In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. This week Tom breaks into a bank.
In the office recently we've been discussing the best levels of 2016. Hitman's Sapienza is up there, and Dishonored 2 will surely have a few contenders, but I think Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's monolithic bank will take some beating.
The bank is part of the Prague hub that serves as your home for the game, which means you can infiltrate it whenever you please. The lobby is open for business, so you can wander around freely and ask the desk guy suspicious questions about how the vaults are accessed. Once you start sneaking around nearby offices you find elevators, computers, security systems, passwords on PDAs and vents. So many vents. These first steps on the ground floor are like pulling on a loose string, as you investigate further, more routes open and this complex level unravels before you.
My favourite levels in games tend to blend social and action spaces. In Sapienza you are just another citizen until you choose to start trespassing. In Lady Boyle's Mansion in Dishonored, you are part of the party. The non-player characters enforce basic social rules around privacy and etiquette, humanising the space. NPCs don't have enough responses to cater to every possible example of player rudeness, so the implementation is always imperfect, but even a crude semblance of social norms adds depth to the level. As you move between rooms, you're navigating the level geometry and an additional layer of social terrain. Deus Ex has been doing this from day one, since JC Denton was told off for using the women's bathroom.
Social spaces also provide a variety in pace, creating space for observation and planning. Also, when you finally do duck into a vent and start doing crime, the transgression seems more severe. The stakes feel higher. If you're caught you'll be shot by security, but it's also strangely embarrassing. I'm so hard wired to not go into other people's buildings that being discovered feels terribly awkward.
The bank is the perfect scale for a modern Deus Ex challenge. The Eidos Montreal games favour dense, intricate environments, and this claustrophobic series of vaults, protected by laser grids, robots and armed guards, is the perfect medium for the studio's talents. It could have been a morgue-like series of windowless corridors, but Eidos Montreal fill it with beautiful dark surfaces of marble and black metal. From the outside, it's a huge tomb-like slab that looks completely impervious. Inside, it's a bastion of futuristic corporate opulence.
It's also a giant puzzle box. The precious vaults are moving pieces that can be rearranged and accessed using cunning and a few choice key cards. The defences are serious, but a few clever additions give you space to isolate guards and terminals. The offices have switches that turn glass opaque—a believable device in a building where high-level bank managers and their super-wealthy clients need privacy. Guards and cameras are positioned to be able to see other offices from their own. It's fun to disrupt these sight lines and neutralise pockets of guards one by one. Find the right security terminal and you can turn the defences against themselves by altering target priorities for the bank's heavily armed security robots. That solution always seems too messy to me. I'd prefer to loot the place and vanish into the crowds, leaving behind a few groggy guards and some empty safes.
It's important that the bank is part of the game's main hub. Once you've cracked it, it becomes a lasting statement to your skills as a super stealthy commando thief dude. There are missions that send you to the bank. It's great to walk in with the objective, knowing that you've mastered every corridor. Cracking the bank even changed my perception of that corner of Prague. The ostentatious courtyard sits on top of a car park, and way beneath that, you can slip into the vaults without ever using the bank's front entrance. Whenever I look at the place I imagine it stretching out beneath my feet, Mankind Divided's brilliant futuristic dungeon.