In the near future, a company offers individuals the service of having their memories downloaded "for backup". So, in the event of death, those memories can be uploaded into a new body. After a routine backup, Oliver Klein wakes to find his memories restored into a body that is not his own. Trapped in a foreign body with its own 'muscle memory', Oliver discovers that he is capable of doing things the original Oliver never could and never would. Oliver must find a way to reconnect with his family and his life, while coming face-to-face with the truth that he is no longer the only Oliver Klein.

Restoration is streaming on STAN from the 8th of September

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Restoration's cast includes: Grant Cartwright, Stephen Carracher, Nadia Townsend, Rosie Lourde, Ailis Logan and Craig McLachlan 

- Stu 





THE SHORT VERSION


Much like my assessment of Lian Hearn's recent work, there are times when my critical and subjective opinions clash. On the one hand, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a solid, visually luscious and intricately-detailed action-RPG that nonetheless could've done with a slightly meatier runtime and some more engagement in the main story arc.

On the other, though, it's a beautiful cyberpunk game that puts me back in the stylish trenchcoat of one of my favourite video game protagonists ever. There are call backs to the previous game, call forwards to the future ones, and all of it wrapped within the same immersive, Blade Runner-esque experience that made Deus Ex: Human Revolution such a joy to play.

So take this review for whatever it's worth. I am a sucker for Deus Ex and the cyberpunk genre, and was thus able to overlook a few of Mankind Divided's deficiencies (minor though they ultimately are). As a game critic, I thought it was an excellent addition to an already sterling year in gaming. As a fan of Deus Ex and cyberpunk, it's quickly become one of my new favourites.


STORY


Two years after Human Revolution’s ending put paid to the glorious golden age of human cybernetic augmentation – thanks to the Panchaea Incident, a tragedy where the global augmented community, or “Augs”, were driven into uncontrollable homicidal rage – the world has descended into chaos. Anti-augmentation sentiment permeates the globe, shunting the transhuman population into ramshackle ghettoes and oppressive police action cities like Prague.

With Sarif Industries having collapsed after the Panchaea Incident, Adam Jensen’s taken up work with the Interpol-led Task Force 29, operating out of Prague. TF29’s job is to hunt augmented terrorists who are threatening an already unstable planet; Adam’s specifically tasked to track down the perpetrator of a train station bombing which kills dozens and shakes the Czech Republic to its core. With a volatile atmosphere of distrust surrounding Augs and a controversial anti-augmentation Act poised to pass into law, Adam seeks to bring down the bombers, clear the name of a pro-augmentation group, and perhaps even further unravel the plans of a clandestine group of powerful world figures who will stop at nothing to burn everything to the ground.

Sounds pretty good, right? I should write marketing blurbs or something.

Where Human Revolution was more of a private eye, Neuromancer-via-Altered Carbon-style venture, Mankind Divided most readily resembles a hybrid of District 9, X-Men and 24. The latter is most evident in TF29’s home base which, underneath the city centre of Prague, more than a little resembles CTU Los Angeles. Adam’s new job as an Interpol agent quickly establishes that we’ve left the gumshoe-inspired investigative fancies of Human Revolution, and are instead being thrown headfirst into a more direct counter-terrorism allegory – for better or worse.

While Mankind Divided’s politicised story definitely isn’t as provocative or controversial as the backlash the “Mechanical Apartheid” and “Aug Lives Matter” marketing material invited, it’s also not as drenched in thoughtful socio-political subtext as it thinks it is. It’s not a bad thing that the game prioritises the main character’s journey rather than an innate desire to be socially topical at the expense of the narrative’s focus, but I was led to believe there’d be a much stronger emphasis on the thematic throughline than we were given; maybe that’s just the academic in me. Though there are plenty of post-9/11 allusions throughout, such as the continuous and ominous mentions of “Panchaea” or “the Incident”, as well as the hardline xenophobia exhibited towards many innocent Augs who are blamed for the crimes of their “people”, the story prefers to stick with Adam and leave all the rest of it as subtextual set dressing. The best science fiction – and cyberpunk in particular – really says something about the issues it glimpses through the fictional lens, so it was disappointing that Mankind Divided didn’t take the opportunity to really get down and dirty with its subtext.

I’ll also say, without spoiling, that I feel we’re definitely being set up for sequels here. Human Revolution very concretely cordoned off its plot when it ended, providing a direct link to the original Deus Ex in its ending credits; by contrast, Mankind Divided instead communicates that there’s more yet to come. There’s still enough resolution in the ending we do get, though it comes quite abruptly and at a wholly unexpected place in the narrative which also leaves the game feeling a little shorter than Human Revolution. (EDIT: While they may not be full sequels, we do have confirmed story-based DLC coming shortly).

