Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has all the potential to be one of 2016’s greats, to stand out from an already packed crowd and be truly stellar. Ambitious, operatic and downright sexy, it’s a no brainer for anyone who enjoyed Deus Ex:Human Revolution.
This is a game that has a lot to say, perhaps too much at times, yet it still manages to hugely entertain as an intelligently crafted piece of sci-fi noir, complete with surface-level political allegories. Mankind Divided isn’t quite the masterpiece that Human Revolution was for its time back in 2011, but it’s a more than worthy sequel that delivers a breadth of quality entertainment that few other games on the triple-A market are offering these days.
Just like the last entry in the Deus Ex series, this game puts you in the shoes of the same cybernetically enhanced super agent that no security system can withstand, refining and reinforcing the defining foundations of the series. It creates challenging situations and gives players the tools and flexibility to deal with them in a multitude of ways, all within an absorbing cyberpunk world.
The year is 2029, and Earth’s biggest nations are overloaded with ‘Augs’ -people who have installed mechanical enhancements on themselves—new arms, new legs, that sort of thing. Towards the end of the DX:HR, a scientist who’d regretted developing such technology flipped a switch, driving all of the world’s “Augs” violently insane, killing millions. Two years later, the world’s untouched homo sapiens ain’t too kind to the world’s robo-sapiens. The promise of a golden age for mechanically augmented citizens is over. Augs have been expelled from society. Now, it’s up to Adam Jensen, a former Detroit cop, to stand up, battle for humanity and protect the future for Augs and humans alike.
The series is characteristically defined by giving you choices–a range of ways to tackle given situations like armed conflict, social interactions, and branches in storyline. Mankind Divided is no different. There is no wrong way to play, and this intricate game rewards you for achieving things with your personally preferred method, no matter what that may involve. This means spilling some blood with your favourite riffle is just as satisfying as slipping past them without alerting a soul. Punching through a wall is as fulfilling as stealing a keycard and just using the door, or maybe crawling through an air vent by using a leg enhancement to jump to it. There is no superior way to complete a task. It’s refreshing to play a game where different routes cannot only be equally successful, but flexible as well.
Jensen hasn’t just got a new jacket, he’s learned some new tricks in the two years after human revolution. Mankind Divided introduces a handful of new augmentation abilities for Jensen on top of those introduced in the previous game. Some of these new augs are more interesting than others though; Remote Hacking is invaluable for disabling automated obstacles at a distance, and Icarus Dash is a powerful tool for electronically dashing short distances in the air. Concussive blasts can be fired from his wrists, he can pin people to walls with his wrist blade projectiles and can now deploy a bullet proof exoskeleton.
Most of your time in Mankind Divided will be set in Prague, the first city to implement “anti-Aug” legislation and the main hub in the game. Prague is the most complex hub in any Deus Ex game.There are shops, storage lockups, warehouses, bars, clubs, apartments and more to scurry around in, all spread out across its cobbled city streets. This twisting collection of city blocks needs its own metro station for fast travel because it’s so vast. However, by focusing on a single location the artists have managed to pack in an incredible amount of detail. As you walk the streets your eyes are graced by holographic billboards, buzzing police drones, strange sculptures, and fascinating future tech . It’s an impressively dense, hand-crafted space, making Human Revolution’s cities feel pretty lifeless in comparison. It’s easy to become completely engrossed in it’s impeccably designed environments. It’s not quite the jetsetting adventure Human Revolution was – outside of Prague you only visit four other locations, including Golem City – but it does make up for it with complex level design.
Mankind Divided also includes an asymmetrical online-only competitive mode called Breach. Breach uses the first-person combat, stealth and remote hacking mechanics of Deus Ex in brief, visually abstracted challenge missions with a focus on score-chasing, speedrunning,and beating other players. The tone of Breach is very different to the main campaign, with the emphasis not so much on the breadth of options available to you, but taking the path of least resistance.
There are also side missions which are only discovered by speaking to people. The people with tasks to give are differentiated by actually having a name – the rest are defined as “citizen” or by another synonym. Side missions are as satisfying as the main campaign. However, unless you run up to every person, taking names, side missions can fall by the wayside despite every intention to see them all.
There’s little interest in Mankind Divided to stay on one subject point for long. It has a universe to build, a sequel to set up, a Big Boss to introduce and then ignore when he dies in a heroic battle with Jensen. It remains purely as a series of increasingly challenging infiltration and investigation scenarios, all of which can be solved in the manner of your choosing.
The pace of the game doesn’t feel like one that’s defined by a series of climactic acts, but a constant burn of tension and a chase for knowledge as mainline missions, hub exploration, and optional side missions bleed into one another. Unfortunately, beyond the first chapter, what started as a slow and beginning of an intriguing story becomes a clumsy and hurried Usain Bolt-wise to an unnatural finish. All of the game’s intrigue just suddenly flops to the floor.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided could – and should – have been amazing. All the ingredients were there: an intriguing premise, engaging and mature narrative themes, solid gameplay foundations and a beautiful look. However, the short run time, nonsensical conclusion, under-developed characters, a missing wow factor and continued shortcomings in combat mean this is a title which fails to live up to its potential. It’s a solid sequel that comes close to but never quite surpasses its exceptional predecessor. Mankind Divided is nonetheless an essential purchase for fans of stealth and story. You can certainly find enjoyment in Mankind Divided, for the short runtime it offers.