It’s been exactly five years, to the day, since Eidos Montreal successfully revived the Deus Ex franchise with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and the release of its sequel – Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of the original two games that were release in the early 2000s, but something in Human Revolution just clicked, and it quickly become one of my favorite games of 2011. After one and a half playthroughs of Mankind Divided, I can honestly say it is now one of my favorite games of 2016.
Unlike in the real world, only two years have passed between the catastrophic conclusion of Human Revolution and the beginning of Mankind Divided. Though two years might not seem like a lot of time, we quickly realize that the world has almost completely changed over that period, especially when it comes to the way society treats augmented people. Instead of the golden age of human augmentations we witnessed in the previous game, people are now scared of augmentations. The fear is so great, that people with augmentations, or augs for short, are been separated from the general population and are confined to special districts or shipped off to “augs only” colonies which are no better than prisons.
We step into this bleak new world as Adam Jensen, the returning protagonist of the series, and a heavily augmented secret agent working for Interpol. He is on an official investigation into a recent bombing of a train station in the city of Prague, and into a group of radical augmented terrorists that might be behind it. However, Jensen is also secretly working with a group of hacktivists called the Juggernaut Collective, to hunt down the Illuminati and the people responsible for the Aug Incident of 2027. Jensen’s mission-within-a-mission deal never gets overly complicated, and it even manages to instill a sense of paranoia, so you’re never sure who is the enemy and who can be trusted. Furthermore, the conspiracy the story weaves is actually very interesting, as it successfully mixes cults, terrorists, organized crime, and faceless puppet masters into one coherent piece that actually makes sense.
Most of this story takes place within the city limits of Prague. It’s not a big city, but it is filled to the brim with places to go, characters to meet and secrets to uncover. You can dismantle a document forgery ring that blackmails augs, track down a serial killer, or even join an underground newspaper trying to expose the lies spread by the world media. There’s a lot of do in Prague in between main missions, but a little less to see. Sadly, most of the city looks pretty identical, with the same architecture and very few landmarks to help you navigate all this sameness. The exception is the Red Lights district, which is perhaps the only visually-interesting part of the city, and not for the reasons you might think.
While the city itself might be a little dull, the same cannot be said about the people who inhabit it. During your main and side missions, you will encounter all sorts of individuals that highlight the different ways augs deal with the persecution. While some use political and financial influence to try and restore peace, others believe only violence will keep augs everywhere safe. Others still have given up on the world, and created underground societies, or even whole new religions worshiping the MachineGod. The point is, the world of Mankind Divided is a deep and rich one, and those who wish to do so can delve in and discover a lot about the events and characters that shape it, through dialogue, missions and tons and tons of emails.
However, there’s one thing the deep story and settings fail to do, and that’s to really drive home the “mechanical apartheid” angle. Despite all of its attempts to draw parallels between what’s going on in this fictional version of 2029 and in our own times, the game doesn’t deliver truly thought-provoking and controversial moments. Sure, we see benches marked with “naturals only” signs, and Jensen might get weird looks if he travels in the “naturals only” subway car, but we never see any meaningful consequences to breaking the segregation. While we do see policemen harass, belittle and even attack innocent augs, it mostly feels like the police only do it because they were looking for a victim, and the aug just happened to be there. We almost never see how police treat the naturals, and we never get to explore a “naturals only” part of the city, if such a place even exists. There’s simply no contrast, and it is easy to think the city of Prague is under the thumb of a totalitarian government that oppresses all its citizens and not augs in particular.
Those who played Human Revolution know what to expect in terms of gameplay – a mixture of stealth, action and RPG elements that lets any player play just the way they want. In Mankind Divided, this freedom is even greater, and you can use Adam’s many augmentations to explore, sneak, hack and shoot your way in and out of pretty much any situation. Players can custom-build their own version of Adam Jensen to fit their play style, be it an armored Jensen with sharp reflexes and mastery of weapons and explosives, or a stealthy super-spy that can hack pass every security measure and talk his enemies into submission. Both combat and stealth are extremely fun and rewarding to pull off, and by the time you’re halfway through the game, you’ll feel like an unstoppable machine, especially if you did a certain side mission that lets Jensen unlock his full potential.
The Adam Jensen of Mankind Divided is a new and improved version of himself – Jensen 2.0 if you will. He still has all of his old augmentations that already turn him into a living weapon, plus a bunch of new ones that were installed in his body without his knowledge. As a stealth hacker, I found the Remote Hacking ability to be a godsend in many situations, and the Tesla is also very useful for incapacitating a group of enemies. More combat-oriented players will surely enjoy the new Titan aug that covers Jensen in an impenetrable shield from head to toe, and the Focus Enhancement that basically lets you slow down time. These new augs add even more variety to the gameplay, and allow players to really refine their play style.
One of the original game’s issues was the “choose your own ending” system, where you could choose out of 4 possible endings, regardless of your actions throughout the game. In Mankind Divided, your actions and choices do appear to affect the outcome of the story and the fate of some characters. However, there’s still a little problem with this game’s ending – it arrives way too soon. I’m not saying that the game is short, in fact I spend around 30 hours on it, just that the ending appears out of nowhere, and doesn’t wrap anything up. They might as well slapped a big “To be concluded” title at the end, just before the credits roll.
Fortunately, there are a few more things to do in Mankind Divided after you finish the single-player campaign. For one, for can start it all over again with New Game+, which is always a welcome option. If you’re looking for something lighter, there’s the game’s quasi-multiplayer mode, called Breach. It is a series of levels and closed trials that will test your speed, combat skills and accuracy. The goal is to navigate through the level as quickly as possible, and collect all the data you can find without alerting the enemies to your presence. Upon completing a level you get a score that goes on an online leaderboard so you can see how you did compared to other players. Naturally, this creates a very competitive environment, and I can imagine a lot of you will play a replay these challenges just to shave a few precious seconds off your completion time, or to unlock new gear for more difficult levels. While there is an overall story behind this mode, its most compelling aspects are definitely its competitiveness and stunning visual design.
While Breach enjoys a unique visual style that’s inspired by its virtual reality settings, the rest of the game doesn’t quite follow suit. The game’s graphics appear to be somewhat outdated compared to other titles in recent months, and most environments aren’t all that interesting to look at. There are some cool looking effects, like Jensen’s Titan shield or when an augmented enemy uses Icarus Dash to zip from cover to cover, but overall there isn’t any eye candy here. The voice acting is a lot better, and it feels like every character has its own unique voice. Even though Jensen still sounds like he is missing a few social augmentations, other character show a wide range of emotions, and sometimes even manage to squeeze something other than gritty stoicism from the tin man himself.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a great sequel to a great game. The new augs are exactly what the gameplay needed to reach the next level, and players can now stick to their favorite play style throughout the entire experience without having to pull out a gun when a boss fight starts, or learn how to hack just to bypass an unyielding office door. The story and settings are obviously well-crafted, and provide a solid foundation for the gameplay to thrive on, but the whole “mechanical apartheid” angle that was almost the sole focus of the game’s marketing, doesn’t really come into play, which I believe is actually for the best. Outdated graphics aside, Mankind Divided manages to improve upon the original in almost every way, creating a better Deus Ex experience for the new generation.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.