Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Review – Augmented Reality

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When it was announced that Deus Ex has getting a reboot a few years back, some people were understandably a little apprehensive. The first game is a classic, and still informs so much of design we see today. However, more or less, it worked out as Human Revolution turned out to be a real fan favorite as while it lacked a little polish, it told an ambitious story and it was full to the brim with neat gameplay ideas. That is why there are big hopes for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, with wishes that Eidos Montreal will have built upon what they carefully designed previously.

To put this simply, Mankind Divded is a great second effort by the developer that largely achieves those hopes. With a world worth exploring and interesting design, yet some janky implementation, it's strengths and weakness largely mirror its predecsor.

Building from the narrative of Human Revolution, the game puts you into the coat of Adam Jensen again. Set in a future 2029 where a significant portion of the population has been augmention turning them into cyborgs, you play as Adam Jensen, a man how has been significantly transformed by technological enhancements himself. The conflict at the center of this world in the current timeline is a growing disdain between the augmented and the 'naturals'. As happened in the last title, "The Incident", an event that caused the augmented to fly into a frenzy and kill a lot of innocent people, is driving a wedge into a growing rift, and recent terror attacks are not helping.

It's a fascinating premise, and like the best sci-fi, tackles "realistic" (ish) science based themes, while also putting a spotlight on the issues of today. In a world where miniority groups are becoming more demonised and segregation feels ever closer, the title feels incredible relevent right now. As Adam Jensen, you are tasked with navigating the political melting pot, through your actions and interactions with the universe.* Jensen is currently working for an anti-terrorist wing of interpol called Task Force 29 in Prague, which is a city where the tension between the augmented and 'naturals' is at a boiling point. You're put in charge of investigating recent terror attacks perpitrated by an augmented group in order decipher their motives, and you explore from there.

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The main story of the game is compelling enough to want to see where it is going, but the real star is the world itself. While it's grim, and self serious to a fault (much like raspy, raspy Adam Jensen), I found myself wanting to explore it in all the ways I could. Almost always, the best way to do this was through the game's excellent side missions. They are what make this world feel worthwhile, acting almost as short detective stories that can interject into your mainline progression. From solving horrific murders to tracking down the mafia, they really are amazingly well thought out, and well worth your time exploring.

In fact, the Task Force 29 affiliation is utilised in a really effective way, making this game feel like a detective title at time. You spend your time investigating cases and the terror attacks, finding evidence and interigating suspects. As in the last game, there will be a lot of times when you will have to navigate a conversation to try and get a character to stand down, or get a bit of information from them. This mechanic is still super cool, and is in play for most of the bosses in the game. In fact one of the things I really appreciated about Mankind Divided is how much time I spent not in combat. Huge, huge portions of this game are in exploring the titles's open, pocket environments and just interacting with other people in this universe. I'd say 75%, if not more, of my 17 hours with the game were spent not in a combat sequence, and honestly, that really let this title breathe in a really unique way that is rare for the action/adventure genre.

However, when the gloves do come off, and you're tasked with the action side of things, the game really sings too. The variety of the combat systems really allow you to craft an augmented style of your own. As Jensen finds out early in the game, there are some radical new augmentations in his arsenal, such as Tesla darts that can stun multiple enemies from afar, an exploding sword you can shoot out of your wrist (!) and a bizzare black armour you can use to make yourself invincible. On top of that, the opportuinty for all out attack or quiet stealth is still there. You really can approach a situation how you want, and because of your finite battery power, and biocells being hard to come by, a lot of thought has to go into when and how to bring your abillities together. That way, no matter if you go loud or stay quiet, it always feels tactical. And yes, you can complete the game without killing anyone, including bosses, like I did in my stealth pacifist run. (a-thankyou, a-thankyou.)

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While the game can be a real joy to play, it certainly does have some issues too. It, like its predecesor, feels like it is reaching just one rink above what it is capable of. Everything works as intended, but it can feel like there is a little jank to everything. For example, if you do want to melee a character from behind, it cuts to black briefly, before playing an animation of you taking them out. That's a very small detail, but it can really disrupt the contstant flow of a fight. On top of that, control schemes can quickly become quite complex, as your UI and buttons are cluttered with ever increasing powers. There are also little things, like some rigid animations that can lack the polish of bigger, more sanded down experiences. None of these are anywhere near enough to mar the experience, and even can have a certain kind of charm about them, but it's pretty hard to deny that some of the edges of the title can be really rough.

However, the biggest problem the game has is hard to talk about without giving away spoilers. As much as I'd like to go into detail here, I won't, but while the universe and overall story are dense and worthwhile, the game feels cut short. I assumed I was somewhere between half way and 3/4 done when the game decided to finish. It doesn't wrap up in a satisfying way, and in fact, it leaves things hanging, not teasing us for the next title, but rather feeling that certain content had been cut. It's not enough to destory all the good work of the game's story, but with the titles's clear focus on narrative, it certainly is an unfortunate end to a great game.

Despite that pretty massive downer, it hasn't dampened my spirits on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided too much. If you are a fan of Human Revolution, this certainly is a very worthy chapter to follow it. The combat is incredibly varied, allowing you to really build your augmented super soldier how you want to, while the game's universe and narrative are strong incentives to keep poking around every nook and cranny. Frankly, it doesn't wrap up in a satifying way at all, but the quality of the world and the journey before shines through anyways, with great environments and clever side missions. While it certainly has its rough edges too, Mankind Divided cements this new, rebooted version of the Deus Ex franchise as a series we should defintely be paying attention to.

Buy it if: You were a fan of Human Revolution, or want a grim, clever and ambitious sci-fi title to play through. Also if you like narrative focused games…

Avoid it if: … but also, if you need said story it to be complete and wrap up satisfyingly or all your time was wasted, you could be frustrated. Also, if the idea of not fighting for large period of time in an action game bores you.

Score: 8.7/10

*I've not even nearly dived in deep enough here, and I am happy to admit that. The themes are particularily complicated right now with things like racism, police brutality and ableism on the agenda, and often Mankind Divided doesn't dig deep enough. I'm in no way in the right position to seriously address this, but I will say I actually feel the game avoids a lot of the foibles the marketing campaign ran into in pre-release by not being too heavy handed. However to dive into this properly, I'd need 3000 more words and even then I'd be talking about issues that don't affect me. Right now, I just want to tell you if the game is worth your time.

 

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About Patrick Dane

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