Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Review

Release Date: August 23, 2016
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action, Stealth, First Person Shooter, Single Player
System: Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows

Time Played to Completion: 31 hours, 8 minutes (35 hours including reloading game)

Transhumanism is the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology. This could be accomplished through cybernetic implants or genetic engineering. Oftentimes, the concept of transhumanism involves “augmenting” certain parts, or traits, of a person in order to reach beyond the capabilities of the human body.

Transhumanism fascinates me because I’m honestly terrified of death. Ok, maybe not death itself, but rather a deeper unsettling fear of a few things I’m sure many others feel on occasion. When I’m at the end of my life, will I look back and say it was fulfilling? Will I feel I’ve lived too short a life or long enough? Can I grasp this objectively with only 26 years of life lived?  If anything,it helps generate a rather dumb idea that should I feel I need a longer life to accomplish whatever I am looking towards, I have the option to.  I know that sounds sad and even laughable, but I think a lot of people wonder the same thoughts.

Neither Deus Ex: Mankind Divided nor its predecessor Deus Ex: Human Revolution  taps into any of the above mentioned fears or thoughts. Yet, when Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out in 2011, I was excited. The aesthetic presentation of transhumanism, paired with explored themes such as social class and standing, mega-corporations without regulation and conspiracy theories, piqued my interests. While the story could be written off as being a little dense or convoluted, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a solid game that had a conclusive ending but left enough to create a sequel.

Five years later, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has been released, and so far it has made me strongly consider putting it up there as a Game of the Year. The gameplay feels refined down to a very successful formula that provides enjoyment and challenge at the same time. Visually, this game is beautiful, and showcases what the current generation of consoles are able to do. Unfortunately, the length of the campaign, the smaller open world map, and an underwhelming boss make it hard to call this my Game of the Year.

The Art of Transhumanism and Intersection of Racism

Two years ago, the world witnessed chaos, with augmented humans going berserk thanks to a broadcast targeting the neurochip inside their skull. While the world eventually recovered from that horrific night, the truth is the world has never been the same. It’s a world of “Us vs. Them,” with Augs vs Humans mentality displayed in store windows, police mentality and social conversation. Augmentation, once hailed as the next step in human evolution, has now become a curse on those who already have an augmentation procedure done. Jensen, an ex-Sarif security guard who was augmented against his will, now works for Task Force 29 (TF-29 for short). TF-29 is an international task force brought together to fight international crime.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided starts off with Jensen and his unit being sent into Dubai to catch a weapons smuggler. However, upon successfully infiltrating the location, a group of gold-masked aug soldiers ambush both the smuggler and TF-29. Jensen is able to neutralize the threat, but TF-29 is ordered to pull out of the mission. Upon returning to Prague, Jensen meets with Alex Vega, his contact with the global hacktivist group The Juggernaut. Jensen admits that something doesn’t feel right about aborting their Dubai mission, leading him to believe something else drove the abort. Before they can finish the conversation, a bomb is detonated at the train station. The explosion knocks Jensen out and critically damage his augmentations.

After getting his augmentations repaired and fully running, Jensen learns that the bomb, the ambush in Dubai, and various other attacks are being blamed on a pro-Augmentation group called the Augmented Rights Coalition (ARC for short). However, with Jensen’s experiences in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, nothing feels right about this. Who’s really the one behind the attacks? What is their motive? Is it to completely turn people against augmented people?  Jensen has to follow the trail and unravel the clues before it’s too late.

Signs like the ones in upper hand corner can be found in many places in Prague

Signs like the ones in upper hand corner can be found in many places in Prague

If there’s one thing I can complement both recent Deus Ex entries on, it’s their ability to tell genuinely compelling science fiction stories. Each game tackles complex social issues within the construct of a futuristic setting. Deus Ex: Human Revolution keyed in on mega-corporate greed and its effect on social class structure. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided focuses on everyday social and environmental racism fueled by political campaigns, mainstream media outlets and social scripts.

Sound familiar?

Having an augmented main protagonist in Adam Jensen is also effective in three ways: a perspective from those persecuted, a strong sense of empathy, and balancing the complexity within conversations.  Where dialogue options are available to players to choose from, they add a layer of complexity in decision-making: what is the perspective of Jensen, and is it the right choice for dialogue? More often than not, I found myself often going more for a practical approach rather than the personal approach. This really heightened my experience with the game because I was forced to care about the impact my choice would make.

