August 19, 2016
At a time when the world is becoming more and more fractured on a socio-political level, and the message from the media’s message is often skewed thanks to third-party interests *cough* Rupert Murdoch *cough* Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s message of segregation and fragility hits home just that little harder. Its messaging is delivered with about as much subtlety as trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer, but, you know what, I kind of like that about the game. It does away with subtlety and sticks its message straight in your face. It doesn’t force it down your throat, but it makes it abundantly clear from the offset.
“But Dan, we don’t care about its messaging or what it all means, is it a good game?” Quite simply, yes, it bloody well is. It’s a perfectly serviceable sequel, that sees Adam Jensen take to the streets of Prague – and beyond – trying to ease tensions between “Augs” – Augmented individuals – and “naturals” amidst a huge terrorist plot designed to upset the status quo of it all.
“Perfectly serviceable sequel” might sound like not the greatest compliment ever, but it’s probably the best way of describing the game. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided does what every great sequel should do. It evolves and refines all the original mechanics, making for a much better experience, while building upon the foundations that were set by Human Revolution and increasing the game’s scope. Not exponentially, mind, which is why we call it perfectly serviceable. It is, however, a truly great game.
It didn’t take us long to notice the little improvements the Canadian studio had put in place in the sequel. Little things like being able to grab onto ledges and pull yourself up; and no longer having to hold the button down and move the stick for the hacking portion of the game, now you just click a button. On top of that there’s the new control schemes, a crafting system, which although simple actually can be quite handy, and there’s even various different ammo types now, meaning you can use EMP ammo to temporarily knock out cameras and what not. On top of that, for the Deus Ex enthusiasts, you have the permadeath difficulty, which you unlock once you complete the game once. These little tweaks and additions are exactly what I meant by tweaking and building on the original mechanics of the game.
Possibly more importantly though, from a gameplay perspective, Mankind Divided introduces a much better energy system, one that doesn’t hold you back and gives you full control over when, where and how much you use your augmentations. This freedom with your augmented powers is a breath of fresh air for the franchise. No longer do you feel like you have to save them for when your back’s up against the wall. Now you feel like Adam Jensen. You feel like the ultimate badass. You feel all powerful, which is how you should feel if you’re taking control of a hulking great big half-man, half-machine!
It’s not about what Eidos Monreal has added, it’s about what they’ve effectively taken away as well – yes, those awful boss fights are no more! Huzzah! That’s not to say there are no boss fights, what we’re saying is the boss fights the game does have can now be done entirely stealthily or completely aggressively, it’s entirely up to you. If you have a strong stealth build, it’s actually really simple to take down the game’s bosses, which might seem like a bad thing, but in my eyes, it’s not. It’s a reward for treading the less attractive (but ultimately more satisfying) path. Stealth is the thinking man’s way of playing Deus Ex, and in Mankind Divided you’re just as equipped to approach the situation as you see fit (stealth or aggressive), without being penalised in the process. The same can’t really be said for Human Revolution.
As we just inferred, like the bosses the game can be tackled either as a stealth player or a balls to the walls action hero – or a combination of the two – and amusingly, the game references your play-style throughout in various conversations. Thanks to a whole load of new augmentations, you now have more tools at your disposal to achieve your objective, no matter your play-style. The new abilities like the Tesla upgrade, which allows you to non-lethally take down groups of enemies, or the Icarus Dash, which allows you to actually circumnavigate said group, empower the stealth player, while the Titan armour, which makes you super durable, or the Focus Enhancement, which slows down time, empowers the aggressive players. Then there are abilities like the Nanoblade and PEPS, which can benefit both, dependent on how you use them. Heck, even the Typhoon augmentation can now be used non-lethally, meaning that how you play the game is totally dependent on the player. And this isn’t just some BS line, it’s completely true, and whichever play-style you opt for, this time you’re not at a disadvantage compared to any other player and their play-style choices.
Speaking of choices, like the reboot, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has many choices littered throughout the game. We won’t talk specifics, because, you know, spoilers and all that jazz, but Eidos Monreal have clearly looked at Mass Effect’s impactful “Oh shit!” decisions and thought, you know what, we need some of that. It’s not even a case of taking the good choice or the bad choice here, there’s a lot of shades of grey in Mankind Divided, which can make you agonise over some of the more wide-reaching decisions. In fact, these decisions can take you to different missions entirely, meaning potentially, if you wanted to see everything, you couldn’t do so in one playthrough. Thanks to the various different paths to an objective, which are completely dependent on which augmentations you unlock, you could replay the game and go an entirely different path to the one you went previously. And that goes for pretty much every mission.
