I’ve never really played a Deus Ex game before. Apart from some fragmented memories of an older family member playing through the original game on a crusty Hewlett-Packard (Google it, I’m old) and a handful of brief late-night Let’s Play viewings, I am definitely not what I would consider well acquainted with the franchise. After spending a few hours hands-on with the newest installment in the series, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I am full of regret because I’ve really missed out. How this series managed to stay under my radar for so long is beyond me, but even though I’m seemingly one of the few people who hasn’t fallen in love with the series over time, I guess it’s better late than never and I have to say, I’m hooked.
Mankind Divided immediately set the tone for me. It’s been 2 years since the events of Human Revolution which shocked the entire world and, as the title suggests, the world is divided. Naturals and ‘Augs’ (humans with artificial enhancements) are at a chaotic stalemate that has resulted in the breakdown of society. I got some pretty heavy Half-Life 2 vibes from the first level which is a very good thing. Guards parade around like they own the place, robotic drones fly around invasively scanning people for seemingly no good reason and the general depressing nature of the citizens stuck in this world really hit me.
It’s a very gloomy place to be, and I felt a sense of despair the second I was introduced to the world. I loved that setting, there’s all these little pieces of the environment that tell the story of a desperate and oppressed society. Take the signage on the walls for example. At a checkpoint you’ll see two signs directing human traffic. One sign above the gate says “Augs” with a human male and female outline, but with red limbs highlighted. As well as another sign with the word “Naturals” with the same outlines, but all in green. Another thing that really stood out for me was how occasionally some people will refer to you as a ‘Clank’ which is the derogatory word for someone who is Augmented. It’s those little bits of narrative that really sold me on Mankind Divided and made me feel like I was part of the world. Even though I was playing as Adam Jensen, I was actually starting to feel a little alienated.
Speaking of Adam Jensen, he’s back! For veterans of the series, you’ll know that Deus Ex has changed the protagonist for each game, but this time round, Adam’s story is being continued. Speaking to Mankind Divided’s Producer at Eidos Montreal, Olivier Proulx, we found out that Adam is more confident and focused than ever. “Mary DeMarle, our head writer, she wanted to kill him. From the get-go we knew that developing a character like Adam that I think has became an iconic character, it’s so difficult in terms of getting his motivations right, his back story right, just creating the visual design and getting Elias, the voice actor, who really owns the character, we felt that it’s so difficult to do, that we wanted to continue building on what was so successful in Human Revolution and we felt there was a lot of room for him to grow as a character. Now he’s more assertive, he’s not taking orders as much, he’s really trying to control the situation, he’s a pretty serious dude but when the time is right he can be a little sarcastic and there’s dialogue options that I think we worked on a lot to make sure he’s more fleshed out. So Adam had room to grow and we wanted to continue the story…
…what happened at the end of HR, there’s not much resolution for him, so it’s still Adam trying to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and he’s much more focused now so I think it’s a great place to bring him back. Relating to the themes of the game, of the Naturals and Augmented, Adam is so interesting because he is augmented, so as you walk around you’ll be asked for your papers, you’ll be called a Clank, you’re going to certainly feel the oppression as an augmented character. But when you’re on the Aug side, you’re seen as so shiny and mechanically augmented, you don’t need Neuropozyne (a drug to prevent rejection of augmentation), you don’t need the drugs, so you’re seen from both sides as a stranger in a strange land. As a player it’s great to see both sides of the problem with Adam because he’s a good canvas to explore all these themes”.
Olivier also confirmed that if there was going to be another sequel, that the team has looked at ways to track the way you play Mankind Divided and that the events and decisions would carry over and effect the sequel, similar to Mass Effect. So it looks like Adam is here to stay!
It was also really impressive to see how many ways you can play Mankind Divided. I switched from stealth, to guns blazing and everything in between without feeling like I was being punished or missing out at all. The game rewards you no matter how you play, so it really comes down to personal preference. In the first level, I decided to play stealth to start with. I spent most of my time in cover, carefully tracking enemies and avoiding all combat besides the few times I decided to use my stun gun to knock out enemies who got a little too close. Halfway through the level, I decided to pick up one of the enemy’s machine guns and ran around shooting and lethally punching everyone in sight. I then dialed it back and played a little more comically and threw buckets and vending machines at the bad guys. All of these play styles were viable and progressed me through the levels. The maps are designed in such a way that it accommodates how you want to play. You can sneak through air vents, climb to higher vantage points or move from cover to cover at ground level. I’ve not played a game that feels as broad as this, let alone a game that is open to me completing a level by killing bad guys with a series of air-born buckets.
To give you an idea of the scope of Mankind Divided, I had complete access to the game for six hours and barely made it past the first open-world part of the game. The world is so rich and full of content that I ended up getting lost scouting back alleys and breaking into apartments just to read emails. It didn’t feel like I was side-questing either, I was just genuinely tangled up in the world and wanted to know more and more. The further I got the more I wanted to know and that’s a really special thing for a game to achieve. The six hours I had sped by and before I knew it, it was time to go home. I’m left wanting so much more, I need to be back in Mankind Divided’s world. I need to be Adam Jensen again. I have so many questions that need answering and I simply can’t wait until the game releases on August 23rd so I can continue my journey.
Some of the words in this preview are comprised of an interview conducted by Matthew Waterworth.