Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Review
by Adam B
I think it’s fair to say that I love Deus Ex; I played the original obsessively, was hugely disappointed by Invisible War, delighted by Human Revolution and, I think, overall I’m happy with Mankind Divided.
This is the second game set in the Jensenverse, where gruff men in long coats alternate between skewering people with elbow chisels and holding intense philosophical debates with the leaders of political movements, though it’s unclear quite why it needed to be. I’m not anti-Jensen, the man shares my first name after all, but while Human Revolution fundamentally centred around him it feels like a lot of the time Mankind Divided is off to his left a bit.
I think part of the problem is that, despite a few attempts later on in the story to kind of make him relevant with a few side missions, there’s no real reason that you couldn’t have embodied a totally new character and still had the same experience. Yes there are some bits about his augments and a few conversations with David Sarif, but otherwise Jensen is just an augmented guy working for Interpol who gets involved in the plot. A plot which feels kind of lacklustre, to be completely honest.
You know how films these days are always trilogies and that they typically film parts two and three in one go and just cut them into two movies meaning that part two is basically all setup and no payoff? Well that’s how this feels. The core of the plot is honestly pretty formulaic, if well written, and its resolution is a little underwhelming – I’m waiting to see if the planned DLC expands on the story or is more side content like Missing Link was, because the former could well change my view on things (though I generally dislike DLC being a “mandatory” part of the story, for obvious reasons).
Following on from The Incident, where augmented humans all went crazy and starting attacking people, there is now – to quote the much-maligned marketing bumf – a mechanical apartheid, with Augs and Naturals no longer allowed to share the same subway cars when fast-travelling. Adam Jensen now works for Interpol’s Prague-based Task Force 29 (or does he? Yes he does, but also maybe not? Who can say?) as their only augmented field agent, which seems to mostly involve being dropped onto rooftops solo while everyone else goes in the front door.
Now, I don’t want to shit on Eidos Montreal for trying to tackle a serious topic in a game and only partially succeeding but most of the places where they fall down are of their own making. Yes, you’re treated badly by the police, stopped and asked for documents at checkpoints and shouted at in the street by all manner of arseholes but you’re Adam Jensen, and so you can basically do whatever the fuck you like and nobody’s going to be able to stop you. You have a Claymore in your torso and can throw fridges so it’s not like a few cops are really going to cause you much trouble. The other Augs, however, are having a pretty awful time of it and the game makes that abundantly clear; a lot of the side missions are centred around helping out your downtrodden mechanical brethren in one way or another but it feels a bit weird that you’re able to solve all their issues with impunity despite being a “clank” like them.
The core gameplay is very similar to Human Revolution with a number of tweaks and enhancements to make it a generally more pleasant experience. You no longer have to inhale protein bars to be able to sustain your augs, you get decent rewards for finding and using key codes and passwords rather than hacking things, you can rotate objects you pick up, and there’s an option to auto-sort your inventory if you like that kind of thing. You also start the game with a decent number of augments already available to you, which makes a nice change from the usual contrived reasons why you’re back to square one for the sequel.
Speaking of augments, there are a bunch of new ones for you to try out such as Remote Hacking and the Elbow Chisel Launcher (not its real name) as well as tweaks to the old ones to make them more useful. The Typhoon, for example, can now be fitted with non-lethal gas rounds to make it viable in less murderous play-styles, while the Glass Shield cloak lets you perform take-downs while remaining invisible.
Anyone who played Human Revolution will be delighted to hear that all of the game can be completed non-lethally. There are no more shitty boss fights that suddenly require you to ditch your strategy of perfect stealth in favour of a straight-up shoot-out and a greater number of opportunities to talk your way out of a difficult situation rather than resorting to violence. Even the final boss can be defeated with a variation on the old “Tap, tap. Punch” routine, if you so wish.
Mankind Divided does a reasonable job of following the rich tradition of Deus Ex games, allowing you to do all kinds of weird, unexpected stuff without breaking the game. If you know what’s coming (or just go exploring) you can do a lot of things before you’re supposed to, in fact there’s even an achievement for bringing someone an item before they’ve even asked for it. However, I was deeply disappointed when I was in a hidden bunker behind a storage locker and knew I was going to be ambushed, so I placed a bunch of gas mines around the door before setting things in motion only to find that when the ambush “cutscene” triggered, the mines had all mysteriously vanished and I was forced to fight (or talk but where’s the fun in that) my way out anyway. This is not okay.
