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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review: Augmented Reality

By: Derek Strickland | Action in Gaming | Posted: Sep 5, 2016 6:34 pm
TweakTown Rating: 93%Developer and / or Publisher: Eidos Montreal



At its heart, Mankind Divided is a human story. It's a tale of humanity's struggle as it finds a new way to destroy itself from the inside out, a tale of terrible prejudice and woe that reflects modern day--and past--societal issues. It's an engaging and authentic look at our possible future, almost like a cyberpunk Twilight Zone, if you will.


Eidos Montreal has gone great lengths to make everything feel believable; from the streets of Prague to the destitute Aug ghettos of the Utulek Complex, the world itself feels real. While this illusion does break down from time to time, you'll find tons of personal stories in NPC's computers and PDAs that lend real agency to the world, fleshing out its metallic endoskeleton.


To understand the real magic of Deus Ex, I have to give you some backstory. It's incredibly important as this is the literal backbone of the game.



In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, players are pulled into a dark future where humans are blended with machines, augmented to become something better, faster, stronger.


But this technology comes at an incredible price: a hopeless addiction to the drug Neuropozyne, which counteracts the rejection syndrome from the augmentations. So if you're an Aug, you need this drug for the rest of your life. And the price of the drug kept raising, turning Augs into desperate fiends and completely destroying their life. Augs turned to crime out of desperation, leading to police and government intervention.


So instead of reaping the rewards that comes with advanced technology like the strength of bionic limbs or seeing through walls with bionic eyes, the Augs were reduced to the state of common drug addicts. So Augs became dangerous, just as people do when they're pushed too far, when they're completely desperate.


As if their lives couldn't get any worse, along came the Aug Incident.




The Aug Incident was basically a worldwide frequency pulse that made every augmented person in the world temporarily lose their mind. It's not unlike how Skynet became self-aware and switched on the Terminators, or a zombie apocalypse: these super humans were transformed into horrible unthinking murderers. The world caught fire and bled during the Incident.


After the carnage, the non-augmented humans saw the Augs as animals. The Incident literally divided mankind. Augmented people were now subhuman, and needed to be muzzled like bad dogs. They were dangerous, they were lethal, but above all else, they were no long human. This prejudice spread like wildfire and soon humankind was rifted, with ordinary flesh and bone on one side, and flesh and metal on the other.


Countries started making laws against the Augs, stripping them of citizenship. Augs were now stateless aliens, and Police started cracking down on them, gunning them down and arresting them left and right. Augs were forced to constantly update their permits, and having a metal arm or leg was now a badge of shame, marking you as subhuman. Augmented men and women fled these terrible conditions like refugees from a broken country, seeking shelter, seeking hope, seeking a life.


The way the Augmented are treated in Mankind Divided reflects real-world issues like racial tensions, and the radical prejudice ties in with how the Japanese were treated in America during World War II as well as the horrible treatment of the Jewish people. While the Augs aren't necessarily systematically slaughtered outright, they are oppressed at every turn, breeding a cruel psychological torment that emphasizes the socio-technological world.


After the Incident, hundreds of thousands of Augs fled to the Utulek Complex, a massive facility designed to house augmented people. They found shelter, but Utulek soon bulged with Augs. Supplies were extremely low, Neuropozyne was all but non-existent. Soon Utulek turned into a kind of third-world ghetto and earned the name "Golem City". Prague started to round up Augs that couldn't keep up with the expensive permits and documents and sent them to Golem City, treating it as a sort of prison.




During my visit to Golem City, I saw that the Augs living here were destitute. They were without hope; their lives were broken things. They had no freedom--they didn't count as citizens--and no Neuropozyne. There was barely any food, and to stay alive they had to constantly fight with the other augs, which splintered into a kind of makeshift caste system.


Augs are people who are trying to put the pieces of their broken lives back together. They're people with families, with loved ones, with lives, most of which have been torn apart and annihilated by the Incident and its aftermath. They still bleed, they still cry and hope and dream, they still need to eat and have a sense of purpose--they're still human.


You see evidence of their humanity--and their complete and total desperation--all throughout the game. Some fair better than others, but all of them have been traumatized by the Incident and the prejudice.