I also felt fully immersed into the world, the NPCs populating it, and the tiniest details that made a living, breathing Prague. Seeing doors with signs like “Naturals Only” to philosophical graffiti on walls, to the way NPCs would look at Adam while walking – every detail felt thought out and calculated. Having to have my papers checked by police regularly also created the sense of a tension-filled world. This was a Prague for those who stay “Natural”, and those who are Augs can stay but are welcomed to leave.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s examination of impoverished areas is also striking and compelling through Golem City. This city, built solely for augs, is a ghetto filled with barely-held-together rickety street markets, run-down homes, and a sea of sick people. The only aspect of it that seems “clean” and “socially acceptable” are the police in their clean uniforms and newly brandished weapons. Overall, the stark contrast between the two is meant to leave a lasting impact on the player to think about current social issues. Whether or not it works depends on the player.

I also enjoyed the various sidequests littered around Prague that had to be discovered or initiated on conditions that had to be met in-game. These sidequests not only provided unique stories deviating from the story line but covered other topics in a succinct manner. For example, one of the quests involves the player trying to take down a cult leader that uses hypnotism and neurochip blocker signals to control his followers.

Golem City -- the ghetto built specifically for augs

Golem City — the ghetto built specifically for augs

All of these elements come together to create a living, breathing world that shapes a cohesive experience. Can it be argued the themes are contrived and shoved down players throats? Absolutely, but it’s ability to rattle players to leave a lasting impression is effective.

Unfortunately, that can’t be said as well about the cast surrounding Jensen’s story. A lot of the characters appear to have motivations and personalities that stretch beyond their roles. Regrettably, the characters end up falling into the tropes that are needed to tell the story. There are brief moments that indicate there’s more to most of the characters, but not enough to pull them out of the pit of tropes.

While Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has a lot to explore in Prague, and in Golem City, I wish there were more locations to explore in the game. Getting to explore other cities like London or locations like Swiss Alps for one mission felt like a disservice because of how interesting the locales looked. It feels as if these cities might have had more levels to them, but that was the content left on the cutting room floor.

I also have an issue with the length of the game and the lack of depth within the story. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided feels like it could have explored the themes it wants to tackle in a longer, densely layered story that had nearly half of it left on the cutting room floor. The story feels simplified in comparison to its predecessor, being very straightforward in its trajectory. There are elements missing that could have elevated the story and made it stronger.

However, the worst problem that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has is that it doesn’t HAVE an ending. Yes, Jensen is able to stop the bad stuff from happening, and for another day the world can be at peace. However, the ending itself feels more like it fixes the immediate rather than the long term issue the main storyline was trying to get at. The resolution feels contrived, falls flat, and detracts heavily from the experience.

Barring these issues, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has a solid story backed with a world that feels alive and worth exploring.

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It’s your best friend!

A Powerful Variety of Tool At Your Disposal

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the type of game that I always approach with a stealth gameplay mentality. That’s because I love the challenge of finding ways to incapacitate my enemies without killing them and trying to avoid alarms. There was a thrill knowing I could sneak behind an enemy, go invisible, and silently take them down. I also loved taking enemies out with tranq darts, drawing the attention of another enemy to eliminate before they alert their allies. Mainly, I love the stealth approach because it forces me to weigh my options tactfully before going in. Not every enemy needs to be taken down, just the ones that impact your objective. Having to do that every mission, and succeeding, gives a satisfaction and sense of reward for accomplishing it.

However, if players would like to go in guns-blazing, there are plenty of upgrades for both Jensen and his guns to be a lean, mean, killing machine. Tools like the Nano-Blade projectiles (which can pin enemies to walls with a blade), Typhoon (shooting lethal or non-lethal in a circle around you), and Quicksilver Reflex Booster (the ability to lethally or non-lethally take down multiple enemies at once), provide plenty of ways to eliminate your enemies. Other upgrades like the Rhino Dermal Armour (increased damage) or Titan (temporarily indestructible) provide enough shielding in bursts to fire away into the night.

deus-ex-2

Plenty of tools for plenty of ways to play this game.

This is what Deus Ex: Mankind Divided excels at; providing enough options of gameplay to allow uniquely different playstyles. There’s no guidelines or restrictions to approaching any given situation. Each level is designed for players to experiment with various approaches to the same location. Only things that remain the same are the objective and amount of enemies players will face. Normally, this kind of freedom can be overwhelming, but in the case of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided it feels just enough.

More importantly, and the best component of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, is how human it feels. In the campaign there are moments that require the player to make decisions that will alter the story told. They also have an end result and consequences from the choice. Neither choice is easy to make, nor is one better than the other. Same goes for dialogue choices that are key to shaping the conversations between Jensen and the NPC. All of these choices resonate because of the perspective for both Jensen and the player, creating an immersive experience.

