In the 1970s, "The Six-Million-Dollar Man" had all us kids fantasizing about the cool bionic parts we'd all be getting one day. Super-speedy legs? An arm that can punch through brick walls? An eye with a built-in zoom lens? Who wouldn't want to be Steve Austin?
Adam Jensen, the protagonist of "Deus Ex: Mankind Divided" (Square Enix, for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, $59.99), makes Steve look like a 98-pound weakling. Not only can Adam jump higher and punch harder, he can also turn invisible, make himself bulletproof and shoot electricity from his fingertips.
It's 2029, and Adam is hardly the only bionic marvel around. Plenty of humans have had their bodies "augmented" — but the world is still reeling from the disastrous "Aug Incident" of 2027, in which thousands of them went berserk. Augs are now quarantined in urban ghettos, fighting for respect and dignity while powerful forces beyond their control wrestle over the fate of humanity.
Adam works for a counterterrorism unit of Interpol, though his investigations unravel a conspiracy involving a chain of seedy operations, from street-level criminal gangs to the dreaded Illuminati. Frankly, there are so many factions conspiring with and competing against each other that I lost track; the best way to approach "Deus Ex" is to dive into its individual missions and try to sort out the mystery later.
Those missions are superbly designed. Typically, Adam needs to break into a heavily guarded facility to retrieve a piece of evidence or interrogate a suspect. You can send him in with guns blazing, although it's far more rewarding to sneak in and finish the job without firing a single bullet. Adam's cybernetics let him see through walls and hack security systems, and he even has some "social" enhancements that help him persuade suspects to cooperate rather than beating them into submission.
The bulk of "Mankind Divided" takes place in Prague, which has devolved into a paranoid, surveillance-heavy city patrolled by thuggish cops. There's a lot going on under the surface, though, and much of the fun comes from stumbling across its cleverly designed side stories. There are plenty of desperate people in this town, and it's refreshing when Adam can take some time away from the global conspiracy to help some poor lost soul.
"Mankind Divided" also tackles some of the issues of our real-life surveillance state, such as security vs. privacy, cops vs. civilians, freedom of movement vs. the desire to control borders. It doesn't offer any easy answers, except in one case: The outcast Augs are viewed sympathetically, while their oppressors are sneering cartoons.
So, go ahead, get that laser surgery; maybe someday you'll be able to upgrade to X-ray vision. The future presented in "Mankind Divided" may be bleak, but you can still dream of having a truly awesome cyborg body. Three stars out of four.
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