I Pretty Much Asked For This
HIGH Picking up a turret and pointing it at a wall.
LOW Those damn load times.
WTF The laughably hurried explanation for Adam having new augmentations.
Spoiler warning: This review contains elements of a major plot twist in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
There was a time when we weren’t sure if we’d ever get another game worthy of the Deus Ex name. Its first sequel, Invisible War, was developed by the same people, yet felt like the work of a team that had little idea of what made the original tick.
I consider it a minor miracle, then, that the series’ prequel-slash-reboot, Human Revolution, so successfully recaptured the spirit of the original game. As such, I’m fine with Eidos Montreal sticking to the same formula for a while since they’ve demonstrated such adeptness with the Deus Ex franchise. Maybe this’ll eventually get old for me, but for now, I’m happy to live in a world where a new Deus Ex delivers what I want.
Deus Ex is a cyberpunk role-playing franchise that looks and handles like a shooter, but doesn’t necessarily need to be one. Its claim to fame is that players can complete missions in whatever manner they choose – loud or quiet, deadly or nonlethal. Its cybernetically enhanced (or “augmented”) main characters give players the toolsets to formulate multiple solutions to any problem, and the levels are like self-contained sandboxes, densely layered and full of optional routes — there’s always a hackable computer or well-placed ventilation shaft to help sneaky players avoid combat.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the direct sequel to Human Revolution, inherits the augmentation skill tree of its predecessor. It offers dozens of unlockable abilities ranging from hacking to invisibility to various forms of attack. Selecting these judiciously turns protagonist Adam Jensen, piecemeal, into a reflection of a person’s playstyle. Wanting to do a nonlethal run meant that I could ignore offensive weaponry and shielding in favor of dumping points into skills that would help me navigate environments quietly and efficiently, like being able to jump high or dampen the sound of my footsteps.
So this is all great so far, but the mark of a proper Deus Ex game is open-ended level design that gives every possible character build a way forward. In Mankind Divided there are multiple routes to any objective, and they can involve anything from hacking security droids to crawling across rafters. It was always particularly rewarding for me to stumble upon a solution unique to my Jensen’s skill set, such as when I’d find a hidden shaft behind a vending machine — any players who hadn’t upgraded their arm strength wouldn’t have been able to move that machine and would’ve had to find another way.
Mankind Divided‘s big set pieces, from a high-security bank to several skyscrapers overrun with terrorists, are all impressively intricate without feeling overspread, but the hub zone is the real star here. Prague stands beside Hong Kong and Hengsha as one of those sprawling Deus Ex environments that one can get lost in for ages. It was about 15 hours into Mankind Divided before I even seriously began pursuing story-related quests, because I was so distracted with breaking into apartments, exploring sewers and finding new ways to put my skills to use.
With the sense of player freedom this well-realized, I’m fine with Mankind Divided being more or less mechanically-identical to its predecessor, though I wouldn’t recommend it to those who didn’t gel with Human Revolution. However, there’s one big area where Mankind Divided slips up, though, and that’s its story.
The big conflict in Human Revolution‘s world was whether those with cybernetic enhancements should be considered subhuman. I didn’t initially buy that this was an issue people would become violent over, but then the game threw a curveball when its villain transformed millions of augmented individuals into mindless, murdering zombies with the flick of a switch. How the world would react to such a catastrophe is exactly the sort of ugly political question the Deus Ex series loves to ask.
Unfortunately, the writers mishandle this angle by constantly likening it to real-world racial tensions. The thing about the imagery that Mankind Divided presents – cops bullying citizens on the streets, innocent people being shepherded into slums, cities going into martial law – is that it paints its world in stark black-and-white, with clear villains and victims. While real-world racial prejudices really are that unfair, the question at the heart of Mankind Divided has compelling arguments on both sides.
Even putting aside Eidos’s clumsy and sometimes uncomfortable attempts to draw connections between this and modern political issues (the phrase “aug lives matter” does appear in-game) Mankind Divided‘s one-sidedness with regard to its own conundrums makes this the first Deus Ex game with no moral ambiguity. This is a big loss for a series that frequently asked us to stew over decisions that could have resounding effects on the world.
Beyond Mankind Divided‘s fumbled sociopolitical themes, the plot’s just dull and too small in scale. Whereas previous Deus Ex games had me shaping the future of society, this adventure feels like the exploits of any reasonably competent government agent, which begs the question of why Eidos felt the need to bring Jensen back from the dead to lead it. The finale in particular somehow feels even more rushed than Human Revolution‘s did, as the game literally ends with an overlong newsreel filling us in on everything that happens after the final boss goes down.
I’ll also add that some technical mishaps are enough to make the game considerably less enjoyable. The framerate dips in large areas (which means basically every area) and Mankind Divided‘s load times are utterly obscene. In the last third of the game, I was constantly asked to travel between the two major districts of Prague, enduring a subway trip that seemed to last a couple of minutes every time.
Given the technical problems and playing it too safe with the formula, I’m not surprised that Mankind Divided has been getting lukewarm reception among series fans. However, the original Deus Ex is such a treasure that getting a new release that even mostly recaptures its spirit is something I’ll gladly welcome. Still, if Square Enix is going to tease us with the promise of another sequel, I’m hoping they’ll find a more interesting place for the story to go next time.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. It is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 36 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains blood, drug references, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language and use of alcohol. Mankind Divided has pretty much all of the static qualifiers of an M-rated game, though I’ll note that none of the violence, profanity or sexual dialog feels gratuitous or overplayed; it’s a fair representation of how a world like this would actually function. There is, however, a lot of drug use and alcohol consumption, and it’s a thematically bleak game.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There’s a lot of visual feedback on screen, but given the openness of the levels and the game’s emphasis on stealth, keeping track of everything that’s happening without sound could be tricky. I’ve also noticed some subtitles bugging out, the subtitle size is fairly small, most ambient conversations are not subtitled at all, and a lot of dialog runs in-game, often while players may be focused on other things.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls, but only for keyboard and mouse on PC. Console players are limited to a handful of preset configurations, all of which are fairly complicated.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.