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Great Expectations: Deus Ex Mankind Divided

Old Men Running The World

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has been announced. Adam and Graham decided to activate their social augs and discuss their reasons for being united in excitement for Adam Jensen’s return.

Graham: Adam, Adam, get this. I have… great Deus Expectations. The title for this (potentially regular?) feature is already paying dividends.

Adam: Oh lord, give me the augmented strength to bear this load.

Who’d have thought it? One big ol’ Human Revolution and then the whole of Mankind is Divided. Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into post-colon text but I’m pleased that there’s a sense of continuity there, small thing though it may be. While it’s fair to say that Deus Ex is mostly a game about vents, I love a bit of post-human pondering and even though he’s another in the gaming’s grand cast of slightly cross bearded men, I quite enjoyed being Adam Jensen for a while.

Makes a pleasant change from being Adam Smith at any rate. I am completely incapable of killing a man with my elbow-blades. Some might suggest that I don’t even HAVE elbow-blades.

I’d also look extraordinarily silly if I tried to pull off the Jensen look. What do you think about it all? Glad to have Deus Ex back? Glad to have Jensen back? Glad to see mankind divided?

Graham: You’ve cannily raised the first reason I’m excited, which is…

Adam Jensen and his timeline is back.

Graham: I am a fan of cyberpunk generally, despite never having read any of the canonical works, but the original Deus Ex seemed to have as much awkward silliness in its fictional makeup as it did intriguing conspiracies and futuretech. By rewinding the clock and making a prequel, Human Revolution seemed to hit a sweet spot, picking out a time that was more familiar, when the wilder aspects of the fiction hadn’t yet happened, when augments were still mechanical and invasive, and the underlying ethical or metaphysical quandaries were most pronounced.

Also, for all his gravel-voiced Batmanism, I cared about Adam Jensen and the people in his life. He isn’t a Great Character by any stretch, but he seems more humane and 100% less douchebaggy than almost any other action game protagonist. I hope Sarif and Pritchard and Malik are back too, but either way I’m glad to once again step into Jensen’s cybernetically-enhanced jumpshoes.

Adam: They’re referred to as Boot Sectors…or somesuch. The important thing is that they have around forty thousand terabytes of data in their soles. And poor Jensen might not even have a soul at all! Can a machine-man have a soul, Graham? That’s one of the questions the game probably won’t answer.

Cyberpunk is odd. I love it and I have experienced all of the canonical works – Inspector Gadget, Pinocchio, Gulliver’s Travels – but, as that list of texts suggests, it can all be a bit nineties. That’s the period it tends to remind me of at any rate, most likely because that’s when I first started reading sci-fi and then the Matrix happened and there’s a link between Keanu’s coat and cybereverything that I’ve never been able to shake.

I agree that the earlier setting of Human Revolution is more interesting. Partly it’s that I, rather disconcertingly, prefer the invasiveness of the augmentations – the sacrifice that comes along with any benefits is so much more jarring when it’s written on the body so clearly. And there’s plenty of space for all kinds of interesting ideas relating to body horror, prejudice, homo superior.

Did you enjoy the actual plot in Human Revolution? I loved the setting but I can’t honestly say I remember the story in any great detail – although the same is true of the original game. I tend to switch off a bit when organisations start punching one another.

Graham: I did enjoy the plot, and I can link that handily to the second reason I’m excited about Mankind Divided…

Human Revolution’s core creative team is also back.

Graham: It’s commonplace for action games and RPGs to litter their world with snippets of fiction, but it’s less commonplace for me to bother reading any of it. Human Revolution is one of the few that made me care and in the three times I’ve played it, I’ve jacked myself with social augs, picked through every conversation, hacked every computer and read every email. That’s partly good design – I know that conversations and emails will have a mechanical benefit, offering me either bonus items or non-lethal methods of progression – but it’s partly good writing as well.

Significantly, most of the stories you uncover by exploring the fiction have very little to do with corporations or conspiracies. Instead, it’s all very human: Jensen’s former colleague who is racked with guilt due to a mission gone wrong; your current colleague who is in over his head in illegally smuggling drugs out to the poor; Josie Thorpe and her husband whose emails let you explore their relationship on your way to saving one, the other or both. Every meeting with Sarif is about proxy soldiers and ghosts fighting in the shadows (as per excellent trailer – dat music, bro), but the broader world is made to feel real by having regular people in it. That makes me glad that Mary DeMarle, the previous game’s narrative designer, is back again.

Similarly, Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, Human Revolution’s art director (and the model for Adam Jensen’s face) is also back. I’m thrilled by that because HR has some bold, strange artistic choices in its world design. It’s easy to hear cyberpunk and think Blade Runner and steaming city vents, and Deus Ex has plenty of that, but it also has gold everywhere and triangles and fabulous ceilings and techno-renaissance clothing where everyone wears enormous ruffs for some reason. While any element of a game’s design is always a team effort, I’ve followed Belletête’s Tumblr for a couple of years now and it’d be difficult not to see his influence on Human Revolution or to presume that will continue through Mankind Divided – whether it’s more triangular architecture or more fabulous ceiling designs.

Adam: Agreed on all fronts. I spent a lot of time picking my way through the smaller stories and some of the visual design is superb. And that brings me to a new point and another reason to be excited…

On page two: a new Dawn (graphics engine), and why Deus Ex matters to us. Plus, a question for readers.

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