"I couldn't help but be reminded of Bioshock when Adam fired a pistol in his right hand while shooting the PEPS non-lethal arm cannon on his left."
It was with some mild trepidation that I walked into a closed theater preview of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Human Revolution quite a bit, but Thief, Eidos Montreal's most recent effort, proved to be a colossal disappointment from a once celebrated franchise. Thankfully, Adam Jensen brought the house down and left me aching to finally get my hands on a controller to take him on a spin through Deus Ex's dystopian world.
Mankind Divided picks up two years after the events of Human Revolution. You might remember augmented individuals (those who have enhancements such as metallic arms, cybernetic eyes and portable cloaking devices because why not?) went a little batty towards the end of the last campaign, and humanity seems to have responded in the most predictable way possible and placed these poor souls into ghettos scattered throughout the world. Eidos Montreal went so far as to invoke District 9's take on an alien apartheid, and the description couldn't be more accurate or disturbing. Random people spit and curse at those who appear different from themselves in a fashion all too often seen even in today's society.
Adam Jensen seems to be working both sides of this societal war, as he finds himself assisting the government to root out members of the Augmented Rights Coalition (or ARC, if you're looking to further all of the Biblical references and symbolism) while simultaneously searching for the illusive members of the Illuminati who secretly control the world. Our hands-off demo began with Adam meeting a contact at a train station to find out more information about potential terrorist activity. This part of the demo left me slightly cold, as it was obviously more of a cinematic sequence playing out in the game's engine rather than a fully explorable level.
Things quickly took a turn for the worse with a bomb exploding near Jensen, sending us en route to a local ARC stronghold to apprehend the supposed perpetrator. This gave us the first look at a whole new list of augmented toys at Adam's disposal, and it's clear Eidos Montreal has been working hard to enhance player agency along all four pillars of their design philosophy. Between stealth, combat, hacking and social interaction, Jensen is now a walking army, silent cat burglar, beguiling wordsmith, and everything between.
Again, choice remains the guiding principle of the Deus Ex franchise, but now the number of options is almost staggering. The new Icarus Boost allows Jensen to zip around platforms not unlike a certain dishonorable hero from Dunwall, but it can also be used in combat to ram enemies and send them sailing through the air. Better still, why not take advantage of Jensen's new ability to emulate Max Payne, using a focus ability to slow down time and carefully pick out his shots? Old augmentations such as x-ray vision make a pleasant return, but they feel almost completely new when combined with other abilities like the projectile nanoblade (think of it like a nail gun with the laughably obvious effect) that doubles as a land mine when charged up. In fact, combining different abilities seems a new playground full of possibilities that makes Human Revolution feel stiff by comparison. Watching Jensen transform into his armored mode and
use bullet time was a riot, though things won't be that easy when infinite energy and health are turned off outside of our spectacular demo. The range of options, particularly on the combat side of things, helps Mankind Divided to appear more balanced for varying playstyles and repeated playthroughs. I couldn't help but be reminded of Bioshock when Adam fired a pistol in his right hand while shooting the PEPS non-lethal arm cannon on his left.
Hacking and stealth have also received similar upgrades, though they may not initially impress quite as much as the visceral nature of the combat augmentations. Adam can now take down adversaries from cover and return to relative safety, and the Icarus Landing System can knock out guards as well. I was terrified when we first saw a remote hacking scene mimicking a timed button press, but relaxed comfortably when a computer terminal brought up the familiar mini-game from the previous title. Booby traps and other nasty countermeasures lie in wait for lazy blackhats, so be sure to stay smart and cautious when doing your best Neuromancer impression. New ammo types round out Adam's arsenal, with the EMP rounds being a particularly useful way of handling security cameras without hassle.
Our demo concluded with a social boss fight and Adam unable to persuade his target to come along peacefully. With an alarm blaring and tons of enemies bursting through the doors, Jensen was forced to run for cover and escape via a conveniently timed hover vehicle rescue sequence. It finally gave me a chance to catch my breath and realize just how amazingly awesome everything I saw was. Deus Ex looks like more of the same, true, but it's been blown out in terms of options, and it's tackling some issues controversial enough to send the internet into a tizzy at the mere mention of such topics. True sci-fi is supposed to reflect the values and beliefs of our social climate, and I hope Eidos Montreal has the maturity to discuss these subjects while still making it fun to spring from cover to cover while avoiding death-dealing hover drones.