The original Deus Ex is one of the best games ever made, so when Invisible War suffers from a bad reputation, I assumed it was undeserved. I assumed that it would at least be "pretty ok", and that its poor ratings were due to people comparing it to the first game. Holy cow, was I wrong.
This game is atrociously bad, and not just compared to its older brother. It's genuinely a waste of time and money completely by itself. In short: Had I known how frustratingly bad Invisible War was, I wouldn't even have picked it up for free.
Some of the bad parts (no real spoilers):
- The writing. While the story builds on Deus Ex, you get no build-up, no twists (excepting a few incredibly obvious attempts), no suspense, no room for wondering or doubting. You're never allowed to be curious about the world, the backstory or the events of the past, as most of this is just dumped bluntly at your feet. At one point you walk into a bunker, find some high-level people, and out of nowhere these complete strangers start telling you about their deepest, darkest secrets.
- The pacing. At times, people will warn you that "someone has a secret agenda for you", and you can be certain that within two minutes that same "someone" will give you a call to explain their agenda for you, right to your face.
- The level design. Pretty much every single level is a tiny, cramped area. For reference, the 'ton Hotel in Deus Ex is one of the smaller levels in that game, but it would easily fit in as one of the larger levels in Invisible War. This means you'll enjoy a lot more loading screens a lot more often, but it also makes the game feel so much more shallow: When security HQ is 15 meters from the doorstep of the terrorists, suspension of disbelief drops like a rock. It also means walking through four levels blasting bad guys, then walking back through four empty levels.
- The loading screens. Loading time is usually not an issue for me, with a fast SSD in a fast PC. Invisible War doesn't care. Every so often it goes through a complicated series of steps to load a new level, which includes shutting down the rendering engine to flash you your desktop for a few seconds, then going all white for a while as it restarts, and then it starts actually loading, which takes another 10-15 seconds.
- The number of loading screens. In one typical part of the game, you go through a door - loading screen - across a square - loading screen - across a room to talk to someone, then back out - loading screen - around a corner and down a street - loading screen - down some stairs, talk to a guy, and then retrace the whole route with all the loading screens all over again. Steam tells me I've had the game running some 12 hours, but my save game clock tells me I have 7,5 hours playtime. Including a little menu browsing, that means I have likely spent a quarter of my ingame time looking at loading screens.
- The AI. It is so bad it can sometimes be an involuntary source of rare fun. At one point, members of two opposing factions are involved in a firefight, while a couple of guards stroll idly through the crossfire, taking no notice. As the fight ends, the same guards suddenly freak out over the bodies at their feet - "Ah! A body! There's been a murder! You won't get away with this", they exclaim, and then just keep walking. On a different occasion, an NPC shoots another NPC, and then freaks out over the body *which he just made*. "There's been a murder!" - no, really? And that's saying nothing of the shoddy combat AI, nor the incredibly poor search AI. You can actually hide from enemies by standing on the other side of a glass door, or by closing an air vent cover, and they will have no idea where you went.
- Graphics – and I don't mean "it's ugly", I mean it's really poorly designed. Most weapons are close to identical both when equipped and as inventory icons. With a few exceptions, it's hard to tell what things you can pick up in the field really is (except blinky and futuristic). Are those credit chips, datacubes, or maybe weapon modifications? Who knows! Better break into this locker to find out.
- User interface. Of all the compromises made to make this game possible to run for its intended Xbox, this is likely the worst. Honestly, the UI of Invisible War is worse than trying to do internet banking with a broken gamepad.
I could go on for a long time - this is in no way a complete list - but honestly, if you still think it "can't be that bad", go right ahead and buy it. Or save your money, go on YouTube and find a "let's play" video. I enjoyed some 25 hours of fun on my last Deus Ex playthrough. In Invisible War, it took me less than 8 hours to reach the 2nd to last level. Then I just decided I couldn't be bothered, uninstalled it, and would rather just read about the ending than suffer through more.