Deus Ex Mankind Divided Review

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Mankind Divided is the sequel to Human Revolution, a prequel to the game PC gamers love to harp on about and absolutely refuse to believe could ever age; “Deus Ex”, an RPG focusing on human augmentation and conspiracy theories come true. Human Revolution was a solid if clunky action/stealth game with decent RPG elements and an interesting aesthetic based on Renaissance art and fashion, with an emphasis based on gold triangles. Mankind Divided uses all that (besides the gold triangles, which have been dropped) as a base to tweak and refine its own formula into a really good stealth game with decent action and RPG elements.

Set two years after augmented humans were made to go berserk and attack people, all augmented people are now subject to Jim Crow-esque segregation laws and routine harassment from police. A big deal was made of this before release and I’ll get to it later in the review, but for now I’m focusing on the story. You are Adam Jensen, a Swiss Army Knife of a man who despite being more augmentation than human isn’t subject to any of the segregation laws (besides having to give an I.D at checkpoints) because he works for Interpol. The plot is pretty weak really, I beat the game yesterday and I’m struggling to remember what Adam was trying to do besides “find and stop villains who want augmented people to have it even worse”. It has stand-out characters and set-pieces but to me at least, it just feels like something that adds context to the action. The most interesting elements of the story are the sidequests, characters you’re sent to confront and Adam’s response to various situations, which largely depend on player action. My Human Revolution Jensen was a boot-licking corporate psychopath quick to kill regardless of whether it was necessary, a choice I made based on the fact that as head of security for an incredibly rich and influential company he had very little reason to be anything other than a total bastard as long as his boss was happy. In contrast I played Jensen this time as a more compassionate man less likely to use lethal force, though still willing to if needed. The game accommodates different playstyles nicely, though it seems to favour stealth; the non-lethal weapons are silent, easily available and very effective, and you get more points for a non-lethal takedown. Like Splinter Cell Blacklist the game doesn’t carve out paths for each approach, and instead feels like a world that just exists regardless of you and your actions, and its challenges can be approached however you like, as long as you can pull it off. Stealth felt best to me but every now and then I’d shoot my way through. Sometimes talking is the best way to solve a problem, but the game is pleasingly open to you just twatting someone in the chops if the more softly-softly approach grows wearisome. The game feels less clunky and rigid than HR; Jensen moves more fluidly, alert stages are fair, and the game is forgiving whilst also providing a challenge. There are new augmentations that can only be unlocked by turning another off for balance (though this can be remedied through a sidequest), the only two I used were a taser built into Adam’s knuckles (which turned out to be superfluous) and remote hacking- a “stop the bar in the right spot” minigame that lets you turn off turrets, cameras and the like that opens up new opportunities, and combined with the cloak and the aforementioned stun gun make the game have the most enjoyable stealth I’ve seen for a while. I have no real complaints about the gameplay; the stealth is great, the combat is a viable option, weapons no longer take fifty body shots to kill a single un-armoured target, the whole thing feels smooth and responsive and it maintains the precedent set by the original for letting you play it your way and making you feel like you actually came up with a solution to a problem yourself.

The big issue I have to address is the issue of oppression and discrimination I mentioned earlier, what the developers have termed “Augmented Apartheid”. Adam Jensen is to Anti-Aug oppression what Robocop was to the police strike and subsequent riots in Robocop 2; there’s a connection, but it has no real effect on him. Murphy got the short end of the stick, however; all he had was a burst-fire handgun. Jensen has blades (both for melee and as projectiles), explosively propelled ball bearings, a taser and a Guts-style arm cannon (the hand folds down the same way and everything). That’s just in his arms, which are strong enough to punch through concrete. He can turn invisible, see people through walls and with the right upgrade it’s literally impossible for him to take fall damage because his robo-body won’t let him. My point is he’s as far removed from the oppressed, segregated augmented folk as the anti-Aug people, in a way. The question of course is “does this hurt the game?” and my answer, from a purely subjective stand point is no, it doesn’t. Jensen is a prism through which to view the world, he has augmentations because they make him more fun to play as, not to make him suit the story. He was created before the “Augmented apartheid” idea was, or at least before it was put into a game. Speaking of which I don’t feel like that and the equally controversial “Aug lives matter” slogan are inherently problematic, just clumsy. To my knowledge Eidos aren’t saying that a collection of polygons in a video game being oppressed by another collection of polygons has the same weight as an actual black person being murdered by a police officer. At least I hope they aren’t. To be fair given the amount of bleating on the internet about how everyone should “KEEP POLITICS OUT OF GAMES” an openly and heavily political game was always going to cause a fuss- people on the other side of the argument get angry if you even suggest that this game has any kind of political leaning. The “Augmented Apartheid” is just set-dressing really, and with the exception of one excellent section set in a massive ghetto for augs and the odd sidequest where you get directly involved in the fates of augmented people, it’s just sort of there.

Overall, Mankind Divided is a good time. Its story is just there to give context to the action and dictate where Jensen will go next, but there are characters, locations and set pieces that really stand-out. The gameplay is what shines here- good stealth, decent combat, lots of choices that feel like you’re thinking for yourself. Definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18