In 2000, Eidos Interactive and Ion Storm released Deus Ex, a cyberpunk RPG that ended up being one of the best PC games of all time. The first Deus Ex was open, with players having a number of different ways to tackle objectives and craft their own story. Ion Storm tried to follow up that first amazing effort with Deus Ex: Invisible War three years later, but fans felt the game was too dumb-downed and streamlined compared to its predecessor.
More than a decade after the release of the original, Eidos Montreal revisited the universe in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The game acted as a prequel to Deus Ex, showing how the world came to embrace and rely on augmented humanity. There were some missteps, notably in the game's use of boss fights, but Human Revolution was lauded for updating what many fans loved about the original game, providing open-ended choices and objectives. Players could craft their own version of lead character Adam Jensen and tackle the game how they saw fit.
Now it's time to see if Eidos Montreal can prevent itself from making the same mistake Ion Storm did. Can it keep Icarus afloat in this sequel?
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes place two years after the end of Human Revolution, following the the terrible Aug Incident. In that event, someone used augments as a hacking vector, turning augmented humans against their friends and family. The widespread consequences of the event led the world's governments to round up and separate augmented humans from natural ones, placing them in camps and specialized contained cities.
Eidos Montreal calls the entire setup "mechanical apartheid", which is a term is so laden with meaning that this is one of the bigger issues the studio has to tackle. Can it navigate the moral implications of the world it has created? Apartheid in South Africa only ended in 1994 and at no point were native South Africans directly controlled by a shadowy Illuminati organization, forced to harm their loved ones and colleagues. The idea only somewhat lines up.
Even following my demo, Eidos' handling of the concept remains my biggest question mark. What I saw touches upon the idea briefly, with a developer demo showing off a contained city, with Jensen navigating around law enforcement and gangs that have set up shop where the police don't care to go. The free and open augment shops are gone, with Jensen having to subsist on a black market dealer to check his augments. Even within his government team, there's distrust of Jensen and his military-grade augments: he's the only Aug on the team and his teammates give him the side-eye the whole time. Being able to satisfy the narrative of mechanical apartheid would be a great achievement for Eidos Montreal, one I'm unsure the game can pull off.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided played very much like Human Revolution once I had the chance to take the controller into my own hands. I chose the middle of three difficulty levels - Give Me a Story, Give Me a Challenge, and Give Me Deus Ex - and was thrown into a mission to infiltrate a derelict grand hotel in Dubai. The structure stands as a monument to the aftermath of the Aug Incident, as construction ceased when augmented workers turned on their fellow coworkers. Jensen is here to observe a buy between an undercover operative and a terrorist organization, infiltrating and taking down the terrorists.
During your mission briefing, you're given options as to how you want to tackle the missions, going lethal or non-lethal. I chose non-lethal, which gave me a second option: a tranquilizer rifle for long-range, or the short-ranged stun gun.
Right from the beginning, it's clear that Edios Montreal wants players to feel Jensen's upgraded strength and versatility. A trailer notes that his augments might be stronger than he previously imagined and it shows here, with Jensen surviving a parachuteless halo jump using only his augments, via the in-game Icarus Landing augment. In Mankind Divided's cutscenes, Jensen simply feels far more powerful and superhuman than he did in Human Revolution.
Once inside the mission area, I fell back into the muscle memory I had gained over the course of Human Revolution. Jensen can snap to cover and move between separate cover at the press of a button. Silent takedowns can be pulled off from behind cover and still require a charged energy cell to activate.
Takedowns still have an in-game cutscene every single time, though they almost feel more elaborate here. Every time Jensen does a takedown, it cuts to a dramatic angle to show him absolutely destroying his opponent. This was a problem I had in Human Revolution and it's still present in Mankind Divided. It's cool once or twice, but it starts to wear on you and I'd rather just have the option to turn off the cool camera angles for the sake of immersion.
Jensen has a few new augments to help out with stealth gameplay, including the oddly-named Leg Silencers, which keep your footfalls from making noise and acts like a combination of the Run and Land Silently augments from Human Revolution. That said, most of the augments I used on my run were pretty similar to old options, like the Chemical Resistance augment allowing you to survive in toxic gas or the Glass-Shield, letting you turn fully invisible for a short period of time. Which is to say, if you loved Human Revolution, Eidos Montreal isn't rocking the boat.
The demo ends with the terrorist buy being ambushed, but not by Jensen and his team. Instead, a new organization steps out of the shadows, looking to acquire the sold technology. This leads to an action sequence, with Jensen doing a superhero landing into the fight to disable a helicopter before the new foes can escape the situation. And this is where my demo ended.
I walked away from my demo at least confident that Eidos Montreal isn't making Deus Ex easier. The streamlined nature and bad AI of Invisible War led to its poor reception, but Mankind Divided is matching its predecessor in the gameplay department. The same thing as Human Revolution, but improved, is all I'm really asking for from Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. We seem to be on the right track.
Breach: Hack In, Get Out
Eidos Montreal also showed off the all-new Breach mode, which is an live challenge mode separate from the main title. In this mode, you're a hacker in virtual reality trying to gain entry into the servers of the world's biggest corporations. These servers are displayed in an interesting low-polygon look with bright, simple colors. Each design is unique to the corporation you're trying to hack and gives you some clues as to the server's capabilities.
Your objective is always the same: infiltrate the server's main core, download the data, and get out within the time limit. It's oddly reminiscent of Mike Bithell's Volume, which released earlier this year and itself was based on a similar concept: Metal Gear Solid's VR Missions.
Within Breach, finishing challenges unlocks currency, which you then spend to upgrade your avatar with new abilities, many mirroring Jensen's abilities. Better augments means you can tackle better, more lucrative servers.
Breach will launch with around 75 levels, but this mode is meant to be updated continuously by the team at Eidos Montreal. While Mankind Divided has an ending, Breach is meant to be playable forever. The team wants fans to challenge themselves and each other, with leaderboards showing the best times and overall scores. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to try out Breach myself, but I look forward seeing more of the mode in the future.
We're at E3 next week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!