I just got done watching Square Enix’s Deus Ex pre-E3 demonstration, and everything the publisher is announcing during E3 seems to be the culmination of how it’s reconciling the nature of Deux Ex with the realities of today’s blockbuster game market. An article from Zam news criticizing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided as being a completely unoriginal amalgamation of everything popular in today’s console game market is pretty relevant in my opinion, even if I don’t completely agree with it and am still excited to play the game.
It’s easy to see these criticisms because of the package we’re getting: a singleplayer story packed with guns, cover, side quests, upgrade systems, a social mini game, and a mobile side game to go along with it. It looks like another run of the “modern AAA game” playbook. Ever since Square Enix teased some kind of Deus Ex MMO or something there has been a sense it’s trying to figure out how to turn the franchise into what the industry has decided is the future: a game as a service instead of a singular static storyline. The new “Breach” mode seems to be the answer. The problem in doing this with Deus Ex however is that the main appeal of that franchise is its story and world building.
The original Deus Ex in 2000 stood out for presenting players with an immersive representation of a hard-boiled dystopian cyberpunk setting. In that setting is an Americanized Ghost in the Shell-esque story about technology, the human condition, the nature of governments, corporate corruption, and espionage, with a sense of complexity that’s still unusual for video games.
The Zam story actually criticizes even this aspect of Mankind Divided and its advertised “Mechanical Apartheid” setting has being ham-fisted. I have to agree that what we’ve seen so far regarding the new game’s story doesn’t amount to much other than some stock allusions to racism. It doesn’t seem all that new or different. Add to this that, indeed, some near-future themes have become more common in action games as of late. Action RPGs with progression systems in dystopian settings aren’t new anymore. You can’t really blame that on Deus Ex though.
Deus Ex was doing the dystopian action RPG thing over 15 years ago. The problem isn’t that Mankind Divided is too much like other games in today’s market. The problem is that so many other games have become like Deus Ex.
Square Enix is trying to figure out how to make something of Deus Ex beyond a bunch of storylines that begin and end, but ultimately I think that’s what’s going to continue to set it apart. What we’ve seen of the story and setting of Mankind Divided so far doesn’t stick out much, but I actually still have confidence in its plot given what I saw in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Let’s remember plot is different from story and setting. It refers to how the story actually plays out, and I for one thought Human Revolution was deeper and more ambitious with its story than most of its competition. At the very least we’re still probably going to get the corporate espionage and conspiracy plot points. We may even get some of the philosophical themes the 2000 original was laced with.
Honestly though, I think Deus Ex still stands out for being truly cyberpunk. Near-future dystopias are more and more common today, but I think you still don’t see that many games (or movies for that matter) doing real hard-boiled mystery stories touching on the same themes as Ghost or Neuromancer or Blade Runner. And you especially still don’t see many games presenting their worlds in as immersive a fashion as Deus Ex. The only recent games I’ve seen that are really comparable in the mechanical sense are Fallout 4 and the upcoming Dishonored 2.
- So Berserk might be the next anime Koei Tecmo turns into a Musou: http://www.siliconera.com/2016/06/10/omega-force-teaser-starting-look-lot-like-berserk-musou/
- Sobering analysis of games that get revealed at E3 versus when they actually come out (most from E3 2015 aren’t out yet): http://www.finder.com.au/62-of-games-from-e3-2015-press-conferences-still-unreleased
- Possibly the only Final Fantasy Tactics interview ever is finally available in English: http://shmuplations.com/fft/