Gaming

Review: ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ Is A Sharp And Sneaky Tune Up

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Every Deus Ex game feels like it may be the last. The series always boasts impressive triple-A production values, but rarely the sales to match, so the announcement of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was somewhat of a surprise. Unfortunately, fan enthusiasm has been dampened somewhat by clunky marketing, and questions as to whether Deus Ex is still relevant in 2016. At one time, the series’ mix of action, stealth and RPG elements was cutting edge, but today it’s the triple-A industry boilerplate.

Does Deus Ex: Mankind Divided still sneak past the competition, or could this series do with a few enhancements? Read on for the answer…

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PC, Mac, Xbox One & PS4)

Artistic Achievement

As you may have heard, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has been the subject of some controversy for a marketing campaign that somewhat inelegantly co-opted certain real-life historical struggles and social movements. Of course, social commentary and allegory are important parts of science fiction in general, and Deus Ex in particular, but the marketing made it appear as if Mankind Divided was going to tackle serious, complex issues in a rather fumbling way. Thankfully, I can report Mankind Divided is nowhere near as ham-handed as its marketing, with phrases like “Mechanical Apartheid” and “Aug Lives Matter” never showing in the game itself (at least to my recollection). Another Internet tempest in a tea kettle.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes place two years after the events of its predecessor Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which saw every cybernetically-augmented person on the planet manipulated into a murderous frenzy. Following the “Aug Incident” society has been turned on its head, with the once-powerful Augs becoming a discriminated-against minority, hassled by the authorities and confined to ghettos. Mankind Divided touches on some heavy themes, and does a good job of showing what inequity can force a person to do, but it never delves too deeply into uncomfortable territory. Despite being one of the most augmented people on the planet, our hero Adam Jensen largely sails above the turmoil, because who’s going to tell superpowered Batman what to do? Instead Mankind Divided‘s plot is mostly concerned the the machinations of a laundry list of different factions – government agencies, criminals, pro-Aug activists, anti-Aug activists, The Illuminati, and on and on. This is primarily a political thriller, and it’s not a bad one, although the story does come to a rather premature end.

Mankind Divided is lushly detailed, and more colorful and varied than most triple-A games, but it doesn’t look or feel particularly convincing. There’s a certain artifice to the world, and the characters look rather manikin-like. Audio is about what you’d expect — the music is your basic electronic stuff and the main voice actors do a solid job, while minor NPCs are pretty iffy sounding. Mankind Divided basically feels like a very polished last-generation game, rather than something truly cutting edge.

Innovation

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided sticks very closely to the blueprint laid down by 2011’s Human Revolution. Adam Jensen’s suite of enhancements has been upgraded and some of his new powers, like the ability to hack cameras and drones remotely, or skewer enemies from afar with his arm blades, are pretty rad, but they don’t fundamentally alter the action.

Adam Jensen’s beard is innovative in a dorky sort of way.

Most of Mankind Divided‘s creativity is devoted to Breach, an additional mode that boils away the fat, transforming Deus Ex into a simple action-puzzle game. Breach features a sleek, stylized look, and asks players to infiltrate various self-contained levels, capture “Data Towers,” and then escape under a tight time limit once you’ve achieved your task. Breach is generally breezier and more forgiving than the main game, but in the end, it’s still just a repackaging of Deus Ex‘s basic mechanics.

Execution

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided isn’t here to reinvent stealth. Hide behind stuff, sneak up behind enemies, hack cameras, keep an eye on those vision cones – it’s the basic Metal Gear approach. Your enhancements allow you to cheat the system a bit, but only within limits. Thankfully, Mankind Divided is much better set up for stealth than Human Revolution, which was essentially a shooter with sneaky bits sometimes awkwardly bolted on. Moving around and transitioning between cover is much more fluid now, and taking the non-violent path is almost always the easier, more rewarding choice. There are a few random annoyances – the game desperately needs an easier way to access your map and a quicksave option – but they don’t break the experience, and will hopefully be patched up eventually.

Maybe a mask that covers your eyes isn’t a great accessory for a lookout?

Mankind Divided‘s open world, mostly set in and around the city of Prague, is fairly small by today’s standards, but Deus Ex is about depth, not breadth. Unlike the massive, largely noninteractive worlds found in games like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto, Mankind Divided lets you dive headfirst down the rabbit hole. If you see, say, an apartment building, chances are you can break into everybody’s suite, steal all their booze, rifle through their medicine cabinets, hack their computers and read all their embarrassing emails. It’s addictive and you’ll lose hours just aimlessly screwing around.

This is also the rare game where the sidequests are just as good, and sometimes better, than the main campaign. You’ll happily lose complete track of saving the world as you put on your detective hat and try to catch a serial killer, or embark on an elaborate bank heist. You may be surprised how much you enjoy your visit to Deus Ex‘s dystopian future.

Staying Power

Depending on how good you are at the whole stealth thing, you should be able to burn through Mankind Divided‘s main campaign in 10 to 15 hours. Double that if you delve into all the game’s many sidequests (and you should). Add yet another 10-hours-plus if you want to master Breach mode. On top of all that, the varied approaches you can take to challenges makes Deus Ex particularly well-suited to multiple playthroughs. There’s still a lot of meat on this Aug’s bones.

Bullsh*t Factor

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a relatively glitchy game, with weird animations, strange enemy behavior and other wacky occurrences being fairly regular. That said, I never got hit with any game-ending bugs, and none of it really hurt the experience. Hell, most of the glitches actually ended up working in my favor.

Sadly, Square-Enix is doing some money-grubbing with this one. As mentioned, the main storyline ends rather abruptly, practically on a “To Be Continued,” and Square-Enix is offering a fairly hefty $25 season pass that includes two storyline expansions. Hmmmm. Breach is also riddled with microtransactions and basically structured like a mobile free-to-play game, which is a tad sketchy in a $60 release.

Final Thoughts

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided doesn’t rebuild the machine Human Revolution built, but it does give it a darn good polishing. The stealth is more enjoyable, the writing is smarter, and the world is deeper and more engrossing than ever. Bad marketing and a few greedy moves by Square-Enix smudge Mankind Divided‘s reputation just a bit, but don’t seriously detract from the overall package.

If you’re a fan of stealth, action-RPGs, or are just looking for a triple-A game that has something on its mind, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided comes highly recommended. No last-minute twist here, just buy it.

Verdict: Clear Your Calendar

This review was based on a digital PS4 copy of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided provided by Square-Enix.

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