The Deus Ex series has been in a league of its own since its debut back in the year 2000, vividly painting an engaging cyberpunk world riddled with conspiracies and terrorism. The series had a rebirth in 2011 with Human Revolution, introducing greatly upgraded mechanics and visuals to deliver one of the most intense adventures the series had offered up to that point. With five years having passed and another console generation now in full swing, it’s time to continue protagonist Adam Jensen’s journey in what is the most dark and grim entry in the series yet with Mankind Divided.
The game takes place two years after the events of Human Revolution, with that game’s catastrophic ending that resulted in augmented people (those who have mechanical body alterations that essentially make them super human) being manipulated to go on a killing spree that resulted in the deaths of millions of people setting the stage for this game. The world is now in turmoil as naturals (non-augmented people) no longer trusts augmented people, which has lead to their segregation as a result of the new Human Restoration Act. Augs have all been rounded up and are forced to exist in a cramped and heavily-guarded ghetto away from naturals as a means of cooling down the rising tension, and the morality of that decision serves as the spine of this game’s narrative.
The Deus Ex series has always been masterful at conveying the sense that there are sinister schemes bubbling beneath the surface, but with Mankind Divided those schemes are no longer hidden. This is a world where terrorist attacks happen frequently and people (natural or augmented) no longer feel safe. To go along with this, organizations on both sides of the natural vs augmented debate are fueling this conflict, whether publicly or privately. It results in a constant feeling of tension and unease, as characters painted as the bad guys aren’t necessarily to blame and those you work for aren’t necessarily trustworthy.
That’s why it all comes down to our augmented protagonist Adam Jensen to sort out this whole mess and try to restore peace to this raging world. The fact that Jensen is augmented himself puts a perpetual target on his back as he maneuvers the game’s world, as he’s regularly stopped by authorities for security checks and greeted with a demeaning manor from them. It’s essentially his job to hunt down those responsible for the latest string of terrorist attacks and piece together how it all connects to an overarching conspiracy, but the path leading to those revelations is just as twisted as the answers are.
Jensen’s intentions to stop further terrorism plays out similarly to they did in Human Revolution, which is through the mechanics of a first-person action game. Jensen once again has a vast array of weapons and augmentation powers to choose from, which allows him to take down enemies head on, sneak around them stealthily, hack his way through enemy tech to turn against them, and even occasionally avoiding confrontations by talking it out. The game always gives you plenty of options in terms of how you want to go about tackling its various missions, and each is rewarding in its own way.
This means that, depending on your style of play, you have a few options that dictate the kind of experience you will have with Mankind Divided. If you want to go in guns blazing then you always have that option, or if you want to navigate through enemy territory and make it look like you were never there you can always do that to. The great thing about this sense of choice is that each method is fleshed out and enjoyable, meaning that when things don’t go according to plan and you have to switch to a different play style it never feels like a let down.
However, considering how solid the action gameplay is here it’s hard to not want to go the action route whenever you can. Jensen’s repertoire of battle rifles, shotguns, combat rifles and more all look and feel great, and they can all be customized with alternate types of ammo and accessories to better suit the situation at hand. If you’re going up against a mechanical enemy then switching your standard ammo to EMP ammo will take them down faster, and popping a silencer onto your pistol will allow you to silently pick off enemies when you don’t want to sound the alarm. There’s also a cover system that switches the perspective into third-person to give a better layout of your surroundings, which is very responsive and allows the ensuing battle to have more strategic depth as you figure out the best way to clear the room without being cleared yourself.
The gameplay variety doesn’t stop with the weapons either, as the game’s augmentations are where it truly shines in all styles of play. Jensen has 7 categories to choose from when it comes to augmentations, and each one is filled with unique abilities to choose from. Some will allow you to improve your hacking skills or scan your environment for enemies and items, while others will allow you to go invisible to slip past enemies or take them out with force moves or bladed projectiles that shoot from your arms. The moves that you have at your disposal always make you feel like a one-man army, but without making the game feel to easy.
That’s not to say that the stealth route has been left behind with this latest Deus Ex entry, as that isn’t the case at all. Silently slipping in and around enemies to get to your objective is always a thrill, and the enemy AI is incredibly strong to ensure that it is never a cakewalk. Enemies will regularly look behind them suddenly rather than walking in a robotic and static path, which results in your windows of opportunity to enact some fantastically-animated stealth or lethal takedowns to be very small. A keen eye can also sniff out some well hidden vents in order to traverse the game’s well-designed stages with less chances of being spotted, while also uncovering out-of-the-way areas that almost always reward your trek with weapons, ammo or some interesting new intel.
