Review: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (Xbox One)
Adam Jensen is back and a lot of his efforts in Human Revolution have been twisted or negated. The world has changed much, with the Aug Incident brewing a distrust and hatred for anyone with cybernetic implants. Segregation has become standard, with Augs living in ghettos and police-controlled hovels, they are considered less than human, treated as tools. Jensen is also a tool, one with two masters as he plays a double agent.
Dancing with the Devil
Despite the game’s marketing drive and setting, the Aug vs. Naturals debate, the discrimination against Augs, the police brutality, the unfairness of it all and the parallels it has with Apartheid, with police shooting people because of their skin colour; all of this really isn’t explored. Yes Golem City shows the equivalent of a location with cops having a field day exercising their brutality in search of terrorists, but it is a convenient backdrop that doesn’t offer any commentary. The Augs vs Naturals debate and all of its complex issues never really goes anywhere, which is disappointing. The biggest reason for this is that the game pulls its punches with Jensen. A heavily-augmented individual like Jensen should be facing a lot of heat from all sides but besides some initial hatred and distrust from Macready, you move through the game with it being nothing more than an inconvenience to you, at worst. After the hatred, distrust, violence and insults tossed at say, The Witcher’s Geralt, this is far too easy to handle. Despite a few words of mistrust most important NPCs talk to you anyway and regardless of Macready and Miller initially worried about your performance and stability in the NSF, you are given free reign of the offices, happily hacking and stealing from your place of work without any repercussions.
Don’t just shoot, explore
The level design is nothing short of spectacular and despite the massive artillery I acquired over the course of the game, I often didn’t feel like using it at all. I didn’t set out to try be stealthy all the time but the game rewards your stealth and exploration so well that it feels like the game is shouting that this is the way it is meant to be played. Entire areas of the game can be traversed without setting off an alarm, without the enemy ever seeing you and even without ever disabling or killing people. You can be a ghost, breaking in without leaving any traces except for all the hacked computers and the empty storage lockers. Or you can march in the front door and destroy everything with your skin covered in neodymium armour. I found so much joy working my way through vents, finding vantage points to look for alternate routes and stumbling on pocket secretaries with codes that mention secret vaults or storage facilities. The emails in the game tell the backstory masterfully, from details about work, snippets of everyday life to vital information that litter the game world, waiting for you to consume them. If you are in a hurry, don’t play this game. Rather come back when you have time to sit and read everything, to enjoy this world that has been crafted for you. Your efforts will be rewarded.
Of course you don’t have to be the stealthy person. Or even the guy who never kills. The game’s systems are beautifully flexible, allowing you to build your character to handle situations as you want to. You can be a walking tank, a ghost, a hacker with cool remote hacking abilities. You can stun with ranged electric jolts or fire your arm blades off and impale your foes to the wall. I would switch between non-lethal stealth and crazy killer who turns the turrets and drones of a building against the occupants when I decided that the enemy deserved death.
Jensen is dropped from fully powered with one of the best in-game explanations for why a character in a sequel game isn’t running at max level, leaving you with questions about the missing part of his past. While the game often gives a sense of time being short, it happily lets you go about your sidequests and missions at your own pace. The game even warns you if unfinished sidequests will be abandoned at critical points in the game, giving you a chance to go back and deal with them. They are really worth it and some of the best writing and gameplay happens in the sections that aren’t on the critical story path of the game. If you want to best experience you owe it to yourself to do it all. Also, who wouldn’t want to spend more time listening to Elias Toufexis dry, husky voice bringing Jensen to life? You have to explore Prague, it is amazing there.
End of line
Sadly Mankind Divided ends just when things are getting interesting. So many of the plots and schemes you have spent hours unravelling, teasing out of the game’s beautiful tapestry are just left untouched and inconclusive. It feels like another quest hub in a different city, perhaps with another 10 hours or so of content, could easily have made it into the game to deal with the stories and threads and the bigger forces in play. Instead you, along with Jensen, are left feeling like your victory is hollow, unimportant in the grand scheme of things as it doesn’t bring you any closer to the machinations of the Illuminati. It smells awfully like a setup for a sequel, and as happy as I am for more Deus Ex, it feels like too much has been left alone that was critical to the story of this game, rather than critical to the whole sweeping narrative of the entire franchise. We know what is going to happen in the first Deus Ex, which is set 20 years after Mankind Divided, but there is still a large gap to be filled and I was left disappointed that I will have to wait – possibly another five years – to see the story reach that melting point.
To see the game go from such a rich narrative, which has expertly crafted side quests and reams of backstory and lore from grassroots level of random NPCs to the issues of being a double agent trying to find out about the most powerful organisation on the planet, to an abrupt ending after a boss fight was like a punch to the gut. Besides the revelation mid-credits, I felt like the game had ended at what could easily have been the half-way point, or the beginning of the final big act. It doesn’t make the rest of an amazing game pointless or take away from the great time that I had in my 25 hours of chasing crumbs and trying to piece together a conspiracy, but it did leave a sour taste in my mouth. With such great foundations laid, so much more could have been done to end the game strongly. I get the feeling that I was just witness to something that was much larger, much grander, that came to an abrupt halt for some reason. In the early stages of this game, I lay awake at night wondering where the story was going and musing on what had just happened in my playthrough. It isn’t often that a game grabs me in this way, which shows just how rich the world and characters Eidos Montreal made really are.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is more of the same from Human Revolution, with improvements. Jensen gets an upgraded arsenal of gadgets and the level design integrates vertical spaces and movement in a really satisfying way, similar to how Dishonored did. If you are looking for more, you are in for a serious treat. Sadly when you are done, you will still want more than what the game offers.
- Game was played on a retail version of the game on Xbox One.