Deus Ex: Mankind Di­vided

The pol­i­tics of to­day, to­mor­row

Hyper - - EDITORIAL - John Robert­son

Hu­man Revo­lu­tion, Deus Ex's most re­cent of­fer­ing, was pre­dom­i­nantly a game about hope. Adam Jensen, enig­matic pro­tag­o­nist, found him­self com­ing to terms with me­chan­i­cal aug­men­ta­tions ap­plied to his body and en­gag­ing with that most strik­ing of cy­ber­punk ques­tions: what does it mean to be hu­man in an in­creas­ingly mech­a­nised, dig­i­tal world? Most of the an­swers were op­ti­mistic re­gard­ing cross-pol­li­na­tion be­tween hu­mans and ma­chines.

How times change. Events at the end of Hu­man Revo­lu­tion saw the cy­borg dream come crash­ing down and the pop­u­lace be­gin to treat aug­mented Homo sapi­ens with fear and sus­pi­cion. The Re­nais­sance was over; a world of di­vi­sion was born.

It's this that Deus Ex: Mankind Di­vided takes as its nar­ra­tive en­try point, the game seek­ing to explore the ten­sions that arise when one so­cial group ex­ists in sharp fric­tion to an­other. If Hu­man Revo­lu­tion was a game of op­ti­mism, Mankind Di­vided is one of pes­simism. With 'pure' hu­mans fear­ful of any­thing that is re­motely dif­fer­ent to them, the world is ripe for pro­pa­ganda and evoca­tive, neb­u­lous lies to be used as a means for those with dreams of power to win hearts and minds and, even­tu­ally, take con­trol of a newly un­sta­ble world.

"It's def­i­nitely got a darker, more

pes­simistic per­spec­tive," ex­plains Mary DeMarle, NBar­ra­tive Di­rec­tor. "Re­al­is­ti­cally, when you have an event that the whole world is caught up in, no-one is pay­ing crit­i­cal at­ten­tion to the mes­sages be­ing broad­cast un­til later. By the time peo­ple are ready to han­dle the real in­for­ma­tion there has al­ready been such a mass of dis­in­for­ma­tion that peo­ple are afraid of the new world they're in. That trig­gers peo­ple to get caught up in the para­noia and the con­spir­acy the­o­ries and view the whole world in that way."

This is a world of apartheid, where the aug­mented are in­creas­ingly forced into ghet­tos and re­stricted from en­gag­ing with the rest of so­ci­ety. Jean-Fran­coise Du­gas, Game Di­rec­tor, ex­plains that in­spi­ra­tion for how much of this seg­re­ga­tion is de­picted re­volves around what was oc­cur­ring in the United States of the '50s and '60s with ten­sions be­tween the black and white pop­u­la­tions of the coun­try. Per­haps even more pow­er­fully, how­ever, many of the tones that emit them­selves from what we've played of the game are sim­i­lar to po­lit­i­cal events hap­pen­ing in the present day.

The rise of Don­ald Trump in the US and the in­creas­ing power of far­right and left par­ties across Europe, com­bined with the threat of global ter­ror­ism, the racism it spawns and the way cer­tain par­ties seek to bend and en­hance sub­se­quent poli­cies to suit their own agen­das, mir­rors many of the themes com­mented upon in Mankind Di­vided. Per­haps un­will­ing to stake a claim at Deus Ex be­ing a po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary on our present world, Du­gas diplo­mat­i­cally states that such events merely "rep­re­sent a bit of a weird co­in­ci­dence in that there are sim­i­lar­i­ties with what we're do­ing."

Po­lit­i­cal themes and ide­olo­gies are not the only sim­i­lar­ity Mankind Di­vided shares with our present re­al­ity. Aug­men­ta­tions them­selves are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon and so­phis­ti­cated, from ar­ti­fi­cial or­gans to en­tire limb re­place­ments that are con­nected to our ner­vous sys­tems to al­low us to con­trol them us­ing our brains. This is a dou­bleedged sword for a game set in the fu­ture: on one side it helps ground the player in the ex­pe­ri­ence by mak­ing con­nec­tions be­tween real and fic­tional worlds, but can it also make it more dif­fi­cult to sur­prise and wow the player?

"That's a re­ally in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. We did so much re­search

on Hu­man Revo­lu­tion, a game that took four years to make, and by the time we'd fin­ished the game some of those things that we'd been pre­dict­ing were al­ready start­ing to hap­pen," ex­plains DeMarle.

"What sur­prised us then was how quickly these tech­nolo­gies were com­ing into be­ing. And, again, the same kind of thing is hap­pen­ing with Mankind Di­vided. I don't know if that makes it more sur­pris­ing to chal­lenge the player, although I am also re­minded of Wil­liam Gib­son, the fa­ther of cy­ber­punk, when he said that he didn't want to deal with cy­ber­punk any­more be­cause the world has caught up to it."

Du­gas con­tin­ues the point by ex­plain­ing that the term 'cy­ber­punk' is sim­ply a quirk of lan­guage, a word used out of fa­mil­iar­ity more so than it pro­vides an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of what is try­ing to be achieved in Mankind Di­vided. He prefers to cen­tre his de­scrip­tion of his game's genre around the word "an­tic­i­pa­tion". "With the essence of the game we're try­ing to look at the fu­ture of to­mor­row," Du­gas elab­o­rates.

"We're look­ing at where the tech­nol­ogy of to­day is go­ing to go. We're look­ing to an­tic­i­pate what's go­ing to hap­pen with the tech­nolo­gies we've got now. Yes, Deus Ex is still cy­ber­punk in some re­spects, but we're look­ing at the world of to­day just as much as what it might be to­mor­row. Cy­ber­punk is all about that, too, but for me this is more about an­tic­i­pa­tion."

