Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Deus Ex is one of the most beloved video game titles of all time, and for very good reason. It’s seen by many (myself included) as a game that radically changed the gaming landscape. The original release back in 2000 was a game so far ahead of its time it hurt. It outstripped just about every other game in terms of design and showing just how much more gaming could be. In place of simple FPS mechanics it delivered a deep and absorbing conspiracy story, open-ended gameplay, true player choice, and fused RPG elements with first person stealth beautifully. It was a masterpiece, pure and simple.
Although the original game may not have aged well visually, its core mechanics still overshadow most new releases, and despite the lukewarm second outing, Invincible War, Eidos Montreal took the reins and gave us a barnstormer of a sequel in the form of Human Revolution. This was a true, up to date Deus Ex, and a game that replicated the ideas and identity of the original. Deus Ex: The Fall may have been a kick in the knackers after such a fine release, but with Mankind Divided, here’s hoping that Deus Ex is once again back to wow the masses.
Set two years after the events of Human Revolution, Mankind Divided sees Adam Jensen as part of a new Interpol anti-terrorist outfit called Taskforce 29. The game picks up after one of the possible endings of the last outing, regardless of your choice, but this is understandable, and was a decision that made way for another great Deus Ex tale.
In stark contrast to the renaissance aesthetic of the last game, Mankind Divided’s world is no longer as technologically romantic, but is now ravaged by hatred and discrimination. The mass slaughter at the hands of crazed augmented humans, or “augs”, at the end of the last game caused a worldwide panic, and the mechanical apartheid is in full effect. All augmented people are treated like animals by the state. They’re seen as lower class citizens and many are even herded into vast cities that are little more than internment camps. Tensions are high, and both anti and pro-aug movements are clashing, with terrorist attacks being blamed on various factions. In the middle of all of this, Adam Jensen is still trying to find the people pulling all of the strings behind the scenes, using his new Taskforce 29 position as a cover.
After a very well done tutorial mission you arrive in the game’s hub city of Prague, and as soon as you begin to explore Adam’s apartment and wander the streets you’ll realise that this is going to be quite the experience. It’s Human Revolution through-and-through, only with expected refinements and improvements that come from a new generation of hardware.
The world of Mankind Divided feels very different to Revolution. Gone are the blacks and golds, replaced by a wider range of visuals that emphasise the changed world the game take place in. Prague’s historic architecture is punctuated by futuristic buildings, high-tech adverts, all sorts of crazy artistic designs, and an overall feeling of despair and even squalor, as homeless augs mingle with the rest of the populace. It all creates a wonderfully absorbing world that you feel a part of.
As Adam is an aug himself, he’s not immune to the discrimination, and thus you’re put right into the thick of things, with police giving you a hard time, citizens calling you names, and even your co-workers making jokes at your expense. It’s a very different feeling than most games, including previous Deus Ex titles (although the first game also featured this to some degree). Many of your choices pander to this societal moral dilemma, and you’re often forced to make difficult decisions based on this division of society, and which organisation or belief you agree with.
This standing in the world grounds you much more into the story, and you’re not a traditional hero, above it all fighting the good fight. You’re just one of many, struggling through the nastiness yourself, albeit in a much more capable and state-of-the-art killing machine way. The story can be quite heavy, drawing parallels with real world issues and politics, but this makes it all the more effective, and makes you think about much more than the fiction going on in the game. It’s quite something.
The attention to detail in the game is fantastic, and shows itself at every opportunity. By this I don’t just mean visuals, which are some of the most impeccable you’ll see. Truly, the world here isn’t just your typical futuristic outing, everything is designed with a purpose, and the art direction is simply some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game. Just walking around the game’s first area will instantly make you feel appalled at the treatment of augs in the world, as you see subways sectioned off with separate cars for normals and augs, police brutality, checkpoints to stop augs entering various places, and even benches painted with “Naturals Only” signs.
The detail levels also extend to the sheer open-ended nature of the game, with all sorts of hidden areas and places to explore that can distract you from your current goal. Exploring often rewards you with extra supplies, hidden missions, and as the world is fully interconnected, you may even discover secret routes that’ll come in use later on.
When you do finally get back on track (and believe me, you’ll often stray, so intriguing is the world), you’ll find the same, superb core gameplay the series has come to be known for. It’s once again a perfect blend of exploration, social interaction, stealth, gunplay, and branching decisions that can affect how your story plays out, only here, it’s arguably the best it’s ever been.
I found the various choices and events here were far more complex and organic than before, with even lesser interactions having a variety of outcomes. Side missions are just as likely to feature multiple solutions as the main ones, and I felt Mankind Divided just amped up the flexibility at every level. This is surely the most open and flexible Deus Ex has been yet, even more so than the first game, and that’s high praise.
A simple example comes from a specific side mission, which I’m not going to spoil, of course. This demanded the need to acquire a certain object, and in doing so you meet a person who could provide it, but they don’t seem quite right. By acting on my instincts, I was able to avoid what could have been a deadly trap, and also made a friend in the process. Had I missed out on previous information, or simply not noticed anything, I feel the game could have gone in a totally different direction (and it did, as I went back to check). The feeling that there was much more going on than two simple choices, even in dialogue, and the ties to previous events really brought the whole situation alive.
