After playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for seven hours it dawned on me that I still hadn’t left the first hub area. I was supposed to be there playing through the main story line of the campaign, discovering more about the political forces conspiring to manipulate Interpol into hunting down members of an augmented human activist group. Except I got completely distracted and spent all my time exploring Eidos Montreal’s recreation of Prague.
As a result, I can’t speak too much to the new Deus Ex’s main story, but if every hub is as rich as the first then I don’t care if the story turns out to be pants – which I doubt it will – because I’ll happily pour hours of my time searching out every secret hidden in its side streets.
After the events of Human Revolution, which saw most of the world’s population of augmented humans descend into a frenzy of violence, people are understandably wary of the augmented. A special group is set up by Interpol, Task Force 29, whose mandate it is to counteract terrorist activities by augmented humans. Your character from the previous game, Adam Jensen, is the only augmented member of the group.
Mankind Divided opens with you and a squad of Task Force 29 flying out to Dubai – a city that was left destroyed by the Aug Incident at the end of Human Revolution – to interrupt a deal that would see a terrorist group buy a stash of weaponised augments. I’m not going to go too much into the details of the mission, as it is essentially an extended tutorial getting you back up to speed with the mechanics of the previous game, which largely remain unchanged. I spent my time sneaking past guards, hiding in air ducts, and quietly neutralising anyone in my path (through non-lethal means. I’m a pacifist at heart).
Following the mission which, as you might expect, doesn’t go to plan for Task Force 29, I was sent back to Prague, where TF29 is stationed.
Prague is an ancient city. Despite two world wars, many of its buildings are more than a century old. For instance, the main train station I arrived into was first built in 1871. Eidos Montreal has managed to drape that ancient architecture in futuristic technology without losing the historic building that is underneath. There are security drones, armoured guards, and anti-aug slogans daubed on the walls but it still feels like a European city.
A train station full of guards and security drones immediately evokes City 17 but Deus Ex’s world is better realised, more believable. Neat touches, like how the police ask everyone for papers but with their focus clearly on the augmented citizens getting off the train, tells so much about the politics of this world. Eidos has captured a palpable anxiety, a prejudice towards the augmented. Or, as un-agumented like to call them: ‘Cranks’.
Then a bomb goes off. Like ours, Jensen's world is one where the tensions between different groups lead to terrifying violence.
When Jensen wakes up in his apartment, 30 hours after the bomb, his augmentations are on the fritz. I’m told I need to head into the Interpol offices and be debriefed about the bombing but, as I leave his apartment, I get a call from an engineer friend, Koller. He wants to check me over before I go in, see what's happening to my augmentations. The call isn’t wholly altruistic; thugs from a Russian gang are turning over his book shop trying to find the entrance to his machine shop hidden in the basement and he wants me to come to his aid. Following that call I’m left completely free to explore. While I should probably go help the guy out I can’t help but do a little house-breaking first.
One of my favourite things in Human Revolution was breaking into apartments. Behind many of the game’s locked doors were homes lovingly crafted by artists and designers. There would be computer terminals filled with emails that gave an insight to the homeowner's life, while also shining a light on what life in a world with augmented humans is like.
I’m glad to report Mankind Divided carries on that vein.
The first apartment I break into, hacking the simple computer lock on the front door, is a gorgeous mess of rotting food, piled up dishes, and, conversely, a beautiful shrine to a machine Christ. Strapped to the wall with glowing fibre wire cables is a crucifix-like mannequin. Splayed out from its back like wings are lit up strip lights. I later learn it's the home of a leader in the Singularity Church of the MachineGod, a religious cult that was referenced in Human Revolution.
On the stairs down to the next floor is a air duct that leads into the kitchen of one of the apartments below. I slip into the kitchen quietly, there are two people in the living room, one having an angry phone call about a deal. Piled on the kitchen counters are vials of Neuropozyne – the drug that started to fill the streets in Deus Ex: The Fall, the mobile game that fills the gap between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided. Also on the counter is a data tablet that talks about different gangs pushing the drug in Prague and, handily, an updated combination for the door to a stash house nearby.