Despite the above, the story’s still incredibly immersive. Adam’s one of the most well-drawn video game protagonists – literally and metaphorically – of the recent age, and it’s still fascinating to experience the near-future world of augmentations through his sunglass-implanted eyes. His story’s compelling, surrounded by a supporting cast of new and interesting secondary characters (most are pretty well-rounded, though I do miss the likes of Human Revolution’s Pritchard and Faridah). The city of Prague’s also a dense narrative hub rich with sidequests, background character interactions, interactive documents and readable newspapers, all of which help illustrate the finer details of Mankind Divided’s world. Like I said above, I’m an absolute sucker for well-rendered cyberpunk environments, and the game’s immersion factor – derived from its meticulously-constructed and lived-in locales – was so potent that it caused me to overlook some of the minor flaws in setting and story. The ending also emphasises that your in-game choices have power and consequence, which I especially appreciated after the last game’s agency-removing, choose-your-own-ending machine.

Of course, having engrossing plot only matters if you’ve got a set of solid game mechanics to get through it…

GAMEPLAY


…which, yes, you definitely do.

Bringing back most of the alternate FPS/cover-based-shooting approach from its predecessor, Mankind Divided has a much smoother player interface this time round. Shooting, takedowns, hacking and using/upgrading augmentations (including a few new “experimental” ones, like the ability to shoot nano-blades and activate bullet time) have been fine-tuned and turned into a much tighter experience. There really is no greater satisfaction than the weighty thud of knocking a foe out with an augmented fist, or using the new tesla wrist augmentation to zap enemies unconscious.

The game also brings back the neat option of undertaking a Pacifist run with no enemy casualties, helped by the near-absence of the boss battles that plagued Human Revolution. Though ultimately it can be accomplished – I managed to snag a Pacifist PSN trophy on my first playthrough – there are occasional issues where non-lethal takedowns inexplicably kill the victim, necessitating the reload of an earlier save. Granted, getting knocked on the noggin by a fist with the power of an ocean liner piston can’t really be anything other than an invitation for a lethal cerebral haemorrhage, but the game could be a bit fairer with whether or not it decides that happens.

The big new feature is Breach, a standalone mode which represents hacking a computer as a first-person stylised, Portal-esque, sterile, trap-laden environment which the player needs to navigate. To be frank, I’m not a fan; Breach plays like a fairly uninvolving, somewhat repetitive puzzle add-on which contributes little of interest to the game. Its use in the main story is warranted, if a little on the tedious side, but it’s not the kind of thing I’d sink hours into all on its own.

There are also a New Game Plus feature and a difficulty setting memetically titled ‘I Never Asked For This’, which gives you one life for the entire game and deletes your save game if you die, no matter how far through the story you are. I foresee many controllers being snapped in frustration here, but on the other hand it’s always nice to cater to the Dark Souls-style crowd with a mode like this.


VISUALS


The five years between games has clearly allowed Eidos Montreal to refine Deus Ex’s graphical qualities, particular in terms of the people you’re shooting at. Character movements are no longer the rubber-jointed scarecrow enactments they were before, instead moving with a more realistic gait and collapsing in a way that doesn’t make them resemble Homer Simpson lying in an inflatable pool.

More important than that, the game’s environments are simply gorgeous. As I said above, Prague feels like a lived-in, intricately-detailed city, thanks in no small part to the level of visual fidelity on display. There are a number of suburbs and shops that can be freely explored and each feel like their own places, rather than cookie-cutter rooms sprinkled throughout the hub. Levels outside Prague are also well-constructed, with particular note given to the Aug ghetto Golem City; it resembles what the cities in Blade Runner might look like after a natural disaster.

My only graphical quibble is that items and drawers which can be plundered no longer stick out as they did in the previous game. Rather than the gold outline in Human Revolution, interactive objects now have a thin white line around them, separating them from the rest of the background detail; there’s an optical augmentation you can use to find them more easily, but that sometimes feels like needless busywork. In opting to eschew its previous black-and-gold colour palette and going for the greyer industrial tone set by the original game, Mankind Divided inadvertently makes the scavenger hunt aspect a little more of a chore to accomplish.


SOUND AND MUSIC


Three cheers for the musical tag team of Michael McCann and Sascha Dikiciyan, who absolutely kill it on the score here. McCann’s Human Revolution soundtrack was easily my favourite game score in years, and his welcome return here brings back a Vangelis-inspired flavour to the soundscape. Other sound effects are uniformly great, with the layered ambience of industrial sounds, vehicles, footsteps and weather effects contributing to the game’s lived-in feel.

