As everybody's favourite humourless transhumanist Adam Jensen steps into a beautifully sunlit Prague train station, for once his funny little pop-up shades are justified. Imagine that, a Deus Ex game not set during an apparent month-long solar eclipse. Already the visual difference between Mankind Divided and its predecessor is, well, night and day. Fitting that its new engine should be called Dawn.
The year is 2029, and simmering tensions between humans and humans with robot bits have escalated into a full blown mechanical apartheid (Eidos Montreal's term, not mine) in which anyone with cybernetic augmentations faces discrimination, violence, and potentially hurt feelings. Jensen is now international covert agent for an anti-terrorist task force, but, suspicious the illuminati are secretly pulling the strings because they so totally are, he's in Prague to investigate. That’s where the majority of Mankind Divided takes place.
In our hands-off demo there’s an interesting early encounter between two pedestrians. A man accidentally bumps into a lady and apologises, but upon seeing her microchip-embedded head, his demeanour changes instantly. “Damn clank,” he snarls before storming off. That’s always struck me as a weird thing for Deus Ex’s society to get hung up on. “I'm sorry sir, you look like an awesome cyborg and can jump really high, I'm afraid you'll have to sit at the back of the bus."
However, two years after Human Revolution's Aug Incident, in which hacked biochips sent augmented people across the globe into a momentary violent rage, everyone is understandably on edge. As Jensen passes a surly guard dressed in imposing protective gear that covers his entire face (ironically an outfit that reduces his humanity more than a metal limb does), the terrorists initiate a surprise attack. When the dust settles, it's down to Jensen to look for the the man responsible, Talos Rucker.
Rucker’s Augmented Rights Coalition hideout is where Jensen gets the opportunity to flex his combat muscle. And it's big. Banks of monitors shatter, shrapnel flies, and bullets rip through sheet metal cover while Jensen's firing off nano blades and impaling people to walls, instantly warping short distances, covering his entire body in black titan shielding, slowing time with focus mode, landing with Earth-cracking force on heads, customising his rifle on-the-fly with scopes, silencers, and armour-piercing bullets, and throwing EMP grenades to fry turrets. It’s BioShock, Crysis, and Dishonored in one.
I ask the game’s director Jean-François Dugas how Eidos Montreal has improved combat. “By making it much more visceral. More environmental reactions, better control scheme to promote the use of augmentations in all circumstances, better augmentations for the combat approach, and enemies using more augmentations to add to the tension." For Dugas, the latter is Mankind Divided's ‘in-your-face’ addition, one that "changes the odds on the battlefield.” I know I won't feel half as guilty stabbing a man with my retractable elbow spike when he's trying to do the same to me.
Combat's more viable than before. "There will be a bit more ammunition to find in the environments, stealth players won’t get more XP than combat players, better combat augmentations, control scheme that is more responsive and fluid." Rather than gunfights being where Deus Ex falls apart, as was often the case in Human Revolution, it's where this game comes together.
You can, of course, opt for less violent approaches. Jensen turns invisible to sneak past people casually chatting in front of a greasy cafeteria before destroying a fan and crawling through a vent. To clear a hallway quickly and quietly, he uses the electric-bolt-firing tesla arm to lock onto five targets and incapacitate them.
The Icarus dash, meanwhile, propels Jensen forward at great speed to ram enemies and cross gaps. There’s also remote hacking for players to manipulate scenery, control drones, and laugh at someone’s embarrassing Amazon purchases without having to physically touch their crumb-covered keyboard. Crucially, though, Mankind Divided doesn’t make one route any more more beneficial than another.
Now for the social showdown with Rucker. I immediately notice how vastly improved the character models are, and far from a purely visual change, this helps in their emotional readability - a big help during interrogations. “We do use facial mo-cap for main characters now which wasn’t the case in DXHR,” says Dugas. “For the more standard conversations, we also improved our way to work with FaceFX allowing us to reach more satisfying results.” I hate myself for using a cliche, but it honestly looks like a cutscene.
After listening to Rucker's spiel, Jensen can choose three responses: justify, patronise, or turn the tables. Without wanting to spoil things, the situation sours and Jensen is forced to evac on a chopper as the dude glares at him menacingly. Do you think he's the baddie?
In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, there doesn't appear to be a single weak link. With the four pillars of combat, stealth, hacking and social elements better balanced than before, and all equally enjoyable, the future really is what you make it.