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If you ask me, Deus Ex has always been the pinnacle of immersive sims with its mature narrative based on real-world politics. Like, the first game literally came out at the turn of century, at the time of the Y2k scare, and dabbled with fascism, global epidemic, massive surveillance, digital censorship, and of course, transhumanism. And all these some 15-20 years prior to the actual onset of such events. I mean look around you! The world of Deus Ex (as tweeted by Elon Musk) is closer than you think if you simply remove the human augmentation aspect. But even that is becoming a reality! Corporations now hold more power than governments, consumerism advertises life-changing products to rope in the middle and lower classes in order to keep them docile and not question their higher authority. A virus has wiped out swathes of people from the face of the Earth―a suspiciously flawless means of population control without generating any waste. In fact, at this point, the vaccine really does feel like that Biochip every Aug installed in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, only to go schizo when a madman decided to burn down the proverbial wax wings of Icarus―mankind being Icarus and its wings being biomechanical augmentations.

But here we are talking about the latest installment of the cyberpunk franchise – the one which saw its share of praises and critiques.

Human Revolution ended with millions of Augmented people going crazy, injuring/murdering others due to a signal broadcasted by the creator of human augmentation himself. After the chaos abated, the un-augmented feared the remaining enhanced. This created a schism in society that widened in a span of a few months. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided explores the gruesome aftermath of those with bodily augmentations being feared and hated by those of bone and flesh. This dichotomy is adequately represented in the main location i.e., Prague, as the Augmented are forced to take special trains, have separate seating, and have to live in downtrodden corners of the city. They are tortured, bussed, and segregated into highly policed ghettos, basically cyberpunk slums composed of shipping containers stacked one atop the other. Within the game, their rights are as relevant as those of women in current Afghanistan and to be exact, as relevant as those of the blacks during the Apartheid.

Be it racial or mechanical segregation, acts of terrorism are bound to happen. Pro-aug and anti-aug sentiments are at an all-time high and the slightest spark can blow into an all-out riot. But Adam Jensen is back. His goal―take down the shadowy cabal that has the world by its strings and claims to have engineered every single event in the past decade―The Illuminati. Jensen’s now a double agent, working for a covert task force (TF29) headquartered in Prague, with the ulterior motive of verifying TF29’s connections to the Illuminati. The first mission is in a ruined Dubai hotel with a sandstorm on the horizon, and it’s a fantastic tutorial because it gives players nearly all augmentations, allowing them to see which playstyle suits them best. That is, until something happens that disables Jensen’s augmentations at the start of Chapter 1, forcing him to start from scratch.

But enough about the narrative aspect, let me show how Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, despite its ‘Square Enixed’ ending, has a true heart of gold.

The promise of a golden age is over!

Realistic or not, the entire game feels like a major upgrade over Human Revolution. Firstly, Adam’s got even more augmentations at his dispense―experimental augmentations spliced into his system during the 2 years he was down at an unknown Alaskan facility. And since they are experimental, they result in body overheating. If two or three of these experimental augs are activated, Adam (and you) experience more and more glitches on your HUD. So, a slight management routine is also there―you’ve to decide which augs you need immediately, and which can be used later on (later into the game you’ll be able to cure the instability). Personally, I started with non-lethal and hacking upgrades as they help in getting more XP. There are countless stuffs to hack and countless NPCs on whom to perform non-lethal takedowns. But since this is a Deus Ex game, even those can be bypassed.

That’s why Immersive Sims are the best genre on the market. To get from A to B, you can go full robocop, or stalk enemies like a predator and finish them off using your dual nanoblades, or knock them out using gas grenades or TESLA, or simply bypass them by hacking alternate pathways or sneaking into conveniently placed, human-sized air ducts, or manipulate certain NPCs to extract information from them. Tons of secrets exist at every corner ranging from ebooks and newspapers that help understand the world better, pocket secretaries that might give out passwords, secret information and door access keys, personal emails, security terminals to disable those annoying cameras and drones, weapons and ammo, meds, crafting parts and even drinks to get drunk!

It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here

It goes without saying that the world-building is the best I have seen in any Deus Ex game, in fact, the best I have seen in any videogame! There are literally hundreds of encyclopedic ebooks as well as event pamphlets, punk graffiti, a fully voiced 24×7 News Channel, conspiring radio programs and underground newspapers, private and corporate emails, and even NPC chatters that give you an idea of the current state of the world. This goes hand in hand with one of the best art directions and interior designs I have ever seen in a videogame. Prague is the pinnacle of artistic neo-futuristic designs, enough to make you stand still in awe. From holographic displays and LED screens to advertising sculptures composed of neon and stone, there is a myriad of stuff worthy of an art gallery. And that’s why Mankind Divided encourages an in-depth exploration. There are countless shops and apartments to break into and glean upon their interior, many rooftops to explore, alleys with storage garages to unlock, and sewers to get lost in. Do you know the sewers of Prague house a mafia casino, a secret drug manufacturing lab, a temporary base for a group of anti-corporate journalists and two secret cults―one praying to a ‘Machine God’ and the other enthralling people via social augmentations? And at night Prague is something else when its provocative Red Light District comes alive―holographic, neon imagery with sexuality that would make you cover your children’s eyes.

Now don’t get me started on the expansive level design that goes hand in hand with the world building. It’s perhaps the only reason for increased gameplay hours despite the main campaign being quite short. Mankind Divided is so jampacked with side-content that I spent like 2 days just exploring the entirety of Prague, because the game excels in creating believable, lived-in environments. I spent around 6 hours trying to memorize the whole of Palisade Property Bank and that location was humongous! A vast network of interconnecting air ducts, elevator shafts, maintenance tunnels, granite floors, and all these I had to explore avoiding the prying eyes of the security! It was a ghostly heist at the world’s more secure bank vaults and data servers… or so the receptionist claimed (hehe). Even if I hadn’t gone voluntarily, the side missions would ‘ve made me, including the System Rift DLC where you head into the Palisade Blades to perform the world’s biggest cyber heist.

And if you want to go offensive, even that’s catered to! You’ve got a Projected Energy gun coming out of your left wrist, can slow down time, dash short distances, and even coat yourself in an impervious layer of magnetized nanogel. An array of weapons are at your dispense, ranging from pistols, stun guns, shotguns, SMGs, ARs, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and your very own Typhoon Explosive System that fires explosive cordite bearings in a 360-degree arc! That said, your inventory’s going to clog up pretty soon.

The sound of the future

Michael McCann is a true genius, his tracks―a mix of futuristic electronic beats mixed with human chants and choir flares―enthrall you as you walk through the streets of Prague and various other cyberpunk locations. The seamless transitions lift you up in a pleasant wave―perfectly capturing the feeling of cyber-renaissance. In fact, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to the ambient music of Human Revolution and Mankind Divided on loop. Adam Jensen has now become one of my favorite video game protagonists because beneath his super badass demeanor, once he removes his frowning-brow-shaped sunglasses, he’s sensitive and fragile with sweet, green (augmented) eyes. These moments are extremely rare in the game, but when they do happen, the soundtrack that plays will evoke that sense of loneliness Adam might’ve felt post-augmentation. For the protagonist to have a heart of gold, the love and effort of the devs are on display in all their glory. And that’s why Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will always hold a special place in my heart, even if Square Enix doesn’t share the same sentiment.


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