Once in a while, we come across games that transcend their medium, that do more than “just” entertain us … While Life is Strange asks us to just relax and do nothing for a few minutes once in a while (and does so in the game itself, too) or Red Dead Redemption makes us see the dying West and the end of an age through John Marston’s embittered and wisened eyes, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided puts the finger in the festering wound of our era – discrimination.
When Eastern Europeans get attacked in Britain after the Brexit disaster, when black people get killed by cops in the US, when islamophobia is running rampant across the world and right-wing hatred rears its ugly head once more, Mankind Divided dares to tell a story of segregation, discrimination and fear-mongering exactly at the right time.
Even more so, while the game shows discrimination openly, you’ll get to experience it yourself throughout the game up to a point where you start hating every asshole shouting “clank” at you, that cop shouting at you to not take the “naturals'” carriage or every time you have to present your papers to show you have the right to be where you are despite being an augmented sub-human “hanzer”.
In fact, the title Mankind Divided sums up today’s world perfectly, a world where division, suspicion and prejudice reign and split societies and peoples, fuelled by hate-filled diatribes in too many tabloids reaching far too many people. Just like in the game – you can read newspapers from the opposing ends of the spectrum, you find propaganda from all sides lying around and you feel the tensions between rich and poor, between freedom and security, between the cold truth and comforting lies.
A key moment of Mankind Divided is when you transit from the open word-ish streets of Prague to the linear corridor of Golem City – a perfect way of using gameplay to establish the experiences and the hardship of the “human waste” in the ghetto where rampant police violence and lawless gangs both thrive without consequences.
Where the game excels is not painting everything in black and white – there are augmented terrorists, some cops are actually just looking for the greater good with bad methods, and making all information available to everyone might involve risks as well. The world of Deus Ex has always tried to be morally grey, and Mankind Divided has nailed this even better than Human Revolution – not necessarily through missions or objectives, although it can be seen there as well, but rather covertly by listening to conversations, during conversations, reading e-books, papers and mails.
Mankind Divided follows the footsteps of GTA V by transporting dark themes of our reality into a game, although there a key differences – while the sun-kissed San Andreas is a garish, bright and satirical take on capitalism and the rotting American Dream, Prague’s dystopian vision shows a bleak world of oppression and decay. While GTA is a tale of utter amorality in a hopeless and corrupted world of mass stupidity and pretty much character is nothing but a massive bodily orifice of your choosing, Deus Ex is a world of morals with a twist, as a seemingly good deed potentially leads to disaster. But both games reach their greatest narrative height not in their storylines (they both are arguably not the strongest stories of their series), but rather in portraying worlds where behind .
Rabidgames muses: It’s a shame that when we talk about progress in video games, we’re mostly talking about shiny graphics, screen resolutions or processing power. Hardly do we ever read about narrative heights, deep stories or new ways how games can tackle serious matters. It’s a shame, but maybe it’s the strange thought that games should be only fun without us having to think, or maybe it’s also the fact we’re not used to games tackling serious issues.
Whatever the reason, we should laud games such as This War of Mine or Spec Ops: The Line, we should discuss the undertones of games like Deus Ex instead – if we’re instead in the medium evolving into more than a mere pastime. This decision is up to each of us, and we can decide with our wallet if we want another stupid patriotic shooter or a different game that challenges not only our hands and eyes, but also the brain.