|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO|
|Release Date||August 23, 2016|
There’s nothing quite like a Deus Ex game. After waiting five years for a sequel to Human Revolution and finally getting to sit down with Mankind Divided, it’s immediately apparent that nothing released in the interim plays quite like Deus Ex. The blend of stealth, combat, hacking and diplomacy, the constant switching between first-person and third-person gameplay – the way Deus Ex is put together is just a little bit different from anything else you can get.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes place two years after Human Revolution. The events of Panchaea, where a mysterious signal caused every augmented Human on the planet to fly into a homicidal rage, have transformed society into something almost unrecognisable. Nowhere is this more evident than in this games setting, Prague. Augs are routinely harassed by both the police and general population, oppressed by those in charge and constantly living in fear of violence, death, or being shipped off to live in Utulek Station – a nice name for what is essentially a concentration camp for Augs.
There’s even talk of the United Nations enacting the Human Restoration Act in response to the Aug Incident – placing control chips in people with augmentations and shipping those who resist such measures off to places like Utulek. Enter Adam Jensen, now working for Interpol’s Task Force 29, who quickly become embroiled in the investigation of a series of terrorist attacks that appear to have been perpetrated by a group called the Augmented Rights Coalition. Jensen, however, is chasing his own agenda in trying to track down the shadowy group responsible for the Aug Incident in the first place.
There’s a lot packed into Mankind Divided. Its world is bursting with substance, and through its expertly crafted cast of characters, it aims to tackle a whole range of social issues ranging from prejudice and discrimination to authoritarianism. It works too, never becoming too preachy or heavy-handed in its exploration of these issues. Although these issues are kind of shuffled off to the side a bit during the closing stages of the main plot, to ensure that it can be tied back to the Illuminati and their dastardly plan to control the world, Mankind Divided’s narrative packs a serious punch in its smaller, more intimate moments.
I’m not ragging on the main plot, which overall is pretty great (with one major issue that I’ll address in a moment) – it’s just that Mankind Divided’s best stories are the smaller, character-driven ones that you find when you’re simply having a conversation with someone, or in the multi-layered side-quests dotted around Prague. Mankind Divided’s fiction is really easy to engage with because it draws you into well-written stories of injustice and personal tragedy. The game pushes you to interact with well-drawn, relatable characters whose dilemmas it’s easy to give a damn about thanks to the excellent writing.
The city of Prague itself oozes atmosphere. Being the only main city hub in the game meant that it needed to carry a significant portion of the game, and it succeeds with flying colours. Every street you walk down, every corner you turn and every building you enter all have stories to tell you. From the incidental details and background events to the otherwise inconsequential emails you can read and pocket secretaries you can acquire, everything has an impact. Prague has been designed with care and attention to ensure that there is no wasted space.
Of course, it’s easy to become personally attached to the central themes of oppression and discrimination directed at Augs in Mankind Divided because you’re playing one. While there were always prejudiced arseholes in Human Revolution ready to sneer at Jensen for being more machine than man, in Mankind Divided that hostility is allowed to flourish out in the open, and playing as an Aug yourself allows Eidos Montreal to really throw that prejudice in your face from time to time. Other characters have it far worse, of course, thanks to Jensen’s status as an Interpol agent, but it’s nice that the game doesn’t hold back when it needs to.
Characters are openly hostile towards the stalwart protagonist. It’s not just that you’re constantly reminded of the oppression because you see Augs being mistreated in the background – Jensen is regularly stopped at checkpoints by police, regularly belittled in conversation, and on more than one occasion I caught people calling me derogatory names as they passed me in the street. All of this combines to create one of the most compelling, most well-crafted worlds I’ve had the pleasure to experience in a while. Mankind Divided sucks you into its fiction effortlessly because everything has been built with obvious care and attention by a developer who gives a damn about what they’ve made.
It’s a shame, then, that it all kind of falls apart at the end. The ending isn’t exactly bad in and of itself, rather that it’s setting up a final act that never comes. Instead, we get a round-up of how some of your decisions played out and then credits. Rather than being a satisfying full stop to the story, the last moments of Mankind Divided are a ramp-up to an ending that we’re presumably not going to get until the sequel. The main plot ends up feeling like filler until we’re allowed to tackle the real bad guys next time and a number of side quests that seem to be asking extremely important questions suddenly tail off with no satisfying answers. Mankind Divided doesn’t end so much as it just comes to a sudden stop, which is frustrating after 20+ hours of investment.
