Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review

The long-awaited sequel to 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution has finally arrived!  Gamers have waited five years to see how Adam Jensen’s story will continue.  Was it worth the wait?  Or should it just be shipped off to Golem?  Continue reading to find out!

Story

In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, you once again take on the role of Adam Jensen, augmented super agent extraordinaire.  The game takes place two years after the infamous “Aug Incident” that occured at the end of the previous entry, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and augmented people are still suffering from the fallout.  Instead of learning that the Aug Incident was a carefully-constructed plot from a shadowy cabal of a handful of powerful people, non-augmented persons now have a deep fear and mistrust of augs, worrying that they may “go off” again.

Our hero, Mr. Adam Jensen
Our hero, Mr. Adam Jensen

This sets the stage for the city of Prague, which serves as the game’s main hub.  From the run-down ghetto in which augs are forced to live, to the “Augs Only” lines to the subway, to the general anti-aug chatter you’ll hear as you explore the city, it is very clear that being an aug is extremely dangerous.  The aug hostility is also represented in the various checkpoints you’ll have to go through.  Try to go past certain police and you’ll be stopped and asked for your papers and identification.  These are cutscenes that happen automatically, but are still fairly intrusive.  They happened so often that I found myself actively avoiding walking past the police.  I really admire Eidos Montreal for sticking to their guns here and making the checks happening often and for not being able to skip them.  It’s incovenient for me, the gamer, but it really made me imagine what that would be like for real people–always suspected, stopped randomly, asked for ID that you hopefully have on you.  It would be tremendously tense.

The city of Prague is full of sights and sounds that make it feel like a living city
The city of Prague is full of sights and sounds that make it feel like a living city

So, what is Jensen doing in Prague?  Two things.  First, he is now an Interpol agent on a special team called Task Force 29.  This is a secret section that has near-global jurisdiction, and is intended to root out all kinds of terrorism.  The home office for Jensen’s division of TF29 is in Prague.  Jensen’s second objective comes via Janus, the leader of the mysterious Juggernaut Collective, a group of hackers and field agents that are opposed to The Illuminati, who are largely responsible for pulling the strings behind the Aug Incident and other world affairs.  The war between The Illuminati and The Juggernaut Collective is one that takes place in the shadows, and Jensen’s placement in TF29 sure is a convenient spot to watch for The Illuminati’s moves at a global level…

Alex Vega is one of the few Juggernaut Collective agents that Jensen works with face-to-face
Alex Vega is one of the few Juggernaut Collective agents that Jensen works with face-to-face

Besides the main story, there are a few side quests you can participate in.  Some of these are over quickly, and some of them feel like full missions in themselves, but they all give good rewards and more insight into the game’s world.  My two favorites involved a strange AI, and the other had to do with solving a murder.

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Beyond the main story and the side missions, there are many unspoken stories just waiting to be discovered as you explore your surroundings.  Some of the best stories are the ones you piece together through the e-mails and Pocket Secretaries you find lying around.  For example, as I was looting an apartment in Prague, I found myself making a snide comment in my head about how much alcohol there was.  Then I hacked the computer in the main room and read an e-mail that uncovered that the lady who lives in that apartment recently lost her husband to an accident.  She must have been drinking to ease the pain.  This made me feel a lot of empathy for the poor woman, and it made me feel bad for my previous comment.  There are more stories just like this one that are waiting to be picked up and discovered.  It really makes the exploration even more worthwhile.  Along those same lines, I’ve never really felt bad for looting houses in video games, but after looting a measly 29 credits that a disaster aid worker had stashed in her safe, I felt guilty enough to have to reload my save.

Before playing the game, I read reviews in which the author said he or she was disappointed in the game’s ending, that there were too many loose ends.  While this may be true, to a point, I think the ending wraps up the immediate concerns in the story fairly well, and it leaves some questions open for future content, whether that be DLC or the next full game in the series.

Gameplay

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided doesn’t stray much from the gameplay  style that was introduced in its predecessor, Human Revolution.  Mainly,  are you going to be a cybernetic cowboy or a techno-ninja?  You’re forced to make that decision fairly early on, as your commanding officer will offer you a choice between a set of lethal, loud weapons, or tools for a more silent, non-lethal approach.  I always go non-lethal, as I find that is a bit more of a challenge, and there is an achievement/trophy for finish the game with zero kills.

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No matter if you’re going lethal or non-lethal, you’ll probably make use of the game’s wonderful cover system.  At the press of a button, you can adhere to a wall.  From there, it’s just another quick button tap to run directly to an alternate position, cross a gap, or vault over.  You can also do some pretty awesome takedowns while in cover, which are super helpful if you like to thin the herd before rushing in to take out the remainders.

9-10-2016_4-17-23_pm
Just stick to the wall and wait for the prey to approach.

Once you’ve acquired your first set of weapons and you’re tossed into your first mission, the real fun begins, and the real star of the show here are the levels.  They are quite possibly the best-designed levels I’ve ever seen, with multiple pathways, options, and possibilities scattered everywhere.  There are so many options, you may spend hours looking for them all in a single mission, which is what happened to me very often.  In fact, even though I spent so much time exploring, I found even more hidden paths when I started my second playthrough!

