argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
In late 2003, Ion Storm released Deus Ex: Invisible War, the sequel to 2000's highly lauded Deus Ex. Five months later, Ion Storm released Thief: Deadly Shadows, the third entry in the Thief series. Both games were built on the same engine and were the first in their respective series to be released for console as well as PC. And both games have a reputation of not being very good among fans (or at least on TTLG, which is where I go for my gaming needs).

I played Deadly Shadows back in 2008. You can read my initial thoughts on it here, though I don't like it as much now; it's the only Thief game I don't have installed. I think Deadly Shadows is worth a play, but it's definitely the weakest in the series for me and the only reason I even keep my copy is if I have the urge to play the Shalebridge Cradle again. (The Shalebridge Cradle is indeed a fantastic level, but I think the effect is lessened once you know what's going to happen next and you realise it's essentially a glorified fetch quest. [So is "Return to the Haunted Cathedral" from Thief: The Dark Project, but Lauryl (Deadly Shadows) is much more tolerable than Brother Murus (The Dark Project).])

Due to some confusion on my part, I ended up buying Deus Ex: Invisible War before the first Deus Ex. It didn't matter in the end, though, as Invisible War refused to run on my older laptop despite it meeting the system requirements and Deadly Shadows running fine. I've only played Deus Ex through once - which is a bit odd as I've played The Nameless Mod (a Deus Ex game-length mod) twice - but I spent over 50 hours on my run and had an absolutely fantastic time. Together with Thief and System Shock, Deus Ex is in my personal top three games and I believe I've played every long-ish fan mission there is (The Nameless Mod, ZODIAC, 2027, Red Sun, The Cassandra Project, Burden of 80 Proof, Hotel Carone) except the most recent (Nihilum).

So much has been written about Deus Ex, including Kieron Gillen's excellent review that captures a lot of Deus Ex's strengths, that I don't feel I can add much. So, moving on to Invisible War.

I started playing Invisible War back in August when S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl's focus on shooting was driving me crazy. (I'll review Shadow of Chernobyl once I finish it, though I've been playing on and off since January, so . . . it may be a while. In short, great atmosphere and visuals, not half as much focus on exploration as what I wanted.) What a contrast that was. Moving from Shadow of Chernobyl's lack of hand-holding and difficulty (I play on the easiest setting and it still kicks my ass at times) to Invisible War's, well, we'll get to that below, was like night and day.

It took me 12 hours to play through Invisible War. 12 hours, over the course of three months, when the original took me over 50 hours over the course of less than a month. (I had more free time and was much more engaged in the game.) And yet, I feel like Invisible War overstayed its welcome by at least three hours.

Invisible War has some of the same problems Deadly Shadows, likely influenced by being released on the first-generation Xbox. Maps are relatively small and there are plentiful loading zones. No swimmable water, although Invisible War at least never draws attention to it. (Going to jail for falling in the water was one of the stupidest ideas in Deadly Shadows.) On the other hand, I thought both the player character and NPC movement was less stiff and smoother in Invisible War, though jumping and crate stacking are worse.

I started off Invisible War with the idea of playing a stealthy hacker, which, ever since Thief, tends to be my default character. The interface provoked much irritation and was clearly designed for a gamepad -- 'yes/no' prompts you have to use the mouse for; no keyboard support for custom-naming saved games, manually typing in passcodes, or writing notes in-game; no quick-save or load; no screenshot key (which is why there are no screenshots in this review, because Invisible War isn't worth the effort of using a second program); the minimum HUD is still rather invasive, and inventory management is a mess. Skill points were eliminated, as were different ammo types (yes, all firearms in the game use the same ammo, just in different amounts), the conversation log, and location-based health management. In short, the only ways to customise you character besides your play style are through your appearance, the weapons you use, and your biomods (augmentations). (I barely include dialogue choices, since there aren't very many and most don't seem to matter.) However, you can now choose to play as either a male or female.

Much more under cut. )

In summary: Deadly Shadows may be my least favourite Thief game, but it is at the minimum a decent game and a far, far better game than Invisible War. I don't think Invisible War is completely irredeemable - I did finish playing it instead of throwing my hands up in disgust after all - but there's not much to recommend it, especially compared to its predecessor.

So, what's good about Invisible War? The voice acting's not bad. There's a good mix of male and female NPCs. Invisible War actually does reward exploration, or at least what you can do in the small maps; as in Deus Ex, you can find ammo, equipment, etc., in somewhat out of the way places (under desks, behind pipes, and so on). Trier has a surprising number of readables that are actually decent. The ApostleCorp lab was somewhat neat, except that Invisible War cannot do horror or atmosphere. The Antarctic Versalife facility was better, and even had a nice ambient track!

If anyone wants to play Deus Ex: Invisible War on the PC, I will give you my copy for only the cost of shipping. (If the shipping's less than $6, I'll even pay that, too.) I have the CDs, both in very good condition, plus the manual, hardcover box, shiny slipcase, and even the kidneythieves card. I bought it second-hand, but there are hardly any signs of wear. The edges of the slipcase are the worst part, but still in good condition. There are a few photos below.

Deus Ex: Invisible War photos, up for sale. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
I was looking for reviews for either The Dark Mod or Thief 4 on YouTube and found this commentary on some Thief 4 gameplay by Woodsie at ThePCelitist. The video was interesting and articulate (though I was surprised Woodsie didn't say anything about XP points) and I've since watched a couple other videos, including the first two installments of The Case for PC. Woodsie and Shepard brought up some good points, but I didn't feel much of what they talked about lined up with my own reasons for being a PC gamer. And so, I present six reasons why I am a PC gamer (a.k.a., why I will probably never buy a console).