It’s almost forgivable, however, thanks to the sheer joy of actually playing the game. Mankind Divided is one of the most mechanically satisfying video games I’ve played in a long time. The combination of first-person and third-person mechanics, the combination of stealth play and gunplay, the way Augment powers can be used in the world and the options available to you – Eidos Montreal have crafted a series of systems and gameplay mechanics that blend together to create a truly special game. Truth be told it’s not too dissimilar to Human Revolution from a gameplay point of view, which isn’t a bad thing at all considering how well made that game was.
What elevates Mankind Divided is freedom (ironically). Human Revolution was released on a promise of being able to create an Adam Jensen tailored to your exact style of gameplay – lethal or non-lethal, stealthy or not stealthy, hacker, social expert, combat oriented – choose a play style, or combination of play styles, and make your way through the game. That didn’t quite pan out thanks to the inclusion of boss fights and other gameplay moments that required you to fight, regardless of whether you had the right Augs or equipment or not.
Mankind Divided fulfils this promise. No matter how you choose to approach the game or build up your version of Adam Jensen, you can succeed against any obstacle or foe. You can take your upgrades in any direction you see fit and the game will never throw a challenge at you that you cannot overcome. That’s a hell of an achievement by itself. Thanks to Mankind Divided’s brilliant level design and AI programming, it doesn’t matter how you choose to play the game, you’re still going to have a good time. Thanks to a massive pool of potential upgrades (unlocked by Praxis kits which you earn via XP or find as rare in-world items), which are a combination of old and new augmentations, you’ve got a massive scope for flexibility.
You have the choice of building your version of Adam Jensen around four main pillars of gameplay – diplomacy, stealth, combat and hacking. Sort of. Diplomacy is tied to a single Augment, the game breaking social analyser, which renders persuasion conversations meaningless by blatantly showing you what responses you need in order to bend people to your will. Or get them to not shoot you. There are new, experimental Augs that need balancing to avoid overheating, by turning one off for every one you turn on (until later in the game). They’re pretty nifty upgrades, but the balancing act is pretty superflouous given that it’s easy to differentiate them by play style. It’s easy to turn off the arm blade launchers if you’re going for a non-lethal approach, for example.
four three pillars of gameplay are just the tip of the iceberg thanks to the incredibly, ridiculously deep upgrade options you’re presented with. It’s not just about choosing to be stealthy or an arse-kicking badass. Your upgrade choices allow you an even greater amount of flexibility – whether to be a killing machine or non-lethal, whether you want to stealthily take out your enemies or be a ghost. There are a wide array of options presented to you that let you mix-and-match, truly giving you control over how you want to approach the game. And it all comes together in Deus Ex’s signature style of gameplay, blending first-person gameplay with third-person cover-based mechanics.
It truly is a joy to play. Honestly, the gameplay is incredibly satisfying and damn-near perfect, whether you’re shooting everything in sight, sneaking around without being seen or something in between. Throw in the fact that the game just gets out of your way and lets you do your thing for the entirety of its running time. With Mankind Divided, Eidos Montreal have managed to improve upon the already great Human Revolution. I feel compelled to mention that they’ve even gone ahead and fixed the poorly thought out boss fights of their previous game…by only including one in Mankind Divided. There’s just a single, endgame boss fight here, which takes place on a huge scale and can be approached in a variety of different ways.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention Breach mode – the tacked on alternative gameplay mode that is a longer version of a brief but boring mission from the main game. It’s a dull side game that sees you breaking into corporate security systems to download data. Really it just exists to sell you booster packs for real world cash. I played enough of it to complete the tutorial and earn myself a Praxis kit and then never thought about it again. The Playstation 4 version of the game suffers from some framerate dips when you’re travelling through more densely packed areas of Prague too. It’s nothing major, but just enough to be noticeable every now and again, and usually only occurs when you’re running.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a triumph for Eidos Montreal. It finally delivers on the promise made by Human Revolution, allowing players the flexibility to approach the game however they see fit and simply letting them get on with it. The core gameplay is largely unchanged from its predecessor, but the deeper pool of available upgrades and expertly crafted levels make this a stunning achievement in player freedom and a game that feels magnificent to play. Thanks to excellent world building, attention to detail and writing it’s also a game that easily draws you in, making you empathise with the plight of the opressed Augs with ease. While it ultimately falls flat in its ending, which seems to be missing in its entirety as the game comes to a sudden stop rather than a conclusion, the best story moments come from its smaller, more intimate moments rather than its global conspiracies and globe-trotting investigations. The characters you interact with feel like Human begins rather than exposition dispensers or quest markers, which goes a long way to making Mankind Divded’s world such a compelling place to play.
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