There are a lot of callbacks and callforwards in this game, some on the critical path but most buried in side missions or hidden in the environment for those willing to seek them out. I’m curious to see when in the timeline Gunther Hermann and Anna Navarre show up because while they’ve still got twenty years of story before they hit the original game, they’ve not been shy about making use of notable characters. In fact, some of the best side missions really need you to have played Human Revolution (and finished it) to get the most out of them.
That’s not to say the side missions all consist of in-jokes; there are plenty of them, their content is pretty varied, some of them will impact the main story and a whole bunch of them are easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. On my first play-through I missed an entire branch of missions because I decided to tranq a room of people instead of talking to them as I didn’t want to risk losing out on my 200xp Ghost bonus by being spotted.
As is now mandatory, there has been a lot of noise about the quality of the PC port; personally I haven’t had any issues, with the exception of the (now-patched) bug which saw you sometimes leaping out of cover when loading a save, and, to be quite honest, some of the complaints seem to come down to people bitching about how their all-powerful uber-rig can’t run it maxed out. Sure, some of that is down to optimisation, but some of it is just down to those settings being really demanding and people forgetting that sometimes games just really push hardware. That said, as ever, caveat emptor.
Graphically, the game looks great, if not mind-blowing, but the art direction is simply incredible. I had pretty high expectations after Human Revolution but Mankind Divided really knocks it out of the park. From the sand-swept vistas of Dubai to the near-future dystopian Prague city streets and the grim Aug ghetto of Utulek you could spend your entire playtime just photographing the environment – something made very easy by the ability to disable any and all of your HUD components to suit your preferences. Every game studio needs a Jonathan Jacques-Belletête working for them because the man does amazing work, even if he does really love triangles.
For the really dedicated players, they’ve even added a Hardcore mode which is unlocked after you complete the game for the first time. The appropriately named “I Never Asked For This” setting combines the difficulty of “Give Me Deus Ex” with the horrifying realisation that if you die you have to start over from the beginning.
As if the main game wasn’t enough, Eidos Montreal have also thrown in what almost amounts to a second game with Breach. Imagine the worst 90s movie representation of hacking, full-on “jacking into cyberspace” nonsense, and that’s basically what Breach is, only actually good. As Generic Q. Hackerperson you must complete a long series of virtual reality missions in order to extract top-secret corporate data from the Palisade Bank’s “impenetrable” digital vault. Completing missions earns you XP and credits with which you can level up and buy card packs that give you new gear. Levelling up gives you access to more augments, while fancier gear really doesn’t need any explanation. There is also the inevitable optional micro-transaction stuff to unlock things more quickly but we don’t like to talk about that. I can’t say that Breach is really my bag but it’s well-executed and if you like that sort of gameplay loop it should provide you with many hours of additional entertainment.
In the end I think Mankind Divided is a worthy continuation of the Deus Ex line; it improves on Human Revolution in a lot of places and while it struggles a little with both its story and Jensen’s place in it, as well as some passably-executed social commentary that will doubtless enrage manbabies across the internet and beyond, it looks amazing, plays solidly and gives me almost everything I want out of this sort of game. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have to offer by way of DLC – though obviously I’m not stupid enough to have already bought the season pass – and I really hope that it does well enough to justify a third game because I don’t think you can ever have too much Deus Ex.Pros
- More Deus Ex
- Elbow Chisel Launchers
- Incredible art direction
- Lots of small improvements over Human Revolution
- Basically two games
- Perhaps shouldn’t have had Jensen as the protagonist
- Social commentary falls flat in places
- Cutscene chicanery thwarting my carefully-laid traps
- Story feels a little phoned-in
Do you like Deus Ex? Did you like Human Revolution? Do you like triangles? If so then you’re going to love Mankind Divided. Sure the plot isn’t quite up to the usual high standard and they oversold the whole Aug Lives Matter thing a little but on the whole this is more Deus Ex, better looking, better executed and with enough content to last you a long time.
Last five articles by Adam B
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided - Review
- No Man's Sky - Review
- The Curious Tale of The Consoles That Became PCs
- Quality of Life
- Why You Should Be Watching Dota 2 Right Now