Game review: Deus Ex Mankind Divided gets off to a slow start
The follow-up to 2011’s Human Revolution has shoddy voice-overs and facial animation, but even that can’t hold back the strength of its gameplay
Since the series’ debut 16 years ago, Deus Ex’s primary weapon has been choice: where to go, how to get there, who to speak to and how to speak to them are all up to you in a series where almost every scenario has multiple outcomes.
After releasing 2011’s Human Revolution – a lavishly depicted near-future thriller – to widespread critical acclaim, developer Eidos Montreal’s follow-up, Mankind Divided (for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC), picks up the exact same threads that its predecessor left tantalisingly unanswered five years ago.
This is a tall order and its makers clearly recognise it, front-ending the game’s campaign with an almost laughably long 12-minute recap to bring you up to speed on everything Deus Ex. Protagonist Adam Jensen returns – still half-Lagerfeld, half-Motorola Razr – working as a special agent at Interpol two years after the events of Human Revolution.
Like many, he’s coming to terms with the devastating after-effects of The Incident – a cyber-attack that deliberately caused the bio-technologically “augmented” population to turn violent, leaving millions dead. It was a global catalyst, accelerating the divisions between the human and augmented populations, but as thematically charged a set-up as this is, Adam and his world can’t help but feel outdated.
Mankind Divided is undeniably beautiful, soaked in the neon golds and vibrant lights that made its predecessor such a striking spectacle, but its weak opening is a slow start that never quite gains the momentum it needs. When it does finally get going, shoddy voice work and awful facial animation make for a game that fails to convey the societal and racial messages that its strong writing attempts to.
Worse yet, it offers very few notable opinions on its focal prejudices, and the best it seems to do to force home its messaging is interrupt you with annoying documentation checks between metro stations. There’s racist graffiti on the walls, slurs get shouted as you walk through the streets, but the overall result is a social commentary that feels, at best, lacking conviction.
After a pre-credits mission in Dubai sets up the game’s central conspiracy, you relocate to Prague; a rich, multifaceted hub full of apartment blocks, a bank, abandoned theatre and underground anti-terrorism facility. There’s a bank break-in to dig up dodgy info on one of the game’s main mega-corps, and an investigation into an underground cult – finding every possible side story is a completionist’s dream, and the game makes pursuing these optional plots worthwhile with some great moments that rival the main story.
There are a couple of mainline departures from the Czech capital; an infiltration into Golem City – a cramped, higgledy-piggledy ghetto for the augmented that is by far the game’s most interesting setting – as well as a recon mission to a facility in the Swiss Alps and a rescue mission in London. Despite these four locations, each far larger than anything in any previous Deus Ex, Mankind Divided doesn’t feel half the grandiose globetrotter that Human Revolution was.
Despite its terrible non-ending and the uninspiring boss fight that triggers it, the game still frequently finds immense strength in its moment-to-moment play. Mankind Divided retains the mechanical tri-force of stealth, hacking and combat, but it does a much better job of blending these different styles – even if you want to play stealthily, for example, you’ll benefit from investing upgrade points into combat and hacking abilities to benefit from different routes that these styles allow.
After setting up a narrative hard-reset of Adam’s abilities, the resulting blank slate lets you experiment with the huge variety of augments and weapons. There’s an invisibility cloak, smart vision for seeing through walls, a set of rebreather lungs for gas immunity, a social enhancer to open up more conversational options at certain points in the game, and lethal and non-lethal weapons aplenty. There are also new “overclock” augments, too, which Jensen uncovers when he undergoes surgery at the beginning of the game, including a gauss wrist attachment that sends enemies flying, a long-range taser, and a remote hacking tool that’s incredibly useful when you’re in a sticky spot. Coupled with your existing playthings, these eight over-clocked augments elevate Mankind Divided’s depth beyond the strong foundations that Human Revolution laid out.
It’s a shame that in a world obsessed with the conflict between man and machine, Mankind Divided’s characters feel more robot than human. Hopefully, Eidos Montreal has strong post-release support planned to fill in the absent third act. Regardless of this, the game’s broad level of creative opportunities, memorable infiltrations and beautiful attention to detail in such a visually interesting world make for a game that’s fun to experiment with again and again, despite its structural cracks.