Science-Fiction Weekly – Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Valley, Arrival
This week sees the release of a variety of science-fiction video games, beginning with today's release of Eidos Montreal's Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This follow-up takes place two years after the catastrophic events in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. After thousands of mechanically augmented humans experienced psychotic episodes, which led to the deaths of many innocent people, "augs" are now segregated from the rest of society, viewed as dangerous and toxic. The world is unstable and we once again see it through the eyes of Adam Jensen, a heavily augmented covert agent for Interpol's Task Force 29. He's a gun for hire, and we catch up with him on assignment in Dubai. He's tracking a dangerous weapons dealer through an unfinished high-rise hotel.
I had the chance to review Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and walked away form the experience a bit overwhelmed. I enjoyed the stealth gameplay and new vision of the world, but couldn't get into the narrative, which often balloons to accommodate extraneous data dumps of world building and lore. As I said in my review: "Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is futuristic science fiction, but the message it delivers stems from today’s societal problems. Police shoot unarmed innocents, extremist groups unleash acts of terror, and communities are torn apart by segregation. The story explores these issues thoroughly and makes a clear statement about the threat posed by totalitarianism, but the delivery is often heavy-handed and overstated. In establishing its vision of an oppressed world, the player is treated like a hard drive for extensive downloads of backstory and lore – so much so that I had to make notes just to keep track of all of the shadow organizations, acronyms, and shady government officials. The game made me think about my world, which is clearly the intent, but I never felt a strong connection to the game or the role protagonist Adam Jensen plays within it. Eidos Montreal attempts to disguise hot-button issues as speculative fiction, but sacrifices an interesting story to hammer home its messaging."
For thoughts on the game's combat, upgrades, missions, and enemy behavior, you can watch the video below, or read my full review here.
The second big sci-fi release of the week is Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars, releasing digitally for PC on Thursday. I unfortunately haven't gotten my hands on it – something I've been bemoaning since it's one of my favorite PC series of all time – but Game Informer's Dan Tack has played it extensively. He unfortunately can't share any of his thoughts on the game yet, but we were mighty impressed with demos (and early access sessions) we played, and it has Mark Hamill in it, so it should be good, right? Hamill wouldn't take on a clunker, would he?
And as Hello Games patches the living hell out of the PC version of No Man's Sky, indie developer Blue Isle Entertainment (Slender: The Arrival) is releasing a different take on sci-fi tomorrow for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The game is called Valley, a first-person exploratory adventure that is as much about letting the player bask in the beauty of a world as it is a strange mystery to unravel. Set in the Rocky Mountains, the player is equipped with a L.E.A.F. suit, an exoskeleton that grants increased speed and strength. The game doesn't offer any form of combat, and the suit is instead used primarily for environment navigation. This setup is fairly pedestrian, and fun in its own right, but the suit also grants the user the ability to manipulate the life and death of all living things. I know I kind of buried the lead on the delivery of power, but the exact reason why you have this godlike ability is a big part of the mystery.
I'm about an hour into the game, and my intrigue with it hasn't diminished at all. Leaping across vast chasms with the grace of a deer is empowering, and the game does a great job of embracing the beauty of the moment with stunning vistas and a dynamic soundtrack that plays off of the feeling you are likely experiencing. Playing god has delivered mixed results so far. On one hand, stumbling upon a deer and bringing it back to life (an act that the game tells me will help unlock the mystery of the land) feels great, but using the same power to solve locked door puzzles is somewhat worrisome. Twice so far I've been asked to track down and revitalize a certain number of trees to open doors. If that's the main gameplay hook, I could see this experience getting old fast. One thing I foresee happening is having to drain the life from wildlife to either power-up or redistribute it elsewhere. I'll have my full thoughts on Valley in next week's column (and potentially a review to go along with it).
Outside of games, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival has generated a lot of buzz with its first trailer. While this is yet another film that explores mankind's first contact with aliens, it looks to have a different vibe; reminding me a little bit of the roll out in Michael Crichton's Sphere and Timeline books. This also looks like a great role for Amy Adams (who I think is a phenomenal talent), and I'm curious to see what role Jeremy Renner plays in it. From what I can tell, Adams is racing to figure out an alien language before the world's itchy trigger fingers engage in war with the alien visitors. The Arrival opens in theaters on November 11. Take a second to check out the trailer below.
And that's going to wrap up another edition of Science-Fiction Weekly. There's plenty of games to discuss over the next couple of weeks, and I'd love to get your feedback on them in the comments section below.