By Steven Petite
In a game where humans have been mechanically altered with special abilities, where the protagonist is the most advanced augmented individual around, you would expect to have convenient communicative technologies at your disposal, right? A few hours into
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, protagonist Adam Jensen needs to get a hold of David Sarif, the CEO of the biotechnology company who originally turned Jensen from human to augmented. And like many of the fetch style missions in the sequel to Human Revolution, Jensen has to travel all the way back to his apartment to video chat with Sarif. Mind you, throughout the game there are holographic type computer displays, books, and newspapers. Adam Jensen, when optimized with all of his augmentations, is essentially Superman without the cape.
But in a game heavily indebted to the idea of futuristic technologies, Adam Jensen, the most advanced of all, apparently cannot utilize a video chat application on his phone. Instead, he has to hike across the city, ascend several flights of stairs, and then, and only then, can he ask David Sarif about the additional abilities hidden in his technologically modified genetic code. This sounds like a small qualm, a ten minute detour to what is otherwise a fairly solid experience. However, in this moment, the logic behind the simple mission makes it increasingly difficult to continue suspending disbelief.
The crux of the adventure hinges on the notion that technology has perhaps gone too far, but the only way to save innocent augmented individuals from the nefarious Illuminati perpetuated hacks which have turned a portion of the augmented into unstable killing machines, is to enlist the help of the most technologically blessed Interpol agent. These two ideas are at odds with one another. But more importantly, the notion that Adam Jensen is the only hero for the job should mean that in some way, his technology is better equipped to handle the situation appropriately.
Yet Mankind Divided cannot escape typical video game activities. The across town conference call with Sarif is only one of many missions in this vein which contradict the whole premise of the world. In this advanced, yet chaotic landscape, technology is so powerfully able that police scanning drones can detect the biological makeup of each citizen on the street. But simple missions like retrieving intel from a device or person are treated like missions that wouldn’t exist not only in the 2029 cyberpunk setting, but today.
The mode of gathering information and advancing the plot is more like detective work done in pre-digital age, before computers were connected to vast, interconnected networks. This is a world where the Illuminati has effectively gained control over a portion of the population through the means of cyber-warfare and ingenious hacks. But in this same world, Adam Jensen needs to go home to talk on the phone.
It’s as if the visual representation of a seemingly advanced digital world is undermined by the gameplay aspects which serve as a means to advance the story. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the tactics of subverting the technological world are implemented as a cautionary tale of what can happen when technology casts too wide of a net. The plethora of commonplace examples of tech far surpass our own. They are scattered in plain sight throughout the game. Yet it’s difficult to get behind some of the objectives that ask for a more archaic mode of play.
An imagined world can be a lot of things: predictive, hopeful, frightening, enlightening. At the same time, though, the integral aspect to any creation is that it is true to itself. Mankind Divided, despite being an entertaining experience, occasionally devolves into a fiction other than its own.
Steven Petite frequently writes our The Moment pieces.