Game Review: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

As satisfying as the stealth gameplay is in the moment, it’s part of an uninspired package. Ultimately, fun mechanics fall flat on a shallow and contrite narrative.

You have sneaked, hacked, and shot your way to save the day, but find out you can’t save it. Standing in the control of Panchaea, the research station is in ruin and images of violent chaos from across the globe are being broadcast on the monitors because of the actions of one man. Hugh Darrow wanted to end mankind’s obsession with augmentation and sent a clear message that altering humans for the sake of convenience would only lead to destruction. In his mind, he had only accelerated the inevitable.

You stood there with the power to change the future. Broadcast Darrow’s confession? Lay the blame on the Humanity Front? On tainted Neuropozyne? This was the dramatic conclusion of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A world where it was hard to properly define the bad guys; a world where the player has to decide.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided™ Screenshot Stealth

It was a satisfying conclusion to an amazing game. Different to many titles in the FPS genre, players were rewarded for patience, exploration, and even non-violent resolutions. You could talk to key NPCs rather than just eliminate them. Stealth gameplay was tense and landing a successful takedown or outwitting a security system made you feel good. This is why I was so excited for its sequel: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

This follow-up to the well-received title was developed by Eidos Montreal and brought to us by Square Enix. Choice is still an important part of the game and your decisions can affect every encounter. Merging RPG elements with stealth and action gameplay, players can choose a variety of paths and play styles to get the job done. Fight or outsmart? Kill or just hand out severe concussions? Once again, the choice is all yours. But is it enough five years later?

Narrative

The game’s protagonist, trenchcoat wearing and dark glasses aficionado Adam Jensen, is now part of Task Force 29: a secret/not so secret Interpol unit tracking down terrorists. In his spare time, Adam moonlights as a double agent for an anti-conspiracy hacking collective and as a strong arm for the local mob. Stepping into his bionic legs, players must uncover a conspiracy against individuals with similar augmentations. Set two years after the catastrophic end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the world has taken an 180 turn from thinking augmentations are the future to pretty much hating them and anyone with them. Those with augmentations are living as second class citizens and the tensions between Naturals and Augs are reaching a critical junction.

Eidos Montreal and Square Enix have positioned Deus Ex: Mankind Divided as art mimicking life. They have created a dark game with themes revolving around racism, xenophobia, terrorism, and even mental health. You first feel the weight of both historical and current events, but that wears off very quickly. A number of people online have commented on how the game presents these topics without any depth or complexity. It’s a valid criticism.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided™ Check Adams papers Screenshot

It may sound bad, but it’s all very standard oppression with no emotional connection. It is not that there’s no place for serious themes in video games, it’s that all that serious stuff is undermined by both the main story and protagonist. The narrative is a cliche story about political/corporate conspiracy. There are secretive meetings, mysterious individuals, two-dimensional enemies, and predictable betrayal around almost every corner.

This is coupled with a protagonist who seems completely unaffected by the whole situation. Adam Jensen approaches all conversations with a distinct detachment. It’s not only his responses, the game treats him like any other hero protagonist. Aside from occasionally being asked for paperwork and having co-workers make the occasional sneering remark, he suffers no ill effects from the “Aug Incident”.

The conflict is all over the city, but Adam seems to stand apart. At one point I took a “natural” train car. The only repercussion was a single line of dialog from the police officer who checked my papers on the other end. You can also walk around them if you don’t want to spend the minute standing outside the subway.  It’s hard to generate an emotional connection to the suffering in this fictional version of Prague when it’s just something you can rush past on the way to a waypoint. There is no opportunity or incentive to get more involved. Atmospherically, there is some attempt at depth. If you take your time to listen in on the conversations or read some of the emails and messages that you collect, it does paint a sad picture of a society ripping itself apart. But it’s too little and too easy to overlook in the pursuit of brutal takedowns and evil conspiracies.

Gameplay

In the promotional material leading up to the game’s release, it looked like Eidos Montreal was working hard to to make a game that could be played anyway the player liked. They got a lot of things right; there are augs for both action and stealth gameplay and you can take multiple routes through some obstacles. There is XP to be earned whether you play stealth or go guns blazing and whether you choose to kill or spare enemies. You can play it as an action title, but you probably shouldn’t.

The action gameplay is not as rewarding within Deus Ex, partly due to generic weaponss. There is the usual base set of guns (shotgun, rifle, pistol, sniper rifle, submachine gun), but there are no unique designs or variation between each group. There are limited number of “customization” options which comes down to things like increasing clip size or adding laser site, but the gunplay is the standard cover and shoot mechanics. Enemies pretty much stay put and as long as you use cover to not be riddled with bullets, they are simple to eliminate. If you take the action route, the levels are a lot less complicated and significantly shorter.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided™Screenshot weapon customization

That being said, the aggressive Augs like Typhoon are a lot of fun. Dropping in with Icarus Landing looks and feels great, but then you either have to finish with basic shooter gameplay or hide and wait for the enemies to reset. In contrast, stealth offers you an actual challenge as you watch for enemies, time your movements, and move into just the right spot to brutally subdue an enemy. It pushes you to explore more options and encourages more creative use of your augments.

