Throw on your trench coat and boot up your latest augmentations; Deus Ex is back.
Developers: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Version Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: August 23rd, 2016
When you first boot up Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, it’ll ask you to pick your difficulty level, with options ranging from “Give me Deus Ex” to “I didn’t ask for this”. Following that, you’ll then be requested to select a control scheme, and from there the game suggests you watch an optional 12-minute primer video to reacquaint yourself with the events of 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which Mankind Divided is a direct sequel to.
Then, after a lengthy opening cut-scene, protagonist Adam Jensen is presented with his first choice to determine how he’ll tackle his latest mission assignment, before embarking on a combat operation full of heavy tutorials, which itself acts an important prelude before the opening title credits roll (cue further exposition).
If you can’t yet tell, Mankind Divided is a weighty and complex game; an expansive whole of many parts. Sometimes this sheer amount of information and various gameplay systems can overwhelm rather than impress, but – for those who are able to keep abreast of everything going on – this is an engrossing experience from start to finish.
The story of Mankind Divided takes places two years after the seismic events of Human Revolution, and therefore leans heavily off of the world already established in that game. Following the Aug Incident – in which augmented people around the world were suddenly overcome with dangerous episodes of rage and delusion – protagonist Adam Jensen is no longer employed by the private biotechnology company Sarif Industries, and instead works for the government; specifically a counter-terrorism unit known as Interpol. This is Deus Ex, however, and not is all as it seems.
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Jensen is using his position as an in-demand special operative in the pursuit of a loftier goal; to expose the Illuminati. Within this narrative framework, both Adam and the player are given the opportunity to decide where their allegiances lie; whether it’s with the hacking group Jensen is secretly working with or the colleagues he’s become loyal to at Interpol, picking a side in this increasingly polarized world is certainly not easy. Jensen comes across as much more likable than his mopey former self in Human Revolution, though he still remains something of a vanilla character in a world that’s much more interesting than he is.
Mankind Divided expects a lot from the player with regards to the narrative, bandying around various acronyms, names and characters without ever explaining the context surrounding them. Even so, if you can keep up, the story proves a compelling and fulfilling chapter in the Deus Ex saga, and definitely feels like this sequel was needed to be told to meaningfully expand the universe, rather than just for the sake of it. For those that are keyed in on Jensen’s story, there is a healthy sense of payoff to where Mankind Divided takes him, especially since his quest to unravel this web of mystery has gone on for two whole games now.
While Human Revolution tackled questions of ethical science and what it meant to be human, Mankind Divided instead turns its head towards more socio-political issues regarding terrorism, discrimination and the politics of fear. Eidos Montreal are treading on sensitive ground here, as the controversy surrounding some of their promotional efforts for the game have proven, but the allegories absolutely feel both timely and scarily accurate in 2016, even if the presentation of them is a little too on the nose in parts. With its lofty dialogue and explicitly philosophical overtones, Mankind Divided seems to think it’s more poignant than it really is, but the metaphors are there to enhance the power of the story rather than meaningfully answer any important or topical questions.
Sadly, Mankind Divided also isn’t quite the technical marvel that Human Revolution once was back in 2011. Facial animations are surprisingly wonky, and some of the background environments lack the visual majesty that you might expect from a game of this size. That being said, Eidos Montreal’s devotion to world building makes for a variety of intricately detailed and well-realized locales that are just begging to be explored. It is a true joy to check out all of the unique shops that line the cobbled streets of Prague, or delve into the underbelly of Golem City, a makeshift asylum for Augs. The cyberpunk, synth-led soundtrack is once again stellar too, and its constant presence works effectively in building that classic Blade Runner-esque sci-fi ambiance.
If you’re unfamiliar with the gameplay of the Deus Ex series, Mankind Divided is best described as a stealth-action first-person shooter, though the camera shifts to third-person whenever you go into cover. True to their reputation, the team at Eidos Montreal have taken great delight in giving the player freedom to how they approach combat scenarios. You could kill everyone on sight via brutal melee takedowns and an arsenal of lethal weapons, or you could slip by completely unnoticed, usually by traversing the network of conveniently structured ventilation systems. My personal preference was to always have a tranquilizer rifle at hand, non-lethally taking out enemies who came in my path and only resorting to all out violence if I had to.
…Mankind Divided’s progression system becomes less of a linear form of progression and more of a balancing act…
This freedom of player agency is already immensely gratifying, but Eidos Montreal introduces even more systems upon the foundation that Human Revolution set to ensure this isn’t just a complete retread of old ground. Not only can you now craft items and customize weapons on the fly, Jensen is also in the possession of a set of experimental augmentations, which allow the player to acquire some new and powerful abilities, such as the Nanoblade Launcher.
Activate too many, however, and Jensen’s system becomes in danger of overloading, which will cause his abilities to glitch out more frequently. You can counter this by permanently disabling some of the other augmentations that are not in use, and so Mankind Divided’s progression system becomes less of a linear form of progression and more of a balancing act, as you try to maintain Jensen’s stability while constantly seeking the prospect of greater power.
To compliment the open-ended gameplay is also a choice-oriented story, complete with dialogue trees and diverging storylines. Considering that the entire premise of Mankind Divided’s story is based off one choice made at the end of Human Revolution, it may seem like Eidos Montreal aren’t really that committed to the importance of player choice when it comes to narrative, but Mankind Divided actually does a better job of making you feel as though you’re involved and important to Jensen’s story.
At several points in the story, you’re tasked with engaging in extended conversations with various characters and bosses, using your power of persuasion and manipulation to try and turn them to your way of thinking, the results of which can be significant to how the story unfolds.
You can acquire a power to analyze the best dialogue options to select but, honestly, that removes the challenge of the scenario itself; trying to understand a character’s thoughts and motivations, and determining the best responses in these dramatic back and forths. These moments break up the action and work to characterize the enemy more effectively, and reflects Eidos Montreal’s commitment to crafting a more intelligent piece of science fiction.
The main campaign takes around fifteen hours to complete, but there are dozens of interesting side-quests to resolve and points of interest to explore, not to mention the replay value of playing the game a second time round with a different approach to play. As a result, Mankind Divided offers a wealth of meaningful content that more than justifies its $60 asking price.
As if all of this wasn’t enough to persuade you over to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Eidos Montreal have also added a full new mode alongside the main game, known as Breach. Here, you play as a hacker attempting to steal information from one of the most secure data servers in the world, by infiltrating the virtual database yourself for some classic Deus Ex-style stealth-action. Think of the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid, and you have the right idea. This is definitely a great place to go if you wish to jump straight to the action of Deus Ex without any of the philosophical heft, or simply to enjoy a more competitively oriented, fast-paced version of the combat from the main game.
Breach is considered an online mode, but this is pushing it a little bit; you can see other players attacking various “nodes” on the map, and there are leaderboards to time yourself against friends and strangers, which helps to sustain the narrative that this is an organized attack by an online network of hackers. Other than this, however, the extent of multiplayer interaction is limited. In addition, there are a range of customization options to upgrade and modify your character’s skills, weapons and so on, but these are funneled through a system that is clearly designed with micro transactions in mind. Breach is an admirable addition to an already great game, but it’s probably not going to change your mind about coming aboard to Mankind Divided either way.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.