Warning: The following review contains some brief spoilers for 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution — but none for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
In the future, cybernetic bodily enhancements are the norm. You can replace organs or entire limbs with augmentations that can make you stronger, faster or healthier. Undergo an augmentation procedure and you’ll forever be labelled as an Aug.
At the end of 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, anti-augmentation group leader Hugh Darrow triggered what will forever be known as The Aug Incident. His actions sent thousands of Augs into a vicious murderous rage, resulting in a death toll of millions in an attempt to spread fear and hatred of all Augs.
The aptly subtitled Mankind Divided begins in the year 2029, two years after The Aug Incident. Segregation between Augs and Naturals is in full effect. Augs have separate train carriages, queues and park benches. They’re refused service by retailers, verbally abused in the streets and often the victims of unjustified police brutality.
Our hero, the heavily augmented Adam Jensen, is now working for Interpol. Tasked with hunting down the terrorist organisation responsible for a series of attacks on civilians, Jensen is also playing a double agent focused on the cause of The Incident. With an unnecessarily complicated storyline involving more government bodies, corporations and fanatic groups than you can shake a stick at, things become confusing quickly. That being said, your primary goals and motivation are always clear.
Taking queues from real world events both old and new, Jensen’s story unfortunately lacks potential and depth. While exploring themes of prejudice and corruption with a clear and admirable agenda, I couldn’t help but feel this could have been addressed with more than a “racism is bad” message. Sadly this heavily story driven game reduces its believability due to sub-standard voice acting from literally the entire supporting cast, which is only out shined in mediocrity by the main protagonist’s completely vanilla attempt at portraying a mysterious and brooding individual. Jensen is as bland as a watered-down can of store brand soup. With strange pauses between character dialogue and unimpressive generic character animations you’re constantly reminded you’re playing a video game.
While performances are average at best, Mankind Divided‘s writing is excellent. The characters you meet all have their own stories which — if not for the terrible voice acting — you could almost sympathise with. Dialogue sections often present multiple response options which at first seem meaningless, but eventually begin to have an impact on your progression. Being able to successfully read a character’s body language and the tone of their voice can result in subtle changes such as gaining access to a specific area. We’re told that some dialogue options could have a major impact on the overall story, though I wasn’t able to spot anything significant. A great positive to this mechanic is that you’re often enthralled in conversations — you’re easily taken in and rarely feel the urge to skip dialogue.
Side missions are surprisingly enjoyable and often loosely tie in to the main story. Rather than feel like unnecessary filler they seem to fit quite naturally; if not for the separate side mission menu you could easily mistake many of them for main story quests. You’ll go out of your way to complete them simply because they can lead you on to further missions and they will actually enhance your understanding of the world around you. While side missions often add little more than time to a game, here they add true substance.
A mash up of first-person gunplay and third-person stealth mechanics, you’ll take Jensen through various semi open world locations following objective markers between long dialogue sections. While some objectives are as simple as talking to or killing an NPC or retrieving an item, getting to said marker is the challenge. Do you utilise your mastery of stealth by sneaking in and out completely undetected and only engaging as a last resort? Or, do you run in like an insane idiot with triggers pulled?
The beauty of this instalment of the Deus Ex franchise is that the levels — which have some beautiful design to them — have been excellently tailored to suit either stealth, action or a combination of the two. While many encounters may appear quite obviously geared towards one approach or the other, the choice remains entirely yours with true freedom granted for your preferred approach and valuable rewards regardless of how you go about things. Weapons can be customised with silencers, scopes and various kinds of ammunition to suit your preferred play stile and there’s also a some non lethal ranged weapons like tasers and gas grenades for those pacifists and vegetarians out there. You can play the way you want without sacrifice. There’s no right or wrong way to do something which is this games greatest feature. This also allows for at least one additional playthrough with a focus on an alternative approach to each task.
Sneaking around behind cover is a breeze with intuitive controls and easy to understand prompts. While Jensen’s many augmentations offer plenty of assistance such as short term invisibility and silent footsteps even in the early stages of the game he seems severely overpowered. Most AI enemies suffer from a permanent case of tunnel vision and hearing loss. While enemies might spot you if you stand directly in front of them they have very limited peripheral vision and on more than one occasion you’ll be able to safely dispose of an opponent with a flurry of loud stabbing and crunching noises while, mere metres away stands your victims buddy who is none the wiser.
As is always the case in titles that have a player ability upgrade mechanic, many of Jensen’s abilities are non-functional or low powered in the early stages of the game. As you progress you’re encouraged to unlock and upgrade all the augmentations that veteran players of the series will be familiar with. In an interesting twist to this feature — and another story branch — you’re offered new abilities that even Jensen himself wasn’t previously aware of that have been lying dormant in his body for years. The catch is that using these new abilities requires you to sacrifice an existing one. Of course, these new augs are fun to experiment with — but the original classics are effective enough. Even without the augs, Jensen is one tough Interpol agent and many situations can be survived without any significant need for them. Most of Jensen’s augmentations often feel like a gimmick rather than a feature necessary for survival with his ability to see through walls being the primary go to ability.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also introduces an arcade mode called Breach. This is essentially a series of purpose-built levels that you need to complete as quickly as possible. To unlock the exit for a level, the player must download a predetermined amount of data from various blocks throughout it. As you complete more levels you earn credits to be used towards augmentations and weapons. Think of it as Deus Ex: Time Trials. With an overly stylised visual approach that makes each room look the same as the last, Breach is not much fun and is a prime example of a tacked-on game mode. It’s best to stick to the main campaign as it has much more to offer.
All of that being said. Deus Ex: Man Kind Divided delivers a great story, immersive world, solid gameplay and an excellent approach to freedom of choice. It’s not bogged down with unnecessary side missions and is instead enhanced by them.
For newcomers to the series, you’ll be faced with a very long and confusing “previously on…” video that will likely leave you with more questions than you care to consider. You’ll also be given a solid RPG experience set in an interesting world that you’ll navigate with intuitive controls and steady progression. It won’t blow you away, but it will keep you entertained for the full duration of the campaign.
With familiar characters and concepts, upgraded visuals, excellent level design and some new toys to play with, the changes made between the last instalment and this one are welcome improvements without invoking the “if it aint’ broke” rule. Veteran Deus Ex players will likely jump in head first and love every minute they spend in this world. This is certainly one for the fans.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided