Deus Ex: Mankind Divided doesn't appear to have an original bone in its body
Watch_Dogs 2 isn't the only blockbuster slathering its shiny all over the internet today -- Square Enix's upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also unveiled a few new tricks this morning in a pre-E3 press conference, though I use the term "new" loosely.
First up: Breach. This new "arcade" mode comes as part of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's main story mode and sees you assuming the role of a not-Adam-Jensen sci-fi infiltration gizmo specialist, uh, type person. You remember that Metal Gear Solid spin-off that was just a series of stealth challenges, dubbed VR Missions? Breach is sounding a lot like that: you're in a digital world shooting and hacking your way through 75 levels, in first person, with leaderboards for high scores. Polygon has somehow stretched the previous sentence into 1.8k words if you want to read more about it. I especially liked the passage downplaying the similarities with Mike Bithell's Volume.
Next: Deus Ex GO. It's Lara Croft GO, but Deus Ex. Get it? There's no shame in a laid-back puzzle game, but there's no need to dress this up as anything but a mobile side title.
Last: Square Enix is promoting their upcoming game about dudes with prosthetic arms by offering amputees prosthetic arms just like the dudes in the game. It's neat and all but I just can't imagine where Square Enix's marketing people came up with that idea.
Look, there are reasons that Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the upcoming Mankind Divided have generated the sarcasm and derision that they have. Videogames are all about that cyberpunk aesthetic these days, but in movies and especially in literature, the genre is seen as overplayed and oversaturated. Even among games, this is hardly uncharted territory at this point. So when Deus Ex makes hamfisted analogies with its bits about mechanical apartheid and separate bathrooms for augmented and non-augmented humans, yeah, we see the point that it's trying to make, it just generates eyerolls because we have seen this dozens and dozens of times already.
Deus Ex uses tech augmentation as a metaphor for race politics or transphobia, but then it depicts actual people of color like this. Even if you don't see this particular representation as necessarily racist, you have to acknowledge it's far from the boldest thing in the world for game companies to regularly couch its commentaries on social issues in terms of fantastical concepts like orcs or cyborgs. At least BioShock Infinite went and showed real racialized violence and oppression, even if its message ended up somewhere in the South Park range of political sophistication.
And what is Mankind Divided presently doing in order to differentiate itself? A first-person shooter mode. A puzzle mobile game. OK. Neither of those really do much to reinforce what Deus Ex was, in terms of its legacy, or is, in terms of a contemporary piece of entertainment ostensibly holding a funhouse mirror up to the problems of our real lives. If you want a dystopian first-person shooter with this exact aesthetic and more interesting gameplay, go try SUPERHOT.
It would be wonderful if Deus Ex: Mankind Divided did something interesting with its themes and setting, but all we're seeing so far is retread of ideas others have already put forward. Even its marketing borrows from other companies. You may say "it's fine as long as it works," but that's just my point: I don't think it is working. Right now, all I'm seeing with this game is derivatives of other derivatives. I would love to be proven wrong.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out August 23rd on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.