Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Review
PC, Xbox One, PS4
Mankind Divided is a restrained triple-A game. This is evident in the use and reuse of just one main city hub (previous games offered several), in the application of in-engine (and badly lip-synced) story scenes, and in the constant reappearance of visual assets (think office cork boards, complete with technical reports, showing up in living rooms – it also seems that Prague’s inhabitants are uniformly alcoholics). It’s a game that doesn’t aim far from its predecessor, opting instead to offer the player 20-30 hours of satisfying stealth, hacking and abducting from the shadows. And it does this admirably, employing a long-string pace that never quite wants you to stop playing. Levels don’t so much start and end as much as unpicked threads from various missions wind together to form new avenues of exploration.
Levels aren’t particularly large but they are intricate, with a rock-paper-scissors design that requires slow and methodical negotiation to get past laser grids, patrolling NPCs, cameras and drones. The world itself, which is often inseparable from levels and missions as main objectives often have you tracking across Prague to various establishments, is littered with ventilation ducts, sewer tunnels and weak-structured walls for you to crawl, sneak and punch through. While the game ostensibly allows you to play as a run-and-gunner, it’s clear from the outset that you’re far better off to approach things more covertly. I decided early on not to waste my time with shotguns and assault rifles and managed to complete the game with no kills (that I know of, I did leave a LOT of unconscious people behind).
If you’ve played any of the previous Deus Ex games, the general gameplay here feels pretty familiar and, once you get used to the new hacking game, somewhat easy. Although I found myself reloading my saves quite a bit, it was often from my own risky experimentation rather than any true difficulty. The game tries to keep you in check a little bit by not giving out too many biocells (which are necessary for pretty much everything, including Jensen’s auto-knockout move), but some situations can be cheated a bit by simply breaking cover and making a run for it. Of course, whether or not you are happy with that kind of play is entirely personal.
Story wise, things are a bit messy. There’s a general “augs versus normals” tension that spills over, but the writers have erred in their simple treatment of this theme. It seems that humanity has gotten over all its other discriminatory issues so that the entire world is fixated on the separation between those with augmentations and those who remain pure. While the idea itself has sci-fi merit, it just feels a bit amateur. For instance, why would train stations force augs and normal to travel on separate carriages? If anything, such public spaces would be non-segregated. The analogy of race feels poorly thought out because of all the issues therein. Augs are surely not born with their enhancements, and would conceivably carry far more political capital than those people of colour and religion who suffered 20th century (and indeed ongoing) prejudice, so the jump in logic just isn’t plausible.
Mankind Divided is an extremely slow burn. Some sequences that last 20 or 30 minutes might only see you reach and talk to a couple of people. This is a game that relishes conversations, perhaps a bit too much, considering the lack of any particularly engaging lines. Everyone just kind of sprouts clichéd stuff, while your boss, Miller, swears in a broadly Australian accent (and just in case you didn’t know this, when you break into his apartment on a side mission there’s a massive Aussie flag over his staircase). Still, it’s refreshing to discover an ability in a modern game that lets you circumvent a whole fetch mission simply by utilising Jensen’s social augmentation. During these persuasion moments, you’ll carry out a prolonged conversation with characters, some of them targets, others allies, all with real-time readouts relating to their most preferred method of response. Follow these prompts and you can persuade them to help you. There are about five or six main persuasions in the game and to tell the truth, I was a little tired of them by the end.
Another thing that impressed me was the way that side missions never really felt “side” at all. Each one was interesting and quite involved. For example, an optional mission towards the end of the game saw me playing detective as I tracked down the brutal killer of an augmented woman. This required finding all the clues at the scene, convincing the detective of note to let me keep digging, tracking down a deceased detective’s case notes for a related murder, interviewing the victim’s husband and then, later, confronting the killer in a light version of a boss battle (I simply used my EMP pistol to disable the killer’s armour and then used my KO move).
As I was nearing the end of my time with Mankind Divided, I mused that while I had enjoyed the moment-to-moment mechanics, I would be battling to remember much about it in a few months’ time. I feel the same about Human Revolution. Yet I remember many, many moments from the original Deus Ex. That said, the comparison is hardly fair when Deus Ex is widely regarded as a game design paragon.
I’m also not really sure why they included the arcade mode called Breach. It seems like you’re meant to try your hand at beating VR missions and then upload your times so friends can try and beat them, or something. I dunno, it doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest, but it was heavily espoused in the PR letter I got with my copy of the game, so I guess they’re going to keep supporting this mode in the near future. I’m quite happy to leave it with the single player, though. Looking at the lack of releases for the next month or so, I might even be tempted to replay it with New Game+. Perhaps this time I won’t be so considerate of the sanctity of life.