Another playstyle Deus Ex provides is the choice to play lethally or non-lethally. Everyone, including bosses, can be dispatched without killing them. Several key encounters even allow Adam to talk his way to a resolution. It is a pleasant distinction from the end-to-end murder of most shooters. Those security guards are just doing their jobs after all.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided™ Talos Ruck and Verbal Boss fights

There are a few places where the developers took shortcuts. None of them affect the gameplay significantly, but they seem odd for a relatively big title published in 2016. For instance, being an incorporeal floating gun seems very dated. We see Adam in cutscenes, we see him grip his weapons and climbing boxes, but he has no reflection nor feet. When he uses a key card, it just magnetically sticks to the wall. Was animating a swipe so hard? The game also features blatantly long loading time between levels as well. I am not sure what the excuse is, given that the maps are not that large.

It is also worth noting that while there are certainly RPG elements, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is still a linear shooter. Players have options for how they respond to situations and helping various factions, but there are limited repercussions to these. If you choose not to pursue a side mission (which you really shouldn’t do because you’ll want the XP) and close the chapter, they  probably won’t be accessible later.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided™ SCreenshot Takedown

Deus Ex does offer a lot of great gameplay moments. Takedowns, both lethal and nonlethal, are a lot of fun. Successfully combining augmentations to take out opponents makes you feel just like a super soldier. Distracting enemies and circumventing security measures is also rewarding. Testing what you can do is part of the fun. I will admit to spending 15 minutes stacking garbage cans to see if I could jump a wall. I couldn’t until I got the right upgrade, so who’s silly now?

Multiplayer

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided does not offer multiplayer options. Their answer to online gameplay is a mode called Breach. It’s not your typical team deathmatch, rather it’s an intense heist mode. The players negotiate small maps attempting to hack servers for increasing bonuses. With stylized graphics, it feels a little like a three-dimensional version of the game’s hack mechanic.

Every server hacked increases the chance of being detected and putting the level into lockdown. Then, players have to decide whether to keep pressing for more loot or find the exit before the counter expires. The levels are filled with obstacles that shift and enemy AI that, while not difficult to take out, add challenge to the fast pace and intense puzzles. The “multiplayer” element comes in the form of leaderboards where players can aim to beat high scores.

Performance & Graphics

The game plays smoothly. Occasionally, enemies gained the ability to walk through walls, but there were no game breaking glitches. It also looks good with textures for wooden floors and people being well-detailed. The detail in environments is also impressive. Every home or office has a distinct feel. The recommended requirements for PC gamers are:

OS Windows 10 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K or AMD FX 8350 Wraith
Memory: 16 GB RAM
Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 480 – 1920 x 1080 or NVIDIA GTX 970 – 1920 x 1080
Storage: 55 GB available space

Audio

The game’s music is subtle, but does suitably build atmosphere of the environments and game overall. There is an emphasis on the sound of your own movements within the world, especially if you are taking a stealthy approach. Most of the characters offer unique and involved voice acting. Whether Adam is interacting with gangsters and allies or just bantering with his co-workers passive-aggressively, all characters feel unique. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for our protagonist. Adam Jensen could not be more disinterested in this global conspiracy. If anything, Adam is highly annoyed the world has gone to shit around him.

Final Thoughts

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided offers more challenge and satisfying encounters using a stealth approach, but it falls short in the action department by way of just being generic. Not necessarily flawed, just forgettable. On the bright side, including the action elements in gameplay means that when your stealth fails all is not lost. Basically, if your preferred playstyle is just guns blazing, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is not really worth your money. That being said, even if you are a big fan of stealth gameplay like myself, you may want to wait for it to go on sale.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided™ Screenshot Icarus Landing

Deus Ex is functional, looks great, and offers a lot of great moments of gameplay. That’s part of the problem though. With such a good platform, Eidos Montreal still managed to fall flat. It undermines its own heavy hitting themes with cliches and fails to invest players emotionally. Breach and playing with different methods offer some replayability, but that’s ultimately limited. As satisfying as the stealth gameplay is in the moment, it’s part of an uninspired package. It often feels like the team at Eidos Montreal were leaning hard on its predecessor Human Revolution.

The story fails to be immersive, there’s not enough challenge in action gameplay, there’s not enough depth to the choice system, and (perhaps worst of all) feels dated. It’s as if the developers were not willing to take risks. As cool as augments like Icarus Landing, Typhoon or Nanoblade are in the right moment, the game is overall forgettable. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided plays well, but does not fully deliver despite its solid foundation.

Score: 6

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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