This Deus Ex: Mankind Divided review contains spoilers.
Release Date: August 23, 2016Platform: XBO (reviewed), PS4, PCDeveloper: Eidos MontrealPublisher: Square EnixGenre: RPG
There’s a moment several hours into Deus Ex: Mankind Divided that finally grabbed me and never let me go again, despite its graphical flaws and its lack of a unique identity, and it’s all due to the spectacular writing that reminded me why this franchise is still one of the best in sci-fi gaming. I am Adam Jensen and I’ve broken into Picus, a bank with tons of secrets hidden within its vaults. My mission: to hack into their systems and find some dirt on the corporation in order to deliver a scoop to a group of renegade journalists, just to stop them from running a story on my own secret organization. It’s in this web of lies, conspiracies, and cover-ups that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided truly shines. Sneaking past guards or taking them down (non-lethally, as is my preference when playing as the stoic Jensen), hacking into computers in order to disrupt cameras and take control of security turrets and robots, and making a quick escape with the evidence are things that never get old in this very welcome sequel to Human Revolution.
Mankind Divided, which I have to say is a descriptive but not very snappy title, picks up two years after the events of Human Revolution. No matter your choices in the last game, whether you lived or died, chose to bow down to the Illuminati or the Humanity Front, or lost valuable secondary characters in your quest, Mankind Divided distances itself from the more intimate parts of its predecessor and continues the story in a way that allows newcomers to pick up the franchise for the first time. Adam Jensen is pulled out of the wreckage of Panchea in order to continue fighting the good fight.
For those veteran players who are more interested in knowing how Mankind Divided continues the Human Revolution story, this sequel does a great job of showing us a world forever changed by the “Aug Incident” in Jensen’s first adventure. Humanity has finally turned on the augmented, forcing them to live segregated lives in the slums of megacities such as Prague, the gorgeously rendered city where most of the game takes place. This hatred of augments has even inspired the humans to create a city in the desert where they plan to exile all of the augmented so that natural human evolution can be preserved. Naturally, there are augment terrorist groups that fight against humanity, creating a conflict that shares a troubling resemblance to our real world politics.
Since he’s clearly augmented but works for a largely human anti-terrorist task force, Jensen is caught in the middle of it all, and in true Deus Ex fashion, our hero is pulled by one side and the other. Early on, it’s even established that the task force, a secret branch of Interpol, might be corrupt and that Jensen, in fighting for what is presumed to be the safety of the world, might be serving a much more malicious shadow organization. And the web of conspiracies only gets more complicated from there. I found myself becoming paranoid at times, as I made key decisions that I hoped would allow me to continue being the good guy…but things just aren’t that simple in Mankind Divided and the powerful writing always keeps you guessing.
Although the writing is definitely this sequel’s strength, the game does lack something that makes it uniquely its own. Normally, a video game sequel (if it’s good) is more of the same, but bigger and better. That’s fine. Plenty of sequels stand out. But when it comes to Deus Ex, each installment up to and including Human Revolution has had its own unique flavor (and protagonists). Mankind Divided really does feel like it’s rehashing ideas from Human Revolution, not necessarily improving or tweaking much—although there is a cool tweak in the augment upgrading system that even plays a part in the story. The new cover system and the ability to climb ledges is also a great addition to Jensen’s mobility and makes getting around the city and secret bases just a bit easier. Still, Mankind Divided often feels too familiar, like your playing the same basic game but with a new story and characters. Eidos took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to gameplay and it pays off in the end because Mankind Divided is A LOT of fun, but I am left wondering if more could have been done to make this feel like the next step in the franchise.
If you’ve played Human Revolution, you’ll undoubtedly find Jensen’s abilities quite familiar. A combination of shooting, melee, punching through walls, hacking, and tons of other offensive suit abilities, such as the nanoblades and the typhoon explosive system, still hit that sweet spot, and the game’s smart level design showcases the many different ways to approach missions and enemies. Depending on how you upgrade your augments, different options open up for you when sneaking into enemy bases or simply having social encounters with NPCs. And don’t worry, Human Revolution‘s signature use of vents made solely for your sneaking around enemy-controlled buildings is in full display in Mankind Divided. I have to say I didn’t know how much I missed crawling through vents.
Mankind Divided falls short graphically. It’s not the best-looking current-gen game you’ve ever played. Not even the second best. Graphical glitches sometimes snap you out of the experience, especially during cutscenes, which are unfortunately all rendered in-game. This is one time I really would’ve loved some CGI-heavy cinematics to complement the story. Faces sometimes glitch during conversations and the voice acting is never synced correctly to characters’ mouths, giving all NPCs a weird hand puppet quality. It gets irritating, especially when the story is so good and you want to get to these big moments of exposition. The sounds in the game also suffer from a lack of refinement. Perhaps another few months of development would’ve helped get that extra polish on the game.
But if a video game’s most important mandate is to entertain, then Jensen’s new adventure is a solid winner that will keep you busy with lots of infiltrating and hacking. Even side missions offer up a heavy dose of adrenaline that keeps up the pace of the game, with very few moments of lull. I, for one, was glad I didn’t have to go on the dumb fetch quests that make up so many other RPG side missions. Mankind Divided kept me busy with lots of meaningful things to do and very little fluff, which is certainly an accomplishment when it comes to many of today’s open-world games.
The new Breach mode, which I’ve honestly not spent too much time on, is also so far a fun arcade experience that complements Deus Ex‘s hacking aspect quite well. You play as a Ripper, a hacker that can virtually infiltrate servers and download secret information that could help freedom fighters expose the truth about the shadow organizations that control the planet. Rushing through crystalline levels is hectic, like running through a virtual obstacle course full of enemy AI designed to stop you from stealing data. Exiting a level with all the stolen data is especially exhilarating. Booster packs you earn or purchase with in-game currency can aid you on these hacking missions and allow you to experiment quite a bit. Since your character in Breach plays a lot like Jensen, the mode also allows you to practice a bit with his abilities without any major repercussions to the story.
With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, story is always what you have to come back to in the end. The writing is so powerful, well thought out, twisting, and full of amazing science fiction that I’d have an easy time arguing why Mankind Divided is the best RPG of the year. Although its flaws ultimately bring down the experience a bit, that still shouldn’t stop you from picking up your controller and uncovering all of the conspiracies the new Deus Ex has hidden for you in the shadows.