Deus Ex; it's a name with a freight train's worth of baggage, a franchise that many have struggled but never quite managed to emulate. The first game came out of nowhere, produced by Ion Storm Studios back at the turn of the millennium, and blew the PC gaming community away with its sheer scale and range of player choice. Even now, after over a decade, it remains a landmark title and lingers at or near the top of many top-ten lists. As a result, countless fans were shocked and filled with despair when the sequel flopped, causing the collapse of Ion Storm in the process. For years, it was feared that Invisible War had doomed the series to only two installments, preventing further exploration into what was clearly a rich and nuanced universe of cyberpunk ideas and ideals with a deep history and limitless potential.
Then, in 2011, Eidos Montreal breathed new life into the franchise with it release of a prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which took players back 25 years before the events of the original game, thrusting them into an era of conflict where the cybernetic augmentation technology that formed one of the franchise's biggest narrative vertebrae was still in its infancy and at the mercy of unseen forces who sought to control or eradicate it. It was a huge hit, reviving interest in the series and restoring faith to fans who had long ago relinquished hope of ever returning to that world of shadowy organizations and sinister conspiracies. Now, Mankind Divided takes us back again, two years after the events of Human Revolution, and while it has its flaws it does a stellar job of carrying on the core of what makes the series great. At present, it is available for purchase on Steam for $59.99, with two DLC expansions, System Rift and A Criminal Past, the latter of which should be freshly released at the time of this article's publication.
Mankind Divided picks up two years after the events of Human Revolution, with augmented protagonist Adam Jensen returning to his role as beleaguered hero. For those that haven't played Human Revolution, consider yourself warned since I'll have to spoil a lot of stuff for anything I'm about to say to make sense. If you wish to spare your fragile sensibilities and learn everything on the fly, do not click this link. Now, I'll proceed on the basis that you've spoiled yourself and watched the two recap videos therein, so brace yourself.
Many fans will be disappointed to learn that Mankind Divided negates the final choice offered at the end of Human Revolution. In a way, this means that Mankind Divided suffers from an issue that Invisible War also faced, which is what to do after your previous game concluded with a v-ending (i.e. a vending machine of possible outcomes). Deus Ex has always handled such scenarios somewhat better than say, Mass Effect 3, but it hasn't been without its problems, the biggest of which is how to continue the plot without making the whole thing making the player feel disenfranchised and depowered. Invisible War played the dangerous game of trying to weave a narrative where all three potential outcomes happened regardless of the player's choice, which depending on who you ask was an interesting design choice that people simply didn't appreciate or a horrible mistake that led to the subsequent plot being ridiculously obtuse and complicated.
Mankind Divided takes a different route, and in doing so, falls into the same trap Invisible War tried to avoid. Essentially, the plot of Mankind Divided states that no matter what choice you made at the end of Human Revolution, Panchea explodes, hurling Adam into the ocean and leaving him in a coma that lasts for six months. In that space of time, the world does an about face and turns on augmentation technology. Biotech firms take a dive in stock-price, and Sarif Industries, Adam's former employer, goes bankrupt, with angry looters pillaging and burning the company headquarters. New laws are instituted around the globe in dozens of countries legalizing discrimination against those with augmentations.
Naturally, in this new atmosphere of hate and fear, it's only a matter of time before something gives. A string of world-wide terrorist attacks leads to the formation of Task Force 29, the precursor to the original game's UNATCO. Jensen joins as the sole augmented agent, but with a hidden agenda. During his time out of the public eye (which you can read about in this full-length novel), he's been recruited by the Juggernaut Collective, a group of world-class hacktivists who seek to expose the real culprits behind the now pithily named 'Aug Incident'; the Illuminati. Jensen's job is to infiltrate TF29 and find a way to use them to expose his true enemy.
The game opens with Jensen taking part on a mission to Dubai, now an abandoned wasteland (who saw that one coming?), where the game's first mission takes place. His job is to assist in the interception of an arms-deal between two known criminals. However, in the midst of the operation, a group of gold-masked augmented mercenaries crash the party and try to kill everyone involved. Before Jensen can find out more, he's recalled to TF29's Prague HQ in Eastern Europe. Arriving in the Czech city by train, Adam meets his contact in the Collective, Alex Vega, who replaces Faridah Malik (don't worry fanboys, she's alive) in of your plucky fly-girl companion.
