By Kyle Holmer. This is LOAD FILE where we’re just as afraid of cyborgs as everyone else. This week Kyle carefully assesses every situation in ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Personal Computer.
I think I had forgotten how much I love this series until about last week. While I wasn’t one of the early adopters (I’m probably one of 5 people on the planet who hasn’t played 2000’s Deus Ex) I did play Invisible War and more importantly, I fell in love with Human Revolution. That alone is probably surprising to some people; by the time I had played Human Revolution the idea of in-game choice was already 12 years old and nearly perfected in the original Deus Ex. And yet, even having spent a good portion of my gaming career aware of the mechanics this series had introduced to the world, Human Revolution brought something compelling to the medium. On its own, it wasn’t anything wholly original, but it managed to bring a unique take on the concept of choice in-game, and more importantly, it refined the hell out of it.
Mankind Divided looks to recapture the magic of the previous game, although this time around it’s presenting something we’re all much more familiar with. If offering a game with this many options hadn’t been completely explored in 2011, it most definitely has in 2016. Yet somehow, even knowing there’s nothing about this game that hasn’t been done before, it’s still consistently captivating.
THIS GUY? COOL AGAIN? WHO KNEW
The story follows Adam Jensen, who since 2011 has somehow miraculously transformed from a archetypal machismo protagonist into a legitimate bad ass dude (maybe I’m getting older or maybe skinny primped white dudes with gruff voices are back in vogue). Regardless, Mankind Divided picks up the story roughly two years after the events of Human Revolution; while the previous game had a variety of endings, Mankind Divided has cherry picked certain elements from the previous game and merged them into a single “canonical” backstory (the game begins with a lengthy recap of previous events so new players shouldn’t be intimidated).
Jensen, having survived the virus that turned all augmented humans manic in the previous game, finds himself working for TF29 (an Interpol offshoot) while secretly gathering information for an Anonymous-esque hacker group known as the Juggernaut collective. As a result of the augmented incident which saw half the population turn temporarily violent, “augs” are now shunned from society, with many being encouraged to remove their electronic implants, while the few remaining are sent to internment camps (cities, to be specific) to live out their days in squalor. As this is a Deus Ex game, you can expect plenty of conspiracies, double agents, secret agendas, and eventually, the Illuminati (which this series desperately needs to leave behind at some point).
There’s quite a bit of story to take in and the developers have done an incredible job of world building, but ultimately looking at this single story arc as a whole, you notice that Mankind Divided falls victim to middle chapter syndrome; the game spends so much of its time dealing with the ramifications of the previous game that the central plot ends up seeming inconsequential. While Human Revolution’s story had a major impact on this world (and likely will for upcoming installments) it seems very unlikely Mankind Divided won’t matter until later on (except maybe to introduce major players for subsequent installments).
That’s not to say the story is bad, it’s lacking the consequence of the previous game. That being said, while the central arc may not be all that compelling, there’s plenty of narrative meat to dig into. The story itself is set primarily in Prague (one of the previously mentioned interment cities) so players get to see the augmented versus natural dynamic play out in full. Beyond that there’s plenty of side quests, books, and locations to explore, all of which aid in making this latest Deus Ex an incredibly tangible and realized world.
YOU CAN KILL THIS DUDE… OR NOT
For those returning players (from either Human Revolution or the original Deus Ex), you’ll find Mankind Divided incredibly familiar, which is most definitely not a complaint. The core gameplay loop is essentially the same; you’re given a relatively large world to explore and plenty of options in which to do that. Any given encounter can usually be handled either directly via combat, or indirectly through stealth or hacking. While that core structure hasn’t changed much, players will notice that locations are not only larger, but infinitely more dense. Human Revolution seemed to quite literally have three paths to choose from at any given location: a vent to crawl through, a locked door in which to hack, or an entry with a handful of guards.
Mankind Divided’s locations are like one gigantic interconnected network. Every location can be visited upon in countless ways and there’s a variety of new tools at the player’s disposal in which to exploit that. The game moves back and forth between a hub world (Prague) and a handful of story locales which, while not as large as Prague, are just as dense. Prague alone will take dedicated players tens of hours to explore fully and every inch of which is dripping with authored content. Every single apartment and shop has a story just waiting to be found; this is truly vibrant and dense city with plenty of varied locations (although the minute-to-minute NPC interaction is a little limited).
Deus Ex isn’t just about the exploration however, and the combat (or the avoidance of if that’s your chosen playstyle) has also been built out. Straightforward combat is now more viable than ever with improved shooting and cover mechanics. Beyond that, the available augmentations that, well, augment your combat encounters are truly impressive, all of which serve to support your given playstyle. The game has all of the core mechanics of the previous entry with a variety of new options that seem integral the moment you purchase them; looking through the upgrade list, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to find an augmentation you don’t desperately want and nearly every single one of them will dramatically modify how you tackle the minute-to-minute gameplay. From the ability to leap thirty feet in the air to analyzing micro-aggressions, from talking your way out of an encounter or the ability to remotely hack any electronic device; just about every upgrade will change how your approach the game the moment you acquire it.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM
Throughout my entire 30+ hours with Deus Ex one word consistently popped into my head: density. There is a density to this game that is legitimately unique to this series. While games like The Witcher 3 have a sprawling open world that’s nearly impossible to cover, or something like Dishonored that will give you more ways to fight somebody than you can shake a stick at, Deus Ex has a uniqueness to its world in that it’s just so rich. Every single location in the entirety of the game has a feeling of being unique; every apartment has unique inhabitants with their own stories, every person has their own personality, and every combat encounter has a unique way in which you can approach it.
Its rare to find a world as explicitly realized as the one in Mankind Divided, there isn’t an inch of this game that hasn’t been carefully thought through and designed meticulously. If you were to break Mankind Divided down and assess everything individually, there wouldn’t be anything you haven’t seen before. Taken together however, it’s clear to see this game is more than the sum of its parts.
Developed by Eidos Montreal.
Published by Square Enix.
Directed by Jean-François Dugas.
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
8.5 out of 10