The major aural criticism I have is to do with dialogue, and several characters’ in particular. I’m especially not keen on former SAS commando Jim Miller, Adam’s boss at TF29, who’s a thick-accented Australian with dialogue that is far from subtle in its delivery. I’m unsure as to whether it’s because of voice actor Vernon Wells, the vocal direction, or a combination of the two, but Miller just comes off as a loud Australian without anything resembling nuance in either his character or his vocal inflection. Almost every sentence Miller speaks throws me out of the experience, which is especially egregious when compared to the stellar vocal performances of Elias Toufexis as Adam and Victoria Sanchez as resident hacker Alex Vega. The same unfortunately goes for vocal legend Peter Serafinowicz’s turn as TF29 anti-Aug xenophobe Duncan MacCready, who’s similarly blatant and un-nuanced in his dialogue delivery.

But overall, the sound of Mankind Divided just enhances an already engrossing immersion factor. Put on some noise-cancelling headphones for this one, and stroll around near-future Prague for a bit in order to really get the full aural effect.


WRAPPING UP


As I said at the start, it’s difficult for me to be objective about a game which ticks all my boxes like this. Not to say it’s perfect, but my critical opinion does come coloured with the fact that I’m an easy target for cyberpunk. 



But even so, I’d argue Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is still one of the best games of 2016, whether you’re a fan of the genre or not. It’s technically solid, narratively engrossing even when it’s not entirely gripping, visually spectacular and aurally immersive. My quibbles are only chips in the surface surrounding an extremely solid core experience, one which was so excellent that I started a new game immediately after finishing the main plot. Definitely worth checking out.

- Chris 



Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Square Enix.
This review assumes you’ve either read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, or are not that fussed on it. For obvious reasons, then, expect spoilers in this one. HUGE spoilers.

---



I want to make two things clear at the outset.

The first is that I was a massive fan of Harry Potter. Tremendously massive. The books guided me through late childhood and my teenage years with more verve and influence than both the Old and New Testaments combined. I saw all the movies on opening night, even though most of them were of questionable quality. The only things I bought on a trip to MovieWorld when I was 12 were a wand and a Quidditch baseball cap.

But my fan response to Harry Potter differs substantially from the majority. I’m not a ‘shipper, nor am I a consumer of alternate universe fanfiction where certain characters don’t die/hook up/cross over with other franchises. As much as I adore Harry Potter’s scholastic adventures, my love for the series does not extend to the proliferation of fan debates and considerations on what might’ve happened if Snape had been open about his love for Lily Potter, or if Cedric Diggory hadn’t died, or if Voldemort had had some child with Bellatrix Lestrange.

Do those quibbles at the end of the above paragraph sound a bit too specific? Well if they are, it’s only because Harry Potter and the Cursed Child goes through all of these alternate universe and character relationship choices, and more besides.

Which brings me to the second thing I want to make clear: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a good story. At all.

I acknowledge up front that comparing Cursed Child to its bookish brethren might not be fair, since it’s a script rather than a prose novel. There’s a certain freedom in imagining settings, blocking and visual effects in your head without them being spelled out on the page, so I wasn’t opposed to the idea of a dialogue-heavy story relying on the ol’ thinker box to make the magic happen. That’s why I say it’s not a good story, rather than a good book; in that respect, it can’t wholly be measured against the preceding seven volumes of bildungsroman that J.K. Rowling could’ve comfortably retired on.

No, Cursed Child is just a bad story, beginning to end, top to bottom. It’s the worst fears of an anti-shipping and alternate universe-phobe made manifest, simultaneously a sycophantic slab of fanservice and an anvil-subtle fix-fic whose effects are wholly disposable and blatantly insulting. I’m doubtful that a live-action stage performance of the story could fix the inane, cringeworthy morass of the script, but I guess miracles do happen.

Nineteen years after Voldemort’s defeat at the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry Potter sends his angsty son Albus Severus Potter off to wizard school. Harry and Albus don’t quite see eye-to-eye, largely because Harry’s overprotective and Albus doesn’t like living in the shadow of his famous father and his own older siblings. While Albus deals with the perceived shame of being put in Slytherin House and makes friends with Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, Harry deals with his general unhappiness with life, his relationship with Albus, a recurring pain in his scar, and some strange dreams about Voldemort.

That’s where the story starts, at least. As to where it goes after that… well, my housemate has an XKCD poster of the narrative paths of main characters in several well-known stories, and where they both intersect and stay separate from each other. The poster’s assessment of the film Primer also handily represents what Cursed Child’s character trajectories look like:



In other words, it’s a mess.

