Conspiracy and intrigue; Deus Ex: Mankind Divided carries on the tradition.
I want to go on record by saying that I’ve loved the Deus Ex franchise, despite its faults. The melding of conspiracy theories, dystopian atmospheres, and multiple locales have been a staple of the series since the original, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided edges the franchise ever closer back to its roots.
Living without getting my Deus Ex fix since release of the latest title has been tough, and this past holiday was good to me in that regard. Jennifer kindly bought me the game as one of my gifts, and I’ve loved my time with it.
For the most part.
Following in the footsteps of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, DE:MD takes on the persona of an action game with light RPG elements. Like the previous games, players are able to approach any situation as they see fit. Mankind Divided can be played through stealthily, non-lethally, or as a loose cannon.
For the purposes of my playthrough, I was very thorough. I explored every nook, every cranny, hacked every terminal, and stole anything that wasn’t nailed down. Adam Jensen was a very rich man by the end of the game. What struck me about this was that there are tons of ways I found to tackle each situation. Obviously, the guns blazing approach would be the obvious one, but stealth options could range from silently eliminating foes to simply bypassing them. Then you have the option of turning your enemy’s defenses against them; it’s incredibly satisfying to watch baddies try to defend themselves from what used to be their own patrol robot. Eidos Montreal did a great job making a sandbox environment that makes ample use of the space, giving players a baffling amount of paths to take.
The gameplay itself also amazed me with how fluid it was in comparison to the predecessors. Eidos already made great strides with Human Revolution by modernizing the controls, improving the design in ways that were sorely needed. For as much as I loved the original Deus Ex, and the sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War, both of those games had some pretty terrible gameplay, with some of the clunkiest controls I’ve ever seen in a game paired with awful AI. Granted, Mankind Divided isn’t the pinnacle of game design, but there are a number of improvements that Eidos Montreal made.
Moving about using the cover system has been made far easier by making it possible to target locations within a certain range and pressing one button. After doing so, Jensen simply moves to that location. Sure, many games have had similar functions built into their cover system, but it feels like Eidos took the movement scheme from games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and melded it into an FPS.
The augmentations from Human Revolution have also been… augmented. Among the awesome new abilities are ones like the PEPS augment that takes the PEPS rifle from Human Revolution and slaps it onto Jensen’s arm, allowing you to blow enemies away… Literally. Other additions have been made, like Focus Enhancement which slows down time a bit and the Nanoblade which allows you to pin enemies up on walls like the rebar crossbow in Half-Life 2. Most of the new enhancements come at a cost however, at least initially. Activating an experimental augmentation forces your system into Overclock mode, which causes instabilities that affect your HUD and can even cause you to lose augmentations that you’ve already unlocked. This can be balanced by preemptively shutting down experimental augmentations that you don’t plan on using.
Jensen isn’t the only one with sweet new skills though. Many enemies in Mankind Divided also sport different augmentations, giving them increased leap distance, nearly-impenetrable armor, and cloaking abilities. It changes up the combat quite a bit when you go from fighting normal humans to augmented humans for the first time, forcing you to rethink tactics since they can dart around the world even better than you can.
But not every change has been an improvement, as is the case with many sequels.
Most of the time spent in Mankind Divided is spent in Prague, the hub world. This would be fine if the world was larger and had more to do in it, but that sadly isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things to do in your time between main missions in Prague, but the hub world didn’t need to be as large as it is to accomplish this. It felt at times like I was being led around to the ends of the map just to get me to spend more time in the game, which wouldn’t be nearly as bad if I didn’t need to sit through the subway loading screen every time I needed to travel between sections of the map. Hell, at one point I audibly groaned because a side mission popped up in another section of the city just as I was about to finish up a main quest chain, forcing me to sit through another ridiculously long loading screen. Mind you, this wouldn’t have been an issue except I had already done the same thing just before the side quest popped up. In that section of the game, I had to travel back and forth between the different areas, and was forced to endure the wait several times instead of giving me the quests all at once and allowing me to complete them in bulk.
