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.
Our lead man Adam Jensen. Check out the raindrops on the body armor.
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.
The only pretty spot in Golem City. Don’t mind the guy that just got beaten by the cops.
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.
I could totally go for a little vacation in Prague.
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.
Just check out this foyer!
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.
A “Throwable” printer. At last!
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.
Mankind Divided‘s scope is only half of the reason why it feels so absorbing, though. We all know that production values are no substitute for gameplay, but in this title, they unquestionably help flesh out the Deus Ex world and up the immersion factor.
For starters, the graphics are shockingly good. Eidos Montréal’s demo of its Dawn Engine a year ago left me wary, thinking “yeah right, the actual game will have half of these effects, at best.” Mmm, this crow sure is tasty. Mankind Divided went straight onto my shortlist of best-looking games ever. I was especially impressed by the Dawn Engine’s superb lighting, whether in indoor or outdoor environments. Most 3D engines excel at being bright or dark, but this one does both with aplomb.
You wish your abode looked this good too?
Of course, a fancy engine doesn’t make pretties on its own. That’s where the game’s gigantic team of artists comes in. I have a particular appreciation for the extra lengths the game’s artists apparently took to fill the world with even the smallest details. Every shop and café looks unique. Walk into a store and check out the labels on the individual items on the shelves. One augmentation expert’s laboratory has hundreds of arms hanging off the ceiling, and you can walk up to each one and inspect it closely. In Golem City’s market, it’s possible to pick out every cucumber and read the price tags for the fruit in a stall. The art team spent what must have been an inordinate amount of time touching up rooms and placing objects in the farthest reaches of every structure you can visit.
This bank is a little… shady.
All of the futuristic-looking architecture in Mankind Divided‘s Prague lends a cohesive period flavor to the game that I felt was missing from Human Revolution‘s mostly samey-looking environments, as well. I’d wager that actual architects were hired for production. Between the lighting engine and the flawless artwork, when I walk into a fancy apartment in the game, I found myself thinking “man, I wish my place looked like that.” Heck, I don’t think I’ve taken so many screenshots of a game since Skyrim.
Just talking to secondary characters strewn around Prague is a fun activity, since the voice-over work that gives them life is unusually deep. You can talk to about a dozen random NPCs on the street before one of them will repeat a line. Actual conversations are often long and cover several topics—even optional ones that exist only as flavor. Everyone has a motivation and personality, which made me feel like I was in a city with actual people instead of meeting dummies that would tell me to go kill 10 rats before reporting back.
The red light district. Come for the sex and booze, stay for the architecture.
The game’s soundtrack is quite well-executed, too. It creates an ambience that’s at once futuristic and haunting, and it picks up the pace when an extra dose of adrenaline is needed. At first, I didn’t think much of the music, but then I realized that’s a good thing—it meant the background tracks were doing their job. The sound engine is pretty good, too—I could always tell where guards were positioned by sound alone, as the game does a fairly good job of simulating sound occlusion and travel. An extra shout goes out to the fabulous ending song written by Misha “Bulb” Mansoor of Periphery, too.
Mankind Divided‘s production isn’t perfect, however. For inexplicable reasons, characters’ facial animations during conversations are worse than Fallout 4‘s, and that’s already a low bar to dig underneath. One has to wonder why there apparently isn’t enough cash in the multi-million-dollar budgets of these games to do some motion-capture work for faces or to write human-looking facial rigging when Half-Life 2 had this stuff sorted out years ago. Mankind Divided‘s crude facial work spoils what is otherwise a gorgeous game.
Are we going in hot, or sneaky-peeky-like?
Events early in the game reveal that Adam Jensen now packs a handful of hidden military-grade augmentations, and it’s up to the player to figure out which of those new tricks they want to enable at the expense of losing prior augs from Human Revolution. Those choices are another case where this game really makes you think about the choices at hand. The overall flow of the action sequences is has a more streamlined feel when compared to Human Revolution, too, thanks to improvements in the cover system that make it much easier to tell where you’re about to move. The weapons system in DXMD got a makeover, too. Different ammo types and weapon stats upgrades are on offer, and players can craft consumable items from junk scattered about the world.
