[Note: I will only cover the single-player experience of Deus Ex as I have not played Breach, the multiplayer mode.]
After a five-year wait, Eidos Studios has released Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, its follow-up to Human Revolution. Human Revolution is a highly regarded game, which is saying a lot for a game that had to live up to the original Deus Ex and avoid the disastrous pitfalls of its sequel, Invisible War. Because of the great (and surprising) critical success of HR, Mankind Divided had big shoes to fill. The game was highly advertised and anticipated, even appearing as the cover story in Game Informer in May of 2015. Does Mankind Divided deliver in the same way as Human Revolution? Did it live up to the hype? Does it carry on the Deus Ex name or does it tarnish that name? I’ll examine the game in detail, dividing it up into pieces in order to better understand the whole and to answer this question: did Deus Ex fans get what they asked for in a sequel?
Let’s begin with the game’s story (don’t worry; this review will be spoiler-free). In the near future, humankind has finally fused with the machines. People the world over have replaced their limbs and organs with machines, granting them enhanced abilities. However, after the events of HR, there is widespread prejudice against and systematic oppression of augmented people. This game takes place shortly after the end of HR. Adam Jensen, the protagonist of HR, is back. He’s quit his job at Sarif Industries and now works for Interpol, trying to protect the world from the nefarious plots of the Illuminati. At the same time, he’s joined forces with a hacktivist group called the Juggernaut Collective whose goal is to expose the corruption of major corporations and governments. Jensen feeds them information he obtains from his investigations at Interpol. A terrorist attack at a train station and a botched Interpol operation set the game’s plot in motion, throwing Jensen on a collision course with a pro-augmented group called ARC, Janus, the head of the Juggernaut Collective and, of course, the Illuminati themselves. The game’s story focuses on untangling the mysterious plots of various organizations and delving deeper and deeper into the inner workings of corruption in order to uncover the truth. The plot itself, for all its twists and turns, isn’t very engaging. Because of the plot’s highly convoluted nature, Jensen uncovers facts in bits and pieces, making the plot feel slow and, at times, half-baked. While there are plenty of desperate scrapes and explosive situations along the way, the overall story arc plods along at a surprisingly slow pace. The game’s ending leaves more questions than answers, an unsatisfying conclusion to a slow plot. I wish that Jensen could have accomplished more after everything he’s been through! While I do understand that Eidos is planning on making a trilogy that includes this game, I still think that they could have advanced this planned trilogy’s overall plot farther in this game.
Even though the game’s overall plot should have accomplished more, the game does excel in its smaller details. The game’s side-missions and characters bring the world to life and give the player a vivid sense of the stakes of Jensen’s mission. Everywhere you look, you see police officers abusing augmented people. Security drones roam the skies, flashing their blinding light at anything that looks suspicious, calling over more police officers if it detects anything amiss, causing all augmented people in the vicinity to cower in fear: the world has become a battlefield. Jensen’s mission to expose the Illuminati and their perpetuation of oppression couldn’t be more urgent: every character you speak to, every side quest you take, all show you the terrible condition of the world and make you even more motivated to stop the Illuminati at all costs.
The game’s well-executed side-details raise an important issue: its broader themes. Mankind Divided tackles difficult subjects such as police brutality, mass surveillance and racism. I appreciate the game’s efforts to examine such divisive topics but I think that it ultimately doesn’t do a great job of analyzing them. The game’s central analogy is between augmented people and racial minorities. Upon closer examination, this analogy falls apart. Although the game makes it clear that, like Adam Jensen, many of the game’s augmented people never asked for their augmentations, it is still possible to choose to be augmented. Augmentation is not a trait of identity like race, which develops over a lifetime, becoming ingrained over life’s many experiences. Unlike race, there is a set time that divides a person’s experience between being augmented and not. Race and augmentation are so unlike one another that any analogy between them crumbles when brought under scrutiny. Race has no possibly of voluntarism while being augmented does. Even though the augmented suffer in Mankind Divided in ways similar to how racial minorities suffer under police abuse and brutality, their situations don’t allow for any easy comparison. The game’s analogy clearly tries to protest police brutality and systemic racism and I applaud the game for trying but the analogy itself is shaky and ultimately doesn’t work.
Let’s move on to the gameplay. Mankind Divided bases its gameplay on Human Revolution. The game is a mix between an RPG, a stealth game and a first-person shooter. The three main pillars of the gameplay are stealth, combat and conversation. Whenever Jensen finds himself in a tough situation, he can either shoot his way out of it, stealthily make his escape or sweet-talk his way to safety. In addition to a full arsenal of guns, both lethal and non-lethal, Jensen has a wide variety of augmentations to aid him in his missions. These range from a sword that extends out of his arm to the ability to turn invisible. By completing missions, successfully hacking computers and convincing other characters to do what you want them to do (among other things), Jensen gains EXP which he can then use to unlock more augmentations. The game can either be played stealthily or with guns blazing. While Human Revolution urged players to use a stealthy approach, Mankind Divided does offer a more robust support system for those who don’t want to hide. The addition of more combat-oriented augmentations, customizable guns and improved gunplay make combat a more viable option than it was in HR. Despite this, Mankind Divided does subtly push the player to take a stealthier approach in ways that I won’t spoil but combat is a much smoother affair than it was in HR.
I played the game stealthily and found even more chances to hide than in HR: all of the game’s areas are full of secret passageways in vents, behind locked doors and even behind smashed walls that take Jensen out of his enemies’ sight and closer to his objectives. Mankind Divided even has new stealth-oriented augmentations like remote hacking which improve upon Jensen’s arsenal of stealth options. Stealth in Human Revolution was good but Mankind Divided has made it even better.
Jensen has a wider range of options whenever he finds himself in a debate or argument with another character, making the game’s conversations feel more natural and flow more logically than they did in HR. Convincing a character to stand down or to give Jensen a vital piece of information feels highly satisfying since the conversations are much more believable than they were in HR. While there are a few hiccups in the game’s conversations (there are some that end abruptly and there are some in which Jensen can make people act out of character very quickly), they are much better than in the previous game. Each aspect of the gameplay, from combat to stealth to conversation, has been improved upon from HR.
Let me briefly discuss the game’s graphics, art direction and music. Human Revolution, when I look back at it, is an ugly game. The graphics are sub-par and, even though it is a PS3/360 game, it looks more like a high-end PS2 title. The art direction was inventive: all of the game’s events take place at night and there is a yellow tinge over everything from the buildings to the people. The black and yellow combination was striking but looked a bit blurry due to the low quality of the graphics. Mankind Divided looks much better, and not only because it’s a current-gen title. The art direction is tighter, more focused and full of great detail that you can actually see clearly and appreciate. The distinctive black and yellow color scheme is still here but it is less prominent and looks more appropriate when it does appear than in HR. The graphics are not the best that this generation of consoles can offer but they are at least appropriate to the system they’re on. The music hasn’t changed much between the two games but it’s fitting for their shared cyberpunk environment. Most of the tracks are moody electronic pieces that plunge you into the dark underbelly of Deus Ex’s futuristic cities.
Overall, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is exactly what Deus Ex fans were asking for. It improves upon Human Revolution in every way and adds another great chapter in the Deus Ex story. Even though the game doesn’t handle its broader themes so well and there are a few hiccups here and there in the gameplay, this game is a must-play.