Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s Transhuman Future Feels Too Cautious For Comfort

Shower scenes seldom Make You Think, unless it’s about what exactly you’re getting for that Premium Netflix subscription, but if anything sticks out for me about the impressive yet oddly unexciting Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [official site], it’s the sight of Adam Jensen washing his hair. Eidos Montreal’s latest presentation begins in Jensen’s new Prague apartment – a casually affluent man-den where you can phone other characters, watch newscasts that track your decisions through the story, answer emails, tinker with crafting resources, and generally get acquainted with the sleek, cadaverous sort-of-human in your charge.

As in Human Revolution, this adds a welcome domestic dimension to a protagonist otherwise defined by his ability to hide from people, sweet-talk them or blow them to pieces. We see Jensen wake, activate his own heads-up display with a groggy command, swing his gleaming kneecaps out of bed and pad across a dim expanse of consumables, standby lights and the Renaissance oil paintings so beloved of Eidos Montreal’s artists. We see him trot into the bathroom and turn on the tap, and for the first time since I laid eyes on Mankind Divided back in early 2015, it feels like all that talk about the precarity of identity in a cybernetic world is coming to a head.

Does Jensen, a person who can transform his own skin to imperceptible gauze with a thought, really need to shower? Won’t he, you know, rust? Less frivolously, does Jensen actually have genitals these days (the cutscene camera refrains from filling in the picture) and what are the implications of that, exactly? Deus Ex’s lead identifies as male, but in all those years as the owner of a partly robotic, highly customisable body, hasn’t he ever thought twice? Is gender a matter of the body you inhabit, anyway? In posing these ideas I’m betraying all sorts of assumptions and prejudices, but then again, being made aware of your own biases is a mark of skilled, socially engaged storytelling. Before leaving the shower, Jensen pauses to wipe the condensation from a single square of glass – a delicate, introspective gesture that speaks to a universe of uncertainty, on either side of the screen.

It’s only a moment, though – soon forgotten in a familiar whirl of gunplay, stealth, hacking and oratorical duelling, as Jensen works his way through and around Prague to rescue a friend from some remarkably humourless gangsters. Mankind Divided’s trailers make much play of the game’s relevance to anxieties about the convergence of flesh and tech, but as with many a topical blockbuster, there’s a certain timidity in practice, a tendency to treat on these subjects in safer, generalising terms.

The question of what gender really amounts to when the body you’re born with is entirely malleable, for example. “It’s not something that we’ve really touched on yet, definitely,” acknowledges Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, executive art director. “In terms of what this would bring in a transhuman world. But it’s all interlinked anyway. What we talk about is what it means to human – when do you stop being human, can you stop being human? Is it really your fleshbag that makes you human, or is it what’s in your head – your consciousness, your memories and experiences.

“And the answer is in the soup, when you play Mankind Divided or Human Revolution. Like I said, maybe the specific question of gender isn’t present yet, but this idea of transforming oneself, taking evolution out of nature, or away from religion and theology, and then controlling it yourself through technology, is what we’re looking at. And yeah, if you look at gender change, it’s the technology, when the switch is almost complete, and I have two friends that have done it, male to female – what allows them to do what they’ve done is technology.”

It must be difficult, I suggest, to explore such topics through the lens of a million-dollar triple-A game, with all the associated commercial and production pressures. “Especially with the dialogue you hear in the industry, from videogame fans or whoever,” Jacques-Belletête agrees. “I don’t want to go into this, but it’s a tough time – it seems like it’s a time where intelligence is rarer and rarer! And our industry seems – I don’t know if it’s because I know it better than other industries, but it really seems to be showing. You hear it in the discourse.”

If Deus Ex’s portrait of a society transformed by the rise of cybernetics shies away from certain of the implications, Mankind Divided’s backdrop is promisingly layered. Set two years after Human Revolution, it presents a world in which mechanically augmented people are a segregated underclass, resented for their enhanced capabilities and feared for their vulnerability to behaviour-changing hacks – a vulnerability that was exploited so disastrously at the end of the previous game.

That mix of potency and weakness to coercion channels the old bourgeoisie dread of a susceptible, overwhelming proletariat, easily misled by agitators with the gift of the gab, but augs are branded “deviants” in a number of senses. The recent “Mechanical Apartheid” trailer includes advertising shots of female athletes and models showing off their prosthetic limbs amid newsreel chat of “unnatural” behaviour and “playing god”, conjuring up a long, dismal history of reaction to women doing what they like with their own flesh.

As with its predecessor, the game is also alert to the dystopian potential of a future in which limbs and organs are manufactured and licensed. The augmented may enjoy superhuman strength, speed or perception, but they’re caught in a web of intellectual property rights, their innards the legal belongings of companies who may enforce compliance by withholding the drugs that keep implants running. I’m not sure you could ask for a timelier work of the imagination, in an age when so many of us are content for corporations to own our personal data, vital services and, via the mechanisms of credit, the fruits of our labours. There’s even corporate ownership of the genetic structure of our food.

Still, how much of this is just scraping the headlines for plot points? Mankind Divided’s depiction of cultures in thrall to oligarchs and tyrants may be intricate and occasionally provocative, but it’s also prone to cliché – the impassive enforcer in a craggy bodysuit; the buzzing police quadrotor drone; the scrawny downtrodden in a scruffy hoodie, queueing at the checkpoint. It feels like there’s more work to be done. I’ve yet to come across a mission or story in Eidos Montreal’s universe that compares, for example, to how CD Projekt transforms the archetype of an ostracised werewolf in one early mission from The Witcher 3.

