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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.