Investigate a series of terrorist attacks and their implications for a decaying world.
PC Release: August 23, 2016
By Ian Coppock
In the world of PC gaming, there are three video games generally accredited as the holy trinity of modern computer games: Half-Life, System Shock 2, and Deus Ex. The last of those three, even more than the former two, is often hailed as the greatest PC game ever made. While the Half-Life and System Shock series have been dormant for many years, the Deus Ex series got new life breathed into it with 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a prequel to the original game. Well, five years on, that game has gotten a direct sequel in the form of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, continuing the new prequel arc and filling gaming’s most famous cyberpunk universe with new tales. (It should go without saying that this review contains major spoilers for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If anyone hasn’t already, go read Art as Games’ review on that game, buy it, play it, come back, and read this. Pretty please.)
Like its 2011 predecessor, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is set decades before the original Deus Ex. Mankind Divided continues Human Revolution‘s critical analysis of a world in which people can augment their bodies with cybernetic enhancements, ranging from mechanical arms to brain chips to eyes that can see through walls. As one might expect, this creates a societal divide between people who are augmented and people who are not, spawning debates about playing god and the ethics of human modification. While all of this is happening, the world is slowly crumbling beneath the rise of supra-national corporations and conspiracies perpetrated by cabals of the wealthy elite. It’s a pretty grim picture at best.
Human Revolution also tells the story of Adam Jensen, a heavily augmented covert operative who investigates an attack against Sarif Industries, the augmentation firm for whom he runs corporate security. As Adam globe-hops from one piece of the puzzle to another, he realizes that powerful figures in the shadows, the Illuminati, are trying to discredit human augmentation as a means of controlling the populace. This scheme comes to a head at the end of Human Revolution, when these shadow brokers broadcast a signal that makes augmented people go insane, killing everyone in their path. Jensen succeeds in beating them back and deactivating the signal, but not before millions of lives are lost to the augmented’s induced psychosis. The world is left even more broken and more divided after the “Aug Incident.”
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is set in 2029, two years after Human Revolution, and features the return of Adam Jensen as the main protagonist. In the aftermath of the Aug Incident, human augmentation is made illegal, and those who’ve had any measure of the procedure are heavily discriminated against. Augmented citizens worldwide are rounded up and sequestered into ghettos by a populace of non-augmented people fearful of a second Aug Incident. The “augs” face a slew of police brutality and live in squalor. Though such destruction wasn’t exactly the Illuminati’s plan, their goal to cordon off augmented humans is largely a success.
Against all this, Adam quits his job at the now-bankrupt Sarif Industries to sign on with Task Force 29, an anti-terrorism unit within Interpol. Despite being augmented, Adam’s past experience with police work and covert operations gives him wide leeway within Interpol, even if his coworkers treat him with fear and loathing. Though the world is even more broken and dysfunctional than it was in Human Revolution, Adam is no less eager to bring the Illuminati to justice for what they’ve done to humanity. Unbeknownst to his Interpol buddies, Adam is secretly working with the Juggernaut Collective, a group of hackers he briefly encountered in Human Revolution, to that end. When a group of golden-masked terrorists interrupts a routine mission, Adam seizes an opportunity to continue his investigations and finish what he started.
Just like Human Revolution, Mankind Divided is a first-person, open-world adventure game that emphasizes different play styles. Players can pick from a wide variety of weapons and augmentations to shape Adam how they will. Gamers who favor a more audacious approach can give Adam high-powered guns and combat-oriented augmentations. By the same token, players preferring a more subtle, merciful approach can outfit him with nonlethal weapons and augmentations suited for stealth. Mankind Divided preserves Human Revolution‘s open-ended level design, allowing players to tear or sneak through each level as they will.
The gameplay in Mankind Divided introduces a few key improvements over that of Human Revolution. Adam can now grasp onto ledges that are just out of reach, which is crucial for getting around a level and exploring all its nooks and crannies. The third-person cover system introduced in Human Revolution also gets a major revamp, giving players much more control over which cover they can sneak to, and allowing Jensen to vault over walls. Guns feel much more powerful than they did in Human Revolution, and they can once again be extensively modified to suit almost any mission profile. Mankind Divided also introduces a crafting system, in which Adam can build new components and gun mods from parts left around the game world.
