In the not so distant future, human beings have been granted the opportunity to augment themselves with expensive technology, including mechanical arms and other such implants. The transition from pure humanity to what they call “augs” has not been without issue, though, as those who played 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution are surely aware. It was at the end of that sci-fi narrative that an event that will forever live in infamy took place. The Incident, as it’s called, saw the world change in an instant, as corruption caused almost every known aug to go haywire and attack innocent civilians. It was not on purpose, but what it left in its wake has created a wealth of distrust for the mechanically upgraded humanoids, and for good reason.
Such is the state of the world that we find ourselves exploring in Eidos Montreal’s long awaited follow-up, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
Set two years after the events of its predecessor, Mankind Divided continues the story of Agent Adam Jensen, who’s moved home from the industrial city of Detroit, Michigan, to the neon-hued apartments of Prague. There, he works as a member of Interpol’s European division, dealing with threats of terrorism while trying to show that augs are simply misunderstood.
Things begin aboard a helicopter, where a short debriefing describes a dangerous situation in Dubai. It’s there, in a half-finished seaside hotel, which became an afterthought after all of its workers glitched, a secretive meeting is about to go down. As Agent Jensen, it’s up to players to infiltrate the unique environment as a potentially wicked sandstorm approaches, all the while attempting to not be spotted or outed by the armed assholes who’ve taken up residence. Of course, since this is a Deus Ex game, there’s choice to be found in how one goes about this mission; something which is highlighted during the briefing when you’re asked whether you’d like a lethal or non-lethal approach, as well as which type of weaponry you’d prefer to equip.
As is usually the case, something goes wrong, causing Interpol’s plan to fail. In this case, it’s an attack from an unknown sect of heavily augmented baddies, whose faces are all hidden by golden masks. They come out of nowhere and spoil the party, leaving a whirlwind of destruction in their wake, not to mention lots of unanswered questions.
Surprisingly, Dubai’s isn’t the only attack that starts off Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, as Jensen’s continued bad luck finds him in one of Prague’s busiest train stations at the exact time it’s bombed. Causing plenty of casualties, and raising even more questions, it’s this attack which helps fuel the in-depth plot that makes up the core of this dialogue-heavy game.
Over the course of this fifteen (or so) hour long campaign, you’ll find yourself sneaking, hacking and perhaps even shooting your way through Prague, as well as a few exterior locations that are only accessible by helicopter. Like its predecessor, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided leaves almost everything up to the player, which allows for each individual play style to shine.
If you’re a completionist and/or a diehard, you’ll find yourself searching through every drawer and cupboard, scouring every vent and hacking everything in sight using a node-based system that is very similar to what Human Revolution featured. On the other hand, those who don’t have as much patience (which isn’t necessarily a great thing in a game such as this) may choose to fire their guns without worry of alarm. That’s not the method I would recommend, though, because it’s not hard to find oneself surrounded by heavily armored guards. Even if their AI leaves a lot to be desired, groups of enemies can still pack quite a punch.
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Therein lays the beauty of this series, though, because it allows you to create your own experience. What holds things back, however, is that this isn’t a major step forward from the game that released five years ago. That’s not to say that Mankind Divided is bad, because it’s not. It’s just more of the same with some alterations that won’t exactly set the world on fire.
The honest truth is that, despite being a big fan of Human Revolution, I didn’t find myself enjoying its sequel a whole lot during the first few hours that I played it. Getting into the story, and the somewhat boring city of Prague (at least as it’s depicted here), took some time. By the end, I was much more immersed than how I began, which I guess is to be expected, but even then it felt like something was missing.
In some ways, I feel as if Mankind Divided exists as a bit of a missed opportunity, because it’s merely a good game instead of the great one that it could have been. Not only is it over far too soon, but its list of side quests is also lacking. I completed almost every one I came across (outside of two that became void after I traveled to another location), yet still finished the campaign a lot faster than I’d expected to. This is despite me taking the completionist route by hacking and searching almost everything in sight.
