N ow Playing: deus ex: mankind divided
Publisher Eidos Montreal / Developer Eidos Montreal / format Xbox One / release date 2016
I’m well over a year late to the last Deus Ex game, and I foolishly played Dishonored
2 first, which has spoiled everything. Arkane’s assassination sim has slicker movement, more imaginative levels and cooler powers than Deus
Ex – it’s a better stealth game in every way, and they both do very similar things.
And yet, in Deus Ex, I feel more freedom to do what I like. In Dishonored
2, I never kill civilians because I’m playing as Emily, a queen, and stabbing randoms in the street doesn’t feel like something a queen would do. But despite Adam Jensen, Mankind
Divided’s robot superman protagonist, being an agent of Interpol, I feel like similar restrictions don’t apply. This is where Eidos Montreal’s game has the edge for me.
A guy gives Adam a bit of sass in the reception area of a hotel. I punch him in the face and knock him out while he’s sat reading something in an armchair. Two guys at the train station are badmouthing augmented people with Jensen in earshot. I stick a blade in both of their torsos and walk out of the train station like nothing happened, and decide their deaths are deeply ironic. I constantly knock out security guards and run away before their buddies can see what I’ve done, or throw a grenade into a populated room, then turn invisible and sprint for the train before anyone can get mad at me.
I am the worst person in Prague, but I feel like Deus Ex celebrates that. This series has always been about putting the power of choice in the player’s hands, and traditionally we think about that in terms of choosing stealth or combat-heavy strategies, dialogue options, or good and bad endings.
Mankind Divided has those, but it also lets you walk into a guy’s apartment and pick up his fridge for no reason, or throw a sleeping body into some trip mines because it might be hilarious. The weirdness is the magic of the game, and after a pretty intensive 48 hours where I beat all of its sidequests and every DLC, I enjoyed many of these stupid moments more than the actual levels. Deus Ex lets you be a total weirdo.
Later in the game’s story, Prague is under lockdown from the law enforcement and they’ll open fire as soon as they see Jensen. I decide to kill every guard in the city for this discriminate behaviour, but I’m not prepared to try that hard. I hack a turret that’s guarding a train station, then program it to attack enemies instead of me. I then awkwardly carry it around between different districts and plonk it down next to a pocket of enemies.
After they’re gunned down, I pick it up and carry it to the next populated location. All in all, I probably kill about 15 enemies this way while Jensen hides behind a car. It looks silly, as one small robot turret wipes out an entire police force, but I like that I have the option to play the game this way without anything in the story telling me off.
There are plenty of NPCs who serve no purpose in Mankind Divided, who are just
there to populate the world. Every time I find one by his or her self, I knock them out, because who’s going to stop me? After that, I wander back onto the game’s critical path, where Adam Jensen works for Interpol and investigates terrorism for a living. I like the idea that my Jensen is leading a double life: international do-gooder to collect his paycheck, and total bastard who plagues the streets of Prague in his downtime.
I partly attribute my chaotic methods to the game’s story, which fails to engage me at all. There’s so much wordy dialogue about organisations, betrayals and the game’s pretend world politics that I invariably tune out. What the Xbox 360’s Human
Revolution had was a much simpler story where you were aware of what Adam had lost at the start of the game – namely his body parts, replaced with powerful augmented ones, and (seemingly) his partner Megan. This gave the story an emotional weight.
Mankind Divided lacks that and it’s a real problem for me.
Jensen looks cool in his ridiculous jacket and he has the same excellent gravelly voice actor as before, but the story isn’t really his. It’s about the political uncertainty of a world where augmented people are hated, and that’s not explored in a particularly resonant way by the game’s dialogue or cutscenes. After nearly 50 hours, I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything new about Jensen. Without a story that I could tune into emotionally, then, it let me ignore what I perceived as the right way to do things more than ever before. If I don’t care about the fiction, I don’t have to follow what I consider its rules. So how about I knock out ten guards then put them into a big pile and take a screenshot because it’s funny? Or how about I break into a fancy apartment, knock both residents out then throw their bodies off the balcony onto the streets below and see how the law enforcement reacts? (The answer: they don’t like it at all.) I often consider the morality of what I do in games, and whether my actions line up with the character I’m inhabiting, but here I just wanted to do anti-social things and see how
Deus Ex would respond. I wanted to be the guy who used his powerful robot arms to deal with what would often be the pettiest grudges, and I found a surprising amount of joy in doing so.
“Here I just wanted to do antisocial things and see how Deus Ex would respond”
above After the opener, you’re pretty much stuck in Prague for most of the game.
below I’d knock all of these NPC s out and gladly rifle through their pockets.