I’m also not yet blown away by how Mankind Divided handles, though Eidos Montreal has made a number of worthwhile improvements. It’s the same rough template as in Human Revolution, but faster, angrier, much more amenable to vertical exploration, and with more cohesion between styles. Jensen is still an ultra-customisable hybrid of tank, ninja, keyboard whiz and private detective, capable of reaching an objective or resolving an encounter loudly, quietly, violently or peacefully, but he’s now able to flow around cover, scuttle between hidey-holes on auto-pilot by aiming and tapping a button, and tweak his capabilities (e.g. by modifiying weapons) without breaking off to a menu screen.

Environments once again afford a number of routes, geared towards certain combinations of augmentations and tactics – you might punch through a wall to avoid a patrol, providing you’ve installed the rebreather that lets you pass through the gas trap on the other side. But there’s more emphasis on acrobatic traversal and getting the drop on people, thanks to a new aerial dash augmentation and a last known position indicator that makes flanking small pockets of AI a cakewalk. Taking down everybody non-lethally needn’t be the placid exercise it was in Human Revolution, providing you’ve equipped a set of electric knuckle darts. And should you find yourself in the firing line, there’s now an aug that coats Jensen’s torso in bulletproof chrome.

How exactly you deploy Jensen’s skillset has ramifications for the story – a stealthy player might reach a secondary objective that has a bearing on a subsequent mission, while a Jensen who inclines towards heavy ordnance barges straight through. This generally rewarding campaign dynamic had its downsides in Human Revolution, as you were obliged to turn your nose up at large swathes of the arsenal if you wanted to explore particular outcomes. Mankind Divided has a solid if uninspired answer to that, though, in the shape of the new Breach Mode.

Dressed up in a familiar crystalline holodeck aesthetic, it’s essentially the Deus Ex take on Call of Duty’s Spec Ops mode – a series of one-off, combat-puzzle scenarios where you’re free to try out the game’s spread of augs and weapons without tripping over the storyline. The overall goal? Hack into the Palisade Bank, a fat warren of corporate secrets, roam its circuitry in first-person, disable or avoid “security programmes” (read: guards and turrets), and exfiltrate with some juicy data. What does juicy data get you? Credits to spend on weapons, gizmos and upgrades. What else does juicy data get you? A leaderboard placing and hopefully, the envy of your friends.

It’s a familiar way of expanding a game’s premise, bolted together as much for the sake of creating another vector for post-release updates, microtransactions (which include cards you can buy to modify each level’s challenges) and DLC packs as anything else. But it’s a sensible step towards making Deus Ex, the most storied of IPs, more of a sociable, pick-up-and-play game – the kind of thing you dip into on your lunchbreak because your level score has just been quashed by some gloating colleague on Twitter.

At the same time, in stripping away the fiction Breach Mode also makes plain that Mankind Divided isn’t doing anything particularly out of the ordinary – every one of its tricks and tactics has an echo in Dishonored, the Splinter Cell series and Eidos Montreal’s own Thief, to name a few peers or rivals. Jonathan Jacques-Belletête concedes of some enhancements that the aim is more to create momentum within Human Revolution’s existing skillset than shoot for the horizon. “The verticality thing is something we’ve worked on, but it’s not what our marketing is based on – nowhere does it say ‘come play this game because we’re the best ones at making you climb a ladder, jump from one balcony to another’. What we’re saying is that within the metrics of what a Deus Ex experience is, we’ve added this extra layer.”

He does, nonetheless, envisage plenty of room for more drastic experimentation within the much-vaunted Deus Ex Universe – an umbrella brand that extends from comicbooks and novel adaptations to the just-announced Deus Ex Go, another touchscreen puzzle-board offering from Square Enix Montreal to go along with the Hitman and Lara Croft variants. It’s unlikely that Eidos Montreal will hand off the main series to another studio, but the door appears to be wide open to spin-offs, providing they fit the overarching narrative.

“I think you could do pretty much any type of game with it. If you have a proper world, a proper lore [basis] that you’ve worked on, you know how its gears function, I think you could do anything. You could make a Deus Ex racing game! Honestly, once you start brainstorming you could have some XCOM-styled turn-based strategy, you could have a great partly open world side-scrolling game like Shadow Complex. I don’t think there’s any limit, really. I would have a blast transferring this property to any type of gameplay. The lore is there, the world is there, the aesthetic is there. It’s all about how you make it fit the mold. I’d start that tomorrow, if I could.”

Starting sooner rather than later may be advisable. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided looks to tick every box its predecessor did, and the streamlining of the relationship between infiltration, exploration and battle is nicely judged thus far, but it’s rather telling that the thing I recall most vividly from my hour or two with the game is that thoughtful spell in the shower. Deus Ex offers up a lavish fiction – the art direction, as ever, brilliantly expresses social tensions in how it melds or bashes together a range of period influences. But it has yet to really capture my attention and rock my preconceptions, whether in terms of how I sneak and shoot, or as regards the overlap between its fraught, messy world and ours.

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80 Comments

  1. SlimShanks says:

    So many images of stuff flying out of Adam’s hand. It’s like me when I’m drunk and trying to carry anything.
    I’m so ready for more Deus Ex. What an awful time to be broke.

  2. Cooper says:

    Deus Ex games have never been particularly strong on story.

    They’ve had lots of story, sure; the first game was an wonderfully absurd grab bag of conspiracy tropes, but they’ve never been particularly adept at actually exploring the political and cultural implications of the worlds they build.

    The political impetus of dystopian fiction is not about future fantasy but about rendering contemporary power legible as dystopian. That’s the one thing the Deus Ex games have got going for themn; they have consistently examined the coercive potential of corporations and the alliance of global governance in neoliberal causes.

