Kris Wall reviews Deus Ex: Mankind Divided…
Many might call me a heathen but I wasn’t a fan of the Deus Ex series when it began, while the impact the original Deus Ex had on the future of action RPG’s and any game that would involve player choice cannot be argued, the game itself just didn’t resonate with me, and I avoided the sequel Invisible War altogether. Then 2011’s Human Revolution arrived and everything changed, I was immediately swept up in Adam Jensen’s world, sinking an unfathomable amount of hours into unraveling conspiracies, experimenting with different augmentation loadouts for exploring, musing over the themes of what it means to be human, and just completely immersing myself into one of the most incredible games of the last generation . It went on to be my favourite game of that year, one of my top 3 of the last generation with Red Dead and The Last of Us, and comfortably within my all time top 10, it was that brilliant, and best of all, I completely wasn’t expecting it to be as great as it was. So you can imagine I’ve been waiting for Mankind Divided with baited breath ever since it was first announced.
Mankind Divided picks up two years after the climax of Human Revolution, the shocking reveal where every augmented human had a hidden kill switch activated, turning them into homicidal maniacs which caused the most catastrophic global loss of life in recorded history. Two years after ‘The Incident’ as it’s come to be known and the world is a very different place, humans live in full fear and hatred of the ‘augs’, while augmented humans are now outcasts, deemed second class citizens, segregated and facing prejudice at every turn from a society that doesn’t understand them. To help combat the fear of augmented beings, a newly enhanced (and overly aggressive) police force have been brought in to keep watch over these perceived threats that are hiding in plain sight.
Adam Jensen returns as a member of TF29, an anti-terrorist task force based in Prague who are attempting to capture a group of augmented terrorists. At the same time Jensen is also secretly allied with Alex Vega and a hacker group called The Juggernaught Collective who are helping him get closer to the Illuminati who orchestrated ‘The Incident’. After a mission goes terribly wrong in Dubai, Vega informs Jensen that TF29 may have been compromised from within by the Illuminati. Just as things can’t seem to get much worse, both Jensen and Vega are caught up in a catastrophic terrorist bombing at the Prague train station, which both miraculously survive but leaves Jensen with severely damaged augmentations in need of repair. As is the way with a Deus Ex game, the mysteries don’t stop there as Jensen soon finds out during his repair that somebody has hidden a series of Titan augmentations inside his body while he was recovering from the events in Panchaea between games, but who? And for what purpose? How deep does this rabbit hole go?
I won’t spoil the story as half of the Deus Ex experience is getting tangled up in its labyrinthine web of conspiracies, characters, secrets, lies and reveals. I will say though that while the story grips and enthralls from the outset and throughout, it didn’t feel like it carried the same eventual impact as Human Revolution. Maybe that’s because it’s a continuation of the same story, but where Human Revolution felt like a global web of conspiracy and deceit all converging on that shocking conclusion, Mankind Divided starts with its terrorist bombing incident and stays with the hunt for the culprits throughout, in comparison it’s just on a more intimate scale than what was presented in Human Revolution.
Players might cry foul at the idea of having all of Jensen’s augmentations reset to zero, but the way that Eidos Montreal have incorporated that decision is very cleverly woven into the fabric of the story, and only serves to heighten the conspiracies hidden within the game. Following the prologue in Dubai where you play as a fully powered up Jensen with all of your augmentations from Human Revolution giving you a taster of things to come, Jensen ends up damaged after the terrorist strike in Prague, which requires his system to be reset and brings about the discovery and the mystery of his Titan augs. I never once felt like I’d been cheated out of my previous upgrades and thoroughly enjoyed earning the EXP and finding the Praxis Kits required to create the kind of Jensen that was unique to my experience. At the very least it gives players something to work towards throughout and stops you from being able to tear through Mankind Divided like some sort of souped up Terminator!
All of Jensen’s augmentation upgrades from Human Revolution return here, from the hacking mods and the glass shield cloak that turn you into an infiltration nightmare, to the reflex boosters and weapons handling augs that turn you into a hardcore futuristic version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the cool fancy looking (but no less important) ones like the Icarus Landing and Typhoon defence systems. Mankind Divided adds to this with Jensen’s newly revealed Titan augs that were hidden in his body after Human Revolution, offering up some interesting new ways to play, as well as ushering in some added strategy when choosing your augmentation branches.
There are 7 of these Titan augs. The Titan armour turns Jensen into a shimmering fortress of defensive capability. Remote hacking does exactly what it says and lets Jensen hack from safe distances. Focus Enhancement lets Jensen slow down time when going on the offensive. The Tesla and P.E.P.S augs give Jensen additional methods of non lethal pacification, while the Nanoblades offer the exact opposite and let Jensen pin enemies to the wall with lethal force. Perhaps the most interesting and useful of these new augs, for me personally anyway, is the Icarus Dash which allows Jensen enhanced maneuverability in a manner not too dissimilar from Corvo in Dishonored, allowing him to travel small distances at lightning speeds, quickly closing the gap between a target or dashing up to hidden vents and windows for added infiltration possibilities.
