Hands-on with a near-finished Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Jensen Is Good: And the Real World Is Faker than Deus Ex

The eviction noticed burned pink on the apartment door. Neighbors stood callously outside on the second floor walk basking in the white foglight of the open-air atrium, whispering at eavesdrop levels about his financials woes. He sat on the couch whimpering, burying his head in his hands as if he were trying to see through them.

I threw a potted plant at his head.

Because I’m Adam Jensen.

Last week I got a chance to go hands-on with an “almost final build” of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ahead of next month’s release. While it was slow-going with my right thumb still recovering from dislocation — oh you better believe Square representatives and Deus Ex devs combined to insist an augmentation would’ve served me well — I managed to ghost through the entire tutorial level because I’m a bad bitch. The introduction takes place in an unfinished building development in Dubai and re-introduces us to, to quote Mankind Divided‘s producer Olivier Proulx, “Adam Jensen, our pretty cool hero.”

Actually, very early in development there were “a few moments of doubt” as to whether or not the team would bring Jensen back — it was noted that this would be the first repeat protagonist in the series — but, “the fans loved Adam so much and it’s not that easy to build a very strong hero.”

Two years after the events of Human Revolution, Jensen now works for Interpol doing counter-terrorism work (the world is fraught following an incident that saw mechanically-augmented humans go haywire). The story opens with a shit-ton of exposition and cutscenes as Jensen and his non-augmented co-workers fly to Dubai to intercept a deal brokered by one of their undercover agents. Naturally only one character on the aircraft talks aside from Jensen and the stoic, blabbing commander: a guy what might have something against the augmented, of course. So Asshole McAsshole gives the requisite sass to hint at the segregation the game hopes to explore while Jensen gruffly ignores it or snarks about it and away we go.

Actually, first, right after pressing New Game your difficulty options are: Give Me Story, Give Me a Challenge (ostensibly “normal”), Give Me Deus Ex, and I Never Asked For This, a nod to the meme spawned by the last entry. Then, surprise, you’re asked to choose a controller layout (rather than the choice be hidden in the menus). I went with the default Mankind Divided scheme, but there’s one that tries to closely replicate Human Revolution, one that feels more like a standard first-person shooter, as well as the control scheme used in the Metal Gear VR Missions-y Breach mode we detailed a few months back.

So I get to the end of the level and suddenly a third-party interrupts the deal, some highly-trained mercs with golden, polygonal masks. They swarm the area just as a sandstorm rolls in, limiting visibility and threatening the life of our narc. Thankfully I am, as mentioned, a bad bitch and snuck by all those Jabbawockeez-looking motherfuckers and took the battery out of the escape helicopter. Then it’s time for a lot more exposition! There’s a virtual-reality meeting of ominous old men, including a politician that looks like Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort, multiple mentions of the Illuminati, and an option to view a 12-minute recap of the last game.

Eventually the game slows down and you get Adam, beat up after the train bombing, in his apartment, taking robo-showers and listening to a radio host that sounds like Alex Jones (I don’t know why all of Jensen’s radios are tuned to his channel, nor why I cannot scan for some motown, or something). The game “take[s] a step back and let[s] the player breath in what’s happening,” Proulx said. It was the most delightful part of my hands-on, reading Jensen’s email and opening all of his wall safes (one can stow items). My favorite aspect of Human Revolution was the exploration and voyeurism. I liked breaking into peoples’ apartments and putting their fridge on their bed. 

This is not weird, apparently!

Aside from the largely-lampooned boss fights, Proulx also admits, “we knew that the combat aspect was not the best aspect of the game” (while the team is also committed to avoiding the “choose-your-own ending” conclusion, as far as feedback goes). Part of this means adding new gadgets and gameplay possibilities to shore up those areas that, in Human Revolution, left me disengaged; part of this means ensuring the world is as vibrant as possible. The goal of Deus Ex is, partially, to create a “living, breathing world,” Proulx explains. Because of “the density of the hubs,” he said, “we don’t have an open-world game, but an open-ended sandbox.”

Proulx compared the new Deus Ex to open-world titles various members of the team play (and love), noting, “we didn’t want to have a crowd system with hundreds of characters. It’s really impressive to look at…but our game is, you see a character, you should be able to talk to them.”

While I was tasked with visiting an underground doctor to manage my busted augs, as soon as I exited Jensen’s apartment I noticed he had a neighbor. I immediately hacked the door (the mini-game is back, apparently expanded though I couldn’t tell, or wasn’t trying difficult enough hacks) and broke in. The tenants were surprisingly chill with it; it was some kind of cult with a snoozing grand leader. It was some thick “environmental story-telling,” with mutterings of a Machine God and “the void that binds” and a mannequin nailed up on the wall with imagery that echoes the heavy-handed Icarus wings that book-end Jensen in his dreams and in much of the promotional materials.

On the way out of the complex I broke into the home of the aforementioned evicted man sobbing on his couch and stole money right in front of him. When he didn’t react I tossed a blunt object at his head and he started cowering in place. I didn’t get any further than Prague and the doctor’s appointment, as is partially outlined in the developer commentary video embedded way up top. This was due to a combination of my injury-slowed pace and a series of something like five fun blackouts at venue, but next on the itinerary would’ve been Golem, a ghetto outside of Prague inhabited mostly by cast-out augs. The team is still sticking with the “mechanical apartheid” term (ignoring the difference between what is likely majority-voluntary mechanical augmentation and race-based segregation) and Golem would’ve really highlighted Mick Foley Divided‘s “darker setting.”

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is going to be involved and meaty. For the time being, I’m happy enough that the super see-through-walls vision is less piss-colored (as is everything else) and hoping that the combat/stealth sections — the parts where enemies are after you — are better than in Human Revolution. I may not have asked for a sequel, but I’m not going to be a mechano-racist about it.

Steven Hansen