In 2011, the iconic Deus Ex franchise was rebooted by developers Eidos Montreal after troubled development on a sequel to Invisible War (by studio Ion Storm) eventually saw it canned. Deus Ex Human Revelation released to near universal acclaim, and galvanised it as one of the true classics. This unique cyberpunk stealthy action-RPG introduced us to a brand new augmented protagonist in the form of Adam Jensen, who proved that speaking in a husky voice and wearing sunglasses at night made you a fairly rad dude. It took five long years for us to receive the sequel that was heavily hinted at the conclusion of Human Revolution, but fortunately the experience delivered in Mankind Divided was well worth the wait. It’s slightly lacking in visual and technical polish, and perhaps sticks too close to the formula established in Human Revolution, but it’s a compelling tale full of interesting characters and satisfying gameplay that gives you ultimate freedom as to how to tackle its challenge.
Blade Runner eat your heart out
Taking place almost exclusively in Prague, Czech Republic, the events in Mankind Divided pick up a mere two years after Human Revolution. For those that aren’t up on their Deus Ex there’s a twelve-minute recap of the events which sets the scene, but essentially Deus Ex takes place in a near future setting where people have the choice to better themselves via cybernetic enhancement. Be it to cure human ailments or acquire superhuman abilities, the Augmented (or Augs as they’re affectionately known) blend flesh and machine in what some view as a humanity-driven evolution of mankind, while others consider the practice an abomination and affront to nature and God. Our protagonist Adam Jensen is unique in that he didn’t wilfully become augmented (he never asked for this), but rather received his augments after a terrorist attack left his body broken; the choice was made to give him augmentations to save him from certain death. Luckily, our man Jensen takes to his augments like a duck to water, and he is one of the very few who don’t require regular doses of Neuropozyne, a drug taken by Augs to prevent their bodies from rejecting their cybernetic enhancements.
Oppressive police states are all the rage
At the end of Human Revolution things took a fairly dire turn for relations between Augs and Naturals, with a calamity collectively known as the Incident being unleashed. This basically involved all Augmented people on Earth suddenly going into a murderous frenzy and lashing out violently at everyone and anyone close to them. Jensen prevented the full brunt of the Incident by shutting down the signal that drove the Augs crazy, but the damage had already been done. The seeds of distrust towards Augs were well and truly sewn, and as Mankind Divided begins we have a world that is deeply scarred and openly fearful and oppressive of Augs. As the game begins Jensen is now working for Interpol, tracking and foiling terrorist plots that have increased in frequency on both sides of the Aug vs Natural divide following the Incident. After Jensen himself is injured in one of these attacks at a train station, his investigations into the events surrounding it lead him on a path that will have him unravelling a deep plot involving shady politicians, Czech crime families, powerful corporations and medical conglomerates. Seriously, there are so many parallel conspiracies in Mankind Divided that you half expect a lizard person masquerading as Jacob Rothschild to jump out with pamphlets on how jet fuel can melt steel beams, but it is all handled really well and I was always intrigued as to how the next set of events would unfold. The unashamed sequel bait ending is a touch muddled in some of its details, but it does set a great direction for the franchise’s future.
Gameplay-wise, anyone who has played Human Revolution will be well at home here. Deus Ex embraces a choice-based philosophy to its gameplay, giving you an objective and letting you determine which path suits you best. Do you choose the stealthy non-lethal option so that no one knows you were there? Or do you viciously assassinate everyone in the joint? Whether you strike from the shadows, avoid combat completely by sneaking around air ducts or go in guns (and augmentations) blazing, every choice has a decidedly satisfying feel. Different weapons and augmentations can be chosen to facilitate various playstyles, and experience will be gained based on the finesse with which you commit to it. While all these options are available (and the lethal option feels a lot better this time around), it’s clear the developers are actively pushing you towards
the non-lethal stealth option. As promised you can complete the whole game without killing a soul, but this seems to mean that boss fights (except for an extremely underwhelming final fight) have been all but removed. You gain much more XP for remaining hidden, finding secret paths and performing non-lethal takedowns, which does sort of discourage you from pulling out the big guns and running amok a la Trinity and Neo in the Matrix lobby scene. XP is all important as it grants you Praxis Points needed for acquiring and upgrading augments, which you’ll want to do, mainly because they are awesome and make you feel like a battery-powered demigod. Want to turn invisible and electrocute four enemies simultaneously with the TESLA augment? Perhaps you want to be able to hack computers and turn turrets and mechs against their owners while you watch the mayhem from the safety of the computer screen? Maybe you don’t mind going loud and want to throw a giant propane tank at a group of enemies while slowing down time to ignite it at the perfect moment with a well-placed bullet? The choice is yours, and it makes for some great emergent gameplay and interesting combos. Deus Ex excels at empowering you with the necessary tools while still keeping you respectful of the threats around you as you tensely explore spaces where you’re not supposed to be.