However, the Titan augs consume such immense power that they essentially overclock Jensen’s body to the point of core meltdown, meaning that for you to use one, you have to disable another permanently to balance out his system. It’s a smart way of making you think tactically about your approach to the game seeing as you’re never going to earn enough Praxis kits on your first play-through to turn Jensen into an all powerful stealth / assault hybrid, as well as immediately opening the game up to repeated play-throughs to experience the augmentations that you previously locked out. Deus Ex has always been about player choice and putting that at the forefront of the experience, Mankind Divided builds on Human Revolution to offer up the most diverse and impressive amount of choice in the series to date.
That level of choice and freedom of approach is mirrored in the best level design of the series to date. I found myself just constantly marveling at the impressive intricacy of which these levels have been mapped out and the way it challenges players to use their augmentations to discover it. The way the game allows the same objectives and situations to be approached from multiple angles and styles is simply incredible, you’re never left feeling like you can’t achieve something based on the augmentations you’ve chosen. It may not be the approach you want to get to your goal and the approach might not initially be clear at all, but these levels have been very cleverly designed to incorporate an exhaustively comprehensive set of skills that make discovering these worlds in your own way a complete joy.
It definitely feels like Eidos Montreal enjoyed and took notes from Dishonored when following on from Human Revolution. Jensen now handles quite similarly to Corvo with the ease he can run, climb, dash and mantle around the levels, making exploration more fun and rewarding than it was in Human Revolution. It might not seem like much to be excited about being able to grab up and climb over a head height wall, but it makes a world of difference to your experience given that you’re supposed to be a half human half cyborg badass that was previously hamstrung by such a challenge. The cover system from Human Revolution has been vastly improved as well, making combat and sneaking more fluid and enjoyable. Mankind Divided does slightly suffer from an overstuffed and convoluted control system where it seems like every button has two different functions and PC like input shortcuts are incorporated across the controller. The radial item/weapon select wheel doesn’t feel as intuitive as it should either given how much you have to use it. Thankfully there are different control layouts including the one for Human Revolution, should you feel yourself struggling with Mankind Divided’s new system.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided constantly rewards exploration and experimentation, no matter what your chosen augmentation loadout is. You never feel like you’re being punished the choice to be attack over stealth, and I found that during my play-through, much like Human Revolution before it, many of my decisions were left to my own moral compass. I tried to play the game without killing a single person, which soon went awry when I ran into a gang protecting a bookstore early on. As I switched between lethal and non lethal attacks as I felt each situation required, I was left thinking that the people of Prague would be safer if these gang members were removed on a more permanent basis. Yet while the police are an aggressive presence towards augmented humans, I never felt the need to take the lethal approach with them. Many games incorporate the players own moral intuition into the experience now, but few games have been able to match the way Deus Ex can challenge the players mind.
Eidos Montreal have included a staggering amount of world detail in Mankind Divided. This a gorgeously crafted world that just begs to be investigated and explored. The way the world has been created to highlight the divide between humans and augmented beings so that visuals tell their own story that linger in the mind. Important plot threads can exist hidden inside people’s laptops and pocket secretaries, eavesdropping on some conversations can provide invaluable insight, while some side missions are entire stories with their own beginning, middle and end. Make no mistake that this is a game that constantly rewards you for sticking your nose where it shouldn’t.
I spent over 5 hours in the first hub world in Prague alone, this area consists of about 6 or 7 streets in a rough square, yet it seemed to contain more things to see, do and explore than most games manage in their entire lengths. I found myself completely lost in this small town area just testing out my abilities, exploring and doing side missions before I realised that I hadn’t even moved on to the bigger main hub in Prague, which offers up even more side missions and exploration, nor had I even started the first main mission in the game. However, it did seem like the fact that the game is attempting to do so much is also why I found that the game completely crashed on a few occasions when loading in a new area. It wasn’t enough to detract from my play-through but it did serve to pull me out of the experience.
As it currently stands, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is now the frontrunner for my game of the year, 2016. Mankind Divided is definitely a game that gives back just as much as players are willing to put in, and I would absolutely implore you to completely immerse yourself in this world and explore every nook and cranny of this meticulously crafted world. It’s an incredibly rich, rewarding and engrossing experience that offers up hours upon hours of gaming excellence, I really cannot recommend it highly enough. Quite simply, you have to play this game!
+ Enthralling story
+ Constantly rewards exploration and experimentation
+ Excellent level design
+ That atmospheric Michael McCann score again
+ Stunning level of world detail
+ Titan augmentations add new tactics and strategy
+ Huge scope for repeated play-throughs
– Story lacks a knockout conclusion
– Convoluted control layouts
– Occasional crashes