Thanks to the advent of time travel and some truly moronic impetus, Albus and Scorpius set about trying to “fix” the present by preventing events in the past from happening. Most of these centre around trying to save Cedric Diggory by altering the outcome of the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That means the story is effectively saying it wants to “fix” one of the best books in the series by undercutting the second-most affecting dramatic climax of the whole thing, after Sirius’ death in Order of the Phoenix.

Which would be bad enough a premise on its own, if it weren’t for some simultaneously insulting and pandering fanservice moments peppered throughout. Cursed Child goes out of its way to attempt to satisfy both the shipping/alternate universe crowds and the other veteran fans of the series who just want to, you know, experience a wonderful story. In the attempt, it most definitely succeeds at the former while failing miserably at the latter.

Ron and Hermione are meant to be together, no matter what universe they happen to be in; the play has multiple moments where, even in other timelines where they are with other people, the universe conspires to make sure they end up together. Snape is a paragon of virtue who, though misunderstood, was really a true-hearted hero of a man; his mid-act appearance has Scorpius, a character not even present for the events of the series, recap Snape’s career, extol Snape’s virtues and constantly emphasise how awesome Snape is. Wild fan theories from the ‘shipping crowd had previously thrown around the possibility that Voldemort was Harry’s real father; Cursed Child takes that inspiration to instead say that Voldemort did have a child, but with Bellatrix Lestrange.

Ironically, that last one is both the big twist of the story and the single thing which cripples it entirely. Throughout Cursed Child’s first act, there’s a lot of foreshadowing that Mouldy Voldy might not be entirely dead and could be planning a return. Delphi, who initially masquerades as the niece of Cedric Diggory’s father but is later revealed as Voldemort’s bastard child, is then grandly presented in the middle of the third act as the real villain of the story; all that Voldemort renaissance stuff was a barrel full of red herrings. Delphi unveils herself to the characters, hinting that she may have surpassed her father’s power and could be the most deadly threat the wizarding world has ever faced. Then there’s some time travelling to Godric’s Hollow in the 1980s to prevent Voldemort’s death after killing the Potters, Harry and co. show up and battle Delphi, then…

That’s it. She gets defeated, captured, and thrown in Azkaban. Everyone goes home. History goes back to normal. The end.

What was intended as a tremendously huge plot twist instead becomes a fractional bend which snaps back into place almost as quickly as it happens. It also doesn’t help that Delphi’s absent for most of the story’s second and third acts, with little to no indication that there’s anything to her besides being a Diggory. It also doesn’t help that her casual mention of her parentage, during a villainous monologue which would make Megatron groan in annoyance, was such a jarring, left-field reveal that it literally made me stop and close the book for a minute. The resulting partial aneurysm was not fun.

There’s also no lasting consequences from Albus and Scorpius’ Excellent Adventure. Everything they set out to do gets undone, and there’s only the vaguest indication that Albus and Harry’s conflict has been resolved because of the story’s events; most of their disagreements could’ve been settled with a pot of tea and an honest chat, rather than a J.K.’s Wizarding World production of Back to the Future. By adding little that’s meaningful in any way, Cursed Child just emphasises how ultimately disposable and extraneous it is.

Now, I’m not saying we couldn’t have had a Harry Potter story that exists in its own little bubble. Hell, a plot focusing on a non-Voldemort bad guy who gets defeated over the course of a single story sounds like a fantastic idea in theory, and would serve new fans of the franchise well when they come to see it. But Cursed Child doubles down on how monumental its revelations are, how it recontextualises seven books’ worth of stories you thought you knew. It wants you to know the story is a big deal, that its reveals and twists are huge, that it will linger in your mind whenever you go back to reread the other, better Harry Potter stories.

Thing is, it’s not that big. It’s not even medium-sized. Cursed Child is just an annoying, insulting, utterly meaningless addition to a series that had already been gifted with a solid conclusion. We didn’t need this; I know I certainly didn’t. I could’ve been content to just leave Harry where he was, many years later with no more Voldemort to deal with, living a peaceful, if maybe a bit less exciting, life with his wife and kids. This doesn’t add anything to the larger Harry Potter series the way The Force Awakens did for Star Wars (though with the focus on the kids of Harry Potter's previous main characters, you could be forgiven for thinking it was trying to).

At the end of the day, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child aggravates me. It reads like a story made specifically for the ultra hardcore crowd, but even amongst them I would have to question how well it works. Is it ultimately satisfying that you have your insistence on Ron/Hermione shipping overwhelmingly affirmed by Rowling herself? Do you like the notion of an alternate universe which shows Cedric Diggory would've been a Death Eater had he lived? Can you now feel sated that Snape was given enough accolades on his heroism to his face? For myself, I can’t say I feel any of those things. I'd just like to read something else, now.

- Chris



Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is available in bookstores now.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Hachette Australia.