In addition to newer, bigger and better guns, Adam’s augmentations have received an overhaul as well. The augmentation interface has been stripped down and streamlined to be a bit more intuitive, and the info page does a much better job at explaining what each augmentation actually does. The energy charge readout for Adam’s augs has also been simplified, though, paradoxically, he still needs to eat a Snickers bar every time he takes down an enemy. Seriously, if he needs to recharge after every take-down, then he must get worn out every time he lifts a box or shakes someone’s hand. Madness.
Jensen also gets access to a series of new augmentations, after his doctor discovers that his body is laced with top-secret, experimental gear that no one’s ever seen before. Though rattled by this discovery, Adam’s pretty quick to take advantage of his new, overclocked powers, like spawning a metal body shield or even firing his arm-mounted blades at enemies.
Even though all of these revamps and new powers definitely warrant a challenge, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a pretty easy game, even on the highest difficulty. The enemy AI hasn’t improved that much since Human Revolution, and Adam can still sit in the open for like five seconds before someone notices him. Mankind Divided is also much easier to play as a stealth game. As a shooter, it packs a few challenges, forcing Adam to mow down waves of enemies to get to his objective. Players who pick the stealthier option will have a much easier time. Each environment is replete with hidden paths, and the enemies’ stupidity is quite forgiving if Adam accidentally sneaks into them.
The game’s espousing of a stealth approach works at cross-purposes with the new augmentations, only two of which are truly useful for stealth players. The new augs allowing Adam to hack computers remotely and quickly dash between cover are great, but everything else is geared toward making as much noise as possible. Stealth players will have absolutely no use for the metal shield, shoot-able swords, or other over-audacious powers made available in Mankind Divided. Because of this, players who enjoy stealth will find Mankind Divided to be a very similar experience to that of Human Revolution. Given that Mankind Divided‘s level design encourages subtlety, this will be a fair amount of returning fans.
So yeah, Mankind Divided is better played as a stealth experience. Adam can use these powers and weapons to explore the world around him. Most of the game is set in Prague, the city in which Task Force 29 is headquartered. Mankind Divided is played on a much smaller geographic scale than Human Revolution, which took Adam to diverse open-world hubs in North America and China. Only a few brief missions are set outside the Czech Republic, and usually last only a half-hour before Adam’s jetted back to Prague. It’s disappointing to see the globe-trotting reduced in Mankind Divided, especially since travelling all over the globe has been such a hallmark of the series. Sure, Adam gets to go to London, Dubai and the Swiss Alps, but all three of those visits are linear missions, not expansive hubs.
That being said, though, Prague is one heck of a hub. The city is well designed from the sewers on up to the corporate towers to be an area rife with secrets. Adam can explore entire city blocks of apartments, coffee shops and other locales, making this a game of choice for explorers and kleptomaniacs. Just like Detroit and Shanghai in Human Revolution, Prague contains a lot of goodies for the curious explorer. Prague is also about the same size as Detroit and Hengsha Island put together, so even though there are less locales visited, the actual amount of playable area isn’t that much smaller. Just be sure to upgrade Adam with the abilities to move heavy loads and jump really high, and no area of Prague will be out of reach.
The artwork in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided continues Human Revolution‘s novel fusion of cyberpunk and renaissance themes. Prague in particular is a stark example of the past colliding with the present. As Adam explores the city, he’ll find modern skyscrapers plonked down next to old Czech palaces, and antique storefronts outfitted with biometric scanners. It’s a stark, well-designed motif that, while not quite retro-futurism, suits a game that’s trying to present a rapidly changing world. The entire game also benefits from the use of strong color, and some of the best lighting and atmospheric effects on the market. From hazy strip clubs to dark sewers, no area of Mankind Divided went untouched by impressive atmospheric tricks.
The character models in Mankind Divided have also received a hefty retrofit. They emote much more realistically than they did in Human Revolution. Adam’s expressions are hard enough to read behind those magnetic sunglasses, so it’s refreshing to see him actually react to the things people tell him instead of just standing there. The look of shock on his face (and more specifically, his eyebrows) when a Czech mobster tries to shake him down for $35,000 is both impressive and hilarious. The sound design accompanying the art is pretty good, adding some rich sound effects to the world, but the score is infinitely less memorable than that of Human Revolution.