I must say though, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided felt a touch smaller than Human Revolution. In Human Revolution you visited numerous different hub worlds around the globe, whereas in Mankind Divided, Eidos Montreal have opted to make Prague the main centrepiece of the game. Sure, it’s bigger and you do get to see it in various different states, which changes the whole feel of the city – i.e. in day, at night, and more – but the game loses a little something when compared to its predecessors. Detroit and Hengsha were polar opposites and made the game feel fresh throughout, Prague can outstay its welcome just a touch though.
I get the feeling there’s less main missions too, although some of the side missions are absolutely delightful – even though they are easier to miss. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t expect a much bigger game than Human Revolution, expect one with much more satisfying missions though. Both main story missions and side missions.
Mankind Divided isn’t the perfect sequel though, there’s still a lot wrong with it. For starters, the AI is still as dense as a doorpost. I mean, seriously dense. Then there’s the voice acting, which is a little ham-fisted at times and sometimes, completely phoned in. When I say voice acting, I don’t mean Elias Toufexis, who does another sterling job as Jensen. On top of that there’s the lip-syncing, which is a huge immersion breaker and something we shouldn’t have to put up with in this generation of consoles. Also, rather amusingly, the animations in conversations are completely bizarre and unrealistic. If I had a pound for every time Jensen randomly threw out his left arm when making a point, I could retire a rich man right about now. The first time you see it, it’s a bit like, “What the actual fuck!?” but every subsequent time it gets funnier and funnier. Not exactly ideal for a game that tries desperately hard to immerse you in its world and its lore. Then there’s the frame-rate, which is largely okay outside the hub world, but can struggle a bit when you’re in the rather huge city of Prague. Minor niggles in the grand scheme of things, yes, but it does detract from the experience somewhat, and rather disappointingly.
New to the Deux Ex franchise this time around is the virtual reality test chambers in the game’s Breach mode. Here players have to work through progressively harder, small bite-size virtual spaces with the objective of retrieving data – you’re basically a hacker. It’s an interesting idea with its own progression system, and as a sidebar, it’s actually not too bad and could give the game some extra legs, but for us, it was only a fleeting distraction. We’d much rather play through the campaign again than get too involved in Breach mode. That said, it’s worth a quick go to see whether it’s your kind of thing, for us though, alas it wasn’t.
From an achievements/trophies perspective, Mankind Divided’s list is a lot like Human Revolution’s in many respects – you could say it’s an evolution of Revolution. There’s lots of decision-based ones, lots of side mission-related ones, stealth combat ones, more aggressive approach ones and the usual ones like Pacifist (we got it in our first run, yay!) and such. While on the whole it’s actually a great list, we are a bit peeved, especially as predominant stealth players, that there are achievements in there for feats with the more aggressive augments. Other than that though, it’s a pretty great list, one that will challenge you, one that will have you playing through the game multiple times – which is good for Mankind Divided, it deserves to be played multiple times, going down multiple paths, etc. – and one that is hugely rewarding. Just like the game itself.
It’s clear that with Mankind Divided Eidos Montreal have listened to the fan feedback from Human Revolution. Some of the smaller systems have been refined (like the hacking and energy system), traversal is better, those god awful boss fights are gone and stealth players have been given more tools to empower themselves, so that’s something, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not too much of an evolution of the formula. That can be either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. In our eyes, it’s a little from column A, a little from column B. This much is certain though, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a great video game, one you should play, and an impressive follow-up to Human Revolution, but don’t expect a reinvention of the formula. Expect an enjoyable and rewarding experience though, from start to finish.
The original score is as wonderful as the first game’s was, as is Toufexis’ performance as Jensen. Some of the other actors though, not so much.
Mankind Divided is a weird one. The world is beautiful, stunning in fact, but the character models aren’t nowhere near as beautiful. There’s some weird animations in there too, oh, and the lip-syncing is a little lame. This is 2016, folks, we deserve better on that front.
Thanks to the new control schemes, Deus Ex is as easy to play as it’s ever been, whether you’re opting for a stealth or action playthrough.
Mankind Divided is an impressive story-driven game, let down by a few niggles like some seriously dense AI and a few immersion breaking presentation issues.
Mankind Divided’s achievements/trophies are an evolution of Human Revolution’s list, rewarding players for various in-game decisions, completing some of the more impressive side-quests and for doing various augmentation-related feats.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an impressive sequel to the brilliant Human Revolution. In the grand scheme of things, there are very few monumental changes, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? And everything that was broken in Human Revolution? It’s all fixed. Held back from true greatness by the odd grumble here and there, Mankind Divided is worthy of anyone’s time and money.