While the Dubai mission does a lot to kick things off with a bang, it's this brief cinematic intro to the post-Incident world that really sets the stage. As they walk through the crowded train station, Alex and Jensen are treated to the sight of faceless, militarized police in riot gear and exo-frames harassing and/or detaining augmented visitors with impunity. The people around them give them ugly looks and everywhere, slurs are on the tongue of everyone who doesn't have a machine attached to them. It's a chilling sight, made all the more powerful when it's cut short by a series of explosions that blasts the station into rubble.
The gameplay picks up the following day with Jensen awakening in his top-floor apartment and follows him as he tries to uncover the facts behind the bombing while continuing his work as a mole. The plot only gets more complex from there, but then it's Deus Ex, so that's to be expected and enjoyed. It always manages to keep enough character development in play so that it doesn't turn into a total mess of political maneuvering like Ghost in the Shell (an opinion that will doubtlessly offend countless weeaboos and cyberpunk fans alike) which is good, because without some meaningful and interesting personalities to play off, Jensen can feel like a block of wood, especially with his dry, gruff delivery of his lines. I'm not saying he's bad; obviously, a large chunk of his personality is meant to be filled in by the decisions the player makes through him, but still, it'd be nice to see those decisions have a cumulative effect on him.
Regardless, Adam's journey through the jungle of conspiracies and shadows is a unique and quite interesting one, especially given how it takes us down a road that Deus Ex has never explored. In Human Revolution, you felt more like a free agent, investigating things as it suited you on the budget of David Sarif, who also makes a return appearance, albeit with a reduced role. In Mankind Divided, things feel more serious, and the harsh demeanor of your boss at TF29, David Miller, lends things an atmosphere of professionalism and urgency that I've never really gotten from the other titles in the series. It's also quite a shift in narrative since usually, half the plot consists of a descent through layers of conspiracy as the player character discovers just how many puppet-strings are being pulled all around them. Mankind Divided eschews that, with Jensen already well-aware of the threat posed by the Illuminati and committed to fighting them at every turn. It does feel very much like a middle installment…which is unfortunate, because it feels like an unfinished one.
The game's story is padded with dozens of hours of side-missions, probably more than were shipped in Human Revolution, but this doesn't save the main plot from feeling shockingly short. I wouldn't compare it to coitus interruptus, but frankly, you meet the chief villain about halfway through the game, yet he's never truly developed, and always portrayed as a puppet of greater forces. You're left feeling robbed of a satisfying showdown. The game does build to a climax, but it's weak compared to some we've confronted in the past installments. The ending feels more like your confrontation with Barrett in Human Revolution than a climactic struggle like the conclusion of the first game. Furthermore, there's a mission that was apparently trimmed out to be sold as DLC that had no place being so removed.
I could go on and on, but ultimately, to make things short, the biggest flaw with Mankind Divided is that it feels unfinished, an accusation I lay at the feet of Square Enix, whose involvement in the franchise I have recently come to detest. Yes, it was probably their money that helped raise the series from the dead, but it is also they who have seen fit to inflict players with micro-transactions in the form of consumable packs, an annoying phone-app tie-in and the removal of content for the purposes of locking it behind DLC. The Missing Link expansion for Human Revolution was a nifty little tie-in, but System Rift and A Criminal Past both sound and feel like they should've been part of the main game from the beginning, especially from a narrative perspective.
It's a frustrating, money-grubbing strategy that I can't help but liken to Capcom's brand of dickish behavior regarding locking up crucial parts of their releases behind pay-walls, and as a fan it pisses me off to no end. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the reason the game concludes with so many hanging threads is because it was butchered to make way for the creation of a planned trilogy that would start with Mankind Divided. While I'm happy to have more Deus Ex, as a consumer, I demand a finished, satisfying product, not half a story. It would also seem this 'strategy' has come back to bite them in the ass, since due to poor initial sales, Mankind Divided has condemned the franchise to potentially permanent hiatus, which simply triples my frustration.
