It’s a little late to be shouting advice across the ocean at Eidos Montreal – the portentous Mankind Divided announcement trailer is out there, embraced by a feverish public like Ambrosia vaccine. The sequel’s city hubs have been chosen, fictitious emails written, and crates long since placed.
Here, then, are eight means by which Eidos Montreal might have already made the series Deus Sexier than it already is. Silvery fingers crossed.
Make good architectural use of Europe
Deus Ex is going to Europe! That ancient collection of lands with a history George-Ah-Rah could have written. Make use of it, Eidos.
Think of some of the most compelling locales in games. Remember Viktor Antonov’s City 17, where Eastern Bloc solemnity was squeezed by alien architecture – and Dunwall, where electrified totalitarian checkpoints met Victorian chimney stacks. And there’s the way that, in the border towns of Bethesda’s Cyrodiil, the cultural influence of Skyrim seeps into the roofing.
They’ve all been layered places – with one culture built atop another. And Mankind Divided is going to 1,100 year old Prague, where it has access to enough Gothic flavour to evoke Thief 2, and the symmetrical palaces to match Human Revolution’s Renaissance ruffs. It’s the perfect opportunity.
Eidos showed an eagerness to exploit location in Human Revolution, drawing on Detroit’s proud reputation for engineering, as well as its struggle not to slip sideways into economic and social dilapidation. And early signs are good for a Prague 14 years from now in Mankind Divided.
One of Jensen’s missions takes him to Utulek train station, now ‘Golem City’ – a ghetto for the augmented based on Hong Kong’s Howloon Walled City. We’re told to expect a choking atmosphere and temporary housing units stacked high.
If Eidos can contrast that new Prague with the splendour and space of the old one, they’ll have a truly memorable level or seven on their hands. Let’s hope, too, they can continue that philosophy in Mankind Divided’s other hubs. After all, there’s always been an element of Bond in Deus Ex – at some point, we’re going to be taking a chopper to another metropolis on another continent.
Make a Bourne out of Berk
One of Human Revolution’s most compelling side quests was the brief chase for Michael Zelazny. A Belltower operative gone rogue, Zelazny had given himself one final order – to hunt down the corrupt officials he’d been tricked into killing for. But he was no meathead merc: preaching convincingly about the privatisation of war in between quoting chunks of the Good Book (“Everything in it is so… evocative”).
Though undoubtedly mad, it was nice to meet another augmented superman on a mission – a little like one of those Doctor Who episodes when you see the Time Lord from the perspective of the normals.
There’s a clear candidate for a similarly uncomfortable mirror image in Mankind Divided. The hooded figure in the announcement trailer is Ivan Berk. A monitor informs us that he’s 27, “augmented and dangerous”, and evading arrest for the bombing of Ruzicka Station in Prague.
Jensen appears to save Berk, endowed with ski-like prosthetic legs, from the brutality of a police state that’s stigmatised augmentations – only for Berk to blow up innocents in a later attack. So there’s certainly a complex dynamic at work here.
With Jensen now at the head of an Interpol-funded task force, a sympathetic face on the other side would go a long way to infusing Mankind Divided with the kind of moral complexity Deus Ex has made its stock-in-trade.
Kill it without killing
After his eventful stint in corporate security during the events of Human Revolution, Jensen is back working with the po-po. He’s no longer a Detroit beat cop, however, but a jet-setting member of Task Force 29 – a new branch of Interpol with an anti-terrorist function close to that of UNATCO in that first Deus Ex.
It’s an excellent chance to double-down on the non-lethal weapons that peppered Human Revolution. Eidos offered players a quieter life if they made the effort to forego murder – but didn’t always provide the right tools for the job.
One forced fight in Hengsha proved particularly tricky for players who’d dedicated themselves to a clean playthrough – necessitating liberal deployment of a rare energy-pulse shotgun, the PEPS, and an effort to drag unconscious enemies out of harm’s way during the gunfire.
What we know of Mankind Divided so far is encouraging: the trailer features what appears to be an arm-mounted PEPS – which, combined with a tweaked recharge mechanic to encourage looser use of augs, should make non-lethal aggressive force an option far more often.
Elsewhere there’s a pleasantly un-militaristic taser, and the tesla – little darts that shoot out of Jensen’s knuckles, allowing him to tag and take out enemies on the quiet. Mankind Divided will include twice as many augmentations as Human Revolution, so we’re hopeful for more in the same vein.
There’s a balance to strike here, of course: if Deus Ex is to maintain its sense of constant moral dilemma, non-lethality should be the harder road to tread. The occasional killing ought to be a tempting compromise, rather than the preserve of psychopaths.
