A hybrid role-playing game and first-person shooter, Deus Ex was the only hit game that ill-starred developer Ion Storm managed to produce throughout its turbulent existence. As such, it was the only one to spawn a sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War. Despite having largely the same development team, the new game suffered from mixed reviews — often criticized for dumbing-down compelling gameplay elements from the first.
The original Deus Ex had a very strong score, produced by a composing team led by Alexander Brandon of demoscene fame. Despite the frustrating lack of a complete album release, the music was futuristic, compelling, and genre-bending — everything that the setting called for. Brandon returned for Invisible War, though the other team members were replaced by a newcomer, Todd Simmons.
The Deus Ex theme makes a muted appearance at the outset in “Invisible War Title Theme”, both in an electronic form and, intriguingly, as a vocal duet. It’s a promising start, given the title march was one of the strongest elements of the original game. It’s a tease, though; the opening is far and away the best track of the album. That, and the mournful strings in “Return to Cairo” are the only noteworthy innovations in the music, and the lack of any development with those building blocks, is extremely frustrating given how intriguing their integration with the futuristic tracker sounds of the original could have been.
Of the in-game tracks, only “Streets & Black Gate” has even the barest hint of the futuristic tracker sound that Brandon and his team brought to the first game, and even then it’s on par only with the very weakest Deus Ex tracks. “Credits” brings a welcome bit of relief with some heady beats, but the melody that accompanies them is faint — certainly nowhere near the comparable track from the prequel.
The remainder is aimless ambiance, almost totally devoid of melody, rhythm, and anything that might stand out from a monotonous drone. The original game certainly had its share of dull tracks, but there was enough outstanding music to compensate. It’s as if the sequel’s score was explicitly created by expanding upon the worst that the original had to offer, dumbing down the smart tracker sound Brandon and his team established mush like the game itself neutered the original’s complexities. Even viewed on its own merits, apart from its prequel, the music is simply wallpaper aside from the few highlights above.
35 minutes of Invisible War’s music was made available for free around the time of the game’s release, and were also attached to the game’s digital re-release as a bonus. It’s possible that more compelling music exists in-game — perhaps in the form of battle tracks, which were largely absent from the original official soundtrack to Deus Ex. But the stripped-down nature of the sequel and its score may just be too disheartening for further investigation. A dreadful disappointment on nearly every level.