  3. onodera says:

    I could’ve sworn that was John Walker’s post…

    • Don Reba says:

      It touches on some of the same themes, but I find John’s writing more engaging (if disagreeable).

  4. Distec says:

    The transhumanism aspect was beaten to death in HR and still managed to say nothing of any interest. Doubling down on it further seems like a waste.

    But at least there’s an affecting, introspective shower scene. Woo. /s

    • wcq says:

      It was kind of silly when practically nobody in the world ever had anything to say except for AUGS AUGS AUGS HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT AUGS?!?

  5. kael13 says:

    Can’t deny that I would hope the narrative covers a few more points than Human Revolution + Apartheid and segregation of peoples.

    But this article. God that was a chore to read. Drier than Germaine Greer in the Atacama Desert.

    • Buggery says:

      This article reads like literary analysis of a movie trailer. I’m not saying these are bad ideas, but the writer would do well to slow down a moment and ask: am I extrapolating too much from too little?

      The following sentence reads like a parody: “That mix of potency and weakness to coercion channels the old bourgeoisie dread of a susceptible, overwhelming proletariat.” I understand that they are, again, attempting to engage with the text, but they’re giving the writers of the game too much leeway without enough criticism. What about the idea of people fighting against robo-people allows you to draw comparisons to gender identity and class politics? How well have they realised that similarity? How closely do their appropriations of actual racial apartheid language mirror the reality of apartheid and is it appropriate given the commercial aspects of the plot?

      I’m all for games trying to be more serious but this article is not fantastic. Treating games as art only really works when the games themselves try to be more serious, not because people force themselves to respond to them as artistic pieces. Further, writing in this type of respect with regards to a demo is a little like someone trying to draw critical analysis of a painting based on the linework, or some rehearsals of two or three scenes of a play.

      It’s also unbearably written for a game preview. Clear explanations of game functions are better than overly wordy ramblings.

      • Sui42 says:

        I liked the article. And it *should* treat the game as art; because the game *is* art.

        I’m so fucking sick of previews that blather on about whether the gunplay “feels” good. You know what? I’m genuinely interested about whether the new Deus Ex touches on issues of gender, because I feel that is one of the most important issues of our age (a defining aspect of our contemporary capitalist hellworld is that the patriarchy is still very much in power).

        So, for me, it’s very interesting and informative to find that the game isn’t really exploring those themes. Furthermore, this is not speculation based on ‘rough linework’, as he actually got a direct quote from the designer saying they’re not exploring gender.

        So yeah. I think this article is good. Whatevs.

        • horsemedic says:

          Most games reviews blather on about gameplay for the same reason most movie reviews blather on about plot and architecture reviews blather on about form: It’s the defining element of the medium. If you want deep thought on transgender issues, there’s plenty of journalism, books, movies and TV that explore the subject without needing to keep the audience’s thumbs engaged at all times.

          You’re free, of course, to judge anything by any standard, but you’re setting yourself up frustration if you demand explorations of complicated social issues in CGI cutscenes between the gunplay in video games.

          • Sui42 says:

            I get what you’re saying, except, for me, whether the game touches on issues of gender *IS* part of the gameplay. I play Dues Ex because I want to immerse myself in a fantasy world which I can interact with. The fiction and the story is the whole point, for me.

            But yes, the game is very large, and has many gameplay elements other than its world & narrative themes. Except, we mostly know what these are going to be like – because they will be very similar to those found in Human revolution.

            Considering the vast amount of gaming publications which will discuss nothing but the shooting and stealth, I’m glad that RPS is a site which is willing to interrogate the artistic message of a game. And really, of all the AAA games, Deus Ex is one of the most narratively ambitious – so in this case I really feel the article was justified.

            I also just don’t see the point in complaining about articles over the internet. This article was put up for free. It says some interesting things. GOD DAMN THE INTERNET PEOPLE FOR SAYING THE WRONG THINGS

        • Josh W says:

          I’m also interested in that stuff, but I don’t think this article is well written, stuff like talking about the “much vaunted deus ex universe” and the people involved’s interest in making Deus Ex racing games, after talking about corporate power and ownership of IP, without a hint of irony.

          I mean, their content deals in more fundamental encroachments of DRM-like systems into people’s experiences, into their bodies etc. but there’s an obvious paradox building between a game that historically emphasises pushing freedom to construct your own experience, being transformed into a store of marketing capital for spin off games. It seems to only be working on one level of engagement with a superficial profundity that for the most part follows the lead of the game developers without really taking it any further.

          To be specific about style, use of passive voice to make insights seem more universal, low degrees of connectivity between interview questions and musing, and inter-connectivity between the content of that musing. “And isn’t that the real truth?”

          I’m not the king of easily written or clearly structured ideas myself, but I noticed a gap anyway. It’s not particularly informative as an interview either suggesting making the most of a very short interview period, but that doesn’t bother me, as that never stopped this classic piece.

          • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

            “I mean, their content deals in more fundamental encroachments of DRM-like systems into people’s experiences, into their bodies etc. but there’s an obvious paradox building between a game that historically emphasises pushing freedom to construct your own experience, being transformed into a store of marketing capital for spin off games.”

            Hey up – great observation, and a good point too about my neglecting to examine the irony of mounting a critique from within the system you’re critiquing. Annoyingly, I did have a couple of paras on this – specifically, the mild lunacy of breezily partnering with a prosthetics company to create a Deus Ex-branded bionic arm – but ended up chopping them. Bah.

  6. Jediben says:

    Who the hell is going to be spending their lunchbreak anywhere near their gaming pc really? Honestly you ‘freelancers’ seem to think everyone is lying in bed until 11am, waddling about in their jammies until Cash in the Attic and then tapping out a few hundred words of transgender friendly prose. Lunch time gaming is just another way of saying ‘casual’, and I expect micro transactions won’t be far behind. BAH!