Regardless, what story there is to Mankind Divided is well-built and superbly crafted, while sadly cut short in so many ways. Prague serves as the central hub, much like Detroit and Hengsha in Human Revolution, with almost all the content taking place there. This might be a contributing factor as to why the game felt shorter, since classically, Deus Ex games have gone around the globe in telling their stories, yet we never seem to leave Europe. While it does add an element of focus to the narrative, with events in the game showing their effects heavily on characters and places, it still feels somewhat like we've been robbed of a bigger story.
The game's Breach mode doesn't do anything to help fill this gap either. While it was touted as a way to take Deus Ex multiplayer (something the franchise has always struggled with), it never managed to capture my interest, instead of feeling like a long string of story-contextualized time-trials, something I personally loathe. What makes it worse is that the section of the story that's supposed to give it context is locked up in the System Rift DLC, meaning it all makes very little sense and seems separated from the main plot, leading me to question its relevance. Deus Ex has always been very rooted in its story, which is why its multiplayer never really took off. For me, Breach feels like a wasted opportunity, where money was misspent to try and breathe longevity into the game beyond its story, which wouldn't have been necessary had the story actually been shipped as a complete experience.
Thankfully, one place where things are still wonderful and fun is the gameplay. It could be said that the game is a cover-based shooter, but that would be doing it a disservice. Since Human Revolution, the developers have added a vast number of new and exciting ways to approach your problems, should you even decide to do so, rather than sneaking around them, which is always a viable alternative. Freedom of choice is the name of the game and it's the heart and soul of the Deus Ex series.
Much of the basic framework of Mankind Divided carries over from its predecessor, with using stealth and environmental exploration to find ways to sneak around foes, or else using cover to protect yourself while you do battle with them. Everything you do earns you experience which adds up to Praxis Kits, which in turn are spent to upgrade your augmentations. I was actually a little impressed with how they managed to contextually justify the inclusion of Adam's new powers, as well as the need to reset them to zero to prevent him being an overpowered bad-ass right from the start. Regardless you can take any number of approaches to situations where talking isn't an option. Don't want to fight? Just sneak past them. Want to raise a ruckus? Go right ahead! Want to be sneaky? Distract and isolate the baddies, then pick them off one by one. It's remarkably intuitive and gets even more fun as more options become available.
Speaking of options, there's little that wasn't taken from the previous game that Mankind Divided doesn't expand upon. All your weapons can now be customized on the fly, with a press of a button allowing you to leap into a first-person weapon-feature menu similar to Crysis, where you can change fire-modes and add or remove attachments like silencers and scopes. As for ammunition, all weapons now feature options for armor-piercing rounds (for heavy and mechanical targets) and EMP rounds (for disabling robots, drones and cameras). It adds a lot of depth to a combat system that felt a tad shallow last time around. I was very pleased, though I didn't take the improvements without a grain of salt. My biggest gripe was that despite developer promises to the contrary, it still feels like players who choose the stealth option are awarded more XP, potentially limiting players who prefer to enter a room guns-blazing. Regardless, it's a nice set of touches that helps spice things up when you want to meet new people and kill them.
The augmentation tree returns of course, with players spending Praxis points as previously mentioned to use the cool new abilities. Most of these powers require energy from a meter, the mechanics of which have been vastly improved since Human Revolution. Augmentations now have an energy cost to activate as well as an amount they drain when in use, but once they're turned off, they'll automatically recharge to the point where they were first activated, minus the cost it took to turn them on. It's a little complicated at first, but what it ultimately means is that using augmentations no longer feels as constrained as it did in Human Revolution.
Of course, some of the new powers require unique ammo in addition to energy to function, such as the Nanoblade, which allows Jensen to fire his arm blades like a javelin an nail enemies to walls. An extra upgrade allows you to make the blades explode upon command, which leaves it just short of Dead Space 2's Javelin Gun as the best spike-launcher ever, if only because you can't electrocute the target in addition to blowing them up. There's also the Icarus Dash for those who prefer exploration and maneuverability. If your augmented legs can't do the job, you can use the Icarus Landing System that saves Adam from long falls to launch yourself to new heights in a flash of lightning that would make Barry Allen envious. Or if needs must, you can use it to charge into enemies, who go flying like they've been hit by a freight train.
Probably the most controversial change will be the hacking mini-game, which makes a return from Human Revolution with expanded features. This is another area where I have difficulties, mostly because while Electronic Multi-Tools have made a return from the original Deus Ex, offering an alternative who don't want to hack things, you don't get any experience for using them, whereas you do get it for hacking things. It feels like a thinly-veiled incentive to make people play the mini-game they put so much work into developing, which is annoying because it makes me feel like my choices are being punished, which should never, ever be the case in a Deus Ex game.
