Yes, great video games should be more than just graphical eye candy, but in the case of Deus Ex: Divided Mankind, it’s hard to ignore its aesthetic charms. The Dawn engine demo shown at the first annual PC Gaming Show, including a list of flashy effects like depth of field, global lighting, volumetric lighting, sky density, and beautifully rendered cucumbers, was just a tease to what the real game looks like . moving. Humanity divided was by far the most beautiful thing I saw at this year’s E3 – and in a show filled with graphic heavyweights like Dice’s Star Wars: BattlefrontSony Uncharted 4and that of Ubisoft Ghost Recon Wildlandsthat is indeed high praise.
Let’s assume that for now Humanity divided ends up looking like his E3 demo (see the stir caused by SEGA’s Colonial Marines if that doesn’t happen, for example), and take what Eidos Montreal has done for granted. The developer has created a world that is both futuristic and believable, and rendered it with the brilliance and lighting of a movie (and on a PC, of course). In the train station at the beginning of the demo, people went about their daily business, or as best they could under the rule of an oppressive government. Police drones hovered menacingly around the platform, stopping random passers-by for impromptu scans and inspections, while police officers asked for papers and punished those who failed to respond to a swift blow with a baton.
As in Human Revolution, Humanity dividedthe world is based on the scientific progress and technology currently being developed in laboratories around the world. Eidos Montreal has again consulted with renowned bioinformatics and neuroscience researcher Will Rosellini to ensure that the technology in play is as realistic as possible. But this time in the story, those with mechanical and electrical augmentations (“mech-augs”) are no longer the envy of society. Mech-augs are outcasts, humans to be feared for their physical superiority over the rest of the human race. In what Eidos Montreal calls “Mechanical Apartheid,” they are kept at bay and treated harshly by the authorities, who are happy to inflict corporal punishment at the slightest provocation.
Deus Ex as a series of social commentary has never shied away from, and with its “Mechanical Apartheid” theme, it makes perhaps the strongest statement yet about the world and where our technological aspirations may lead us. There is a story that floats Humanity divided, but players always have a choice – whether it’s a moral choice, a strategic choice, or a projection of your own character onto the returning protagonist Adam Jensen through dialogue options. This choice, as Executive Narrative Director Mary DeMarle told me, is the biggest challenge during development.
“When you’re writing a story, you’re trying to create an emotional experience that goes in one direction. Often as a writer, when you’re writing a linear story, you’re really choosing the moments that make that emotional.” But here you have to be willing to realize that the player is making those choices, and what are the different possibilities that can come out of those choices… so a scene in a game you could experience as a two minute conversation, is often made with a 20 page script. If you think that’s a minute per page, that’s how much dialogue there is to just let it flow back and forth. But it’s one of the challenges I like the most, to make sure we keep that emotional intensity no matter what.”
There are, of course, script moments. In the demo’s opening, Jensen and his contact in the station are knocked to the ground by an explosion pinned on the leader of the Augmented Rights Coalition (ARC). Set up a mission to infiltrate ARC’s base of operations and interrogate the leader. ARC, it turns out, is in a dilapidated part of town, part of it Blade Runnerstyle gloss and part Brazilian style favela. What is most impressive is how well this area was realized. You could see the city in the distance, with towering, smoke billowing metal blocks rising from the ground and filling the landscape.
The city itself, a futuristic mass of derelict technology and glowing neon signs, has been a sandbox-like playground for Jensen’s cybernetic abilities and weapons, all of which have been updated. Invisibility and the Electromagnetic Parachute are a welcome return, as are powers like the Fall of Icarus, where Jensen can plummet to the ground from a great height and deal an area of effect damage to surrounding enemies. New abilities include remote hacking, with a small timing-based mini-game, and Icarus dash, which allows Jensen to quickly teleport from one area to another, both horizontally and vertically. Then there’s Jensen’s iconic wrist blades, which now allow you to launch projectiles to stealthily kill enemies, or explode when fired into the environment.
Stealth is still a big part of it Deus Ex, but this time around, combat is a more viable option, especially with the addition of things like the Titan Shield, a temporary armor that transforms around Jensen into a wonderfully gaudy mass of piano-black particles. There are now as many offensive powers and weapons as stealthy ones, and you’re free to use them however you like to complete each mission. You can apparently go through the entire game without killing a single person, and your actions – humanitarian or otherwise – will be recognized by major characters. Moral choices in games tend to be a bit black or white, rather than the shades of gray that are more common in the real world, so it’s nice to see Humanity divided does something other than just presenting players with scripted situations to determine moral outcomes.
Humanity divided is an interesting beast. It’s a game with the high-end visual fidelity associated with the biggest development budgets, and a story more akin to the esoteric and aspirational ones commonly used in smaller games. Those are the same features that I am most impressed with human revolution, and I hope so Humanity divided can do the same trick. And while Adam Jensen’s latest adventure may not come out of narrative necessity, “I insisted that [Jensen’s] story was over, it was done,” Demarle told me, “the marketing department said, ‘No, you’ve created such a fantastic character, you need to bring him back!’” – I’m so glad he’s back.
Read our full review of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.