This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Deus Ex Mankind Divided.
Put your mouth over a jet-powered soft serve dispenser and get ready to cream out of every orifice because there's a new Deu-Sex sequel - or rather a sequel to the prequel to Deu-Sex, Deu-Sex: Human Revolution, which I think was about some kind of prostitute uprising while Deu-Sex: Mankind Divided is about an agreement being reached and the sex humans going back to spreading themselves all and sundry. NONE OF THAT IS TRUE!
Mankind Divided is, however, the second instalment in the life of one of the gaming's newest and hottest personalities, Adam "I never asked for a throat lozenge" Jensen, best known for his iconic pointy face and voice like a coffee grinder trying to seduce an asthma inhaler. Fans have learned to love his incredible strength of character that compels him to always do the right thing, or to always do the wrong thing, or to go back and forth between doing the wrong thing and right thing depending on his mood, his remaining stun gun ammo and whether or not there are any vending machines to throw at people. Because this is a Deus Ex game, and you know what that means - choice and consequences, cautionary cyberpunk near-futures infused with relevant societal issues of the day, and a protagonist who'd get cut out of a Matrix sequel for taking themselves way too fucking seriously.
In the aftermath of the climax of the previous game, when someone drove all the mechanically augmented humans kill-crazy by doing the equivalent of posting an honest review for the new Ghostbusters on the Internet, humanity is reeling from the attack and augmented humans are regarded with fear and suspicion on the off chance that something might flip the crazy murderer switch again at any moment.
So welcome to episode 2 of the clumsiest racism analogy in all of speculative fiction. You can't split humanity into augmented and not augmented because having oven hobs instead of nipples is not a trait unique to specific families, unless babies are having their legs snapped off as they emerge from the womb and replaced with shelf brackets. To say nothing of the fact that you can't make the few bad apples argument if literally every augmented person went off their hydraulic cybertrolleys and a certain amount of fear might be justified if no one knows if the insane murderer switch isn't still lying around somewhere for some family dog to accidentally trip while rubbing his ass on the carpet.
Hey, remember how in the original Deus Ex the augmented humans were a pretty small minority and no one made much of a fuss about them because, hey, turns out a bloke with JCBs lodged in his armpits is a useful thing to have in peacekeeping force or when some furniture needs assembling? And that most of the conflict in the setting of that game was rooted in the divide between rich and poor and insidious population control orchestrated by corporate interests and the media? Oh, no! Such themes would be completely irrelevant in the current climate, especially since triple-A game publishers haven't finished paying all the installments on their nuclear equipped supervillain bunker on the moon, let's just make it all about the people putting sandwich toasters in their kneecaps.
Adam Jenson finds himself stationed in Prague as part of a top-level anti-terror organisation whose higher-ups are quite probably obviously blatantly definitely being leaned on by the secret world government, which you might recognise as being the starting premise of pretty much every Deus Ex game. Fortunately, they save a bit of time by having Adam already working undercover with a secret pro-freedom resistance, who you can tell are the good guys because they are much more racially and sexually diverse. Things explode, tensions rise, and Adam must choose whether to side with his fellow augmented and the obviously corrupted militant fuckheads who hate him.
Maybe it's not as straightforward as that but even as Mankind Divided makes use of the time honoured Deus Ex tradition of dropping us in the middle of a nuanced situation with nothing but a fish slice and a couple of pages that fell out of a social studies 101 textbook, there is no obfuscating its way out of blatantly being Deus Ex: Another One, The Game. It hits all the same beats as reliably as one-hit wonder playing their annual comeback tour. You're based in a hub city where you rub shoulders with every level of society, there's an inexplicably high tech laser security system in the sewers, at one point, you have a boss fight with a ridiculously huge, augmented bloke with a comically overdone accent, they even replay the whole subplot about Adam discovering and getting to grips with all the retro consoles and kitchen appliances that someone sewed into his fat arse without his permission. How, you ask? Well, apparently after the end of the last game - and incidentally the game couldn't give two squirts of motor oil infused spunk which button you pressed on the Endingtron 3000 and I suspect it couldn't at the time either - Adam spent some time in a coma clinic and someone implanted a fresh batch of Game & Watch handhelds into his buttocks. Blimey, Adam better hope he never goes to robot prison, there seems to be something about his bum that makes people want to stuff it full of hardware every time he goes to sleep.
Mankind Divided is a textbook expansion pack sequel, but the problem with that is that Human Revolution was just OK. And when you do a copy-paste of a game that's just OK then any positive feeling the good bit might have given us falls away as the annoyances repeat themselves. I can't stand the way the game goes to cutscene every time you take out a guard or break a wall or break wind, with a pause, a cinematic fade to black and a musical sting as Adam ceremoniously farts with the tenor saxophone implanted in his rectum. It is about as conducive to the flow of gameplay as a fat bloke jumping on a skilift.
The upgrade is still pretty shoddily designed as well with a lot of redundancy. 'Want the ability to mark 5 targets?' 'Not really, since I can see them all on the radar anyway and marking them requires me to pop up from cover and gormlessly stare at them for a second like they're my high school crush and I'm hiding in their dad's rose bushes.' 'Well then how about the ability to mark 40 targets? There is nowhere in the game where there are that many but it will come in handy after you get bored and switch to playing Serious Sam instead!'
I also resent how it doesn't matter for shit whether you take lethal or nonlethal approach because I always take the stealth option on the off chance the game has the balls to have consequences. And the slightest mistake leaves me completely surrounded by the ungrateful bastard I permitted to live. Half the time it wasn't even my mistake. I'd be trying to stealthily kangaroo my way across rooftops when Adam would decide that grabbing the next ledge would ruin his manicure and drop into a dumpster full of bells and airhorns.
What I'm saying is that Human Revolution had more room for improvement than this. Yes, one or two complaints were addressed - lo and behold, the boss fight has a stealthy option, sort of - but take careful note of my phrasing there: boss FIGHT. As in singular. As in, this game is as insultingly short as a budget gob job. There's only one hub city and after getting dicked about by the Illuminati for about half the length of an acceptable Deus Ex game everything abruptly ends with Adam Jensen vowing to get dicked about maximum 7 or 8 more times before totally asking them to pack it in. And that's what kills it more than shoddy gameplay or half-baked premise, which in Deus Ex is almost part of the charm. I mean, come on. Augmentation racism? Where's the dividing line? 'Alright, Mrs. Stevens, we've successfully fitted your pacemaker, now piss off to the ghetto you aug scum.'
- Split right down the middle: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- So I presume I'm not aug scum if I just have pierced ears, but would I have to go to the ghetto if I glued a blinking led to it
- I never asked for piss