Numerous other issue made their presence known, like the sluggish inventory and menu systems, as well as being forced to listen to the same introductory conversations with every vendor every time I spoke to them. I can’t tell you how many times the weapon vendors in Prague told me to go have sexual intercourse with myself (they weren’t as tactful about it as I presented here) because they were unhappy with me not spending all of my money on their garbage.
Oh lord, and the deaths from falling. Get the Icarus Landing aug immediately. Many of the optional exploration areas have deadly heights on the way to them, so if you’re interested in not spending hours falling to your death, invest wisely. Plus, as an added bonus, it looks fricken sweet.
The visuals of Mankind Divided are a definite improvement over Human Revolution, but not by much. Human Revolution was already a damn fine looking game for being on the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation of consoles (though you can totally play it on Xbox One). Mankind Divided makes some strides in the after-effects department though. Lighting in particular saw marked improvements (see pretty picture above), but obviously textures are much sharper as well.
The one on one conversations that take place, such as the few times where you can use Jensen’s CASIE social enhancer augmentation, are so well done that it’s actually pretty impressive. These conversations, though few and far between, feel genuinely natural in the verbal and non-verbal communication. It’s just a shame that these conversations are so rare, because the normal conversations look awkward and robotic. Almost everyone bobs their head so violently when talking that I swear they’d give themselves concussions if they weren’t careful. The lip syncing and hand gestures look just as terrible as well, which is a shame because the voice action is pretty damn good I think.
Audio stays pretty much in the same level of quality that Human Revolution had, offering a similar soundtrack of electronic music and sick beats (I do have Human Revolution‘s soundtrack on my phone if you’re wondering). It’s nothing that really sets it apart, but at the very least it isn’t painful to listen to. I feel as if Eidos could’ve done a better job with anecdotal NPC speech though… I got sick of hearing NPCs say “At least the music is good!” after they repeated it over a dozen times in the course of a few minutes, which you can hear in the video below.
I could seriously do without having to listen to the same looping radio and TV segments though. Why the hell does everyone leave their TVs and radios on? Every apartment that
I broke into was invited into always has their electronics on 24/7, and nobody’s ever home. This is strange considering that the levels in Mankind Divided actually look lived in, though there are some issues that I’ve noticed during my playthrough. At one point I ran across an aug civilian being detained by an officer, calling out for help. I took the initiative and convinced the officer to let him go by liberating the officer of her consciousness. However, instead of the civilian leaving or allowing me to free him from his restraints, he just stayed kneeling and pleading with the unconscious officer.
Oh but the bugs. Oh the glorious bugs. Here, watch this video:
That’s hardly the only incident that I ran into, but it certainly was the funniest. There’s a huge problem with the game’s handling of collision physics and clipping. I had unconscious enemies clip through walls killing them in the process (not my fault!), one that fell through the ground as if it fell into quicksand, and several cases of objects literally flipping out.
The premise of taking on segregation in the aftermath of a world event is something that hits home a little today, and Eidos has taken a lot of flak over it. Square Enix didn’t need to take the path they did with marketing, focusing on the plight of augs in lieu of selling potential buyers on the actual story, though I suppose there’s a reason why they didn’t focus on the story.
Despite the controversy however, I feel like Eidos did a good job of representing the problems with living in a police state, and the risks of being ruled by fear. The Czech police in Mankind Divided are also some of the worst of the worst, favoring brutality over actual police work. Oddly enough, despite the heavy-handed marketing approach, Mankind Divided actually takes a pretty unique approach to showing the world to the player. Instead of being free to do as you please as an agent of the law, or being fairly under the radar at least, you’re forced to endure most of the same restrictions as the augs in the world are. You can’t use the “Naturals” platform in the subway, you’re stopped to verify your papers, the police in general treat you like a criminal, and some civilians treat you with contempt.
Unlike most games, you aren’t an outside observer to oppression, you’re required to deal with it first-hand.
