The First Few Hours: Deus Ex Mankind Divided

Current Status:  Let’s say about 5-6 hours.  I’ve done 3 or 4 main missions, 2-3 side missions.  I am attempting to play as stealthily and non-lethally as possible; in other words, I’m mostly just crawling through ducts.

I have some conflicting thoughts about  Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but first I need to provide some context.

I have vague memories of playing the first Deus Ex game on my roommate’s PC.  I know I finished it, because I remember using a walkthrough in order to see all the endings (I also remember printing the walkthrough out at work and having it be this absolutely gigantic document); I remember certain levels better than others (i.e., the Statue of Liberty); I mostly remember the feeling of intense intimidation.  Deus Ex was billed as “the thinking man’s shooter/RPG”, which to me really just meant that it was incredibly complicated to learn how to play; you couldn’t simply WASD your way through a level.  And I dimly recall hearing that there were multiple ways to approach each objective, though I’m pretty sure I just killed everybody I saw, because the stealth controls were complicated and I always got spotted without knowing why or how.

I played Invisible War on console, and made it about 2/3rds of the way through before getting stuck.  All I remember about that game were its obscenely long loading times (which felt very much at odds with the relative smallness of each new zone) and that I had a little bit more success playing stealthily, though – again – I got stuck towards the end because I was pinned between some massive robot enemies and I had almost nothing useful in my inventory that could help me get un-stuck.

I played and finished Human Revolution, and enjoyed it (for the most part).  I was glad to see the franchise revived and treated not simply as a cash cow, but as an attempt to modernize the gameplay and keep it relevant.  The ending(s) were junk and the boss fights were awful, but I did enjoy sneaking around.

So, then: I am coming to this new game with the casual familiarity of someone who’s played the previous games but can’t necessarily remember if there’s any relationship between JC Denton and Adam Jensen; who is aware of the storied history of the franchise (or, rather, the high regard of the first game) but who isn’t necessarily going into this one with high expectations; and mostly as someone who desperately needed a palate cleansing after the existential, solipsistic despair of No Man’s Sky.

To that end, I am of two minds regarding Mankind Divided at this early stage of the game:

I do not feel that it’s necessary to have played any other DE game in order to enjoy this one; but I also feel that it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary to have played at least one other DE game in order to know what’s possible in this one.

If I’m being honest, most of what I know about how to play this current DE is from my previous experience, coupled with what I’ve read in pre-release previews and final-release reviews about the game. The game itself is not particularly explicit in letting you know how much freedom you have.  The tutorial level is heavily combat-focused, and while it teaches you about non-lethal takedowns and certain stealth mechanics, it doesn’t necessarily do the best job of showing you that you can sneak through vents and bypass rooms of enemies entirely, and that it’s often more beneficial to do it that way.  More to the point, I get the sense that there’s an expectation of the player to already know this stuff, and that the tutorial is mostly there to acclimate you to the controls, rather than the game’s philosophy.

And I should also point out here that by the phrase “game’s philosophy” I’m talking about the thought process that guides each individual player through their own individual gameplay experience, rather than the game’s narrative.  Because as far as the story goes, I mean, whatever.  Mankind Divided‘s plot is convoluted and ridiculous and the main takeaway so far is that Jensen acts like he’s auditioning to be in a Kojima Metal Gear Solid game.*

Which is not to say that I’m not enjoying myself.  I’m making my own fun.  At this early stage in the game, I’m largely avoiding the main storyline and simply exploring this future vision of Prague, which reminds me an awful lot of Half-Life 2‘s City 17.  Any time I see a vent cover, I open it and sneak around just to see where it takes me, because invariably it leads me to a secret stash of something worthwhile and at the very least I get a few XP points.  Any time I see a locked door, regardless of where I am, I immediately hack the shit out of it or I start looking for an alternate route in, because there’s almost always an alternate route, whether it’s a structural weakness in an adjacent wall, or even just hopping out onto a window ledge and sneaking in that way (you will learn, if you choose to, that while people might have complicated locks on their doors, their windows are almost always unlocked).

The world is super janky in that regard.  Half a dozen people might be milling about in front of a coffee shop, and they do not react at all to me opening up a manhole cover and jumping into the sewer.  Then again, considering how many people hang out in the sewer, I guess they wouldn’t necessarily be surprised.  It is unclear why there are so many people hanging out in the sewer, for that matter – there’s obviously some sort of conflict going on that’s making the citizenry uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why they’re hanging out belowground.

The only other thing I can offer is that… I kinda wish I was playing this on PS4.  I think I’d mentioned last week that I’m aiming to break 100K in Achievements by the end of the year, and so I’m choosing to play most of the rest of the year’s multi-console releases on the XB1 in order to make that happen.  The XB1 experience is largely OK, though there’s a bit of slowdown here and there and I know the PS4 version would look a bit crisper and cleaner.  (Facial animation and lip-syncing are awful, though, and I hear that’s the case across all three platforms.)  Nothing about the XB1 version makes it unplayable, of course; but it’s clear that it’s bringing up the rear in terms of smoothness and fidelity.

More to come later this week.


* I would ordinarily link here to my Unwinnable essay about MGSV, but I don’t think it’s online.  I’ll see what I can do about that.  In the meantime, it’s available in issue 70/71.

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