  7. Chirez says:

    It’s actually possible to finish Human Revolution with almost every aug installed. I have a screenshot with only three missing and two partial, and I suspect I didn’t explore everywhere. More variety would be good, it would help the choices matter.

    • Premium User Badge

      RealWeaponX says:

      It is in fact possible to finish Deus Ex: HR maxed out.

  8. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Deus Ex made some good points about power and control. HR was about augmentation and transhumanism but while there is a hinted struggle of Jensen turning into a machine such as the broken mirror or people cursing you in the streets – the empowerment, the augmented slayfest makes more of an impression on the player compared to Jensen’s silent torment.
    Now MD will be about like norms hating on augs and discriminating them… Well I find the premise unrealistic.
    Reality: only rich and sheltered people would have augs, possibly special military units, corporate Johnsons. What is sometimes called “elite” but the better name is “the 1%”. They would have the means to do what they want with the norms.
    And Jensen would fight against the other augs for the oppressed masses or something like that, makes more sense in my book.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I would argue, the work of art speaks more about the individual than the chosen subject.

      Which is a worry if the game is about the 1% feeling oppressed and needing to fight back. :O

      But it can be true. We should not stereotype in either direction. So thanks for your comment. :) It’s turned the game from “boring and stupidly backwards idea of poor people being robots and persecuted” to “wait a second, the elite could accidentally make themselves poor (by addiction/reliance on expensive augs) and become persecuted”. Interesting.

    • Coming Second says:

      This “Only the rich would be able to afford augs” criticism comes up a lot and I’m not sure why, because HR was at pains to explain itself. The big corporations offered free augmentation to employees as incentive to work for them. Over time many jobs (such as those needed to construct Panchaea) outright required you to be augmented. Not only did this breed resentment between augs and non-augs, the augmented became heavily dependent on the big corporations themselves, since they needed neuropyzine to function.

    • Wulf says:

      I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to comment here once more.

      “[…] makes more sense in my book.”

      And yet, not in mine.

      I actually appreciated Deus Ex. Sure, there is a dystopian theme but that’s mostly to draw in the buyers who look at things only on the surface. The underlying theme, I always thought, was hope. It was always a better world than the one we actually live in.

      I find that, present day, where if you care about something or a concept you’re labelled an ‘autistic Tumblrina’ or you ‘want to talk to the monsters,’ is actually more dystopian than Deus Ex has ever been. The thing is? I’m autistic, I know that. I’ve always known that. And as I’ve been maturing over time I’ve come to understand the debilitating ableist sentiment that’s been levelled at me. I’m an abomination of abnormality.

      I’m educated on the topic of psychology, I remember in the past I was made fun of here because I brought up how easily people were swayed from one thing to another without really thinking with tools like social engineering. I was, as I ever was, soundly mocked by people who needed to play catch up. These days, social engineering is commonly understood, there’s even a Wikipedia article on it.

      The fact of the matter is? Humans aren’t often very nice creatures. In the average neurotypical — and I think this is incredibly fair to say after my life — that large amounts of processing is devoted to bigotry and prejudice because they’re hard-wired. Many studies have actually suggested this as well; Where an accepted gay person will then turn around and mock and make a joke out of transsexual people. It happens all the time.

      The only place I’ve been able to escape prejudice and bigotry is in hidden away little covens of autism where, I can tell you, there’s a lot of head shaking at just how much people hate others for being different. I remember, years ago, when I was younger I expressed on this very site a desire to be a badass diplomat rather than a genocidal maniac for once, that that might be cool.

      I was, as always, mocked. I mean, talking to virtual people who look disfigured, ugly, and have different skin? Oh, trying to find a common ground with those big, fat ogres instead of just driving a sword through them? Ha ha, what an autistic retard I am. And yeah, I am. I actually take that with pride, now. I’ve found my pride in that. In not being a terrible person. I’m actually proud of that.

      I glow every time I see someone write up something that makes them look like they fear and hate any unfamiliar potential factor, because I’m not like that. I’ve never been. I’m also painfully aware poost #GamerGate that there are far, far too many sheltered white, straight guys who’ll readily identify as gamers that just have no clue at all of what the world is like beyond their own little slice of entitlement, which is great for them.

      And honestly, when dealing with how I feel about neurotypicals and autistic prejudices, I’ve had to face no small amount of suicidal depression. I find that in gaming, there’s just a certain culture of bigotry that’s almlost awe-inspiring. It’s certainly ubiquitous. I recall when autism hatred came up in Dreamfall Chapters, not a sole person thought to point out that the problem was never that the game had an autistic slur, but rather that no one in the game really spoke out and shamed them for it.

      There was no advocacy or empowerment for people who’d experienced discrimination. Instead, it created an incredibly comforting environment for bigoted people with minds too prone to this kind of thing, it made it right for them, it made this terrible thing just. It didn’t shame them or make them feel guilty, it didn’t even say a few words about how people get hurt by this stuff. And Ragnar never got this, either.

      Heh. Here I am writing another ‘essay’ that people will have trouble parsing. Alec Meer will be so pissed. “That autistic twat, posting essays on my site again.”

      Anyway, the point of all this is is that I actually enjoyed that there’s actually a greater sense of humanity and hope in the Deus Ex Universe than I actually feel in our own. It feels more human to me than most neurotypical people do, in that there are these people who understand what prejudice is like, what suffering is like, what a life of hurt and pain is like and want to help people. Sarif wanted to help.