1. Most of the games I'm interested in playing are only available on the PC. The first two Thiefs, both System Shocks, all three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, Unreal Tournament 2004, Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines -- all of these games were only released for the PC. I could name many, many more. There is a console version of the original Deus Ex, but I understand it's quite changed. On the flip side, I can't think of a single console-only title I'd really like to play.

2. Tied in to (1), fan mods and missions are very important to me. Many of my favourite gaming experiences have happened while playing Thief or Deus Ex fan missions. None of these fan missions, or total engine conversions like The Dark Mod [a Thief-inspired game using the Doom 3 engine], are available on consoles. Though I don't make fan missions myself, I have played around in DromEd [Thief's level editor] a bit. Texture and visual updates, such as John P's High Res Textures for Thief: Deadly Shadows or New Vision and HDTP for Deus Ex, and general patches like the multiple unofficial Bloodlines ones, are also, to my understanding, unavailable on consoles.

(Fan-created and shared material - be it art, fiction, videos, playlists, mods, cosplay, and so on - is key to me for most series. I can enjoy a show, or a game, on its own, but if it doesn't have an active fanbase, or if fan-created materials are discouraged by the creators, chances are I will quickly move into other fandoms. One of the sad trends of modern games has been a reluctance or refusal to release level editors, thus making fan mission creation very difficult.)

3. The PC is what I grew up with. Aside from a black-and-white Power Rangers Gameboy-type device, I never owned a console. I never played Mario, Zelda, or Sonic the Hedgehog. Instead, I was playing Myst, SimCopter, Tyrian, and Commander Keen. The PC has always been my gaming home and I still play DOS games through DOSBox.

4. Mouse and keyboard. I took a look at my control configurations for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, The Dark Mod, and Thief 2, and I use an average of 37 keys plus three mouse buttons for each game. In Thief 1/2, I use nine keys just for movement: 'w' for run forward, 's' for walk forward, 'x' for walk backward, 'space' to creep, 'q' for lean left, 'e' for lean right, 'k' to lean forward, 'f' to crouch, and 'shift' to jump. When you include things like multiple weapon selections, quick save/load, zoom in/out, and other inventory hotkeys, it's easy to take over most of the keyboard, and I like it that way. I feel I have quicker access to the things I want to get to [e.g., I can hit 'alt' for water arrows instead of scrolling through a weapon selector] and more fine-tuning over my movement and view. Most of the games I play also give the player great flexibility in creating their own control scheme; the first two Thiefs even allow you to save multiple control layouts.

5. It's impractical for me to own a console. In addition to (1), most consoles hook up to a TV, and I hardly ever watch TV unless it's for VHS tapes. I think I would be perfectly happy without either a TV or cable. All my other media watching is done on my computer, whether it be online steaming or DVDs. My computer is my one-stop machine: email, gaming, multimedia, internet, word processing, exchanging files with my MP3 player or cell phone, etc.

6. The PC makes it easy to interact with game files. I can edit screencaps or make them my desktop. If the game I'm playing doesn't have a built-in screencapture, I can run another program in the background. Same with audio or video capture. I can back up my saved games and user files, or make custom edits to the user ini. I can transfer my saved games easily to other computers or hard drives. I can explore the files within the game; e.g., I can extract the audio files and find dialogue I missed during the game itself. (I've done this with both Thief and Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines.) In short, I have a degree of transparency and flexibility with the games.


As my PCs are always several years behind the cutting edge, being able to play with the highest graphics setting has never been a priority for me. Since there's been very few recent games to pique my interest, this is rarely an issue. (I've been happy to finally play S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl on my current laptop, and may play the rest of the series [Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat] after, but there are very few post-2005 games on my recommendations list.) I acknowledge that gaming PCs have superior technology compared to consoles, and that gap does become an issue with how developers design games, but it's not one of my personal reasons for gaming on the PC. Neither is the ability to custom build my own machine.

(What type of games I look for and why I enjoy them is another post, but Briareos H's TTLG post on First-person exploration games tickled many of my gaming likes.)
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
Even though I hardly look at Tumblr anymore, it is so easy to post photos instead of doing more in-depth updating. I hope to do the latter at some point, but for now I hope you will indulge me in the former.

The Dark Mod missions pictured are A Night to Remember by Fieldmedic, WS1: In the North by grayman, and Tears of St. Lucia, which is included in the initial TDM install as a demo of sorts. I've only finished WS1: In the North, which I had a fantastic time with and is likely my favourite TDM mission to date.

Screencaps under cut. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
I've been watching more Let's Plays* during meals than playing any games. Though I upgraded to the latest Thief II patch, I hadn't even been playing any Thief fan missions.

This past weekend I started up The Dark Mod on my newest laptop to finish a mission, "The Transaction" by Sotha, that I started months ago. It wasn't a very clean playthrough, but coming back to stealth play was a lovely experience. I've been playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl about once a month and slowly making progress. While I quite like the atmosphere and environments, sometimes the gameplay wears on me and I tend to run away from enemies as often as I confront them. The strangest thing about that game, however, is the NPC interface, which is so rudimentary that it feels misplaced, like it came out of the 1990s, when everything else is clearly 2000s.

*FenPhoenix's Thief II: The Metal Age, shadyparadox's Myst III: Exile, and Dilandau3000's Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity (which I played years ago and is much less exciting than I remember).

Some screencaps. )

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argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
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