A third apartment in Jensen’s block is the one I’ve been thinking about most since playing, as I never found out exactly what was going on there. For the most part the flat is an uninteresting affair – normal kitchen, bathroom, and living room. But the bedroom in the back had a telescope set up facing the window. You can look through it and be met with a magnified view of Jensen’s front door. Someone has been watching you but I couldn’t find any clues in the flat as to who. I really hope there’s more to be found when I’ve more time with the game.
I spent an hour just in Jensen’s apartment block, talking to NPCs, getting a feel for the atmosphere of the city, and, of course, breaking and entering. Everywhere I turned there were little intricacies that tell something of the world: homeless augments sick with withdrawal symptoms; graffiti and propaganda posters, both for and against augmentation; empty Neuropozyne vials crushed into the floor.
When I went out into the street I was met with equal richness spread across a whole district of Prague. I found an information trader who would give me corrupted, hacked emails that told of secrets in the city in return for vials of Neuropozyne. I started finding evidence of augmented people who were trying to flee the city, either by getting papers through the authorities or buying them on the black market. Most of all, I started to hear about Golem.
Golem is Prague’s other city. A place created for the augments, where they are kept separate from the citizens of Prague. Augments without papers allowing them to stay in the city are shipped off there and, once there, few come back. Others wanted to go to Golem, to go to a place that they weren’t persecuted and stared at. Whatever the case, traffic to and from Golem was creating a hefty profit for many.
I heard about a fake police blockade run by a crook called Drahomir. Dressed in the uniform of the Prague police and flanked by stolen police vehicles he would demand to see the papers of every augmented who passed him by. If they didn’t have papers he would fine them, or, for a much larger price, sell them new ones. Of course, these are forgeries, and won’t pass a proper inspection. He just doesn't care. I found that out after stumbling into an abandoned warehouse storing children’s toys, where the indentured forger worked in secret on the top floor.
After spending hours finding this out and tonnes more, I discovered that underneath the streets is a whole sewer system. NPCs hiding from the police, gangs, and persecution have take up residence. There’s even a mind-controlled cult of people trying to create a garden of sanctuary under the city.
Eventually I saved the engineer who had locked himself in his basement while thugs turned over the bookshop above him, and the main mission demanded that I leave this first hub to visit Interpol’s offices in a different district in town. I’d less time to explore the new area of the city but it appears to be as densely packed with things to find, though maybe not quite as large as the first area.
If it weren’t for the fact that I was running out of time and the Square Enix representatives looked worried that I’d never leave, I’d have spent my whole time in that first district. I never once felt bored and every time I pushed into a new area I was rewarded with something that developed my understanding of Mankind Divided’s world: emails, a story told by the environment (like a crime scene), or an NPC who could tell me their story.
I’m glad I did push on, though, because it led me into Golem.
The ghetto for the augmented is starkly different from Prague. Where that was clearly an old city that had gradually been modernised with new technology, Golem wasn’t recognisable as habitation. Prague was lit by strong sunlight; Golem was all dark steel, fluorescent lights, and steel canopies. It looks like Kowloon Walled City, the place where every available nook and cranny has been turned into living space and cables run over your head throughout the city like electrical vines.
Eidos Montreal has further differentiated the two locations by their structure. While Prague had me climbing up to windows on the first floor of a building, Golem is a multi-tiered stack of a city. Elevators, platforms, and staircases lead you up and up, leaving me quite lost. I was rushing to complete the demo, but the sensation of confusion it evoked was almost overwhelming. It felt like I was inside an engine. I can’t wait to spend more time in it. To give it the attention it demands.
I’ve played Mankind Divided once before, at a short event ahead of E3. I left feeling a little underwhelmed, disappointed that the game didn’t seem to have moved on much from Human Revolution in terms of what you could do. It hadn’t innovated. After nine hours with Mankind Divided I can see the innovation is in the maturation of world and means with which the developers convey that world to us.