Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review
I’ve just walked past a dead body tucked away in crude shanty. Checking the corpse reveals a suicide note filled with despair. I’ve seen a number of cops brutalising innocent civilians while others watch on helplessly. I pass by what seems like a day care centre, empty of children, the bright colours and playful toys oddly disturbing in this bleak place. A couple sit on a couch in tears, discussing their pregnancy, whether to keep it, and the morality of bringing a child into a world so terrible. This is Utulek Station – Golem City, a nightmarish segregated ghetto where augmented people live in third world conditions, where they are brutalised by police, and where they cling desperately and sometimes unsuccessfully to survival. It’s also one of the most hellish locations I’ve ever seen in a video games, and I’m actually a big fan of post-apocalyptic games, so that’s really saying something. This is the world of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a considerably darker and more bleak sequel to the excellent Human Revolution, that builds upon the wonderfully open gameplay elements of the previous game, while seriously ramping up the gritty, dark, cyberpunk feel.
Set two years after the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the world has more or less gone to hell. The potential Golden Age of Augmentation was never realised. With the “Incident” that occurred in Human Revolution, where one mastermind hacked control over millions of augmented individuals and caused mass bloodshed and destruction, civilization is coming apart at the seams. Countries have collapsed, economies have tanked, terrorism is on the rise, and hatreds between augmented and non-augmented individuals have begun boiling over. With non-augmented individuals herding the augmented into ghettos and enacting increasingly cruel and harsh laws against them, and augmented individuals starting to turn to violence, it looks like a ton of bloodshed is on the horizon. All the while, the Illuminati in the shadows continue to plot and scheme, and to fan the flames of conflict in the pursuit of power and control. You play as Adam Jensen, all round augmented badass packed full of cutting edge military grade augments, now a member of Interpol’s Task Force 29, an international anti-terrorism organisation. When the bombing of a train station occurs due to an augmented terrorist, you’re plunged into an investigation to solve the case, all the while pursuing your own agenda against the Illuminati, the shadowy puppet masters responsible for so much of the world’s grief. The setting is, as my earlier description of Utulek shows, incredibly bleak. These are grim times, and it’s a considerably darker world than the still slightly optimistic Human Revolution. Unfortunately, the main plot is a lot narrower in scope, focusing mainly on Jensen’s investigation into the bombing, as well as his ongoing struggle against the Illuminati. While still an interesting narrative, it seems to lack the intricacies of other Deus Ex games, being considerably more straightforward, less surprising and a lot less compelling. The conspiracies, of which there always has to be some in a Deus Ex game, are a great deal duller, and something of a letdown. It feels like it’s just something to pad things out, with a future game completing Jensen’s story. Which is a shame considering what a rich and deeply intricate setting it is, and how good the side missions are. That being said, the storytelling is still top notch, even if the main plot isn’t on par with Human Revolution’s exciting, twist filled, global spanning conspiracy.
However, while it’s a step down for the narrative, in terms of gameplay, Mankind Divided builds and improves on the already excellent Human Revolution. Gameplay is streamlined, but the options available are also vastly improved. Firstly, boss fights have been fixed. So yes, you have options for dealing with bosses aside from plain combat, and a true pacifist run is entirely possible. Secondly, you have a bunch of new powers you can play with that give you a ton of new options. Remote hacking to affect things from a distance. Icarus Dash to move quickly. Tesla dart arms to allow you to take down groups of enemies silently and non-lethally, and the tank like Titan Shield to turn you into an unstoppable killing machine if you prefer to go in guns blazing. Thirdly, the crafting and weapons systems offer even more options. Haven’t put enough into hacking? Craft a multi-tool with spare parts and auto hack. Need to swap from going in quietly, to killing everything in sight? Remove the silencer and scope from your rifle, equip some armour piecing rounds, and go to town.
All the while, the maps and environments are marvellously designed, being multi layered areas that offer a wealth of options. There’s always the blunt approach. You can play it stealthy with your cloaking. You can hack security to disable obstacles. You can hunt around for hidden ventilation ducts tucked away. There’s always a number of options to get the job done and each way is satisfying. While I typically play the violent brute in most games, solving problems with as much fighting as possible, I’ve been playing a sneaky pacifist this time, getting through problems with minimal fuss, and without getting anyone killed. Either way, violent or not, the game truly rewards exploration and taking your time to drink things in, both in giving you experience points to level up your character, new ways of doing things that might not have been obvious, as well as giving you plenty to discover about the wonderfully intricate and detailed setting.
Interestingly enough, Mankind Divided now offers an online gameplay mode: Breach. An asymmetric online mode where players try to speed run through stages and complete them with the best time and score possible, Breach is mode tangentially tied in to the game’s setting and narrative. Playing as a hacker intent on breaching corporate security, the stages you play are your avatar’s attempt at breaking their cyber security. As you level up and progress, you unlock interesting bits of info about the setting, new points to spend upgrading your augments, and randomly dropped packs that give better weapons, equipment, and gameplay buffs. While it’s certainly an interesting bonus, I actually found it rather difficult to play. The aesthetics, with its half-finished cyberspace polygon filled looks made it rather awkward to navigate, and the fact that it’s a speed run ran contrary to my preferred main game methods of sneaking around in a meticulous fashion. Still though, it’s worth a shot if you happen to prefer fast placed gun play, and either way, finishing the tutorial will give you a praxis kit for the main game.
In terms of presentation, Mankind Divided is fantastic. The game looks pretty great, and the art design is just fantastic. Nothing quite as stunning as Human Revolutions Neo-Renaissance aesthetics and striking use of black and gold, but this is a sober time with a darker future. The game’s main hub is Prague – an interesting combination of old world historical buildings, run down poor areas, high tech futuristic buildings, and a neon lit red light district. Missions also take you to more exotic looking locales – the first mission being in a ruined Dubai hotel, where oil tycoon luxury has become run down and dilapidated since the devastating incident. Or the nightmarish ghetto that is Utulek Station, a brooding, cyberpunk industrial nightmare. The music is as fantastic as ever, but then, I consider Icarus to being one of the best video game songs ever. Voice acting is also very solid, though I found that the character animations were extremely off putting. Poor lip syncing, and the characters expressing emotions in an overwrought and mechanical fashion was somewhat distracting. I did also notice some frame rate issues from time to time, and I did experience a glitch or two, where subtitles appeared well before conversations occurred – but I have the feeling that was the result of an 8 hour long uninterrupted playthough.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided is an excellent addition to the Deus Ex series, offering the excellent multi faceted gameplay and wealth of options that the series if known for, all the while placing it in an intricately crafted and extremely detailed cyberpunk setting. While the main plot itself is an unambitious let down in comparison to past games, it’s still a solid narrative. I can only hope for another sequel that will continue to build upon the wonderfully open gameplay, and to definitively end Jensen’s story.
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