Attention to detail. It's all about the attention to detail. What differentiates a truly great title from a good one is the degree of effort lavished on those superfluous elements that neatly round off a game's rough edges. In this respect Deus Ex: Invisible War could well be a masterpiece in the making, because the attention to detail is staggering.
For example, take the basketball in Alex D's apartment right at the start of the game. Pick it up and throw it against the wall. The physics engine does its stuff quietly in the background as the ball bounces about, expending energy, before coming to a stop. Now ask yourself, has that basketball got anything to do with the objectives in hand? Has it heck - it's just there for you to play with and admire. Likewise, go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. Now stand underneath it and wash away all those puerile stains that blight your conscience. Bet you feel better already, eh?
This degree of environmental interactivity continues unabated throughout the game. Before long you'll learn how seemingly random objects can affect your character - taking water from a drinking fountain replenishes health, but guzzling your way through too many bottles of wine at once gets you drunk and temporarily blurs your vision. Switch on a holocron and you'll receive a news bulletin, or download a useful map. Stand in a lift and soothing muzak fills your ears. The making of Invisible War has been a labour of love for the development team over at Ion Storm, and it shows.
Set 20 years after the original Deus Ex, Invisible War takes place amid a global depression of catastrophic proportions, where warring corporate governments use terror to pursue their goals and repress any public disquiet. To help them they enlist bio-enhanced operatives from the elite Tarsus Academy to do their dirty work. Alex D is one such operative.
Waking in his Chicago apartment to find the city under a 'terrorist' attack, Alex is quickly bundled off to another Tarsus training facility in Seattle "for his own safety". As Chicago is laid to waste Alex is forced to open his eyes and question his destiny as a corporate whore. Who are these terrorists? Why are they attacking? Are they really terrorists at all? In the twisted world of Invisible War nothing is ever quite what it seems.
Besides the stunning realisation of a nightmare futuristic society, the other thing that sets Deus Ex: Invisible War apart from its peers is the open-endedness of the gameplay. There are no hard and fast rules dictating the way you go about your business - it's entirely up to you as to where you go and how you complete each mission. Gameplay follows a free-roaming rather than a linear path too, so Alex is free to move between locations and NPC encounters as he wishes, and can return at any point already visited after he's gathered enough evidence to decide what action to take. Whatever way you decide to play the game will adapt, and the storyline morphs depending on your decisions and actions. We're getting excited about this one.