But the most important thing is to have knocked-out NPCs snore sweetly like they did in Dishonored. That was dead cute. Sorry: unconscious cute.
Make Deus Ex worthy of the ‘S’ in FPS
The original Deus Ex is often classified as a shooter, but the actual shooting was perfunctory – just workable enough to see your louder plans through to fruition. Human Revolution deserves huge credit for improving on that – infusing conflicts with impact and immediacy and adopting Rainbow Six: Vegas’ cover system with great success. But Mankind Divided should go further, making a proper FPS of itself.
While Deus Ex really does support any approach, stealth is its default. By contrast, the recent likes of Far Cry 4 and Dishonored have proved far more adaptable – encouraging players to reach not for the reset button when sneaking goes south, but instead for a bag full of noisy tricks.
There are a couple of changes coming in Mankind Divided that might help – like the ability to adjust ammo types, firing patterns and scopes mid-battle. And more aggressive enemy AI, keen to flank and bear down on Jensen with newly varied guns and augments – including exoskeletons and high-jump upgrades.
We’re told, too, that certain elements of the environment will be reactive to combat. With a bit of luck, these disparate tweaks will culminate in a more dynamic Deus Ex.
Give us more frequent and more lavish boss-chats…
Human Revolution’s real boss fights were its set-piece conversations – tense chats that asked you to study the faces of major characters in close-up. These verbal jousts saw players aim for the right psychological spot to spill information, and their subjects deflect their attempts with frustration or faux-anger.
Pre-written character responses came in unpredictable waves, so there was no learning the ‘right’ pattern. Players instead needed either the right social augmentations to see their way through, or the emotional intelligence to work out whether to relate or intimidate.
It was an invitation to think about what made the game’s complex characters tick. Allies and enemies alike were picked apart to discover what drove them; sometimes it was guilt, or pride, and rarely what you expected. The sense of catharsis upon reaching a solution was nearly as rewarding as the XP bonus.
They were rare: a handful of encounters spread across tens of hours. But they’re the part of the Human Revolution that still feels fresh and unmimicked, so a shrewd Eidos will have ringfenced a portion of the sequel’s budget to bring us more showdown chinwags.
…But don’t ditch traditional boss fights entirely
Human Revolution’s boss battles were outsourced during development, and roundly condemned by players afterwards. Eidos, too, were quick to acknowledge that the forced fights were at odds with the rest of the game’s ethos.
But they were getting better by the time Human Revolution’s Missing Link DLC came around, providing us with options to disable turrets, give goons the slip and leave the target breathing if desired.
So the series should keep them. Deus Ex has always had bosses – if only for the subversive satisfaction of gliding by them undetected, or dispatching them with a killphrase, or blowing them up unceremoniously with LAMs. And Human Revolution only rendered them more exciting by mixing in a dash of Metal Gear DNA – the highly-stylised likes of Barrett and Fedorova, physical presences who stick in the memory.
Early word on Mankind Divided has it that boss encounters remain, and are designed in such a way as to allow players to make use of stealth as well as stabby augments. If they’ve mixed in some of that broad-stroked character design too, they’ll be on to a winner.
Don’t be afraid to write a couple of tunes
Michael McCann’s Human Revolution score was a masterwork of gently-pulsating electronica, like a re-recording of Mezzanine by a more outward-looking Massive Attack. But its background ambience was undeniably different from the melody-driven soundtrack written for the first Deus Ex in 2000.
A jaunty tune like that written for Deus Ex’s Hong Kong hub would be deemed ludicrously intrusive today, and rightly so. But the fact remains: even now I can bellow the looping main menu theme like a national anthem, and would do so at parties given the chance.
Human Revolution made a couple of nods to the series’ musical history. Rantings on the radio were interrupted by a few sensible selections from Deus Ex 1’s soundtrack. A civvie whistled the opening notes of the original theme in a Detroit alley.
But please, Eidos – give us a couple of non-ambient tracks in Mankind Divided, if only to hum nostalgically in future years. Make ‘em silly. Stick ‘em on the menus and credits if you must.
Set the whole thing in an inbox where we can read pretend emails for hours
Eidos’ vision of cruel corps and social anxiety was most human in the private messages slipped between employees at the police station or Sarif Industries.
Narrative designer Mary DeMarle and her team worked wonders with out-of-office replies and strings of > symbols – nowhere more successfully than in Upper Hengsha, where Tai Young Medical staff were subjected to claustrophobic inbox limits. Somehow, those cold reminder emails solidified the city’s stifling atmosphere more convincingly than the Belltower operatives on every street corner.
It’s rare to see AAA developers set loose to play with text, rather than worry about the process of turning writing into performance. So maybe just do away with the legwork and investigation and strip Deus Ex back to made-up emails. That’ll do it.