Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Preview: Promising Sci-Fi Shines In Early Parts Of Human Revolution Sequel

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a well loved game. The 2011 title was full to the brim with ideas, updating the franchise into a modern context very successfully. It had a few rough edges, but the bosses you could beat with dialogue, the mechanical action and the world building that Eidos Montreal put into their title was really distinct. It's tone, plus focus on augmentation and corporate espionage made it a very distinct texture in the market.

With five years between us now though, we are on the brink of the developer's follow up, Mankind Divided. I was invited down by Square Enix to play the first seven hours of the game recently and I've come bearing gifts by way of impressions. That was long enough to play through the beginning of the game, and have all of the pieces be lined up to move forward.

This time around, the phrase being bandied about around the game is 'mechanical apartheid'. After the events of the first game, society is incredibly skeptical of people with augmentation, with those who are mechanically enhanced being segregated from the general population and facing extreme prejudice. This is leading to high tensions between people, and the game opens with a mechanically charged terror attack. In the middle of all this, Adam Jenson. He's working Task Force 29, an anti-terrorist group, while also trying to figure out where he stands in the politically complicated world.

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The set up is like any good sci-fi movie. While Mankind Divided has fantastical ideas, all of it is rooted in real world issues, namely racism, discrimination and terrorism. In many ways, at least from a thematic standpoint, it shares a lot of DNA with District 9, which also dealt with similar issues. That's a rich tapestry to be drawing from, and it absolutely helps sell the narrative that is being crafted. From my time in control of Jensen, it is clear the title isn't trying to make any sweeping statements about anything too overtly though. It wants to present this world and its issues, and have you navigate it as you please. There is no right or wrong, and the game in the early going does a lot to try and present both sides as equally flawed. That's a complicated feat in such a complicated world, and at least from what I played, I admire the ambition of the dev team.

If you are new to the series, or have forgotten details of the first game, it can and will be hard to entirely grasp everything the game is throwing at you though. This game's lexicon is massive, and there are so many names, companies, political groups and locations thrown at you, the nomenclature can be hard to cling to. Dour sci-fi-y phrases like previously mentioned Task Force 29, LIMB, ARC, Golem, Juggernaut Collective and Versalife litter the game and it can be difficult to grasp exactly who is who, what is what or why they matter with such a deluge of information. Of course, I've only played the early portions of the game, so all of these things will have time to sink in through the course of the entire playtime, but it wasn't rare that I felt a little lost in the sea of jargon. Having said that, it did at least make the universe feel populated.

One of the neat aspects of this sequel is that there's clearly a bigger focus on 'space' this time around. You will get to explore a lot of locations, find side quests, and pick up information. It isn't open world in any sense of the word, but much like Rise of the Tomb Raider last year, the world is sustained by big vignettes of this universe you can explore. It opens up a lot of paths for the game, and while what I played was more or less linear, these spaces expanded the universe.

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It's clear Eidos Montreal has focused on expanding your arsenal to move through the game as you want to too, as early on, a list of 'experimental' abilities opens up to you that are all new. You have to figure out where to allocate your power, and where you want it to go, in an ability management system, but it really does mean you can make your Jensen how you want him. You can focus on making him invisible, to sneak through objectives, quiet but deadly to sneak up on your foes, or like I did, focusing on having projectile exploding swords coming out of my wrists. That level of customization looks to be quite excellent. Also, the dialogue 'battles' (?) with the bosses are really smart, with you being given a few personality traits of the person, and having to figure out how to proceed with each line. It's never obvious, and just being sympathetic the entire time won't get you in the good books. It's really quite exciting in practice.

That isn't to say that the play passed without issue though. The default control scheme for the game is odd, and I forced myself to stick with it due to a notice from the developers saying it thinks it gives more control. I never quite got it though. On top of that, getting in, out and moving around cover can be quite precarious, leading me into a few situations I never wanted to be in, and resulting in my death. Also, there are a few issues that disrupt the flow of the play somewhat, such as when wanting to perform a stealth take down, the game goes to black and then starts a very small cutscene. It felt disruptive after several attempts and put me off the stealth side of the game.

Of course, all of that can be sorted in tweaks in the time between when I played it and when the game will come out. Even those problems considered though, it was never enough to ruin my experience. Mankind Divided has left a decent impression on me, certainly enough to look forward to next month's release. It's dealing with a lot of big ideas, and looking at things from a lot of angles, and it is interesting to see how Eidos Montreal is navigating it so far. It has a little bit of jankiness, but hopefully that can be sanded down to provide the game it has the potential to be. And that game is great.

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About Patrick Dane

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