If anything, I feel the developers should've removed all experience bonuses and instead simply kept them as incentives for exploring the area and accomplishing objectives. That way, nobody would lose out. However, this is not the case. Worse yet, it often feels like the developers went out of their way to get you to hack things by other means. In the previous installments, seven to eight times out of ten, you could find the code to a door or the password to a computer somewhere in the environment provided you looked hard enough. This does not appear to the be case anymore, since more often than not, I found myself resorting to multi-tools since the codes I sought were absolutely nowhere to be found, not even when I took to Google for assistance. Again, you also get a reduced reward for actually finding and using the code as opposed to hacking something.
Alas, there's nothing to be done now except get on with it. The new version of the hacking system took me a while to get used to because you can't see the whole data-grid at once and need to use the WASD keys to shift the camera, something that was obviously a hold-over from the design who had to think of console players. There are new collectible little software consumables in addition to the old that do things like remove the fog from the grid so you can see all the nodes, or else increase the speed of your node-capturing routine temporarily. I can't say it's not fun in its own way; I just protest at it being shoveled onto our plates without our asking for it, something on which Jensen has a lot to say.
Sound & Design
With that in mind, I feel compelled to mention that the interface has some pretty serious and repeatable glitches. Now I hope these will be resolved in the near future, but it's frustrating trying to open the 'Objectives' menu for a quick check, then pop over into the pause menu, then go back only to find the damn thing keeps re-opening 'Objectives' every time you try to close it. There's also some odd movement issues I ran into, such as my sprint feeling and looking like I was doing something from the Ministry of Silly Walks, with only one of Adam's hands flying up on the left where both should've been pumping as I ran, while the screen rocked forwards and backwards. Needless to say, I was irritated by these and other such bugs, and I only hope they get stomped out in future updates.
As usual, the level design is stellar, which is good because as a Deus Ex fan I know we will settle for nothing less. The world as a whole feels cohesive and lived-in. I was still finding hidden locations twelve hours into the game, and I'd barely scratched the surface of the main hub in Prague. Granted, the character models seem to suffer some of the same problems with limited animation loops that they did in Human Revolution, but mocap data takes up a lot of space, and it's not too noticeable if you aren't looking for it.
One particular design choice I was very pleased with was the reduction of how much yellow there was in the visual design. I get that the whole piss-filter thing was to help enhance the 'Golden Age of Augmentation' theme that Human Revolution was gunning for, but after hours and hours of endless yellow, it really began to grate on my nerves. Mankind Divided adopts a more black-and-white schema for everything, with some yellow left over, but not so much that it makes you want to climb the walls.
There's little else to say beyond the fact that the environment artists really outdid themselves here. The moment I stepped into Prague's Red Light District, I immediately felt like I'd walked into a vision of Blade Runner, minus the VHS tapes and 80's technology. The world feels so REAL it almost hurts. I just wish I could experience it at maximum settings. I can only dream of how it would feel in a proper VR setup. The art and modeling teams deserve a huge round of applause for their work.
I've had a lot to say regarding Mankind Divided, mostly because the Deus Ex franchise is such a huge and wonderful one. It's worthy of respect in so many ways, and it deserves to have its legacy treated with care. For the most part, Eidos Montreal has done just that, albeit at the behest of Square Enix, who fell just short of destroying this game EA-style, jeopardizing the future of the series with their toxic attempts to erect pay-walls where none should exist. Mankind Divided is worth your money, and I strongly, STRONGLY recommend it, if only so that by increasing its sales, we can get it out of hiatus and maybe get a Director's Cut like Human Revolution where the DLC is actually integrated into the main game. If you like stealth, a strong story about human nature and are just generally a cyberpunk fan, look no further. This is your game.
|+ Classic Deus Ex gameplay with new additions.||– Unbalanced XP rewards.|
|+ Vast levels to explore.||– Excessive focus on hacking mini-game.|
|+ Hours of side-content.||– DLC made by butchering main game.|
|+ Deep and expansive cyberpunk universe.||– Microtransactions|
|– Main plot feels cut short.|