pilot to ferry you around.

You can either free a smuggler from WTO custody, and have her fly you around for free, or pay a pilot to take you around, after liberating his jet from a local crime lord. The former will cost you less money in the long run, but make you very unpopular with the WTO, whereas the latter will make you popular with the Order, but cost you money to go from place to place. So do you go for long-term poverty or short-term gain? The price of which is either ingratiating yourself with one faction, or making an enemy of another...

It'll be interesting to see how these loyalty choices take effect later in the game...
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