Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Criminal Past Review

Square Enix
Square Enix /

If reports are to be believed, this might be the last time we’ll ever play as Adam Jensen, so what a shame it is that Mankind Divided’s final DLC is a real damp squib.

Developers: Eidos Montreal

Publisher: Square Enix

Platform: PlayStation 4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Release Date: February 23rd, 2017

It was reported last month that Eidos Montreal is apparently shelving any further work on the rebooted Deus Ex franchise for the foreseeable future, in the wake of Mankind Divided’s disappointing launch sales and Square Enix’s recently announced partnership with Marvel.

Going into A Criminal Past, then, the second and final piece of story DLC for Mankind Divided, felt unexpectedly bittersweet, and I was really hoping that Eidos at least had the chance to finally give Adam Jensen the send-off that both the main game and System Rift were lacking in. Instead, A Criminal Past repeats the problems of the latter in providing a story that neither feels important or fulfilling and leaves us hanging once again with the same questions that we’ve had since the end of the main campaign.

This lack of narrative impact is primarily a result of A Criminal Past’s placement in the timeline of the Deus Ex universe, whereby the main story, in which Jensen is sent undercover to a maximum-security prison to find a fellow covert agent, takes place before the events of Mankind Divided have even begun. While this is told through the framing device of a flashback from present day, as Jensen retells the experience to his psychiatrist Delara, the adventure is presented as completely ancillary to the rest of Mankind Divided’s events.

Deus Ex
Square Enix /

Aside from the final cutscene, which dangles an unresolved plot thread from the main campaign before deciding once again to avoid meaningfully addressing it, A Criminal Past ultimately feels too isolated from the game it’s meant to be a connected to. It fails to expand on the Deus Ex universe in the same way that System Rift managed to partway achieve last year.

The prison setting allows for the introduction of a couple of quirky characters, but the three-hour runtime offers little breathing room for their development. This brevity hampers the pacing of the plot too, wherein attempts at dramatic turns or interesting revelations all come about too quickly to land with the impact they were hoping for. It all feels like it’s over before it’s even begun, which is hardly a fitting description for a game which is attempting to immerse you in the life of a prisoner.  

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Jensen’s incarcerated state means that he begins A Criminal Past devoid of any weaponry, augmentations or devices, and the few Praxis Points you pick up as you progress through the story are barely enough to give you more than two augmentations at most. Incidentally, the final story DLC for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Missing Link, also stripped Jensen of his powers, so Eidos is retreading familiar ground with this concept. As you can imagine, taking the “super” out of Jensen’s superhuman state turns A Criminal Past into the most punishing experience compared to any of Mankind Divided’s previous missions, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Deus Ex
Square Enix /

For a start, it means that this is a DLC experience which offers less, not more. Story expansions are most effective when developers use them as an opportunity to experiment with novel ideas and introduce new mechanics to the core game, but A Criminal Past dramatically reduces the scope of everything that Mankind Divided was praised for.

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Deus Ex has always excelled through its open-ended approach to gameplay, but the limiting of options for approaching A Criminal Past’s various challenges and situations also equates to a significant scaling back of Eidos’ winning gameplay formula. The result is that I died a lot more in A Criminal Past than I was used to in comparison to the main campaign of Mankind Divided, and it felt more frustrating than satisfying.

It doesn’t help that the prison itself, while conceptually interesting from the outside, is occupied by bland rooms and hallways, dripping in the gray color palette that we’ve already seen from dystopian sci-fi a million times before. The prison courtyard looks kind of cool, but that’s about it. At least the labyrinthine design that Eidos is known for remains in full form here, complete with booby traps, secret passageways and (obviously) a highly exploitable ventilation system. But, like the vents themselves, A Criminal Past is ultimately too narrow, short and meaningless to warrant spending much time exploring its drab environments.

Eidos Montreal. . Deus Ex: Mankind Divided - A Criminal Past Review. 6. A Criminal Past all but confirms that Eidos Montreal doesn’t really know how to construct a fitting ending for Mankind Divided, with a brief and muddled DLC story that disconnects itself from the main campaign in all the wrong ways.

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