If you’re like me, and you love scouring every inch of a game for secrets, then you will probably spend hours on end exploring Prague.  Sewers, businesses, apartments–the city is your playground.  Just make sure you don’t get caught in the red, forbidden areas, or else the overly-enthusiastic Prague police will do everything they can to make your life miserable.

The red zones are off-limits...unless you're feeling saucy.
The red zones are off-limits…unless you’re feeling saucy.

Aside from the exploration and action, there are a few other elements you’ll run into eventually.  If you want to be the best Jensen you can be, you will definitely want to upgrade your augmentations.  Upgrading requires the use of Praxis kits, which are mainly obtained through earning experience and leveling up.  You’ll earn exp. from doing almost everything: taking down a guard, hacking a computer, making it through a mission without being seen, etc.  You can also find some of these in certain stores or hidden throughout the world.

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Next, the hacking mini game.  Hacking in Mankind Divided is relatively straightforward, but it is also pretty difficult until you invest some Praxis kits into your upgrades.  All you have to do is connect the starting node to the finish nodes, and you’re set.  The difficulty comes in all the hidden firewalls, and there is almost always a chance that even a measly little level one node can set off the alarm.  If that happens, you better finish quickly, or you’re doing to have other problems.  Bullety problems.

An example of a fairly uncomplicated level 1 hack. They get much more difficult as the level increases.
An example of a fairly uncomplicated level one hack. They get much more difficult as the level increases.

The last big gameplay element are the conversations.  These happen on two levels.  First, there are regular conversations where you can fish for information and select responses that fit your version of Adam Jensen.  These happen fairly often.  The second type of conversation occurs when you obtain the C.A.S.I.E. upgrade for your augmentations.  This upgrade allows you to have conversations where your augs are constantly analyzing the data you’re being told, including visual clues, in order to manipulate or convince the person you’re speaking to.  These conversations are so important that they even take the place of some boss fights!  Who ever said you couldn’t talk your way out of certain death?

Play your cards right, and your C.A.S.I.E. aug will have NPC's eating out of your hand.
Play your cards right, and your C.A.S.I.E. aug will have NPC’s eating out of your hand.

The only real disappointment I had with the gameplay were the few times I had to engage in any platforming.  It’s a near-universal truth that platforming in first-person shooters never ends well (unless you’re in a Mirror’s Edge game), and that truth is evident in Mankind Divided.  I frequently found myself jumping and jumping and wondering why Jensen wasn’t grabbing on to the ledge that was right in front of his face.  Overall, this is a small blight on otherwise enjoyable gameplay mechanics.

Graphics

The graphics in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided both amazed and irked me.  The parts that amazed me had more to do with the art design than the graphics themselves.  I played this game on the Xbox One, and I expected a relatively smooth experience.  I was unprepared for the framerate issues that really bogged down the experience.  While this didn’t take me out of the game too much during regular gameplay, the framerate would crash to atrocious levels during cutscenes.

But man is this game pretty.  One of my favorite images that I took while playing is being used as the cover picture for the entire review, but I’ll place it below as well.

So. Damn. Pretty.
So. Damn. Pretty.

I briefly mentioned the art design above, but I’ll go into a little more detail now.  The image above was taken in what is referred to as Golem.  This is the city where augmented people from the area are sent when their paperwork has “expired.”  It is basically a holding camp and prison, filled with the worst kind of poverty and brutality.  Even in the midst of all that, you can come across something like this that just makes you stop and admire it.  I remember watching an interview for Deus Ex: Human Revolution where the developers revealed their inspiration for the environment and clothing came from the Renaissance era.  That same style shines through in Mankind Divided.  This Cybernetic-Renaissance style, while at first a seemingly odd juxtaposition, ended up fusing into a beautiful and eye-catching motif.

Again, this game has some great environments.
Again, this game has some great environments.

Another thing that really struck me as amazing in Mankind Divided (and I remember this being somewhat true in Human Revolution as well), is just how alive this world feels.  Even if you peel away the NPC’s, all you need to do is look around.  There is crazy detail put into every fake box of cereal or bottle of alcohol.  Even the fake advertisements and billboards are amazing!  I especially liked the anti-depressant pill ad I saw in Prague, which was basically a see-through awning.  When you look up, it looks like a guy had jumped out the window.  The tag line for the ad reads: “There’s a better solution.”

Marketing at its best
Marketing at its best

The Easter Eggs in this game are on-point as well, with some great nods to Portal, The Big Lebowski, and many others just waiting to be found.

There are many Easter Eggs to be found
There are many Easter Eggs to be found, like these references to The Big Lebowski and Portal

Final Score

9/10

I can go on and on about how Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is chock full of social commentary, that is is a warning about what our society may become, or that it is a depiction of how our current problems may continue to plague us in the future–and it is all of those things; however, there is something else to be found here: a great game.

+ Wonderful, living world to explore

+ The side missions are great

+ There are only a few main story missions, but this is definitely a case of quality over quantity

+ Great art direction and style

+ Exceptional level design gives you many options to complete missions no matter your playing style

– Frequent framerate issues

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was reviewed on the Xbox One, and is also available on PS4 and PC

Andrew is a Geekiverse writer/editor and he, for one, would welcome our augmented overlords.

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