The Deus Ex series is set in a dystopian futuristic universe. (It reminds me a bit of Japan’s Ghost in the Shell.) The latest game in the series (Deux Ex: Mankind Divided) is set less than 15 years in the future (2029). In this future, many people have artificial organs (eyes, legs, hands) called “augmentations” because they are superior to biological organs. You play as Adam Jensen, a man who barely survived a terrible attack… but was given superior augmentations by the corporation he works for. So you are something of a super-hero. As the name suggests (“mankind divided”), people with augmentations are oppressed and put in ghettos. Oddly enough, you are free to go and generally given a lot of respect. There is a lot of terrorism, organized crime, high-level conspiracies, perverted media…
I am not exactly sure whether the authors believe that they are offering a credible depiction of the future. I don’t think that the game will age well in this respect. In the game, laptops are omnipresent. If we have the technology to replace your lungs with better artificial organs… why would we carry around bulky 2010-era laptops? There is a single virtual-reality setup, and it takes a whole room. I would think that by 2029, virtual-reality gear would be as convenient as a pair of regular glasses? There are many oppressed workers, lots of poverty… but few robots and no talk of technological unemployment. There are cults embracing the technological singularity, but we see no evidence that technology is changing at an accelerated pace.
Ok. It is a video game, not a futurology essay.
So how is the game?
The fun part in Deus Ex is that there are many different ways to do your missions. The game invites you to be creative and to have fun. And you need to be a bit clever: Adam Jensen is hardly invincible, he is just one man. You are just not going to destroy gangsters with machine guns on frontal assault, as you would in other games. You need to look around for an alternate path. You get to hack robots, turrets… knock quite a few heads… steal secret documents… sneak in people’s apartments…
It is the first game in the Deux Ex series that I can recommend. If you have played the previous ones, this one will look familiar… but everything is smoother. The level design was thoroughly tested and finely tuned. I never got stuck. Also, it helps that this game was designed for today’s beefier hardware.
The major downside is that the scenario feels like gibberish. The theme and the mood are well done, but the authors chose to play the “layer-upon-layer mystery” card. There are bad guys pulling the strings, but it all feels overengineered in the end. The final boss is evil alright, but his motivations seem all too complicated. There are too many characters pulling the strings. I chose to ignore all of it while playing.