Slated for release on August 23rd, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (from developer Eidos Montreal) is the direct sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), which in turn is set 25 years before the first title in the Deus Ex franchise (Deus Ex, 2000) and parallel to Deus Ex: The Fall (2013). Yeah, it’s all very Star Wars meets X-Men in the nature of chronological release… and, some would argue, quality of releases. However, if there is one franchise that can pick itself up after The Fall (see: game that should be forgotten), Eidos Montreal would like to believe it is this one.
At the Bandai Namco offices in Sydney, I sat down with Eidos Montreal’s Olivier Proulx, game producer for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, to discuss how Mankind Divided fits into the Deus Ex landscape.
“At its core, Deus Ex is a cyberpunk Action RPG that gives freedom to the player to mix and match four pillars of gameplay – combat, stealth, social, and hacking,” explains Proulx. “As for Mankind Divided per se, this all holds true. There are the RPG elements – you get to build and customise your character, and the game offers a lot of multi-pathing in its level design. It may not be open world, but there are sandboxes that are very immersive and that have many layers of exploration.”
Where the Deus Ex series has been known to really shine, however, is through the plot. “Mankind Divided is the direct sequel to Human Revolution – so we’re set in 2029, two years after the big events that concluded that game. In Human Revolution, transhumanism is a big theme – a lot of people in the world have augmented limbs designed to improve their lives, improve their jobs, or just as a fashion accessory. At the end of the game, everything went wrong – people with augmentations were hacked from a distance, lost control of their bodies, and lots of people died. We decided to use this as a stepping stone for the themes and stories of Mankind Divided – for example, what happens when technology goes wrong? Politicians start to play with that. We have a world where people with augmentations are being viewed with suspicion, and people are scared of them. There is a lot of segregation and division in the world we’ve created.”
With the decision to continue the Human Revolution story arc, came the chance to continue developing the character of Adam Jensen; an opportunity that Eidos-Montreal relished. “Creating a fleshed out, iconic character is so difficult. With Human Revolution, it took a few years to really nail Adam Jensen in terms of who he is and how he looks. He went through so many different iterations, and honestly, the first ones were pretty rough… but we ended up with a character that has taken on a life of his own with the gaming audience” explains Proulx. “Aside from that, we’re bringing Adam Jensen back because he needs to get to the bottom of the conspiracy, and also solve the mystery surrounding himself. We also felt that we could add a bit more depth to Adam through the way he reacts to the events of the previous game. Ultimately we sought to make him a bit more assertive, less of an errand boy. In Mankind Divided, we’ve made it more so that he is in control of how he investigates- it’s his own agenda.”
While it seems like a long time since Human Revolution hit the shelves (5 years… do you feel old yet?), and you could question whether the team at Eidos Montreal really are still invested in Adam Jensen as a character, it’s important to remember that the developers began working on Mankind Divided just a few months after Human Revolution was released. In their eyes, Jensen was never off the radar. Besides, Adam Jensen is basically the Matrix’s Neo cross Will Smith from I, Robot, running around in a dystopian X-Men meets Bladerunner world. Seems like a winning formula to me.
If you’re new to the series or concerned that you’re not as invested in Adam Jensen as Eidos Montreal are… Fear not! Mankind Divided offers an optional 12-minute recap video that succinctly summarises the events of Human Revolution, and generates a lot of hype for the game that proceeds it. Honestly, the 12-minute recap video (it’s more than just a glorified cutscene) is better than half the programs on mainstream television. Highly recommend. 10/10. Would watch again. The game is a bonus.
Ensuring that Mankind Divided was accessible to new players, without compromising the depth of gameplay and overall experience, was of great importance to the development team. To that end, and to complement the 12-minute recap video, the game offers four unique difficulty settings (ranging from a relatively easy story mode to the unlockable one life, no saves ‘I never asked for this’ mode) and optional tutorial segments throughout the first mission area. In addition, there are four different pre-set control schemes to choose between – Mankind Divided, Human Revolution (which mimics the controls of the previous game), Standard (which is similar to standard FPS games), and Breach (designed for speed runs).
“Nailing the default Mankind Divided control scheme option was really challenging,” notes Proulx. “At some point during development, our Gameplay Director was walking around with a controller in his hand all day, daydreaming about the best combination of controls. It was difficult because we have many more augmentations directly accessible on the controllers. We didn’t want players to have to constantly keep going into the pause menu to choose augmentations and come back… but balancing these new augmentation options with FPS options on the controllers was challenging. We think we nailed it, but we have different options available so the player feels comfortable.”
Proulx is keen to point out that an improved control scheme is not the only way in which Mankind Divided departs from Human Revolution. “The fluidity of how you move in the environment has been improved, we have a much deeper and more accessible cover system, and some of the combat aspects of the game are easier to execute. That’s not to make it a combat game, rather we wanted to make the combat as easy to get into as stealth.” There is also a greater emphasis on active (as opposed to passive upgrades) and visceral augmentations.
However, some elements of Human Revolution have been retained in Mankind Divided – such as the plot-altering in-game choices that players must make; a feature that was met with critical acclaim. “Everything you do in the game can have an impact on the world,” confirms Proulx. “Sometimes it is just little actions, and you might not realise they matter until you see something reflected in an email or during a conversation long afterwards. But we also have some bigger choices – they can be life or death for some characters. Leading up to the ending of the game we have a very organic ending – it’s not like ‘choose one of the four endings.’ It really depends on your actions. Things you’ve done previously in the game will be reflected in the endgame state, which is a big, big feature for us.”
Similarly to Human Revolution (which took players to the USA, Canada, Singapore and China), Proulx promises that Mankind Divided will include a variety of interesting locations. “We have officially revealed Dubai and Prague, but I can confirm that there will be many other locations to visit,” he explains. “Prague is a major area of the game – players will spend a lot of time there. Actually, my favourite part of the game is exploring Prague. We put so much effort into developing Prague – we had a habit of calling it the ‘living, breathing world’ during development. Every character there will talk back to you with unique lines, everyone has their own story – it just oozes immersion. It’s fun to explore and find different compartments and side missions in the city hub and go around reading emails about the daily lives of the people who live there. I think the world building really shines through with Prague and hopefully players will appreciate it as well.”
Proulx is also keen to talk about Breach, which is a new and innovative game mode that runs separately to the main play through. “Breach is an arcade reinterpretation of the core mechanics of Deus Ex. You can play combat, stealth, hacking, a little bit of story – though not as much. Basically, we give you a challenge level, which may not be a credible in terms of environment – think virtual reality levels and your goal is to breach those areas and get some secrets on different corporations in the game.” In Breach, players assume the identity of a Reaper ( i.e. hacker) rather than Adam Jensen, and the mode is playable immediately. However, Proulx recommends that players complete the Dubai tutorial mission beforehand so as to understand the basic mechanics of Deus Ex.
It would be easy to be dismiss Olivier Proulx’s comments about the quality of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (you know, game producers having a vested interest in the success of their product and all that…) if I had not spent 2 hours hands-on with the game prior to and following our interview. From a cursory non-augmented glance, each of the four core elements – hacking, stealth, combat and social – seem polished, the controls and character movement are realistic, the cinematic and gameplay graphics are high quality, and menus are crisp. I’m left nodding my head in agreement with Proulx’s assertion that this is an improved version of the already-excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution. When Deus Ex: Mankind Divided drops on August 23, 2016, grab yourself a copy. A solid copy. Ellis out.