Published Sep 19, 2016The Deus Ex cyberpunk stealth-meets-action series has been digging into the topic of transhumanism since Y2K, but this fifth entry set in the year 2029 is the story's chronological midpoint.
The original Deus Ex was created by Warren Spector and featured the type of wide-open gameplay he brought from his prior career working on tabletop RPGs like GURPS. It also arrived at the tail-end of the X-Files era, introducing a dystopian 2052 filled with cybernetics, nanotechnology and conspiracy theorist-bait like the Illuminati, Area 51 and Majestic 12.
The dormant series was revived a few years ago with the critically acclaimed prequel Human Revolution, which included increasing discord between "natural" people and those with cybernetic implants. The game climaxed with the "Aug Incident," wherein a mad billionaire turned the world's "augmented" humans into crazed killers as part of a scheme to turn everyone else against them.
It worked, resulting in the death of millions and a subsequent state of Naturals-vs.-Augs "mechanical apartheid" that provides the Mankind Divided in-game plot as well as real-world controversy. The latter ramped up just before release after marketing materials showed screenshots of protesters holding "Augs Lives Matter" signs. Real-world events have always provided subtext to sci-fi — think of how the war on terror and Iraq fuelled Battlestar Galactica — but this was a little too on the nose, especially when the studio spokesperson cited any connection to BLM to be an "unfortunate coincidence."
The now-persecuted Aug underclass theoretically acts as an allegory for any oppressed social group, as they have become segregated, second-class citizens, sparking Augmented Rights Coalition street protests over their treatment. But the game's convoluted plot stretches any connection to real-world movements like Black Lives Matter or real-world events like Nazi Germany (the Aug ghetto is the Judaism-alluding Golem City) beyond breaking. After all, the game's Aug Incident did kill 50 million people, even if it wasn't the Augs' fault, and there's the fact that Augs were rich people who chose to have augmentations. The story would have been stronger if the subtext was subtler.
The game itself, however, is almost as strong as the last go 'round. You return as Adam Jensen, an augmented super-spy working for terrorist-hunting Interpol as well as Illuminati-hunting hackers, and you have some new augmentations that were added without your consent between games.
The series' signature open-ended mechanics means you move through missions in near-future city hubs like Dubai and Prague while sticking to your own play style, be it stealth or guns'n'augs a-blazing. Or you can switch between styles like the game switches between first-person gameplay and a third-person cover system, though your choices do have consequences. There's less globe-hopping this time, but there's no lack of things to do, including optional stat-boosting side-quests that break up the largely linear story.
Mankind Divided is an ambitious attempt to incorporate the defining issues of our time, racism and xenophobia, into its world-building, narrative and side-quests. And while the effort should be commended, the politics don't land quite as well as the gameplay. (Eidos Montreal / Square Enix)