Despite being crafted on a smaller scale, the world of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided does an admirable job at exuding a dark atmosphere. As Adam explores Prague and other areas in the game, players will routinely witness the stark divide crafted between “natural” humans and augmented ones. Police brutality and augmented people shivering in alleyways are the order of the day in Prague. As Adam, players will also be subject to slurs from passerby and routine frisks from suspicious cops. All of this is a subtle but effective means of painting the segregated world that Adam lives in. It also exacerbates the stresses of the other characters in the plot.
Having said that, Mankind Divided is occasionally a bit too brusque in appropriating real-world discrimination for its game world, especially its use of Jim Crow-esque discriminatory measures. Prague is replete with “augs only” entrances, drinking fountains and benches. Adam has to sit in the back of the subway. There are “Augmented Lives Matter” posters everywhere. All of this makes sense for the dreadful atmosphere that Mankind Divided is trying to create, but taking license from real-world social justice movements is usually a sticky road to go down. Taking the language used to protest the murder of unarmed black people by police and sticking it in a video game is cringe-worthy. The issue isn’t that Mankind Divided is discussing segregation, because that’s definitely a positive. The issue is that these hallmarks of segregation are scattered around the game world, and the actual plot doesn’t really bring them up that much.
The central narrative in Mankind Divided is a mixed bag. It does a good job of presenting a bold new world for Adam to navigate, but it treads the exact same path that was blazed by Human Revolution. The game starts out the exact same way; Adam’s just minding his own business, when all of a sudden something blows up and he has to investigate. He goes down the rabbit hole, consorting with everything from obstinate superiors to organized crime, and uncovers a conspiracy that had the exact same goal as the conspiracy in Human Revolution. Even the story missions play out the same way. Adam has to break into a crime scene, then go find someone hiding out in a massive ghetto, then go investigate a company, so on and so forth. It’s a plot-point-for-plot-point rehash of Human Revolution. The names and locations are different, but the themes are nearly identical.
None of this helps the story’s abrupt ending. Mankind Divided allows more than a few conspiracies to steep throughout the course of the game, but way too many of them receive no closure before it cuts to black and the credits roll. Just like the game world, the narrative of Mankind Divided also feels like it’s built on a smaller scale, and the game ends up being significantly shorter than Human Revolution. None of the supporting characters have any chemistry, either. Adam had a close friendship with his pilot in Human Revolution, and a snarky rivalry with the IT guy. There’s no such rapport in this game; everyone is a stone-faced special ops guy who communicates very gruffly with an already deadpan Adam Jensen. Adam himself manages to retain the quiet charisma he commanded in Human Revolution, but his character is apparently done evolving, and stays in that niche forever.
As of writing, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s PC release is also suffering a slew of nasty bugs. The game’s recurring problems aren’t terrible, aside from an occasional lighting bug in which Adam’s item menu lit up like a rave. Far more problematic are the frequent crashes to desktop, and a particularly nasty bug that crashes the game and prevents progress toward the very end of the game. Far too many players are experiencing these issues, and Square Enix is dragging its heels fixing them.
On top of all of that, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has micro-transactions. Yep. A single-player game has micro-transactions for everything from ammunition to augmentation kits. It’s not a huge surprise coming from Square Enix, but it’s still disappointing to see this industry practice continue to gain ground. The studio has basically put play-to-win mechanics into, again, a single-player video game. But let’s not forget, Square Enix is the same studio that charged an extra dollar for a targeting dot in 2013’s Tomb Raider.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is pretty good. Not great, not terrible, just pretty good. It’s certainly a few notches lower than the excellent Human Revolution, even with all of the gameplay refinements it introduces over its predecessor. Between the bugs, the micro-transactions, the smaller game world, and the story being basically the same as that of Human Revolution, there’s not a whole lot of new things for Deus Ex fans to find here. Those same fans would probably be best off waiting for a patch and a sale, and that’s if they can stomach supporting micro-transactions in a single-player game.
I never asked for this.
You can buy Deus Ex: Mankind Divided here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.