Superhero landing incoming…
This degree of choice also spreads to the mission structure, where decisions you make will alter the way things ultimately unfold. I was particularly impressed with the side missions, which were extremely well written with multiple paths and outcomes possible. I don’t want to spoil any of them, but one particularly memorable side mission involved conducting a murder investigation. Here you could do as much or as little as you like in the way of actual investigation, but bungling your investigation could ultimately have you condemn an innocent man (well, innocent of the crime in question at least, their personal lives are a whole different matter). If you persist and gather all the clues however, you’ll discover the truth of the killer’s identity is far more sinister, and blurs the line between the idea of a victim of circumstance and wilful perpetrator beyond all recognition. At times I was reminded of the exceptional side quests in The Witcher 3, where despite the fact you were mostly doing the same things you do in the rest of the game, there’s a real sense of weight and purpose to what you’re doing and a great sense of intrigue and motivation. My advice is to explore every nook and cranny and seek out these quests, as you’ll discover some truly interesting subplots which will give you a greater appreciation for the Deus Ex universe. While the vast majority of the game takes place in a smallish city hub, there is an absolute wealth of things going on, and exploring every inch of the city and uncovering its secrets is extremely satisfying.
Deus Ex excels at empowering you with the necessary tools while still keeping you respectful of the threats around you as you tensely explore spaces where you’re not supposed to be.
It’s a blood bath in here… literally
That doesn’t look comfortable
While the factors mention above keep the experience well and truly afloat, the game isn’t without some glaring flaws, and disappointingly many of these were present in Human Revolution and haven’t really been addressed. While the art style is consistently bold and unique, there are some murky textures and jerky, unnatural character animations that mar the general aesthetic. Many of the faces have bought real estate in the uncanny valley, and their cold lifeless eyes, terrible lip syncing and odd facial texturing will haunt me for a long time to come. The voice acting varies between passable and downright awful, with Aussie bloke Arthur Miller (Jenson’s boss at Interpol) being a definite lowlight. The Strayan in me appreciates that a fellow Australian plays a major role in the game, but the accent and intonation makes me cringe. Another Aussie makes an appearance in the form of the pilot Chikane, but I thought he was South African until he mentioned New South Wales and Bendigo. It’s testament to the great writing and overall story that these guys still manage to pass muster, and despite the spotty voice acting there’s still a good sense of dimensionality to the various characters; the Aug vs Natural situation is an ethical, moral and legal minefield, and the characters conduct themselves as such. It is highly unfortunate that you can’t properly skip dialogue without missing out on huge chunks though, and if you want the full story you’re going to have to submit your earholes to some audial bashing. Enemy AI is also still quite shoddy and unresponsive, and you can be noisily taking down a cop in an exosuit within spitting distance of one of his mates and they won’t notice you unless they’re looking directly at you. NPCs also don’t react to your actions the way they should, and you’re free to engage in some questionable conduct without fear of reprisal. For instance, shop keepers will let you slip out the back of their shops and steal their stuff, and your colleagues at Interpol will happily allow you to hack their computers and steal their info including computer passwords and lock combinations. On a side note, for such a technologically advanced society you’d thing they would have learned to not leave sensitive digital information so poorly guarded.
Once they’re dead or unconscious, guards become unwieldy burdens dominated by ragdoll physics, and getting a body smoothly through a doorway under pressure becomes akin to solving a seven-sided Rubik’s cube while underwater
On the technical side of things you’ll experience some frame rate drops and glitches aplenty. Guards clip through walls and get stuck on objects, especially when you’re trying to drag their lifeless body into a more discrete location to avoid detection. Once they’re dead or unconscious, guards become unwieldy burdens dominated by ragdoll physics, and getting a body smoothly through a doorway under pressure becomes akin to solving a seven-sided Rubik’s cube while underwater. I also experienced a bugged side mission that I couldn’t complete, and another that didn’t seem to trigger properly and gave me an unsatisfactory final outcome. Pathfinding is also problematic; I appreciate that the game encourages you to find your locations by using your nous and only giving you a vague area for some of the quests (like Morrowind in a way), but sometimes the objective descriptions and markers were too vague, causing me to wander around until I could figure out exactly what the game wanted. Your HUD compass also does not indicate the direction of your objective, forcing you to frequently open your map if you wish to orient yourself and find where you need to go. Eventually you’ll get to know Prague quite well and this becomes less of an issue, but I hated having to open up the map screen so often. It is worth stressing that none of this is truly game-breaking, but at times you’ll wonder if the game is trying to work against you in some instances.
Slum architecture at its finest
While the single player story is the main event, those seeking a little more Deus Ex action can dive into a mode called Breach, an odd little VR-inspired beast that requires you to complete short scenarios for high scores. It’s the closest the game gets to an online mode and features competitive leaderboards and similar mechanics and augmentations to the main game. There’s quite a cool aesthetic to it and a solid difficulty curve, so if the 30-hour or so story doesn’t quite slake your thirst then Breach is certainly worth a whirl.
Mankind Divided represents another stellar entry in a strong franchise. With a rich and intelligent sci-fi setting featuring intriguing multi-layered conspiracies, fans of the series and of cyberpunk fiction in general will be more than appeased. The gameplay also rises to the occasion, encouraging choice and creativity to outsmart and overcome your enemies. Some difficult to ignore technical issues can’t fully derail the experience, and the game contains a satisfying story arc that deftly lays the groundwork for a future entry. Hopefully the next entry will finally address the many lingering questions posed and offer some resolution as to Deus Ex’s deeper conundrums. For now I’d take a spinoff game about the Australian Civil War that’s been referenced a few times in the games. I imagine it was sparked by godless Victorians insisting a chicken parmigiana is abbreviated as parma not parmi, but who knows?
Reviewed on PS4