The hacking system introduced in Human Revolution has been brought back and tweaked here, and it’s a mini-game that is always fun to take part in. Whenever you want to break into a computer terminal, keypad or the myriad of other hack-able electronic devices you need take part in a hacking mini-game, which can be surprisingly challenging depending on its security level. You need to hack nodes in a grid on your way to capturing the Registry nodes that will unlock the system and complete the hack, while also avoiding the tracing software that will go off if you’re detected. These mini-games offer a nice change of pace from the other types of gameplay, and despite the numerous times it pops up it never got to the point where it got stale.
You’ll spend a lot of your gameplay time in the hub world of Prague (as well as some other locations), which is where you have the chance to just take in the game’s world. As you wander the heavily-guarded streets you’ll witness the lives of some seriously messed up people, which can result in the initiation of side quests that are just as solid as the main story. The Deus Ex series’ attention to detail has always been one of its strong points, and that has never been more apparent than in Mankind Divided. You’ll regularly come across computer terminals, pieces of intel and listen in on character conversations that really flesh out this gloomy world, and it only deepens your sense of immersion. This is a world that you actually want to explore rather than ignoring the majority of it to get to your next objective, and that’s a big accomplishment in an age overflowing with filler-packed open world games.
This is all heightened by the fact that you actually have a say in what goes on in this world. The game’s narrative has several branching points that will dictate outcomes and gameplay scenarios later on in the game, and the sense of variety that is a result of this makes you want to go back and see how things might have played out differently. For the sake of this review, I completed the main story twice while making different choices along the way each time, and while the narrative ultimately ends up in a similar spot, the fates of certain characters and the revelations that come to light result in them leaving very different impressions. The fact that I actually wanted to do this is a testament to the sense of curiosity that one can’t help but feel while gradually unfolding this narrative, as it’s one that you’ll want to see all sides of.
While the decisions that need to be made throughout the game are always complex and never boil down to clear choices, there are also instances where you’ll find yourself in an actual debate with a character. These instances typically take place against an enemy character, and depending on how you carry yourself in the conversation will lead to you coming to an agreement or having to duke it out. These intense conversations are some of the strongest moments of the game, as you have to read your opponents body language to help decide what the best responses are to get on their good side. It’s a mechanic that still feels wholly unique compared to other games with consequence-based conversations, and really forces you to engage more in the plot as it progresses. It would have been nice if there were more of these instances or more augmentations that could go towards deepening this mechanic, as it does feel a little basic compared to the others.
Despite the fantastic dialogue and intriguing narrative, I couldn’t quite shake the sense that the game’s finale wasn’t as impactful as it could have been. The journey getting there is a thrill ride, but ultimately there isn’t a whole lot of resolution. The ending of Human Revolution left a lasting impression, but the one featured here feels less substantial and more like it’s keeping things open for a sequel rather than delivering a satisfying conclusion. Having another Deus Ex game to look forward to definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing, but there are some major plot points left unresolved here that make it hard to not be disappointed by the lack of resolution.
Interestingly enough, the devs have decided to include an additional mode in the game called Breach, which essentially offers an arcade-like experience that is more suited for quick play sessions. The mode gets its premise from a brief scenario found within the campaign, as you have to navigate a virtual world and locate and extract data while dealing with obstacles and enemies. Each level features mechanics that were present in the campaign to keep things interesting, and there are challenges like completing a level within a certain time or collecting all data that encourages you to come back for more to get the highest score on the leaderboards. There’s even actual stories that unfold as you work your way through the mode’s numerous levels, which were also surprisingly well-realized. It’s not a mode that I see myself jumping into all the time, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the overall package and is a nice bonus for those looking to squeeze more hours out of this game.
The complex and engrossing world of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is one that sinks its teeth into you right from the beginning, and as you journey through it you never want it to let go. This is a game that has something to offer for every style of play, and the stunning attention to detail within the game’s world makes it feel like an actual place, however twisted it may be. We had to wait awhile for it to finally arrive, but our patience was rewarded with a definite game of the year contender.