Deus Ex: Human Revolution marked the rebirth of the Deus Ex series of well-loved FPS-RPG hybrids from the halcyon days of the early 2000s. Eidos Montréal's reimagining was enthusiatically received by the gaming world. Five years on, the company has another dose of Deus Ex ready for us with the brand-spankin'-new Mankind Divided. Let's see if this title can fill its predecessor's rather large boots.
Stay awhile and listen
The game kicks off two years after Human Revolution's explosive conclusion. That game ended with the broadcast of a malicious signal from the massive Panchaea facility that sent augmented people around the world into murderous rages. After that wave of terror, governments around the world have segregated their cybernetically-augmented citizens into massive ghettos and restricted their freedoms. Human Revolution's protagonist Adam Jensen is now working for TF29, an Interpol anti-terrorism unit. At the same time, however, he's in cahoots with The Juggernaut Collective, a grassroots quasi-anonymous group bent on unraveling what it believes is a world-wide conspiracy against augmented folks.
Jensen's reason for working with the Collective aren't really explained (at first). I started off the game with a feeling of puzzlement about his motivations and ended up wondering who the good and bad guys were—assuming there was even a distinction to begin with. While it's entertaining to be thrown right into the middle of an ongoing story, I'd have preferred to know why I'm a double agent in the first place.
That unmoored feeling starts to improve as the game unfolds, though. Several situations forced me to decide if I wanted to approach them "by the book" with TF29 or "go rogue" and cooperate with the Collective instead. I second-guessed every decision I took, as they're not black-and-white moral decisions. The situations tend to be more faction-oriented, like choosing between going after information on a poison for augmented people, or finding out who's behind a set of bombings instead.
There are other key moments throughout the story that demand hard decisions, as Jensen doesn't carry an omnipresence augment and can only attend to one crisis at a time. This "A or B" method may be crude, but it was certainly effective in making me go "hmm" and agonize a little over the options, because there was (almost) never a perfect answer. That feeling was only amplified as the consequences of my choices started unfolding, too.
Even though the story and character development are fairly well-executed, there are two problems with the overall plot. The biggest issue is that the game ends just as the story really gets its pace up. You'll need to wait for the expansion packs or even full sequels for more, says publisher Square Enix. The ending definitely does not produce feeling of accomplishment. It's a letdown to realize that Jensen's sweat and tears—and, by extension, the hours you've poured into the game—amount to little more than a scratching of the surface of what's really going on in Mankind Divided and the wider Deus Ex universe.
The second problem with the plot is that it's mostly run-of-the-mill stuff, cybernetic future nonwithstanding. The reason for that are the heavy-handed evocations of contemporary events and entities. There's the intelligence and security group TF29 (think CIA), whose main mission is to chase down the Juggernaut hacker collective (probably Anonymous). The Picus Media news network makes up content and "facts" to hold sway over Regular Joes' opinions (much like a certain American news outlet), all against a backdrop of worldwide discrimination against augmented folks. Finally, there's the Illuminati behind the whole thing. Yes, really.
However, the game still got me hooked until the end. How'd that happen, given the story is a bit lackluster? Simple: Mankind Divided executes extremely well on what it has to work with. The game excels in building ambience, fleshing out characters, and augmenting the main storyline with a variety of high-quality side quests and believable NPCs. Most of those events take place in just two spots: the city of Prague or the Golem City aug ghetto. Other reviewers have criticized Mankind Divided's rather limited world. While it's true that Human Revolution may have taken players to more places, I didn't think any of them were as well-fleshed-out as Mankind Divided's locations. This game's Prague feels much more like a real city than, say, Human Revolution's Detroit.
Getting around those locations feels natural and fluid, as well. You can elect to travel on foot or using the subway, visit posh apartments and fancy cafés, stroll through the slums, and even make a trip through the red-light district. You can walk into plenty of stores, traipse around rooftops and scaffoldings, and explore sewers large enough for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to throw a rave party in. I guess others may prefer variety over size, but I'm fine with the way Mankind Divided does its thing.
The game does a great job fleshing out its universe and the people in it. There are plenty of places to visit, people to talk to, and at least ten Kardashian butt-loads of notes, e-mails and random conversations strewn about. I often found myself simply wandering around Prague taking in the view, enjoying the architecture, and listening to random conversations. The journey through Mankind Divided is the most satisfying part of the game—rush to the finish, and you'll be disappointed.
I'd advise that "take your time" approach because the quality of the optional side missions steal the show from the main quest. The variety of characters I met and situations I got plunged into made me feel more like part of the Deus Ex universe than anything in the primary objectives. Perhaps that's due to the fact that unlike the main story line, the side quests all offer an immediate, neat end and a corresponding feeling of player accomplishment.