      And sure, that’s unrealistic. Studies are pointing out all the time that neurotypical people are motivated by greed and guilt, that the only reason a neurotypical person does anything good is because they want to pay off a guilt debt, or because they want to feel like they’re better than the people they’re ‘helping.’ This isn’t a very nice world we’re living in right now. Even the EU referendum is more a poll about whether it’s okay to be racist or not than anything, ANYTHING else. That’s what it’s about.

      Britain: is it okay to be a nation of isolationist, xenophobic, cut off crazies? Vote now!

      So, yeah. A man like Sarif actually got into a position of power and used that to actually help people. Not even out of greed or guilt, but ethics and empathy. He understood that people were suffering and damn it he really wanted to do something about it, he wanted to try and improve the world by making it better for those who can’t afford these things. Yes, in our world, he would be a completely unrealistic and impossible caricature because, I know, human nature isn’t like that.

      But isn’t it nice to have the fantasy? That there may actually be a better world out there? That there may be a world where humanity may one day actually set aside bigotry and prejudice? For me, that’s the ‘transhumanism’ of Deus Ex, it’s more ephemeral, it’s difficult to grasp and see unless you’ve actually been affected by this stuff. And it’s very much the opposite of Rocket Raccoon stealing a person’s artificial leg only to be met by an entire audience of uncontainable laughter.

      It’s hopeful. It’s unrealistically hopeful but I actually miss that. I feel that the further we go on, the more the worst of us want to actually embrace how awful we can be as a species. Yeah, like every ‘autistic Tumblrina,’ I’m fixated on ethics and empathy because they matter to me. And quite frankly, if I could hop through a wormhole into a fictional Universe to go hang out with the Liir instead, I’d do that. There’s just too much pain and suffering, here.

      And really? You’re embodying that in your post. It’s got a name. It’s called ‘othering,’ you’re actually demonising people for being unlike you and you want to bring the fight to them to restore human purity. It’s the same kind of philosophy that every kind of supremacist has had since the dawn of time. It’s like Boris Johnson proclaiming that black people shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they have ‘smaller brains and lower IQs.’

      The entire point of my post is that I don’t think that people realise how much of an escapist fantasy Deus Ex is. It’s an escape into what’s, frankly, a better world. It’s a world that has a sense of hope to it, and not a CITV Saturday morning cartoon vibe to it, either. It’s something more realistic that anyone who’s been in my position yearns for. At the end of every Deus Ex, I always chose the transhumanist option because why don’t people deserve to be happy if they’re different? I feel the world I’m in right now could never understand that sentiment, outside of a few, rare cases.

      And this post is just… It’s perfect. Take the fight to people unlike us, yeah! Fight the power of the unfamiliar! Shall we make the one per cent black, autistic, transsexual, female, and overwieght too?

      I can hear Alec raging from here, though, so… time to go.

      • MajorManiac says:

        Hi Wulf,

        Thanks for posting. I (and I assume) many others have missed your comments. I haven’t always agreed with everything you have said in the past, but I have a lot of respect for your opinions.

        Seriously good to hear from you, and your post was very thought provoking.

      • Nortalud says:

        We all interpret things through the lens of our own existence, but I’m nonetheless struck by the vastness of the gulf between your apparent interpretation of this comment and mine. I read this as a *rejection* of the “normies vs. weirdos” interpretation of DX’s universe and a reframing of it in terms of social and economic justice. In other words, it seemed to be arguing that perhaps those with augs are detestable not because they are less human than the biologically “pure”, but because they have obtained even greater power and privilege in comparison to the bulk of humanity. In other other words, more or less the opposite of what it seems like you’re sayin g.

        Or was your point just that the human tendency to shun and revile the “other” would be a more plausible/compelling/truthful/whatever narrative theme than one which is more socioeconomically-focused?

      • Veeskers says:

        Wulf, I remember a bit of your earlier posting, and I agree with most of what you wrote there, sharing quite a lot of those experiences… but you still seem hung up on that “monsters” quote and that really is just an old meme from the 90’s that people keep repeating. It was originally stated in a review for the first Doom game in Edge magazine, where the reviewer probably felt that this thing being hailed as the “best game ever” should be more than a shooting gallery. It’s generally just used as a self-deprecating joke about wanting games to be more thoughtful than they are, or about “pretentious” games journalism. I don’t know the context of your experiences on this site, but when that quote gets repeated, that’s really all there is to it.

      • Sui42 says:

        Really good post, Wulf. I found it very interesting.

        I also generally agree that people are motivated by negative emotions and feelings. Your talk about guilt debt etc. reminds me of what Derrida said on the act of giving gifts (basically: that giving someone a gift is actually a selfish act, because you’re craving a positive response. It’s discussed on this summary: scroll down to the section titled ‘The Gift’: link to iep.utm.edu )

        Which is not to say that humans are inherently evil, or anything. I just think we’ve constructed a society which positively reinforces selfishness, and undervalues true kindness.

        So, I can see what you mean about Deus Ex being somewhat more positive / hopeful. In many ways, the people working at Sarif are probably more well-intentioned than the people working at Apple, I’m sure. Personally I see the game world as perched precariously on a knife-edge (much like our own); there is the potential for greatness, but only if we harness our potential. Otherwise we will surely fail.

        ALSO: regarding the original argument about only the 1% being able to afford augs… I don’t necessarily agree. All technology starts as the property of the privileged, but gradually gets cheaper and more affordable, until anyone who lives in a first world country can afford it. Case in point: the automobile. When Henry Ford first proposed that he could give every family in America a car, people thought he was crazy (and, seeing as we’re now facing a global warming crisis, perhaps he was). But now it’s possible for anyone to own a piece of heavy, complex machinery that can grant you travel to practically anywhere connected by a road. THAT shit is totally sci-fi.

