The Bizarre Futuristic Paradise of Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Sunday 10 December 2017

The year is 2027. Biotechnology has achieved giant steps and now people have the chance to replace or boost parts of their body with hi-tech mechanical limbs, so that they are more effective and productive in their work and other activities. This seemingly ideal evolution however hides lots of traps because, on the one hand the robotic limbs, no matter how perfect they may be, remain machines that can go wonkers at any time, and on the other there are always people willing to take advantage of such a promising technology for their own personal gain - be it sheer ambition or desire for riches.

Although luxurious, modern Detroit has an atmosphere of abandonment

Two years later, the world is divided between the 'natural' and the 'augmented' people. This is, in a nutshell, the setting of Deus Ex, as we see it in the last two video games of the series, Human Revolution and Mankind Divided and, more specifically, through the eyes of their protaginist, agent Adam Jensen. The message that the basic story of those two games carries is more than obvious: racism, social exclusion, acceptance of diversity or lack thereof, and also about how the thoughtless use - or better, overuse - of modern technology can have devastating consequences.

The beautiful and epic Human Revolution is a grim and gloomy futuristic tale that narrates how taking advantage of technology can make you prosper or ruin your life and the world around you, while in the equally charming and immersive Mankind Divided, the damage seems to already have been done, as the ‘natural’ people are more often than not extremely suspicious – hostile, even – towards the augmented citizens.

The busy platform in Prague hosts both 'natural' and augmented citizens

A gifted and intelligent ex-cop, Adam Jensen was one of the victims of a vicious attack that caused him multiple mutilations. While he was comatose on the surgical bed, his boss, David Sarif, owner and developer of advanced prosthetic technologies, decided to replace several of his destroyed limbs with mechanical ones. Upon waking up, the new Adam has, among other things, robotic legs and arms, mechanical breathing system, improved vision, and a brain chip that allows him to ‘scan’ the character of the people he interacts with, subsequently being able to influence their course of thought and reaction.

Adam, the enigmatic David Sarif, specialized genetist Megan Reed who also happens to be Adam’s ex-girlfriend, tech guru and hacker Frank Pritchard, Jim Miller, Adam’s boss in Prague, Alex and Farida, the tough pilot girls, Vaclav Coller, (mad) scientist and Adam's doctor and friend, are all part of a different world where everything, from science and medicine to fashion and art, are viewed through a futuristic and post-apocalyptic prism.

Adam is a very charming character in all his versions

Detroit in 2027, as it is depicted in Human Revolution, seems like it comes straight out of a science fiction movie, with its aerial railways and hyper-modern apartment buildings looking compelling and mysterious in the gloomy lighting. As most of the story takes place in the afternoon and night, the light sources are mainly electric, something that adds a lot to this atmosphere of artificiality and coldness. The yellow tones dominate, coming to contrast with the dark backgrounds. There are people in the streets, but everybody is either sulky or ready for a fight.

Prague in 2029, which is the main setting of Mankind Divided, seems to have incorporated all the modern elements and combined them with its traditional ones. Which is why we see elaborate subway stations and futuristic offices, as well as scenic parks and vintage-looking houses. Here there is a lot of action taking place in plain daylight, and we can admire the bright colours in the gardens, the graffiti on walls, the blue sky, the colourful windows of the stores.

A view of a characteristic spot in Prague

However in both cases we notice that underneath the evolved surface, nothing has truly changed in the essence: drug dealers, ruthless gangs, organized crime still carry out illegal activities in the margins of society, within the limits of an underworld that has way too much in common with the one of good old yesteryears. At the same time, the ordinary world goes on with its everyday routine. Only that now, among the ‘natural’ people, exist those who have undertaken mechanical augmentations and, after some point, are considered outcasts of society. In Mankind Divided, we can see this very clearly, when Adam takes the subway train for 'natural' people by mistake: some of the passengers look at him with contempt and anger - still,  he manages to remain cool.

