Deus Ex Machina?

So, to start this whole “Year of posts” thing off here’s my first thoughts on the game I received for Christmas, Deux Ex: Mankind Divided.

Those of you who have been listening to my rambling on games since I was a little person will know that I have a real soft spot for Deus Ex games. The first game from 2000 is one of my all time favourite games and unlike popular opinion I didn’t mind the second one (yes, the interface and augments in Invisible War were dumbed down some for the console market but it was still a fun and engaging game that played with the typical shooter mechanics).

Mouse mat showing the logo of the original game = A geek out moment for me.

The reboot of the series (actually prequels to the originals in terms of dates) with Human Revolution was something I had been waiting for for a number of years. I even pre-ordered the special edition, so excited was I for this reboot (and I wasn’t disappointed). So with Mankind Divided I was more than looking forward to some more experiences in the Deus Ex universe.

As the game starts, it gives you an option of watching a catch-up video, to get you up to speed with story, which was useful because

a) I’ve not played a Deux Ex game since Human Revolution on the PS3 and

b) It filled me in on the DLC which I haven’t played. (I’ve got Deux Ex: The Fall to play on the PC, but the machine isn’t quite up to running it at a stable frame rate).

12 minutes or so later I’m dropped into the game proper and promptly proceed to (I expect) break it, by doing as many of the side missions as possible before moving the main story forward. I explore the area about the starting point to within an inch of its life. Checking various entries and exits to buildings, working out how the hacking works, how the shooting works, and how the interface works, way before the tutorials decide to share this information.

I’m reading all the excerpts in books and newspaper you find and even downloaded the companion app for my phone because it has QR codes to scan for background information… more on this later…

The game carries on the story of Adam Jensen (a character name which is remarkably close to the name of an IT guy I know), an augmented human – someone who has had robotic or cybernetic implants, from visual upgrades to physical strength (would the Adam I know upgrade himself like this?).

Adam chillin’ on the tube.

In a world where augmented humans are being persecuted and there is a real divide between what the game refers “Augs” and “Norms”, creating a truly intriguing universe, startlingly close to our own… in many ways.

I can’t say too much about the story at the moment because I’m still very early on and as I have already said, I’m exploring the side missions much more at the moment.

The missions do appear to be quite varied and are very well written, pushing you to explore the city of Prague where the game is set (well, at least in the early stages).

Game play

I’m covering game play first because, for me, Deux Ex has always been about game play, about choice. About how *you* play the game and experience the story. The original had three endings, Invisible War had four (haha that rhymes!), Human Revolution also has four possible endings , all of which were influenced by how you played the games and the decisions you made (but sadly none of which rhyme).

The way you play this game makes a big difference to your experience. Kill a character and that will affect the rest of your game. Don’t kill them and you may bump into them later on. This idea is nothing new (although it was in the year 2000 – simpler times) but the Deux Ex games always do this very well.

If you want to play a stealthy game, then you can equip the stun gun or the tranquilizer rifle and knock people out rather than kill them. In this way you can use enemies to trigger alarms or investigate areas away from you. You can use air conditioning vents to sneak into buildings rather than the front door, avoiding confrontations and sneaking up on boss enemies. Hacking computers to open secret doors or or reprogram turrets to shoot everyone is a favourite of mine, alternatively using gadgets to unlock stuff if the level is too high.

Hacking is all blacks and reds

Hacking is kind of a mini game, almost puzzle-like in style, which has been carried over from earlier games. You have a starting point and a target. To hack the computer, lock or whatever, you simply have to click on the various nodes to send your data from point A to point B. Simple, except the nodes have a chance of triggering the firewall which will trace you back to your origin point, locking you out of the puzzle for a minute or so (but can trigger alarms or guards checking). You can in true Deux Ex style, unlock skills to make this easier and quicker as well as using disposable items to increase your chances.

Alternatively, you can choose the shooting style of play through. You can use grenade launchers, or machine guns or rifles and can, if you wish kill people with your bare hands if there is a lack of ammunition.

You can, if you are used to the typical shooter game, dive through the front door guns blazing and kill everyone, although this may not be the most effective method of exploring the world.

This method will move specific paths from you at later points in the game (Someone you have killed will obviously be unable to deliver a task for you obviously. They’re dead.)

I use a mix, stealth as far as possible but when it goes belly up, it’s all about survival. Often I’ll scout out the area, check if there are any alternative routes, infiltrate the site and incapacitate as many enemies as possible before I’m spotted and then it gets a bit noisy.