Given that he has al­ready been through the process of ad­just­ing and learn­ing how to use his aug­men­ta­tions, Jensen starts the

DEUS EX IS STILL CY­BER­PUNK IN SOME RE­SPECTS, BUT WE'RE LOOK­ING AT THE WORLD OF TO­DAY JUST AS MUCH AS WHAT IT MIGHT BE TO­MOR­ROW

story here as a far more pow­er­ful en­tity then he did dur­ing the open­ing of Hu­man Revo­lu­tion. His me­chan­i­cal adap­ta­tions gift him greater strength and speed, while ac­tive cam­ou­flage al­lows him to cloak him­self for short pe­ri­ods of time and his dig­i­tal com­po­nents mean he can in­ter­act with com­puter sys­tems to a de­gree that would oth­er­wise be im­pos­si­ble.

An open­ing se­quence set in Dubai in­tro­duces us to the wider nar­ra­tive, re-es­tab­lishes Jensen in the lead­ing role and of­fers a struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment in which to learn, or re­learn if you're a re­turn­ing Deus Ex player, what these aug­men­ta­tions are ca­pa­ble of. The Dubai se­quence takes around 45 min­utes to con­quer, af­ter which time you're thrown into the game 'proper' and be­set with all of the free­dom of ac­tion, choice and con­se­quence that we've come to ex­pect from this fran­chise. The in­cor­po­ra­tion of what is, from a game­play per­spec­tive if not a nar­ra­tive one, a tu­to­rial is nec­es­sary here in or­der to not have play­ers feel over­whelmed with Adam Jensen's myr­iad abil­i­ties.

"We worked hard to de­liver a cer­tain pace to the open­ing level," says Du­gas. "Our goal was to make sure that play­ers could, within the game, be­come ac­quainted with the new me­chan­ics and/or ones that they've for­got­ten from Hu­man Revo­lu­tion.

"In Dubai we're teach­ing you things, but at the same time we didn't want to show you ev­ery­thing. It's tempt­ing to put ev­ery­thing in the first level, but you re­alise that it can be­come over­whelm­ing and the pac­ing suf­fers be­cause of that. We had dis­cus­sions about how much we should put into that early sec­tion with­out reach­ing that over­whelm­ing point. It's al­ways a strug­gle to get that pac­ing right, which is one of the rea­sons that Dubai isn't as open as other parts of the game."

Dubai is one of two sec­tions that we've played, the other set within the bru­tal­ism-in­spired ar­chi­tec­ture of the fic­tional Golem City district of Mankind Di­vided's vi­sion of Prague. Golem City is a ref­er­ence to the myth of the Golem of Prague, a pro­tec­tor en­vis­aged by the city's 16th cen­tury Jewish com­mu­nity to keep them safe from anti-Semites of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire. The district is home to an aug­mented pop­u­la­tion, its de­sign

used to sub­tlety hint at the mind­set of its in­hab­i­tants. Ar­chi­tec­tural an­gles are sharp and un­wa­ver­ing, si­mul­ta­ne­ously lack­ing am­bi­gu­ity and leav­ing noth­ing up to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. They de­pict clearly and un­sym­pa­thet­i­cally the fear that ex­ists within the aug­mented com­mu­nity re­gard­ing how they're go­ing to be treated and dis­crim­i­nated against mov­ing for­ward. The same black and gold vis­ual pal­ette that was used in Hu­man Revo­lu­tion to mimic the kind of as­pi­ra­tion and progress these colours por­tray in Re­naisan­nceera paint­ings are also used here, al­beit in a more muted, de­sat­u­rated man­ner that ref­er­ences the fad­ing of aug­ments in so­ci­ety. These kinds of con­tin­u­a­tion of theme, both vis­ual and ide­o­log­i­cal, are go­ing to be recog­nised by those that paid sharp at­ten­tion to, and sought to in­ter­pret, the mes­sages be­hind Hu­man Revo­lu­tion. How­ever, the de­sign team is adamant that Mankind Di­vided can be en­joyed by new­com­ers to the se­ries. It's dif­fi­cult to dis­agree with the sen­ti­ment given just how much of this of­fer­ing seems to suc­cess­fully tap into wor­ries and con­cerns of the present day and, more aptly, how to­day's de­ci­sions are go­ing to im­pact our lives to­mor­row. Jensen's per­sonal mo­ti­va­tion and quest might not mean as much to you if you've not played through the pre­vi­ous game, but the world that he in­hab­its says much about us as a so­ci­ety to­day.

That, at least, is the po­ten­tial on of­fer here. It's dif­fi­cult to make ac­cu­rate judge­ments on a game that prom­ises to con­sume tens of hours af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing just a tiny frac­tion of that, but what can't be ques­tioned is the in­tent to cre­ate some­thing that is philo­soph­i­cally and ide­o­log­i­cally mean­ing­ful within the con­text of our present ex­is­tence and how we're cur­rently wran­gling with the prob­lems thrown up by in­creas­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pac­ity. If Mankind Di­vided can of­fer a new per­spec­tive on these is­sues then it will have suc­ceeded in se­cur­ing a place among the most hal­lowed cy­ber­punk an­tic­i­pa­tion mes­sages of our time. Aug­mented fin­gers crossed.

IT'S TEMPT­ING TO PUT EV­ERY­THING IN THE FIRST LEVEL, BUT YOU RE­ALISE THAT IT CAN BE­COME OVER­WHELM­ING AND SUF­FERS

A game within a game. How very In­cep­tion *in­sert horn here* No point cor­ner peak­ing if your gun is show­ing, Mr Jensen

In the fu­ture, sup­pos­i­to­ries are much, much larger This ro­botic foe sure can't what's be­ing thrown at it...

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