Story is something that the Deus Ex series has done right in pretty much every game in my opinion; taking almost every popular conspiracy theory and crams it together. Every conspiracy is legitimate, and has something to do with the Illuminati.
Mankind Divided is no different in this regard. Taking place in the aftermath of the events that unfolded in Human Revolution, mechanically augmented people are viewed with suspicion, and in the case of the Czech Republic at least, relegated to a position of second-class citizens. Even Jensen, who is an Interpol agent in Mankind Divided, is accosted by police on a fairly regular basis and forced to show his papers. Augs dare not even board the “Naturals” part of the subway because of the risk of being thrown in jail.
The state of the world is not what I’d consider all that great. Tensions are already high by time there’s a terrorist attack in Prague, and the local pro-aug organization immediately gets blamed. That’s where Adam Jensen comes in.
To be honest though, there were quite a few times when playing through the story where I got incredibly bored. On a number of occasions I found myself thinking “What was I doing again?” as I walked aimlessly around Prague’s streets, getting yelled at by cops and touring people’s homes.
Something I can definitely loved in Mankind Divided however is that there’s no guaranteed way to “win” at every quest. In one early side quest, you have the option of helping one of two people get out of Prague before they get sent off to the Utulek Complex, the Czech Republic’s aug camp. You can’t help both of them (as far as I know), so you have to make a decision. What I can appreciate is that Eidos made it so both parties involved deserve help, but you have to make a choice based on who you think deserves to be free more. There are a few other times where you have to decide what to do as well, not based on black and white or right and wrong criteria, but just off of what you know at the time. Sometimes things work out well in the end, others… not so much.
If I had any major complaint about the way things unfold, it’s that you spend so much time in Prague that it starts to get boring at about the halfway mark. Traversing the same city streets gets old, especially when there’s little extra to explore if you were already fairly thorough in the beginning. Where previous games took you to multiple locations in both the US and China, as well as Germany, France, and Antarctica; Mankind Divided takes place almost exclusively in Prague and the outlying areas.
WILDCARD: A “WTF?” ENDING
The image pictured above says it all, but I’m going to rant about it anyway.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided just ends. I don’t want to spoil the story for those of you that might end up playing it, but there really isn’t an ending at all to the game; just a really long Picus news report followed by the cliffhanger-iest ending since Halo 2. Yeah, it’s that bad…
What killed me about the way the game is wrapped up is how obvious it is that Square Enix wanted Deus Ex:Mankind Divided to be split in two, to make a trilogy out of the new games. What other reason could there be for it to end so abruptly? There’s no resolution at the end of the game, no catharsis; which is incredibly uncharacteristic of the Deus Ex series. Previous games in the series all had a slow burn of the protagonists discovering the truth of everything around them, ending with the curtains being rolled back on a vast conspiracy. Then the final battle takes place, where the player must make a choice based on the limited knowledge they have on the new world they’ve been enlightened on.
Here? Nah. Just fight the boss and you’re done.
It’s almost as if the Square Enix suits looked at the game and said to themselves “You know what? Let’s just stop the game right there. All those loose ends will make for a great sequel!”
Many of the characters that you meet along the way are ones that you never see again after the second or third time you meet them. You don’t ever really get to know any of the characters in Mankind Divided, so it makes it rather difficult to care at all about their connection to Jensen. Maybe that part was being saved for Mankind Divided 2 or the DLC.
I know I may have sounded pretty critical of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but it’s tough love to be honest. It has its rough edges and the obviously cut content leaves much to be desired, but I still had a ton of fun playing through the game. The sheer volume of freedom that you’re afforded with when tackling objectives, the augmented augmentations, the unique premise, and the conspiracy fix all make for a wonderful package that’s worth experiencing, just not for the original asking price.
That may sound odd, but based on what I’ve seen, it doesn’t deserve a $60 price tag. If anything, paying a price somewhere at or below $40 would be far more fair, especially considering the history of the series. Mankind Divided lacks any sort of resolution and ends too quickly.
I still want to test out those Nanoblades more though…
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