While the new combat augments and weapon improvements are fun to use, they weren’t much use to me in my quest to be a ghost on my way through the game. A rather heavy-handed ghost with a penchant for leaving a trail of KO’d people, anyway. The set of weapons and augments for stealth is more or less unchanged from the previous game, save for a rather handy multiple-target taser. As a result, I ended up working my way past enemies in roughly the same way as I did in Human Revolution.
Let’s see, I’d like a kilo of cucumbers and three melons, please.
If you’re a sneaky-peeky type like me, you’ll be happy to find loads of alternative paths to and from buildings and objectives. Human Revolution‘s levels gave players freedom to choose their approach, but oftentimes the options were more or less limited to a frontal assault or long romantic walks in air vents. Mankind Divided goes one step further by mixing and matching available pathways throughout buildings, making them feel more like what a real-life sneak might work through instead of planting a sign that says “GO LEFT FOR STEALTH.” Sewer and garage entrances, elevator shafts, maintenance corridors, you name it—all are usable for infiltration or a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence.
Oh, right, before you ask: the terribly forced Human Revolution boss fights are now gone. There’s now only a single situation of that type, but in good ol’ Deus Ex fashion, there are multiple ways to handle with stealth, guns, hacking, or a combination of all of those approaches.
It’s a shock to the system
Nixxes was again at the helm of the PC port, and I think the team did a great job overall. The game runs pretty darn well considering the amazing graphics on offer, all the controls are configurable, and there are options for field of view, interface scaling, and all the usual PC gaming goodness. There are plenty of graphic settings in the menus, too, which let me tailor the game Just So for my hardware (a GTX 970 and a Core i7-6700K). Fair warning: this is a demanding game, but it doesn’t feel slow, and the graphics quality is worth the hurt it puts on a system.
Shadow-mapping and volumetric lighting much?
Unfortunately, not everything went well with the game’s release, even though its worst problems have been taken care of by now. To put it bluntly, Mankind Divided clearly needed a little more time in the oven, or at least better testing with different hardware configurations. Despite the intrinsic quality of the port, the game was released with strange default control choices, like super-high mouse sensitivity with the added bonus of pointer acceleration and different X and Y scales. This led me to think that Nixxes didn’t run tests with gaming mice.
I also experienced a couple crashes, wonky physics in staircases that would make Adam Jensen climb stairs at a snail’s pace, and stuck tutorial prompts. Luckily , I didn’t suffer any of the slow-performance woes that affected other players. To their credit, the folks at Nixxes have been hard at work since day one releasing patches. Just be warned that the game hasn’t been out very long yet, and that some users are still experiencing issues. You might want to consider giving it a few more weeks before ponying up your hard-earned cash.
You’re read this far, and I’m sure you realized I enjoyed Mankind Divided. While it doesn’t have the “wow, new” factor and setting variety of Human Revolution, it makes up for it by giving players an open, cohesive, and detailed world to explore. The graphics and artwork are nothing short of amazing, and I felt truly immersed in the Deus Ex universe as a result. That ham-handed storyline that suddenly ends, though… that’s a problem. The fact that Square-Enix wants to split off the game into multiple installments is nothing new—one need only look at Starcraft II—but Eidos Montréal could certainly have done a better job with the plot and pacing that brought us up to the cliffhanger ending.
This is where I’d keep my millions… if I had any.
If you’re a completionist like me, and you just have to steal every possible credit chip and knock out every guard in existence, you’ll love Mankind Divided, as it offers hours on hours of exploration. If, on the other hand, you plow straight through the main missions with relatively little regard for browsing around, the game may feel very short and leave you wondering why you paid $60 for it. Overall, though, I give the game pretty high marks—just be sure to do plenty of exploration to get your money’s worth.
The author wrote this review using a copy of the game purchased for his personal account on Steam.