The passengers don't like it that Adam invaded their 'natural' space

With the supporters of this new reality on the one side, its devoted enemies, who wish for a completely purged and natural human nature, on the other, and above everyone else those who want to use the new technology to gain power and manipulate the world, Adam finds himself in a whirlwind of events that affect him in more than one ways. Adam is an augmented man and therefore belongs, technically, to the first group. His moral values, however, are in constant conflict with this, because on the one hand ‘he never asked for this’ and on the other he is not sure what kind of life he would prefer, supposing he had been given the chance to choose. Just like his namesake Adam of the Bible, Adam was created (or better, re-created) not exactly from dust but from the remains of his human self. But still, his thoughts and feelings remain 100% human, something that is constantly in debate with the almost supernatural powers that he has gained thanks to his advanced transplants and their hi-tech enhancements.

Adam is always saturnine and it feels like he can't find peace of mind

Unlike Frank (or Francis, as Adam likes to call him), who willingly and consciously chose to get his brain augmentation, or Megan, who views the whole matter from a strictly scientific aspect even if this means the impingement of anything moral, Adam is always concerned whether what he does is right or not. He is, in the essence, a marginalized anti-hero who may get compliments about his impressive looks, but he is also the target of unfair and offensive comments due to the fact that he is augmented.

It’s not easy at all for Adam to adapt to the new conditions, however in Mankind Divided we find him more stoic and cynical, something that was expected to happen anyway since in Human Revolution he had discovered that both Megan and David had taken advantage of him and had, more or less, betrayed him in a way. And although he got to a compromise with David, his relationship with Megan was never restored. It is notable that while he started off being so close with Megan and David, he ended up alienated from them, while his relationship with Frank, although it was antagonistic at first, then moved to a sui generis level of friendship and respect.

Adam and Frank like each other much more than they dare to admit

Equally, in Mankind Divided Adam’s relationship with his boss passes through thick and thin. Jim Miller, head chief of Interpol’s Task Force 29, is a tough and decisive commander and soldier, but is also a man with a tumultuous and unusual family life. Miller looks cold and insensitive, but Adam, who is able to see behind the surface, can discern and estimate all the good sides of his chief’s character. And Miller deep down always liked Adam and trusted him, both as an agent and a friend, although he did not always let it show.

Adam saves Miller's life and Jim confesses that he always trusted him

In the charming universe of the two games, the characters appear in outfits that look like contemporary ones, but are also combining both vintage and futuristic elements. Same goes for the environments and the objects that we see in them. In the apartments we can see hi-tech devices next to gramophones or old-style display cases. Megan is seen wearing very modern leather pants and boots with metallic details, but she also has a pearl pendant hanging round her neck. Men's fashion is characterized by the same fusion style, with stylish boots and vests combined with classic shirts and haircuts.

The undercover agent Arun Singh in his very trendy outfit

This mix of time and style points to the fact that modern man is afraid of and unable to handle all the knowledge and information that are received everyday and is still clinging to the past to look for ideas, inspiration or simply for something to behold, since the future, as fascinating as it may be, will always remain uncertain and vague.

The undergrounds of the cities, however, still remain the same: dark, filled with dangers and mysteries – just like the human subconscious. Secret cults, cruel mafia bosses, serial killers roam the sewers and basements, waiting for the right moment to show themselves and demonstrate all the evil that they can do. The lethal gangs of Derelict Row in Human Revolution will stop at nothing to impose themselves in Detroit and establish their ‘kingdom’. Otar Botkoveli in Mankind Divided is an old school Mafioso whom Adam is able to tame by talking to him the right way, but who will very easily go mad when Adam ignores his request and will take revenge on him in a most painful way.

Why Botkoveli's black list includes exclusively young people, remains a mystery

The politicians and their strategies are not much different from the past either: demagogy, direct or indirect mass manipulation, taking all means necessary to establish power, everything that was always happening, is still happening and is doomed to go on happening as long as there are people on this planet. The rich are richer, the poor rarely manage to make their life better, the multinational corporations are spread everywhere. And all this, under the illusive veil of fake prosperity that the abunance of material things create. This image of the future is more or less like Adam; impressive and evolved on the surface, but with an inner melancholy that has become part of its being and is almost impossible to go away.

1 comment:

World News said...

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Deus Ex Mankind Divided