This appears to be working for me so far. I’ve seen a few different deaths, but nearly all of them are my own fault, with a second attempt usually proving more fruitful.

The controls are effective and not overly complicated, everything feels like it it is where it should be. With one exception. There are a couple of occasions where you press X to interact with something, but others where you need to press square which does tend to break the experience once in a while, but not often enough to be an issue for me.

At the moment I appear to have been sidetracked by exploring the city for the Banksy style art works left on various walls which is fun but I expect not exactly what the designers had in mind.

These are the only a few I’ve screen-shotted (is that even a word? Good work there for an Eng Lit graduate…) I’m sure there are many more that I haven’t found yet, but it is fun finding a new one. Yes, I know. I really should get out more.

As you play through the game you gain experience points and can level up your augments, unlocking new skills or improving others. Obviously I’m unlocking all the stealth related ones first – Adam in my game would be able to come in from night out, make a sarnie and a drink without his other half even knowing he was home. Hopefully this will not break the game as much as it did in Human Revolution (A common complaint – Google it) but we will see.

Another thing I quite like is that when you talk to other characters in person the audio comes out of the TV as you would expect, but when they radio you (or some other super high tech method) the audio comes out of the speak on the controller. A feature so underused on the Playstation that it made me jump out of my skin the first time it happened. More games should use this even if it does destroy the battery on the controller.

Graphics

In an era when very few games have what you could call dodgy graphics this seems a little bit strange to discuss the graphics. It is not the prettiest game I’ve ever seen. It feels a bit of a halfway house between art styles. Half attempting to go for a specific style and half going for almost cell shaded effect, we get the rather unique graphics for Deus Ex. The games have never been at the forefront of graphical fidelity and I was rather surprised to see the announcement on the titles that the game is developed using the Dawn Engine (nope, I hadn’t heard of it either). A quick search tells us this is the developers own proprietary engine which presumably they are using Mankind Divided as a shop front for.

The world has a decent number of people populating it, as well as a large number of signs and items scattered around the world.  With very little load time between areas (The use of tube stations to ravel further afield hides this quite well) but unfortunately, at least for me, there are a few moments where the background loading affects the frame rate. Every now and then the game will get a little jerky for a second or so, not enough to cause a problem, just a small irritation (and thankfully) it has only happened so far in the approach to an area not in the middle of a stealth/action sequence.

The gallery below shows a few of the signs and a few of the views from the in game city of Prague.

Overall the graphics are serviceable and do a decent job. Once you get used to the art style and by the time you are deep in the enemy zone, you are so focused you don’t notice the lack of fidelity.

Companion app

The game is part of what SquareEnix refer to as the Deux Ex Universe. Nope, never heard of that. It means that they have a companion app for smartphones and tablets (It is free at least) which ties in with the game. Kind of.

So how does it work?

Well, as you are exploring the world you find these Triangle codes which are basically triangle shaped QR codes – the triangle obviously makes them cool (not ‘square’ – geddit?) which, when scanned in the app link to videos about the game development. Whoop. I guess that would appeal to some. It should appeal to me as I am such a fan of the games, but you know what? It doesn’t. Don’t know why. Yes they are nice to collect, but do I want to see an interview with the actor who voices the pilot? Probably not. I’d have preferred some nice background database things would be cool, the ability to read the newspapers and ebooks I have found in game? Yes please, that would have been useful. Also it appears that it is supposed to show you your player data, but it doesn’t. Before you all say “Well, you need to sign up and register” I did, in order to get my ‘Day One Edition’ goodies (even though the game had been out for ages and I certainly didn’t get it on day one).

Just doesn’t appear to do anything useful, but I am scanning those triangle codes when I find them, so I guess I’m guilty of using these gimmicks… and to me that’s all it is. It smacks of the developers tacking on some sort of second screen experience to appease those young gamer-types who don’t have attention span to concentrate on one screen at a time (not to mention they now have a direct communication tool on your device of choice to help them promote whatever DLC they have this month).

I’m going to sum the app up as an interesting experiment, but at least other games that have done this have pulled actual game data into the app effectively (I think Destiny did this but I may be wrong) and as such this app isn’t really a great deal of use for me personally.

Overall

Overall, I am enjoying my time back in the Deux Ex universe, I’m losing hours on an evening to the sneak about and explore the world game play and am looking forward to finding out what has happened to this world (and maybe how it leads to the world I know so well from the first games).

And you are probably tired of reading my drivel by now so I’ll sign off for now and maybe write more about this game as I progress.

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