Espionage, mistrust and social issues take center stage in the latest Deus Ex installment.
When a terrorist attack at a metro station pushes the city of Prague over the edge, it’s Task Force 29 and Juggernaut Collective agent Adam Jenson’s job to find out who is behind the deadly bombing while ensuring tensions between augmented and non-augmented citizens don’t reach a boiling point. Before the events of Mankind Divided, the world became more faction driven than ever as the political elite pushes their anti-augmentation agenda. As a minority group, this drives the augmented population out of cities and into segregated slums where police abuse runs rampant.
Despite being set in Prague a decade and a half in the future, Deus Ex Mankind Divided developer Eidos Montreal has a lot to say about current social issues in Europe and the United States. Instead of religious or racial minorities, the developers use the augmented portion of the population as scapegoats for everything wrong with society. The developers might not say much about modern society, but the mirror they hold up sure was enough to make me sick to my stomach.
With society on the brink, Mankind Divide’s strong choice-driven narrative shines. Conversational decisions range from the trivial (choosing between empathy and sympathy) to defining (supporting oppressed augs or blaming them for Prague’s problems). No matter the gravity of your choices, I felt like what I said and did had an enormous impact on the story and the world around me. Even if my impact is a clever illusion by the developers, it shows they Eidos knows how to create believable environments. Mankind Divided feel less like stealth playgrounds and more like living, breathing cities.
Speaking of which, environmental design in Mankind Divided has also evolved greatly since 2011’s Human Revolution. Instead of relatively basic levels that funnel the player through thin corridors and big squares loaded with enemies, Mankind Divided keeps areas fresh thanks to diversified environments. Using air ducts, hacking locked doors, coming in through the sewers or shooting your way in, there’s always a plethora of ways to reach your destination. Gone is the black and white mission design where players are bottlenecked into a guns-blazing or stealth approach. Eidos Montreal instead allows for your cover to be blown and restored. If you lose your patience for a section, you can get violent without being exposed for the rest of the mission. Thankfully, revealing yourself in Mankind Divided is not nearly as damning as it was in prior installments, and Jenson is better equipped to take on onslaughts of thugs.
One of my chief complaints with Human Revolution was how quickly Jenson feels underequipped should enemies start shooting. In Mankind Divided, there are plenty of upgrades that make Jenson a walking tank should that approach interest you.
While it was easy to change up my playstyle, I found the inventory system to be relatively useless once I decided to maintain a “no-kill” approach. I used the tranquilizing sniper rifle and the stun gun from beginning to end with little need for any of the other things I collected outside of hacking supplies. Of course, a more violent playstyle would have had me burning through grenades and bullets making inventory management more important, but when Mankind Divided works so hard to ensure stealth is always an option, it feels lame to make stealth so easy.
Despite working very hard to develop Adam Jenson and the rest of protagonists, Eidos Montreal severely underdeveloped the game’s primary villain – clocking in with about ten minutes of development throughout the campaign. Espionage, backstabbing and mistrust are all themes in the game, but you can’t keep players guessing so much that the villain reveal is shrug inspiring. To make up for the shallow character writing, the writers scramble to through together an evil plan for the villain in the final hour of the game.
Instead of a climatic crescendo, the conclusion of Mankind Divided feels like the curtains closed in the middle of the performance. Don’t worry, though; Eidos Montreal made sure to end with two scenes that set up the DLC coming out later this year. So, if you want a truly satisfying end, you will probably have to shell out for the $29.99 season pass.
Graphically, the latest Deus Ex installment ranges from great to serviceable. My review copy was played on Xbox One where I was impressed by draw distance and well-detailed areas. Still, sprinting in Prague made my console occasionally chug as new areas streamed in. Additionally, I noticed the mouths didn’t quite move enough to make speech look believable – a disappointment considering how well written the dialogue generally is.
Easily the biggest flaw with Mankind Divided is its lack of development for Jenson’s true enemies were. A story about deception and manipulation needs to have a sense of mystery, but when the villains are as underdeveloped as the one in Mankind Divided, it’s hard to have any real feelings one way or another.
Despite the lack of denouement, Eidos Montreal managed to create a science fiction world that felt grounded in reality. Environments are varied and offer unparalleled player freedom. Similarly, combat and narrative choice aren’t as binary in Mankind Divided making each moment of gameplay feel important. Eidos Montreal’s latest Deus Ex title is one of the best RPGs of the past several years.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Square Enix.
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