Where the game falters is in one of its strengths; the upgrade system. Throughout the game, players are able to gain experience through exploring the world, collecting items, hacking, missions, and reading e-books. Once players get a certain amount of Experience Points, players will receive a “Praxis Kit”, which can be used towards an augmentation upgrade. Unlocking an augmentation requires 2 Praxis Points, further upgrades to the augmentations require 1 Praxis Point. The upgrades chosen make Jensen extremely powerful. In fact, Jensen can become too powerful. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is far too kind to the players with the abilities.

Granted, the powers at the player’s disposal are absolutely fun and add new elements to gameplay. However, they can become far too relied upon and take away the challenge of the mission. I had to impose the challenge on myself to only upgrade when it felt necessary. Having those imposed restrictions on myself certainly helped make the experience much more rewarding.

The choices you make have various outcomes and consequences.

The choices you make have various outcomes and consequences.

The biggest issue I have with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is that the game itself feels short compared to its predecessor. It’s as if the game had a significant portion of it cut out in order to be broken down into DLC episodes for the game. I honestly hoped the game would have more cities and places to explore in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, not spending majority of the game in Prague. Even worse, whereas Human Revolution had multiple mini boss fights throughout the game, Mankind Divided only has one boss…and it’s anticlimactic. I felt like the final boss fight felt like any other mission in game and offered no real challenge that separated it from any other skirmish.

Regardless, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has gameplay that’s fun, exciting, and challenging.

The Beauty of Cyberpunk

I cannot say enough how beautiful Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is from a graphical perspective. Characters looked detailed down to the strands of hair on a person. Cities feel fleshed out, distinct and alive. The game’s cyberpunk science fiction aesthetic feels cohesive thanks to the attention to detail in the music, environmental design, and even clothing. Overall, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided owns its art style and runs away with it, making the game feel believable.

At the same time, the game’s technical performance had some minor glitches that didn’t leave an impact on the gameplay: things like screen tears, wooden/stiff animations, and dips in frame rate. The biggest gripe I have is with the long loading screens that either show Jensen walking down the subway line or standing in a subway car.

Otherwise, the game looks, feels and screams cyberpunk science fiction and wears it well.

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Was so proud to get this achievement!

I Definitely Asked for This

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a Game of the Year experience that is marred by a short campaign and anticlimactic boss. The intricate level and gameplay design play off each other well, offering players various ways to get to the primary objective. Upgrading Jensen to fit the player’s gameplay style can be a lot of fun…but also a little too powerful. However, the levels provide enough challenge to make the path chosen to the objective feel rewarding and fun. I can attest to this with my pacifist, stealth-like approach to gameplay.

More importantly, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided feels human in its approach to storytelling and decision-making. All of the themes explored in-game are relevant to today’s social climate and are bolstered by a character who has to internalize the social issues occurring in-game. Furthermore, decision-making feels weighted and difficult, forcing players to make choices that do not feel like they’ll have any better consequences than the opposite choice(s). Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game that forces players to think and care about the decision they make. For the most part, the points the game stresses are effective and rattling.

In the end, it’s a game I’d recommend to be part of anyone’s library but not one that’s an absolute must-buy. In fact, if it’s not a game that someone is really tempted to purchase, I’d recommend waiting until the Game of the Year Edition (or Director’s Cut if we go with how they re-released Deus Ex: Human Revolution) is out. That said,, anyone who buys this game will  find a genuinely rewarding experience that will be worth every penny they put into it.

Good:

  • Diverse Gameplay makes playstyles feels completely different
  • Sidequests feel like solid mini-stories within the world
  • Level Design allows plenty of ways to get to the same destination
  • The politics and social commentary are mostly effective
  • The game owns its art style and runs away with it
  • The difficult choices feel like they have consequences

Meh

  • Some animations seem off
  • Frame rate occasionally dips, but not consistently

Bad

  • The Ending – in fact the game as a product can feel unfinished at times
    • Essentially, feels like content was cut for the sake of DLC
  • End Boss was very underwhelming
  • Story lacked the complexity and depth that Human Revolution had
  • Game felt significantly shorter than Human Revolution

 

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About

The moment he was born, Terry Randolph knew he would play video games. Okay....not the exact moment he was born, but definitely at an early age. His affinity for video games was cemented in the multiple tantrums he threw while being dragged away from playing Sonic the Hedgehod at his daycare when his parents came to pick him up. Since then, Terry continues to enjoy all the experiences gaming provides. He also loves to write short stories and ambitious novel projects. Last Token Gaming was born from both his love of writing and video games. Twitter: @wanderinganbu Email: terry.r@lasttokengaming.com

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