        Obviously, augmentations are much more complex machines, and so would probably still be really expensive. But, in the corperate hellworld of Deus Ex, I’m sure you can just sign up for a long-term loan or something.

        • Tirade says:

          “Studies are pointing out all the time that neurotypical people are motivated by greed and guilt, that the only reason a neurotypical person does anything good is because they want to pay off a guilt debt, or because they want to feel like they’re better than the people they’re ‘helping.’”

          It sounds a lot to me like you are using your altruism as a way to feel superior to “neurotypicals”. I’d think you’d want to be more wary of using labels and broad generalizations when you are complaining about bigotry.

      • CrookedLittleVein says:

        Hey Wulf, missed your comments. May not agree with every point, but they’re considered and add much to the discussion.

      • Premium User Badge

        Grizzly says:

        *hugs*

      • John Walker says:

        “Alec Meer will be so pissed. “That autistic twat, posting essays on my site again.””

        Wulf, this is really not okay at all. No one at RPS has ever said any such terrible thing of you, and suggesting that we would is wildly inappropriate.

        • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

          The irony in this comment is so palpable I just gipped.

          • lglethal says:

            I don’t see any irony here. None at all.

            There is a big difference between using hyperbole “The folks at RPS will be annoyed at me writing essays on their site again” versus making an accusation about someone else making a derogatory and discriminatory statement “Alec Meer will be so pissed. “That autistic twat, posting essays on my site again””.

            From Wulf’s comment, it sounds like he has faced derogatory comments from Alec before, which Graham’s comment at least makes clear isn’t actually the case. It would be very easy for people to misread that and this could lead to Alec facing abuse for “making” derogatory comments which he never actually made.

            So good work Graham, calling Wulf out. And Wulf don’t undermine your arguments in the future, by making such vindictive statements – it’s just not on…

      • horsemedic says:

        Oh, trying to find a common ground with those big, fat ogres instead of just driving a sword through them? Ha ha, what an autistic retard I am. And yeah, I am. I actually take that with pride, now. I’ve found my pride in that. In not being a terrible person. I’m actually proud of that.

        You know your own life best, but are you sure that other people are shunning you solely because you’re autistic? Based only on your post above, you sound judgmental and condescending, too.

      • Jediben says:

        I don’t have time to read all that: it certainly looks pro-everything in the few words I have glanced out. Anyone got a tl;dr version?

        • Jediben says:

          Never mind I took a shit and had time to read on the bog.
          Idolising a fictional game character is something that makes no sense and really speaks of an immaturity that maybe contribuTed to by autism. If I came on here suggesting that living with Sponge bob in a pineapple under the sea is far better than real life… well there wouldn’t be much hope left for my credivinity around here.

          • Jediben says:

            Yes, credivinity: the commonly held belief that I am a supreme being.

          • Josh W says:

            I’m assuming this comment was also brought to us by the toilet?

      • luckysabi says:

        Thank you, for the time you invested for sharing your thoughts. (Even if it sometimes feels like there are rarely people appreciating or understanding the words we speak.)

  9. kud13 says:

    My initial impression from seeing the 18 min footage: “Gods, EM, please tell me I can turn off the minimap!”

    I’m hopeful, since EM’s THI4F had options to toggle each IU element on/off. That red rectangle in the corner of my screen was very irritating.

    Beyond that: HR’s story was mediocre. We weren’t shown any new bits that would make me think that “investigating” aspect of MD is deeper than HR (which is what they hinted at, with “network of contacts” that made me reminisce of Alpha-Protocol).

    In terms of their themes, EM aren’t exactly subtle. Every single conversation in HR was about augs in some way. I missed the original DX, which had Aussie bartenders dispensing Kierkegaard, but also had slice-of-life Chinese family visiting their parents’ restaurant and not complaining about the rats, because, well, it’s family. A little balance is nice.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Oh they made Thi4f? Hopefully they figured out the trick how to localize sound effects in a 3D environment because in that game all sounds seemed to originate inside Garrett’s head.

  10. Turkey says:

    I’m just glad we as human beings sat aside all out current-day differences, so we could focus of hating scary robo-people with gun for arms. Doesn’t seem like a bad future, really.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Like others, I find it hard to get my head around the idea of the augmented as underclass. Surely the rich and powerful — those with the most influence — would also realistically be the only people who could afford this stuff. God knows the healthcare here in the U.S. would never, ever cover getting a new robo-limb. I mean, I can see powerful people manipulating a moral panic for political gain, but that seems more likely in opposition to a more normalised, progressive liberal take.

    The revolution idea worked in X-Men because there weren’t any economics involved in the acquisition of super-abilities (and genetic discrimination is rooted reality), but likening the struggles of those with very expensive techno-enhancements to the genuinely underprivileged feels all too dissonant for me. I would have been much more interested to see how the moral struggle of transhumanism permeates communities at different levels of society, and what that means for the individuals involved. Perhaps this is too nuanced for a AAA stealth-action pseudo-RPG.

    Maybe I’m wrong, and the game has better answers to these questions and more nuance than is apparent in previews! Admittedly, I’m looking forward to playing it regardless.

    (An aside: The specifics of this societal conflict between “augs” and the fearful or bigoted make the whole thing seem like a techno version of Dragon Age’s politics, where mages are feared not only because they are capable of more than the average human (or Elf), but also because they are susceptible to demonic possession. Hacked, if you will.)

    • Horg says:

      A lot of the general population augmentation in DX:HR was corporate sponsored. There are a lot of data pad entries and overheard conversations that allude to mandatory augmentation as a requirement to advance in the corporate hierarchy. I think there was also something in the early stages of the game that implied simple mechanical augmentation had become relatively inexpensive, so it spread across society as both a functional and cosmetic change.

