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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Explores Gritty Transhumanism

The Deus Ex games have always been about setting as much as storyline, which is why the series has been ripe for sequels ever since its inception in 2000. Its newest installment, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, will explore what happens when an entire population of cyborgs becomes second-class citizens, all while providing the robust combat, stealth and exploration that have become hallmarks of the series.

I got a chance to check out Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at a Square Enix press event, and although it's not yet ready for hands-on demos, the game has adopted a few new tricks since I last saw it at E3. The game is currently slated for release on Feb. 23 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, and will cost $60. A Square Enix representative walked us through two levels: Dubai, which acts as a tutorial, and the Dvali Theater, a much more advanced stage from later in the game.

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The setup is as follows: Two years have passed since the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and those who decided to augment their bodies with cybernetic technology are having a rough go of it. A "Mechanical Apartheid" has kept pure and augmented citizens at odds, and terrorism is rampant. As such, returning protagonist Adam Jensen will make use of his own augmented abilities to preserve the fragile peace. (Odds are good that a bigger conspiracy will rear its ugly head at some point.)

During the Dubai level, we saw Adam do what we already know he does well: sneak behind platforms, taking out some guards with melee attacks from behind, and others during intense gunfights. This time around, he could also use a stealthy blade in his cybernetic arm to take out enemies from a distance without making much noise.

At the end of the level, Adam had only a limited amount of time to take out a helicopter that would have allowed a prominent terrorist to escape. In typical Deus Ex fashion, there were many ways to deal with the situation. He could have shot down the helicopter, sabotaged the controls or taken out the terrorist leader before he had a chance to board. This time around, he chose instead to create a cloud of smoke and remove the battery from the helicopter, effectively grounding it.

The next part of the demo took placed in the Dvali Theater, where Adam had to infiltrate a heavily guarded building, patrolled by both human and robotic enemies. The procedure was much the same as before: Sneak past guards, explore locked rooms, find hidden passages through air vents and across rooftops and distract guards with environmental cues, like malfunctioning security cameras or films mysteriously starting to play on the theater's screens.

Adam's hacking abilities came in handy in the Dvali, both for dealing with the encrypted computer systems and the robotic drones who roamed the halls. Turning these robots against their terrorist accomplices seemed to be an effective way of evening the odds, although it's worth pointing out that in the full game, the player will have control over which abilities Adam pursues and which he ignores: You may opt for a stealthy hacker or a guns-blazing commando. There's no real "wrong" way to play.

One of Adam's most useful new abilities appears to be the Icarus Dash, in which he charges his body with electrical energy and leaps across vast distances. This is useful not only for tricky platforming sections, but also for getting the drop on enemies and dishing out massive damage against tightly clustered groups. For those pursuing combat-centric characters, it seems like a fun way to add some variety to combat.

Until we get some hands-on time with Mankind Divided, it will be difficult to say whether or not it plays better than its predecessor, but what we've seen so far looks promising for those who enjoyed Human Revolution.