That Invisible War, eh? I just couldn’t put it down, even when the dreaded black screen crashes started blitzing the immersion even worse than the lengthy loading screens already did (the fix seems to be to End Task on DX2Main but not Ion Loader; after a minute or two, it will spontaneously relaunch the game, loading where you left off).
So, we could have established that maybe Invisible War might not actually be all that bad after all, but it definitely does get ugly as the finale approaches. Thematically ugly, that is; the gameplay remains consistent.
Considerable spoilers this time.
So when I wrote my previous glowing review of Invisible War, I was maybe half-way to two-thirds through it.
I noted that the game had a habit of tripping over exposition. There’s a certain point, namely stepping through a giant teleporter, where the exposition goes absolutely haywire and the plot starts to disintegrate. (You can almost feel the budget snap and a load of intervening levels of build-up sluicing down the drain.)
After stepping out of said teleporter, you are met by Mister Exposition himself — a Gray that explains everything. Of course you can just not talk to him, but you know what I’m like; if there are still options to be clicked, I will be clicking them. Gone is the drip-feed of facts and subtle inferences, to be replaced by straight-up “the story so far…” monologues. Sheesh.
The original Deus Ex, regardless of which ending you pick, ends with hope in its heart and a spring in its step even if you can throw cars through the holes in its idealism.
- You blow up Area 51 and free the world from tyranny — disruptive, but freedom is worth the price of global communications (isn’t it?).
- You hand the world over the the Illuminati and the world carries on as normal — maybe there is still a conspiracy, but it’s benign enough that you can work with it.
- You merge with Helios, and become a benevolent dictator — the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, JC the god-hero gives up his life to run the world in a truly better way.
All three of these options are desirable, in some way or another. You can see the merits of each. The message is unanimously one of positivity despite the quibbles, that the world will pick itself up and get through this.
Invisible War gets progressively less cute and more angry as the final moments close in. All four endings are thoroughly miserable.
The problems with the Illuminati ending begin to emerge before you even get near it. Chad Dumier, that idealistic young revolutionary you helped in the first game, has grown up into a first-class arsehole. The slightest deviation from his plan is met with a barrage of abuse and threats (even if he is ultimately bluffing as much as everyone else, he’s still very rude about it). Nicolette is much nicer, but she doesn’t do much of the talking.
The Illuminati’s plan, however, seems to be the one that requires the least upheaval. I kind of want the world to go on not being broken in horrendous ways, and this time around the Illuminati ending seems like the lesser of all evils…
… except in the ending cinematic, we see the prosperous “normal” world of the Illuminati comes at the cost of endless surveillance and, despite Chad’s “we don’t need any new gods” comment, that very surveillance system seems to end up getting treated a lot like a god anyway.
Nope, that’s not what I wanted.
Since you spend a good portion of the game straight-up battling against Templars, it’s easy enough to sideline their ending. It’s founded on hatred and fear and genocide and who wants to live in a world with those foundations?
Either way, the end result is not a happy world without augmentations, it’s a nasty and hate-filled one where everyone gets violently culled. Definitely not going for this ending.
There is, however, a brilliant conversation on offer with Elder Saman as he tries to convert you via holocomm. Early in the game there is a Templar recruitment booth where you can agree to sign up — they don’t seem to notice that you’re up to your eyeballs in biomods. I signed up as a bit of a laugh, and then went merrily on my way thwarting their operations and murdering them all.
Of course Saman chooses to remind you of this, and you get the perfect dialogue choice — agree and join him, or admit it was a prank and rip the piss. Needless to say, the piss was thoroughly ripped. There are definitely moments of brilliant dialogue, and here at least Alex D stops being a wishy-washy fence-sitter and delivers the comeback with tangible relish.
(Maybe the female Alex D’s delivery is simply better than male Alex D’s delivery, but in general I did not have such an adverse reaction to his/her dialogue this time around. I’ve never played in female mode before. Yeah, Invisible War did the male/female option thing before Mass Effect was a twinkle in a next-generation console’s eye.)
Okay, JC Denton’s ending is the only one that isn’t miserable. Instead, it’s horrifying.
The solution to all mankind’s problems, this ending suggests, is to remove all genetic differences by universally modifying everyone to be as physically adept and as smart as each other and plugging them all into the omniscient AI. It’s not just enforced augmentation, which is questionable enough, but enforced homogenisation.
As JC himself argued to Helios in the first game, “In a society with democratic institutions the struggle for power can be peaceful and constructive, a competition of ideologies. We just need to put our institutions back in order.” How can you have a constructive competition when everyone thinks the same thing because they’ve been forcibly standardised?
The Helios ending of the first game is alluring because it’s still a remote administrator, an orchestrator who is immune to corruption — a government immune to corruption would be a beautiful thing (“God was a dream of good government“, said Morpheus). The Helios ending this time is one where it invades every mind, every body, and adjusts them all to a more pliable form. That’s… terrifying.
No, JC, you’ve taken it too far.
Long before Mass Effect codified the paragon/renegade split, there was Invisible War‘s last ending. As befits the true spirit of the renegade, this is about more than shouting versus kind words — this is about sacking it all and killing everybody. Mm-hm.
This is attractive because, as stated above, I don’t like anybody else’s idea of a solution. I want the world to keep on truckin’ without all this meddling and enforced assimilation. Why can’t we all just get along?
Call me an optimist, but I didn’t quite expect this course of action to end in nuclear holocaust. The Omar, already called into question for their own enforced assimilation, are the only winners this time around — though being the only survivors in a blasted wasteland doesn’t sound like much of a prize.
Ending on a High Note
Maybe that’s the true deeper meaning of the game. It is, after all, about an invisible war, and in war, there are no winners. The struggle to control or shape human civilisation, regardless of intentions good or bad, regardless of the means employed, can only destroy it.
And I thought I was pretty pessimistic.