Gavin has had a passion for writing almost as long as his passion for video games. Which came first, the controller or the pen?
Game: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: First-person immersive sim
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will always live in the shadow of its precursors. Along with Thief, the original Deus Ex practically birthed the immersive sim genre, and innovated the cyberpunk open world FPS with multiple paths and multiple play styles. The 2011 reboot, Deus Ex: Human Revolution took everything great about that seminal 2000s game and updated it for a modern audience—bigger areas, more routes, more abilities in the form of augmentations, a gruff new protagonist in Adam Jensen, and a gold colour palette sprayed over everything.
Mankind Divided continues where Human Revolution left off, in every possible sense. The terrorist act dubbed the “Aug Incident” (an understatement if ever there was one) saw a social collapse between the “natural” humans and their augmented brethren, leading to paranoia and hatred that permeates this future reality. Adam Jensen is at the forefront of the Incident, and he is now dealing with the repercussions two years later in 2029.
The Detroit setting of Human Revolution has been left behind, and Jensen is now working with TF29, an anti-terrorist response team based in Prague where public opinion against augs is at its worse. Prague acts as the central hub of Mankind Divided and makes up the bulk of the game. It is a beautifully realised setting, more than twice the size of Detroit. Eidos have crammed Prague full of places to go and people to see, from shop vendors to police blockades to a smorgasbord of apartments to break into and loot. The Palisade Bank is one of the most exciting areas to infiltrate in any Deus Ex game to date. Eidos have created a living, breathing city for players to explore; Prague is a visual and audio treat, and it’s a good job too, because almost the entire bulk of Mankind Divided’s 40-hour runtime is spent in and around Prague.
This becomes quickly tiresome and is a major disappointment with Mankind Divided when held against its forebears which each featured at least three major hubs. In contrast, Mankind Divided has just this one hub and only three forays out into areas outside of Prague. Golem City is one of these, and is a sizeable single mission, and an enjoyable environment to explore. The others are unfortunately glorified warehouses, and don’t offer much variety from what you can find in and around the central area.
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An advancement of Human Revolution is the use of augmentations as abilities for Jensen to unlock. All of the unlocks from the earlier game return, including the hacking modules that let you crack into laptops and safes, the strength modules that let you lift vending machines and fridges, and the skin modules that can turn you invisible. Human Revolution was very clearly built to favour the stealth-and-search pacifist approach, and whilst that is perhaps still the best way to play Mankind Divided, seven new abilities have been added to enable the more aggressive style of play. One of these is the Typhoon system, which allows Jensen to shoot homing munitions from his wrist, Iron Man style. TESLA allows you to fire electrical charges at enemies, whilst P.E.P.S is a concussive blast that knocks down targets and moveable objects. The iconic nanoblades also return but can now be upgraded to pin enemies to walls or explode on impact.
The stealth player hasn’t been completely forgotten, and many of the offensive abilities can be modified to be non-lethal. A number of new augments also improve those ghost runs, in particular the remote hacking which allows disabling of cameras, turrets and drones from a safe distance. The new Icarus Dash augmentation works like “Blink” from the Dishonored series, allowing Jensen to do a quick dash between cover, or up into high-reach balconies or, yes, man-sized air vents. Coupled with an overhauled cover mechanic and the returning Smart Vision, this makes sneaking around the heavily guarded offices and warehouses a much more intuitive experience. One of my favourite missions was in the late game, where I was able to non-lethally snipe a dozen guards in a conference centre thanks to a discovery of some ceiling scaffolds that ran across the entire building.
Boss battles were a huge point of contention in Human Revolution, especially pre-Director’s Cut, when they could only be resolved through combat. I’m happy to report that Mankind Divided has avoided this pit fall, by limiting the number of boss fights and providing passive or non-lethal routes to avoiding or defeating them.
Based on all of these additions and refinements, including an overhauled UI, Mankind Divided is a vast improvement on its predecessors in the movement and combat sections of the game, and exploring its open spaces has never been more pleasurable. For lore hunters, there are tens of hours of hidden content strewn around the environments to be found and yes, many laptop passwords hidden away inside pocket secretaries.
Unfortunately, the story element of Mankind Divided is where the game falls down against the previous entries. As mentioned previously, the bulk of the game takes place in one central area, and the majority of its side stories are found as random encounters in the streets of Prague. In one memorable encounter, finding a man wandering the sewers led to uncovering a zealous cult built on lies and deceit. In an alley, a murder scene led me on a goose chase around the city, including a visit to the excellent Red-Light District with its towering holographic billboards sexualising the acts of augmentation.
But outside of these interesting side stories, the main plot of Mankind Divided does little to enthral and feels like it’s treading the same ground already better covered by Human Revolution. The “aug lives matter” plotline is a barely veiled pastiche of real-world racism, but without the daring to make any salient points on the topic. Bar a few notable exceptions, the characters of the main story leave no lasting impression and even the gruff-voiced Jenson himself starts to feel tired and uninterested by the end.
This is in stark contrast to A Criminal Past, the final DLC for Mankind Divided, a standalone prequel set in a remote island prison, which has the tightest storytelling, character work and setting of the entire game. I can’t help but feel that the prison mission, and in fact all of the DLC, has been torn out of the main game for re-selling but at the detriment of the main game, and even the ending leaves a lot of question marks around where the rest of Mankind Divided has gone. Whilst clocking in at 50 hours it feels unfair to call this an incomplete game, at the same time Mankind Divided would have benefitted from one or two additional hub areas, a lot more variety in its locations, and a more definitive ending, especially with no sequel currently on the horizon.
It feels like Eidos Montreal have intentionally avoided using this game to link Human Revolution and the story of the original Deus Ex for fear of closing the door to further Adam Jensen sequels. Unfortunately, a return to the JC Denson timeline or even a full sequel to that game may be a fresher take on the Deus Ex franchise at this point.
Mankind Divided is a recommendation from me, but with a number of caveats. If you have recently completed Human Revolution, the gameplay improvements here are unlikely to make this a fresh experience, and from a narrative perspective it will feel like a step backward. It certainly does not wrap up Jensen’s story in any satisfying way. However, if you haven’t played Human Revolution recently, or at all, or you just desperately want more Deus Ex then there’s a lot to be enjoyed in Mankind Divided. It’s still a Deus Ex game, and benefits from all the reasons you may want to play one, and is in some ways the biggest, flashiest, most beautiful iteration of that franchise. It opens up the multiple playstyles better than any other entry, has fantastic level design throughout, and gives the player lots of tools to play around with. The final DLC, A Criminal Past, is frankly excellent. It’s likely that Mankind Divided will always be unfavourably compared to Deus Ex and Human Revolution, but this flawed gem is still a particularly good game, if not a genuinely great one.