I’ve been playing a lot of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Let me tell you about a weird little moment I just experienced in this sublime cyberpunk role playing game.
I’m in the middle of an important mission, returning to Prague, the game’s main city hub. It’s filled with grandly weird futuristic architecture grafted onto the ancient familiar buildings, a striking video game world realized in the most densely detailed design I’ve seen so far.
Every little corner, alley, shopfront, and basement has been lovingly hand crafted. The entire city is arranged for maximum sneaking, hacking, and exploring potential. The level of detail perfects that feeling of being transported to another realm.
I should be racing toward my headquarters, but I’m first caught by a message from my old boss, delivering the news that a mysterious benefactor might be right down the street. It’s intriguing, so I bite.
On my way to that address, however, I spot a weirdly glitching digital billboard. I approach it, and suddenly a female figure is shouting a garbled message, cut with static. I hear directions to a random shop. It’s nighttime, but as I approach the door locks open. I head to the basement and use the computer to contact this mysterious entity.
I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers. The important thing is that when I started off on my new errand, I spotted a spectacular view over the water, with a massive futuristic cyber structure looming in the distance. A few people were enjoying coffee at little tables near the water, and a couple women struck up a conversation.
It was beautiful imagery and I wanted to save it. I take a lot of screenshots while I play. The visuals and music combine in a way that feels endlessly absorbable. I just want to take it all in as much as I can.
I started to frame them with the lake in the background to take a screenshot, but a man walked into view. As the women conversed, looking toward the lake, he leaned closer to the table. Suddenly he snatched something and ran, one of the women screaming as I took off after him. I caught up in the street and executed a nonlethal takedown.
I tried to return to the women, but by then the alarms had rung. Of course, the police gunned me down. I reloaded my previous save. I ran right back to the same place; I wanted to see how the scenario would play out. This time, I got a little closer.
I watched the man sneak up to the table. He was an aug in a trench coat. He eyed the table. I crouched closer and noticed that it was food. He was stealing a bag of food. I stepped back and watched him take it and run down the street silently.
I was so affected by the senseless nature of the moment the first time it happened, ending in my assault on a seemingly random NPC and subsequent death at the hands of the overzealous police. With games like this and The Witcher 3, games where the writing is so rich that even side quests and “bad” outcomes are worth the effort, I try to roll with the setbacks. If an alarm goes off in a sneaking mission, I’m okay with sprinting, hiding, and seeing what I can do. But when I’m killed, it forces a reevaluation.
So this time I saw that, with a more careful look at things, my entire perspective changed. It’s just AI and triangles on my screen, but it can be as affecting as great books and films before it.
I came back and got my screenshot.