Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is one of the biggest games coming this summer, debuting on the consoles and the PC on August 23. It’s an ambitious game that is coming a full five years after the previous title, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
It continues one of the more riveting themes from science fiction, about drawing the line between androids and humans, and which of these really have the most humanity. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes place in the year 2029, two years after the events of Human Revolution and the “Aug incident” where millions of mechanically augmented humans went berserk and killed millions of humans. That has led to an ugly “mechanical apartheid” that, oddly enough, has parallels in the racism in the U.S. presidential campaign and the terrorism taking place around the world. The beginning of the new game, which I saw at a preview event last week, does a great job summarizing the horror of the events of the previous game via a long cut scene.
The prior game had cinematic storytelling, but its gameplay had flaws. Mankind Divided aims to fix those problems and to give the story of cyber-humanity its due. If it really works as publisher Square Enix and its studio Eidos Montreal promise, it could be the best game in the series. One thing that the new game definitely does well is set up the oppressive environment of the humans as they oversee the “augs,” who have become second-class citizens.
Adam Jensen, the augmented human who is the hero of the series, returns to hunt down the small group of evil people who deliberately pitted the augs against the humans. Jensen’s job is to shake off all of the suspicion of his augmentations and to figure out who is behind the conspiracy before a massive genocide ensues. A live-action video of the crisis, as told through a newscast, is deeply emotional. And, based on the new scenes that I saw in this preview build, that cinematic is just one example of how Deus Ex’s designers are taking the storytelling up a notch.
“We’ve mentioned earlier that we didn’t try to change the story to fit real-world events,” said Oliver Proulx, producer of the game at Eidos Montreal, in an interview with GamesBeat. “The themes we chose just resonate. Cyberpunk helps with that kind of interpretation. Unfortunately, some themes are a bit more prominent today than when we started designing the game.”
Both stealth and action gameplay choices have a point. Jensen usually has several ways to tackle a problem, like extracting information from a source that could give him a lead. He also has a number of new augmentations that help him take on multiple enemies in combat. That’s important in making the choice of action.
So far, what I like most is the story. If Jensen fails and chaos takes hold, the world will devolve into a constant state of fear and hatred, pitting humans against augs, and a continuation of the “mechanical apartheid.”
As for the greater emphasis on storytelling, Proulx said, “Our narrative comes through the environment, the things you read, the conversations, but the cutscenes are part of it as well.”
With this new game, the designers want to make both stealth and action into viable options for the player.
“With Mankind Divided, we wanted to perfect Human Revolution,” said executive director Jean-Francois Dugas, said in an earlier interview with GamesBeat. “Even though it was a good game, I never thought it was perfect. We wanted to balance the experience a bit more, bring a more visceral component to the experience. When you look at Human Revolution, stealth was here and combat was there. They weren’t on the same level.”
He added, “When you were stealthy, there were plenty of tools. The way you could eavesdrop on people was a very strong fantasy. When you went into combat, it’s not as if it wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t on the same level. It lacked something visceral, an intensity to the experience. We wanted to emphasize that and make sure combat would be visceral and powerful.”
Last week, I replayed the Dubai mission, where Jensen goes into an urban wasteland with a combat team. I started the Dubai mission in a kind of stealth tutorial, learning how to use Jensen’s augmentations to stay in the shadows, sneak up on enemies, and snap their necks without anyone noticing. The gameplay focused on solving puzzles, hacking doors, crawling through air vents, and using sensors to detect the positions of guards. That kind of gameplay was fun, reminiscent of the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games. This time, I learned to go vertical, gain an advantage on the enemies, and use Jensen’s augmentations that help him identify hidden enemies. Then I dropped down on them to eliminate them.
I failed to achieve one of the mission goals early on, but that didn’t stop me from finishing the full mission. Instead, it simply made the mission a little tougher. As I closed in on the final part of the mission, Jensen and his combat team were ready to spring a trap on a team of enemies that had just emerged from a helicopter. Instead, they were ambushed a third, unseen force. I had to join a massive firefight that involved a big nasty helicopter gunship. It felt a bit like a scene from Call of Duty. This time, however, I was able to find a side route into the battle. I was hidden by a sandstorm. And that enabled me to accomplish the final goal of the mission without getting into a massive firefight.
In the next scene, Jensen arrives at a train station in Prague. Human police interrogate augmented humans, demanding their identity cards and subjecting them to humiliations. Just as Jensen engages with another operative, Alex, a bomb goes off. Jensen tries to rescue another human, but with no luck. The cutscene is very emotional.
After that, Jensen wakes up in an apartment in Prague. His augmentations are fried from the bomb attack. You can take the quiet moment to explore the apartment and discover some of its secrets. Then he goes out and pursues a new mission, where he has to get help fixing his augmentations.
Everywhere he goes, thugs ask for his identification. It’s a depressing city under martial law. The atmosphere of totalitarian oppression and discrimination against augs is memorable. Jensen contacts the aug specialist and finds he needs help because the cops have begun searching his book store. When you get there, you find a bunch of police have barricaded the entry to the area where the book store is located.
Now you have to figure out how to gain entry. You can attack the police, but odds are good that you’ll be killed. You find that the leader of the police is corrupt, and he is willing to send you to a friend to purchase fake identification. If you do that, you find that a bunch of thugs are running scams on augs. You can take up the cause and disrupt the thugs, and that will send you on multiple missions. I did this and found that I had a lot of work to do running around Prague to help augs get their proper identification. Then I went back with enough cash to gain entry to the book store area.
Once there, I had a big problem. I didn’t see an obvious way to get past all of the guards. I spent some time throwing smoke bombs to see if I could run past everyone and make it upstairs. That wasn’t so fruitful. But I knew the place had multiple ways in and a way to reach the aug specialist. Without my augmentations, I found that Jensen was severely handicapped. I ran out of time at that point, but I found that it was an intriguing puzzle.
I still saw some weak points. Some of the scenery looks a little rough, and the behavior of some of the enemies is a little artificial. But If Deus Ex: Mankind Divided delivers on these kinds of missions throughout the whole experience, then fans will be in for a treat.
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