Something about this game just feels off. Not in an awful way, but in a, “Wow, I was expecting better” kind of way. The storyline takes a long time to get going, and even it isn’t something to truly write home about, which surprised me. Sure, it’s less convoluted than the last game’s, but it jumps around a bit much and lacks the kind of depth that I was hoping for. It does, at least, give you options as to who to trust and what missions to take on — which all promotes replay value — but even that may not be enough to get many to return. It also doesn’t help that one of the biggest twists isn’t explained, and is merely teased during a scene that plays mid-way through the lengthy credits.
On the gameplay side of things, there’s a lot of consistency, though some features do stand out. For starters, there’s the speech analyzer, which allows you to try to persuade characters to change their minds by playing to their personality types. This makes ‘boss’ encounters feel somewhat unique, because you’re able to reason with them instead of engaging in combat.
Jensen is also equipped with some strange new augments that are discovered when he goes in for repairs following the devastating train station attack. These peculiar abilities — which include a bladed projectile that can be modified with explosives, an electrical attack and a more advanced armor mode — are dangerous at first, because they present a power problem for his body. Essentially, by equipping one or more of them, he will put his power usage above 100% and become overloaded. The only cure is to eliminate one traditional augment power (for good) and replace it with one of the new and more tantalizing ones. That is, unless you complete a series of side quests and find a part that can prevent you from overheating.
Four different abilities can be hot-keyed to the d-pad, and their use is dependent on a blue energy bar that lives in the bottom left corner of the HUD. Although it slowly regenerates over time, it will only do so to a certain point, and medicine (of sorts) is required to fill it past that barrier. Health, on the other hand, is much more lenient, as it can regenerate in full and does so rather quickly if you have all of the health augs upgraded like I made sure to do. How much gunfire Jensen can take is also dependent on this, but even at his highest level, he’s no tank. As such, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is best played with stealth as a goal, while using as many conveniently placed vents as possible.
There is one particular mission that takes place within an artificial world, and sees our hero take on the persona of another character. He does this in order to reverse hack an old conversation, and must walk around an environment solving basic puzzles (mostly remote hacking blocks or finding alternate routes) in order to gain access to purple columns. These data clusters must then be downloaded with the press of a button.
What’s so important about the above? Well, it ties into Breach, the secondary game mode you’ll find on the start menu. It takes this virtual reality hacking mechanic and runs with it, using an elite group of ‘Rippers’ (special hackers) as its protagonists. This type of gameplay won’t be for everyone, but some will find it enjoyable.
The campaign is obviously the main draw here, and perhaps its best asset is how everything you do comes with risks and consequences. For instance, trying to better your situation will put you under the microscope of a favour seeking mobster who will have no qualms with making you pay dearly if you disobey him. One of his quests is also very reliant upon dialogue choices, and can be easily failed if you’re not an adept speech analyzer. It isn’t just side missions that change things up, though, as there are several pivotal decisions that will add up to determine your fate and that of the city around you.
On the other hand there’s the worst part of the experience, that being the glitches that can make things frustrating. This includes a bit of screen tearing, some questionable lip syncing and more annoying faults like regular frame rate drops and crashes during loading screens. Early on, I also found myself with white knuckles while reloading a certain auto-save. Why? Well, most times it would load improperly and I’d barely be able to move before the frame rate would drop to zero. It would do this over and over again, only allowing me to move an inch every so often, and I’d spam the start button to try to get the menu to appear so that I could reload. The good news is that this only happened there, but it was still a blight on an otherwise good, if somewhat unpolished, game.
It’s not as if Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a graphical powerhouse either. It looks decent, and has its moments, but it looks a lot like an upscaled version of Human Revolution, as I expected it would. I’m fine with how it appears, because I don’t play RPGs for their visuals, but I honestly expected better and had a hard time justifying the amount of performance issues I ran into. I guess it’s just a simple case of lacking polish, which will hopefully be addressed with future patches, to allow the visuals to rise up to the quality of the game’s solid soundtrack, effects and voice acting.
Although it pains me to do so, I can’t give Eidos Montreal’s latest venture into the world of augmented humans a glowing recommendation, no matter how much I had hoped to be able to. While Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a rather good game, I can’t help but feel that something is missing, and I’ll be surprised if longtime fans aren’t put off a bit by its brevity.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with prior to release.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a decent sequel, but it's not the game that we were hoping for. There's a lot to like, but a lack of polish, a short runtime and a missing wow factor keep it from being great.