The cataclysmic events of the end of Human Revolution changed and scarred mankind’s view of its changing identity. It’s practically impossible to talk about how the world has changed without acknowledging what went before, so I won’t try. Consider this a spoiler warning, should you care about finishing the previous game before playing Mankind Divided.
The clue really is in the title here. It’s two years since the end of Human Revolution, mankind has torn itself apart, without the ability to truly trust those with augmented body parts to keep control of themselves, seeing augments being segregated in a “mechanical apartheid”, after the passing of the Human Restoration Act. It’s a powerful term, and one that will likely touch a raw nerve with some, but Eidos clearly aren’t shying away from that point and the world has strong parallels to the extremes of discrimination that are so prevalent in human history, and even to some aspects of the modern day.
“I think with Human Revolution, the team was trying to do something that was anticipating the future,” Patrick Fortier, gameplay director on Mankind Divided explained. “So you create this situation with where things were left off at the end of HR and it led to this, where we’re trying to create a realistic way in which the world would deal with an event like that. We’re doing that, and as the game’s been in development for the last few years, we’re seeing today’s world really starting to go in that direction as well.”
Adam Jensen is almost uniquely privileged to not find himself caught up in this, with enough paperwork and resources to live his life. No doubt, being part of a highly militaristic Interpol outfit, Task Force 29, has got him this kind of personal freedom, but even that’s going to be at risk after he’s caught up in an augment terrorist attack.
The saying goes that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and Jensen’s near death experiences bear that out in Deus Ex, but it can take a while to get there. The terrorist attack badly damaged parts of his body, forcing him to try and reach a doctor to fix him up with repairs and new and improved in parts. Of course, doctors doing work for augments aren’t exactly on the up and up these days.
Patrick said, “Adam’s changed in this story as well, he’s a different character than he was from Human Revolution. He’s much more accepting of himself as what he is, an augmented guy, he is kind of a weapon and he wants to use that to his own advantage now, to find out the truth.
“We wanted to translate that over to the gameplay as well. Whether you’re playing stealth or combat, there are some new augmentations that are going to give you some new possibilities, but it’s also the way in which you select them and the speed with which you can quickly reassign, access them and use them in movement.”
Prague is a gorgeous new hub world to explore, with Jensen living in one of the lower class parts of the city. The police presence is heavy, demanding to see several different permits at once before letting Jensen pass, and it looks run down, with the buildings needing a fresh lick of paint to the weathered pastel colours that so easily evoke the Eastern European setting. It’s rather reminiscent of Half Life 2’s oppressed City 17. It’s a much more varied palette to Human Revolution.
The change is noticeable, but Patrick said, “It’s not for the sake of changing it or because people responded one way or another to the yellow filter, it’s just that we’re telling a different story and the world has moved on. The black and gold was really a reflection of the cyber renaissance and the dream of the augmented, that everyone was going to get augmented and everything was going to be beautiful. That’s collapsed and now corporations are taking over, governments are taking over and there’s much more austerity that’s there and that we wanted to reflect as well.”
It helps to give the right feeling to the clear signs of strife in the city, with Eidos Montreal using every nook and cranny to give you little morsels of story. Taking a non-confrontational route to his meeting with the doctor sees you take to the rooftops and clamber through a window, only to find the room spattered in blood, with two bodies on the floor. Their aim is to have every apartment tell its own story, and you could easily spend a few minutes hacking the computer terminals and investigating to see how and why these people died. Of course, you don’t have to, it’s very much up to you how deeply you dig.
“That’s why we’re not an open world,” Patrick said, “because we care about [telling these stories]. We care about dressing up the apartments and using every asset to tell the story. So there’s the apartments, but there’s stuff going on in the sewers as well, on the rooftops and hidden alleys. You’re going to find different things going on there.
“I’m not taking a stab at the open world games, I think they go for a different kind of experience and it’s the scope of it and the space and size. We’re going for more depth inside the hubs and the environments that we have, so there’s a lot of details and a lot of things to pay attention to.”
Mankind Divided continues the series’ legacy of featuring a branching story, giving you opportunity to diverge in big and small ways. It could be the moment to moment of stealth versus head on combat, the decisions over what load out to take with you, or more meaningful decisions, such as whether or not you call David Sarif back, with Adam having cut ties with him after the events of the first game.
While the art style has taken a step forward, one part of the game’s presentation has remained firmly rooted in the past. The game is largely a first person shooter, with the camera swinging out of Adam’s body whenever you duck into cover, and it works well, but what remains jarring is how the screen fades to black for each and every single vaguely cinematic move and take down. I get that they’re there to emphasise what’s going on, but it felt old and clumsy back in 2011, even, and is especially incongruous to see in the middle of combat.
The flexibility with which you can approach a situation is still a highlight of the game. Bypassing guards, occasionally making use of a battery powered takedown ability or a silenced weapon of some sort is still a joy, but you can also go in all guns blazing. You’re freed by being able to set custom abilities to your shoulder buttons, making them much easier to use in a pinch. Some of these are new or improved, as well, whether it’s the better X-ray vision or the Titan shield that lets you soak up damage for a few seconds as you get close to an enemy and land a fatal blow.
Getting people to use Adam’s abilities to their fullest, as well the possibilities in the world around him is a challenge – I myself settle into a steadier, stealthier approach, given the opportunity – but as Patrick explained, “I think a lot of it has been finding the right balance between having tutorials and messages to incite people to do certain things, and not doing that. A big part of it is coming to grips with it on your own and discovering that, ‘You know what? There’s a door, I have a grenade and doors should break with that explosion. I don’t need a keycard!’ The smile people get when they start discovering things like that is tremendous.”
It’s difficult to say whether Mankind Divided will be a big step forward as a game, but Eidos Montreal’s approach to world building as the branching narrative will do a lot to draw people in. Getting them to stick around after its conclusion is a job for the team building the new Breach game mode that we’ll be exploring in a separate article.