Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gives us a glimpse into a cyberpunk future
Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the sequel to 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, itself prequel to Ion Storm’s classic Deus Ex role-playing game from 2000.
Set in a cyberpunk future where mankind and machine have begun to merge, it continues the story of ex-policeman, Adam Jensen. Jensen became the reluctant recipient of cybernetic augmentations following a terrorist incident at the beginning of the last game that would have ordinarily cost him his life.
The dystopian world of Deus Ex serves as a backdrop to a narrative theme that draws upon our obsessional relationship with machines and our symbiotic technological future with. Add to this an uneasy relationship between the “Naturals”, those without cybernetic parts, and the technologically augmented “Augs”, all under the dark shadow of profit-driven mega-corporations, and you have a world on edge that’s perfect gaming fodder.
I have fond memories of the last game Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I remember enjoying it, thinking just how far games have come. But, I never finished it. Maybe one too many trips down the sewers (an overused mechanic all but guaranteed to turn me of a game) or perhaps the unfathomable way the areas were linked together (a trait shared with stable-mate, Thief). Deus Ex: Human Revolution struck me as a flawed piece of genius.
Now we return, two years after the end of the last game (that I never got to experience) and plunged into a fractured society and a narrative that seeks mirror todays cultural prejudice. Since the explosive ending of the first game- which can be viewed via an optional catch-up video at the beginning of Mankind Divided – the Naturals regard the cybernetic Augs with suspicion; society is divided, with the augmented treated like second class citizens. Even Jensen, a cyborg himself, although now working for Interpol tracking down Aug terrorists, is subjected to the same level of mistrust and scrutiny.
The visuals flick between being bloody good to OK. Our hero, Jensen, looks very dapper in his cool trench coat and shades, but some of the supporting characters seem a little last-gen. The environments are packed full of detail and look very lived-in, perfectly capturing the cyber-punk look and feel.
As with the last game, the maps are a bit of a labyrinth. The waypoint system seems to have a real issue with the multi-level map design. It’s better than last time, but I still occasionally found myself in a dead-end with a marker showing my destination beyond the solid wall in front of me.
Mankind Divided’s strength lies in the amount of choice it gives to the player. The game’s three pillars, stealth, action and hacking, offer very different gameplay experiences.
This can be a bit overwhelming if you are used to clearly defined objectives, marked on the map with a direct route. Deus Ex is all about giving players options and the ramifications of those choices. Go in stealthy, sneak in through a vent and you needn’t fire a shot. Go in guns a blazing and you’d better make sure that you have enough ammo.
The choice, when confronted by an obstacle, and your subsequent decision on how to proceed, really drew me into the game and made it my own. It’s very likely that no two players’ games are going to be the same as they take different route and choose different upgrades.
Mankind Divided is a little more forgiving if you choose to go all out Rambo. But, like it’s predecessor, the inventory system makes carrying about your own personal armoury a bit difficult. Limited space, loads of dropped weapons, but little ammo often finds you overloaded with useless empty guns.
Thankfully, Jensen isn’t shy when it comes to thieving any credit chips lying about. This and the ability to build ammo and equipment from crafting parts scattered about means that it’s only laziness that is going to leave you with an empty gun barrel.
As with the previous game, hacking plays a big part in getting access to areas and systems. The hacking mini-game is fun and introduces a bit of strategy into the game as a whole. Staring relatively simple, hacks soon become a test of nerves as you negotiate your way through the totally Hollywood-looking visual representation of network security systems.
As a stealth game, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided shines. Shooting and hacking is all well and good, but it’s clear that the developers really want you to sneak your way through the game. The game features a great cover system that also allows Jensen to quickly move from position to position with the press of a button. Just line the pointer up and press the button. This takes away the worry of accidentally messing up as you dash and looks rather cool as well.
The different choices of ways to play the game are complimented by Adam Jensen’s augmentation upgrades. You can only have so many activated at once, and activating them cost Praxis points (thing EXP reward points). This means that you can continually customise Jensen based on how your play-style evolves in the game. This is a great feature, as we’ve all played games where a few poor upgrade choices early on have made life tricky later.
As well as the main story campaign, Mankind Divided as features an extra chapter called Desperate Measures under a heading entitled Jenson’s Stories. Likely we will be seeing some more of these standalone adventures as DLC in the future.
Rounding the package of is the Breach mode. Players take the role of hackers, called Rippers, engaged in VR-based corporate espionage. Using the same mechanics as the main game, players must negotiate a simplistic environment that represents the server’s network and security systems. You have to break through the security, avoid or take out the AI guards, download the data and get out before the system locks you down. If you can look past the 1990’s-style visual interpretation of computer systems, Breach is an engaging and fun, no-frills addition to the game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided shares many of the successes and many failings of its predecessor. What it losses in originality, however, in makes up for in polish. The addition of Breach is a welcome, if left-field distraction. This is a better game than Human Revolution, but still lacks the heart required to push the game into the must-have category. It’s a good game, but not a great game.