Saturday, November 05, 2022
Spare a thought for Adam Jensen, the hero of the recent Deus Ex games. He resembled a young Sam Fisher; only, whereas Fisher preferred to keep his gadgetry – the lock picks, the pistols, the vision-enhancing goggles – on his person, Jensen kept it in his person. His body was home to all manner of niftiness: blades tucked in his wrists, where his veins ought to be; x-ray cameras cached within his optic nerves; and even a pair of wraparound shades that appeared to have been grafted onto his cheekbones, probably to avoid nose slippage. My personal favourite of all his augmentations is the bulletproof gel that lurks beneath his skin. Whether or not he applies a dab of this to his hair, in order to achieve the thicket of dark spikes atop his head, remains unknown.
Wracked with personal tragedy, Jensen was exactly the sort of protagonist that you needed in a cyberpunk setting: a man composed of as much steel and downpour as the Detroit through which he slogged. His job was to unpick a conspiracy so lofty and important that it always leaves my recollection, and he sounded dumb and dazed with the effort. He was voiced by Elias Toufexis, who seemed to channel a cool blend of Keanu Reeves and Clint Eastwood – the enforcer who knew, deep down, that he was on a bogus journey. Now that journey may continue. The reason that Jensen ought to be in our thoughts more than usual this week is a news item. According to a report from Bloomberg, a new Deus Ex game is in the “very very early” stages of development at Eidos-Montréal.
That studio delivered both of Jensen’s outings, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Taking after their hero, these games had very little to say but were crammed with smart mechanics. Unfortunately they didn’t make quite enough money, so they were put on hiatus, back in 2017. I like to imagine Jensen in a frozen pose in his gloomy apartment, as if his firmware had locked up in the middle of an update. Not to say that he will, for certain, make a return. We know nothing of this new Deus Ex, least of all whether it will pick up where the last game left off. What we do know is that it will be released into a different world – one in which we have Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt RED, a game which gave us the promise of Deus Ex patched into a true open world. Though the patching, it must be said, is still ongoing.
That being said, one reason a new entry in Eidos-Montréal’s series would be so welcome is that, in many ways, CD Projekt RED failed to truly scratch the Jensen itch. The hacking, for one thing, was nowhere near as fun as it was in Deus Ex, with all its nukable nodes and worming viruses. But, more important, the stealth in Cyberpunk 2077 lacked the well-tuned and calibrated feel with which Jensen slunk through corridors and snapped into cover. One of the pleasures of Deus Ex was that, as you sidled along walls or crates, the camera would pull back into third person, granting us not only heightened spatial awareness but an opportunity to survey our hero’s goatee in such tense moments, which remained impeccable.
With Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell both absent in recent years, Eidos-Montréal supplied us with a solid fix. The level design in those two Deus Ex games felt akin to those of Dishonored and Prey – with their pickable locks and hidden rooms, their sly routes that allowed you to bypass huge chunks of challenge. Indeed, Eidos-Montréal cornered the market on air ducts; Jensen’s signature tactic, when faced with armoured foes and trying combat encounters, was to vent his frustrations, as it were, and crawl through the floors and walls. As dun and industrial as some of the areas were (particularly in Mankind Divided), their stainless appeal lay in their application for solid line-of-sight stealth, free of frippery and even packing a radar replete with enemy vision cones.
Stealth, of course, is always a tough commercial sell. A lot of games, these days, like to stash it within the body of a larger structure, like a sneaky augmentation; think of the Arkham series, with its predator sections, or of Dishonored, in which creeping is just one of many creative solutions. The result often bears the signs of dilution, but Eidos-Montréal managed an unadulterated mix of skulking and all-out action, greatly helped by the tight focus of its environments. The original Deus Ex and its follow-up, Deus Ex: Invisible War, were immersive sims – a genre that flourished on PC, with the likes of Thief and System Shock, and encouraged players to fixate on their environment and prod the interlocking systems that governed their interaction with it. Eidos-Montréal snuck that ethos into a blockbuster action-RPG, and the result was a series of delicious hubs.
Detroit, Hengsha, Prague: the bounded playgrounds of Jensen's adventures gave us the impression of a wider world (replete with set-piece glimpses of London and Dubai), but the density and curated detail of the small-scale. If we get another Deus Ex, part of the fun will be in seeing where we get to poke around. I won't soon forget the derelict gold of the streetlamps in Detroit, or the sculpture outside the Prague medical clinic: a cascade of luminous pills hanging in the rainy air, as though the place were in permanent need of numbing. It may be a long way until we see or hear anything else, but here's hoping for another dose of dark sci-fi. And here's to Adam Jensen, sat with a tumbler of booze and a cigarette, waiting to get back to work.
Saturday, November 05, 2022 @ 10:56 AM
Saturday, November 05, 2022 @ 11:01 AM
Saturday, November 05, 2022 @ 11:53 AM
Saturday, November 05, 2022 @ 01:44 PM
Saturday, November 05, 2022 @ 01:45 PM
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Sunday, November 06, 2022 @ 10:19 AM
Monday, November 07, 2022 @ 06:19 AM