Then came Talos Rucker, an ex-doctor turned Aug messiah. Rucker came to Golem City and spoke for the Augmented people, gave them a voice, gave them hope, but most of all, gave them a purpose. Rucker formed ARC, the Augmented Rights Coalition, and Golem City became his city. Rucker spoke fairness and peace, but the desperate people in his employ often turned to chaos and destruction in an effort to promote justice and revenge. The Augs in Golem City had their lives completely broken by the Incident and the ensuing prejudice and oppression.


As a result, ARC was known as a terrorist group. ARC is blamed for various bombings across Europe, including the infamous Ruzicka Bombing that occurs at the beginning of the game.


The police, government military and INTERPOL (Adam Jensen's branch) kept ARC on a short leash, with the police invading Golem City and further increasing the tensions between Augs and humans. The world saw ARC as an unstable radical terrorist cell that would eventually destroy the world, breeding violence and havoc wherever they went.


But players know better; we're conditioned to know both sides of the story, and the game does an amazing job providing actual reasoning as to why people do the things they do. We empathize with the Augs, and as Jensen, we uncover the truth behind ARC and Rucker's movement. We see firsthand the plight of the augmented people, we get to step into their lives and know their suffering. We're able to justify their actions, able to take what the world calls a terrorist and truly understand why they do what they do.




One of the most emotionally jarring parts of the game's story is that players can't help everyone. I had to pass by dozens of Augs shaking and begging me for Neuropozyne even though I had an excess of vials. I couldn't do anything to liberate the people of Golem City--even if I killed all the police, it wouldn't make a difference.


You do make a difference in Mankind Divided, but it's never enough to save everyone. A few quests hammer this point home and make you choose who you'd like to help. Give permits to a shopkeep with a family, or a woman who's so traumatized by what's happened to her that her mind has split into two people?


Help a clock-maker recover his Aug daughter and unravel a conspiracy, or infiltrate Palisade and uncover the secrets to the assassination that rocked the world? These choices are impossibly hard, and often make you think. This is the weight of a fantastic game, the type of game that makes you itchy about your decisions, the type of experience that makes you second-guess yourself.


The game sets up all these different situations in a very dynamic way, making everything seem like a giant web of conspiracy with shadowy figures at every turn. There's corrupt anti-aug politicians, whole sectors of government that are being led by augs who want to kill other augs, and indomitable powers constantly shifting forces and focus across the globe, hiding nefarious deeds with other nefarious deeds like terrorist bombings.


You also have the choice how Jensen plays his cards. You can withhold information from your superiors and keep your identity close at hand, or you can trust them. However, you handle the situation and what you tell certain people can have an effect on the game itself, which is pretty refreshing.




There's all these powers vying for control: separate countries like the U.S. and the Russian Federated States, multi-country powers like the United Nations and Interpol, and then we have factions like the Aug-run Juggernaut Collective spies who deal in espionage as well as ARC and para-military groups like Belltower. All of these groups affect the characters and world in many different ways, most of the time negatively, and the world itself feels like a playground for these factions to enact petty skirmishes and shadowy wars.


Uncovering the truth to these factions brings a real sense of intrigue to the game, adding in a very real sense of espionage and facilitating a strong bond to Adam and his allegiances. It's a little bit like how Snake's interpersonal relationships with specific political and spy groups flesh out the character as well as the world itself.


This is the sign of a great game.


Deus Ex: Mankind Divided allows you to not only see this fractured cyberpunk world, but experience it from the inside out and truly empathize with both sides. As an Aug, players are treated the same as any other augmented in the world. But at the same time, you're able to empathize with the everyday humans who are just scared of Augs and had their lives ruined or compromised as a result of the Incident.


But as always, it's up to the player how far they want to investigate. You can look deep and uncover all the secrets like I did, hacking every computer and terminal and reading over every PDA to get a true understanding of the world and its people. The game prompts all kinds of existential thoughts on humanity and leads you to question certain things, like how far society should go with technology.


At its core, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a human story that engages players on many levels and creates a compelling look at a future gone wrong.



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