The social exploration element of Deus Ex is just as important as it’s ever been, and for a good part of the game you’ll not be running around enemy facilities, but will be going about your business in the city hub. This is where I feel Deus Ex is always the strongest, as it mixes stealth and storytelling with the ever-open nature of the game, and here it’s just brilliant. Operating in populated areas and finding hidden routes to avoid security or guards is a major part of Deus Ex. Eidos Montreal knows this, and has expanded this even more, allowing for enhanced experimentation.
The placement of items and routes in the world all lend themselves to different approaches, and depending on the augments you’ve got powered up, you can find unique solutions, some that may be easier, and some that may be more difficult, but more rewarding. It’s all about personal preference, and your style of play, and it’s just great.
Speaking of augments, Adam has even more of them this time, and the whole aug system has been enhanced too. Once again you use Paxis kits to unlock abilities, but you also have a new system that feature totally new augments, such as the Titan shield, PEPs gun, nano blade launcher, and more. These are worked in thematically, so again, I won’t spoil it, but they’re treated differently to normal augs, and have to be carefully selected lest they overheat Adam’s systems. The end result is a more balanced aug system that you have to tailor carefully to your style of play more so than before.
The new augs, along with some engine refinements also make combat far better than previous games. Deus Ex, as good as it is, has always had a hard time when it comes to out-and-out combat and gunplay. It’s never been smooth or fluid enough, and often felt too clunky. This never really concerned me, as I’m a stealth player at heart, but it certainly needed improvement. Mankind Divided does this, and gunplay is now far better, and much more smooth. It’s no Call of Duty or Destiny, but it’s a huge improvement. The new augs also add to this, creating some new and interesting possibilities. I particularly like the addition of more non-lethal options, as I always like to complete at least one run without killing anyone. Here, even Adam’s previously lethal-only super move, the Typhoon, can even be set to fire stun rounds instead. Add to this the PEPs aug and a general, more flexible approach to missions, and you can be the ultra non-lethal ninja you want to be.
The cover system has also been reworked, and works very well for the most part. You can dive from cover the cover, stealthily move around corners and vault over cover to run to the next, all with simple commands. It’s solid, and works, and this is good as the enemy AI is also pretty top notch.
When alerted, enemies will properly search areas, and will often remain in an alerted state, making your time more difficult. On higher difficulties, which you really should play on to get the best effect, Adam is no tank (unless you aug him to be one, of course), and so getting into large fire fights can be deadly. Learning enemy patrols, listening for footsteps and using Adam’s vision modes is key here. I always thought Deus Ex was more at home when being stealthy, and here it’s no different. It’s just so satisfying finding sneaky routes to take, and hacking cameras and turrets to open the way for an unseen approach.
Other elements of the game have also been reworked, mostly for the better. The hacking, whilst similar to the last game, is improved and has some added tactics and obstructions, and Adam can now craft certain items like power cells, multi-tools and ammo, as well as use the Crysis-style weapon modification system to configure weapons. Yes, the word here is flexibility, and on almost every level, you play Deus Ex as you want to play it.
I did experience some issues, though, which I hope will be ironed out in future updates. For one, the frame rate is prone to drops quite a lot, especially in the city hub. It’s not terrible, but there were a lot of hitches. I also experienced a few bugs and glitches that stopped some situations from unfolding, such as AI getting stuck, doors not being opened, and others. They never seemed game-breaking, luckily, but there’s clearly some work needed in places, and in such a high quality title, these issues really do stand out.
Perhaps my biggest complaint, however, is something that can’t easily be changed, and that’s the dialogue and animation during interactions. Although certainly not terrible, at times some dialogue in the game is just really ropey, and even Adam’s performance is sometimes a little flat. Characters often have long, uncomfortable pauses between responses, and the animation of people during these exchanges is overcooked, with exaggerated movements that come straight from a 90’s FPS as characters flay their arms, wobble their heads and generally move unbelievably during normal conversation. Given how realistic everything looks, and the quality of the models, it just sticks out, and I personalty found it to be distracting at times. That said, if a bit of rough voice acting and a tad of wonky animation is all you have to worry about, you’re generally doing well.
Alongside the main story there’s also another sub-game here called “Breach”. This is an online mode that takes the form of a puzzle-based stealth FPS. You play as a hacktivist who has to break into a corporate server and retrieve data. This is done in first person using the same approach as the main game, only with a TRON-style visual look. You have to utilise skills and abilities to locate and download data, bypass barriers and avoid enemy AI patrols. It includes a level-up system for better gear (also supported by microtransactions, of course), and it’s actually pretty damn good. It’s almost a game in its own right, and I found the novel mixture of puzzle and Deus Ex gameplay worked very well. I was worried this would be a throw-away bolt on, but it’s not only worthwhile, it even unlocks items you can use in the main game. Very nice.