      • Premium User Badge

        Thulsa Hex says:

        I need to play through HR again, as it’s been a few years and I don’t remember much of the lore padding. This foreshadowing you mention definitely helps relieve some of my concerns, but the idea that “Mankind” is “Divided” still doesn’t seem as interesting to me as a narrative that’s set in a world of uneasy integration. The revolution thing has been done many times in the past, so I hope they at least have an interesting take on it!

        Despite these concerns, I am keeping an open mind. I just really want it to be good!

    • santouryuu says:

      i think you are confusing something.Sure,at this point time in the deus ex world,the rich and powerful would have a lot of control and will probably be the only ones with the most high-tech augs and most trained personnel.But they don’t have all the control.Mechanical augmentations had been becoming increasingly available,a lot of people would require augmentations to recover from their disabilities,as Horg points out above that the corporate culture rewards and sometimes necessitates augmentation,and in HR we personally see that Sarif industries have found a way to entirely remove aug rejection,making its maintenance more convenient.Sure,they may not be the most cutting edge technology and i doubt that many people would have military grade augmentation,but still it is quite widespread.It is made clear to us in HR.
      the whole reason The Powers That Be instigate this paranoia and fear mongering is to take all control of Augs for themselves,ensuring only they have the power of augmentations,and thus be able to live like kings

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        “It is made clear to us in HR.
        the whole reason The Powers That Be instigate this paranoia and fear mongering is to take all control of Augs for themselves,ensuring only they have the power of augmentations,and thus be able to live like kings”

        Since you replied to Thulsa Hex’s comment I want to assume you actually read it, but you’re saying exactly the same thing here.

        • santouryuu says:

          no,we are saying different things.his original comment is saying that augmentations would be affordable only to affluent and rich,whereas i am saying this was not the case in HR.yeah,they have an advantage but they don’t have total control.also,not all augmentations are equal.there’s going to be difference in the level of technology,also military grade augmentations would be difficult to obtain

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Ghost in the Shell fixed this problem by making 3 classes of people. The upper class who purchased augs (or entire bodies), the underclass who were workers given (basically you ARE the JCB/Truck the company owns) and those who chose to keep away from augs.

      It game a REALLY good examination of peoples choices, feeling and the results (though arguably with the action and explosions of a silly teenagers imagination, which is fine, but would be nice for the story without it too).

      The upper class? They had all the problems everyone else had, just more extreme and with robots now.

      The poor workers? They had all the problems as before, just with more costs in upkeep of their body, more rights lost due to the corporations owning their arms/legs, and less pay…

      Those who chose to stay out of it? At risk from attack. At risk from loosing their jobs. But keeping their humanity, but forever wondering about those who did not.

      They looked at the questions in a clever way, answered some of them, gave consistent characters, but let the audience figure it out how the audience should feel about it. It’s how a good story should be done. :)

      • TechnicalBen says:

        “It gave a really good example”. No edit button, and it’s late. :P

  12. Emeraude says:

    After seeing the HR Making Of earlier this year, I must say that, after thinking for the longest time that game was a failure that still showed potential, any hope I had about Eidos Montreal died.

    To the point that I had totally forgotten this one is coming right next corner.

    And none of this really alleviate the misgivings.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Yazu13 says:

    I feel like the potential of this material and setting won’t be fully realized until Cyberpunk 2077. These Deus Ex games never have taken their stories to a level of quality that I’ve been dying to see in games ever since I watched Ghost in the Shell way back when. In the adept storytelling hands of CD Projekt RED, I feel like Cyberpunk will be the first truly great game to do justice to a world where flesh and metal, mind and network are becoming more ambiguous by the day, and people are afraid of what that could implicate. If you could take The Witcher 3’s framework and make it about augmentation, it would make for some glorious storytelling.

  14. Ancient Evil says:

    “Socially engaged storytelling” is the cutest euphemism for what usually amounts to, “Behold, these giant fists of ham with which I shall pummel into you my worldview!”.

    Before someone jumps to conclusions, no, I’m not some GG asshole resentful of any storyline that doesn’t revolve exclusively around some generic straight white guy. It’s just that most games’ (hell, most fiction’s, really) attempts to “say something” or be “profound” or “topical”, usually comes across as painfully trite and forced, and do their cause no favors beyond the crowd of people who will politely clap out of obligation because they already agree.

    In general, and there are always exceptions, I feel that if you have something of a sociopolitical bent to say, you should just say it, because your fictional takes are usually nowhere near as clever or subtle as you think they are. But coming up with something worthwhile and interesting to say on “serious” issues is hard, so it’s much easier to just shoehorn in puddle-deep takes on the issue of the moment into your fiction in much the same manner as any other throwaway pop culture reference.

    In other news, I’m really looking forward to Mankind Divided. But in all honesty, I’d rather the social themes remain consciously lightweight than for it to reach for something bolder and fall flat on its face. “Know your limitations” and all that.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I think you are right there. Society comments on society. Individuals or works of art can capture it, but cannot really express it as a dynamic thing.

      Either the game is socially open, with all (as in multiple results) the possible results of a social interaction, in which case it cannot push a particular view, as it’s too flexible.

      Or it has a single view, and then looses the dynamic, interactive feel to it. You’re forced into the result, and it does not feel “fair”.

    • Geebs says:

      Yup, I don’t really think that any number of shots of Jensen’s cybernetically-enhanced taint are really going to say anything of importance about gender politics.

