What was the best city videogames allowed us to visit in 2016? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is...
Why, it's Deus Ex: Mankind Divided!
Brendan: I agree with Alec’s assessment of Adam Jensen’s character. He is as boring as rain, a human town planning meeting. If you told Jensen he could only have one type of pizza for the rest of his life, and asked him what would it be, he would answer “Margherita” because he has no imagination and he reckons the Pepperoni industry is in cahoots with Dominoes.
But I didn’t play Mankind Divided for its monotone hero. I played it for Prague. Squeenix were so confident with the city they’d created, they felt fine with sending you out into the streets and letting you completely ignore the main opening objectives for hours as you snuck into people’s homes to steal all their floppy disks. Keep this up without following the story’s main path and waypoints, and you will start getting calls from your boss asking why the hell you have not shown up for work. Sorry boss, I was busy thieving all the duracells in a block of flats and crawling down a nearby manhole like a giant robot rat.
The most impressive thing is that Prague isn’t even that big a place when you compare it to its peers. The creators of open world games constantly brag about how many square kilometres their worlds are, making much of the industry feel like an ongoing pissing contest over map size. DX:MD’s trips around Prague (and its subsequent misadventures in the roboslums) are manageable and detailed, filled with alternate routes and shortcuts that only make it feel bigger. The level design is toppest notchest. You can get lost in the bank and knock out every guard trying to find your way out. Although it’s possible you’ll discover an hour or two later that you need to go back to said financial institution to complete a storyline-sanctioned robbery, as if one high-stakes heist that ended in a couple of accidental murders simply wasn’t enough.
John: I have three joint number ones when it comes to my favourite ever game. The three, and I’ll never be able to pick between them, are Day Of The Tentacle, The Longest Journey, and Deus Ex. Each offers something wildly different, don’t make me pick my favourite child. So then came Invisible War, and guess what, it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone angrily said it was at the time. I thought it was great, if hugely short of the original. Human Revolution is announced, different team, years later, and I’m very worried, but apart from some truly stupid boss fights it was fantastic. Not as good as the original, but fantastic. So if you had told me at the beginning of this year that I’d get bored of Mankind Divided in the first few hours, I’d have scoffed at you.
I got bored. I didn’t feel like anything meant anything. I didn’t care about Blankface McNothing I was being asked to play, I didn’t care about the situation he was in, and I didn’t care about any of the tasks I was being given. I found it irritating more than I found it interesting, and I drifted away. Which I know is crazy! Because everyone I trust about these things tells me it has loads to offer, and I really ought to plough on to enjoy them. But for some reason I haven’t.
Adam: I played this out at the studio long before release and absolutely loved it. Preview events are often tightly controlled affairs, with little room for mucking about with a game’s systems, but I managed to get some of the Deus Ex team gathered around a monitor as I knocked out every person in a level and piled them high in a little room. There’s little point in engaging with the plot or the characters when you’re playing a chunk of game without having played all the parts building up to that, so I just wanted to muck about.
Mankind Divided does good mucking about. At least in that one part. I haven’t gone back to it since release, because I’ve been too busy rather than because I’m not interested, but I suspect when I do play it, I’ll want to gather sleeping people and pile them in a room rather than engaging with the politics of it all. On paper, I’m fascinated by post- and trans-humanism, but in a game that lets me stack people in cubicles, it’s not necessarily going to make the impact it otherwise might.
Graham: To me, the immersive sim is defined by the question, "What happens if I…?" As in, what happens if I jump out the window? What happens if I pick up that fire extinguisher and try to use it as a weapon? What happens if I drag this object over there, and use it to block this piece of machinery? What happens if I connect this thing with that thing so that when the guard does this, that happens? It's a genre that simulates enough of the world that you're never sure where the limits of what's possible lie, and at its best you can find solutions that even the developers never predicted.
Under these rules, Mankind Divided is not an immersive sim. It's hard to imagine there's something in the game that its developers didn't plan for. It feels like a game built to an extremely strict design document, and the design document was called Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
I think this is why some others here thought the game boring. It's also why I loved it. I loved Human Revolution, and a better version of same does me just fine. By knowing the boundaries of what they were trying to create, it feels as if Eidos Montreal were able to pour extra detail and finesse into their level design. Sure, it's defined by simple patterns - route A (a door), route B (a vent), and route C (drag a dumpster over, hop on it, get on the roof) - but those doors, vents and dumpsters let you enter places which look incredible. As Brendan says above, you spend the entire game in Prague and the more of it you explore, the more of it you uncover - and it's like a swiss cheese city. There are hidden routes everywhere such that you'll still be finding new ways to traverse the same areas 30 hours in. It's not the best Deus Ex game, because Human Revolution still has the better story and characters, but it's the best architectural creation in any game, period.