      Historically, written cyberpunk has a pretty diverse range of characters but I get the impression it’s mostly done to emphasise the struggle of freedom of expression against the faceless corporate overlords rather than with the aim of social justice, although I do approve of the laissez-faire attitude.

      Deus Ex’s transhumanism was a pretty shameless retread of Neuromancer. Human Revolution, while successful as a stealth game with some stylish visuals, completely wasted the promise of the arguments it set up in the first act. I tend to agree that trying to tackle intensely personal social themes is well outside of the team’s remit or skill.

    • Solomon says:

      I think you’ve got it there. It’s a lot more fun when the situations, themes, and questions they overtly or covertly form aren’t rhetorical. Let the audience experience something new and unexpected, but don’t tell them how to feel or think about it.

      Isn’t that what made Dark Souls so interesting?

  15. aircool says:

    Look at the size of those fucking pills in the first picture. They’re huge… how the fuck are you supposed to swallow them?

    • lglethal says:

      Who said anything about swallowing them? There are other ways to ingest pills… ;)

  16. Spacewalk says:

    I just hope that they make a true Deus Ex game this time.

  17. Mr_Blastman says:

    Psychological problems such as infatuation with gender change have no place in videogames. If this game includes it, I will happily avoid the game entirely.

    • klops says:

      “Pychological problems – have no place in videogames.”
      What the fuck? Why?

      • zero signal says:

        blastman blast man, not think man

      • dethtoll says:

        Just ignore him. He’s the guy who argued that racist jokes were okay and that Shadow Warrior 2013 shied away from ethnic stereotyping (which he characterized as “pulling punches and not saying things they should”) was censorship. His doltitude knows no bounds.

  18. Cocoarico says:

    I was worried, not about the game but the comments on RPS. I used to enjoy reading the great articles and then delving deep in the comments. This was a great article that brought about a deluge of hyper critical and thoughtful discourse.
    Kudos to everyone involved, and a special shoutout to Wulf. You clearly put heart into your post and it was an enjoyable read.
    Cheers!

  19. Monggerel says:

    Juice Sex: Comments Divided!

    Hur hur
    I do crack myself up

  20. dorobo says:

    TLDR but from that video it seems it’s just more of the same as expected.

  21. damoqles says:

    “but it’s rather telling that the thing I recall most vividly from my hour or two with the game is that thoughtful spell in the shower.”
    It really is telling that the main thing you walked away with from the presentation is identity politics musings.

    • Solomon says:

      Identity Politics as it pertains to Deus Ex is the theme of the whole series.

  22. Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

    Hey all. Thanks for the comments, some good thoughts and criticisms here. I’m sorry if the piece is dry or ponderous – there wasn’t a whole lot of material at the event that Adam hasn’t explored in previous articles, so I thought I’d try for more of a thematic analysis. Finding the balance between theory and punchiness is always a bit of a struggle.

    Regarding the line about having to avoid parts of the HR arsenal in order to experience certain story threads – I’m aware that you can unlock most of the augs however you choose to play. The point I was making is that you have to approach scenarios in creatively restricted ways (i.e. stealth or combat-driven) if you want to see certain sides of the story. It’s a worthwhile limitation that Breach Mode sets out to address, by letting you fool around in challenge rooms without any story consequences to worry about.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thulsa Hex says:

      Hey, I just want to say that at the very least I found the theme of the article to be valuable as it has caused me to realise that I’ve never considered “transhumanism” in the context of sex or gender before. It seems obvious to me now — of course this sort of extreme body modification would have implications for the contemporary concept of gender identity. “Trans,” in “transhumanism,” I take to imply “transcendance,” whereas in “transgender” (correct me if I’m wrong) it signifies “transition”. It does seem to me that in transcending the physical makeup of humanity, we would be by definition transcending biological sex — in turn taking the concept of gender identity to new philosophical places.

      I’m not sure if DX:MD was ever going to be the place to explore it, but I’m finding it fascinating to think about nonetheless. As previously mentioned by Yazu13, perhaps CDPR’s proven ability to give the “little person” a place in the world might result in these kinds of themes being taken on in Cyberpunk 2077.

      • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

        Ah cheers mate. I perhaps introduced the idea of a gender narrative clumsily, but I think there’s a lot they could achieve, there.

  23. Frraksurred says:

    Not sure how gender identity is an issue for a character who has never questioned his, but I am getting tired of every hot topic being forced apon every game and movie. Let them tell the story they set out to tell, if that involves whatever we’re debating this week, so be it. If not, keep your damn agenda to yourself.

    • Wulfram says:

      I think there’s a potential thematic place for Adam questioning whether he has been “emasculated” or “unmanned” by his augmentations. Not like “maybe I should try being a woman”, which would be inane with this character, but “am I still a man?”

      Or of course they could use a different character to explore an issue. Though honestly I’d be a bit worried the underlying anti-augmentation tone would mix poorly with any real look at gender issues and end up coming off as intolerant.

      • Premium User Badge

        Thulsa Hex says:

        I think there’s a potential thematic place for Adam questioning whether he has been “emasculated” or “unmanned” by his augmentations. Not like “maybe I should try being a woman”, which would be inane with this character, but “am I still a man?”

        I like this idea a lot.

  24. zeep says:

    The game can’t be as bad as this article. My God..

  25. Solomon says:

    When man will transform himself through technology, he neither ceases to be one thing or another, rather, he becomes something entirely new: a human male cyborg, with or without genitals. History shows that a new caste of haves and have-nots will form. Groups of people will mate with those of similar stature. It’s the next technological and evolutional step towards the singularity. I find it fascinating that in ‘The Book’, one guy proclaimed that in heaven there would be no sexuality and that people would be “like the angels”. Is that what melding technology and mankind is driving us to? Asexuality?