After 2014's utter disappointment known as Thief, Deus Ex fans began to wonder if maybe Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a fluke. So Eidos Montreal are back again to put fan worries to rest with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. So do they succeed?
Two Years after the aftermatch of Human Revolution, Mankind Divided throws Adam Jensen and the player into a new world of hatred, prejudice, and oppression. After augmented people were sent into a killing frenzy, the natural world began to reject the augmented and their values. Augmented people and natural people are segregated apart from one another and those with augmented limbs or abilities are treated as second class citizens, and Adam is stuck in the middle of the turmoil.
Our battery acid gargling protagonist, Adam Jensen, is back and just as enjoyable as he was in Human Revolution. Adam begins as an agent for a task force in the Czech Republic that may or may not be controlled by special interest groups. As he arrives in Prague, the train station he stops at is bombed and all the blame is put onto the controversial pro-aug group known as the Augmented Rights Coalition. Now Adam must solve a mystery that could topal entire governments. If that all sounds somewhat vague, then it's supposed to. It's best to go into Mankind Divided with little to no knowledge of the events after Human Revolution.
Perhaps Adam isn't as likable as he was in human Revolution since we no longer can sympathize with him having no choice in augmenting his body. Adam finally embraces the machine he is and it's your job to progress through the story as the nicest guy in Prague or just as rude and abrasive as the Czech state police. Thankfully, you can always pick when you want to be good or bad, but you can also settle comfortably in the middle as well.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also focuses on conspiracies much more than in Human Revolution. Often times you will have to choose who to side with during arguments and choose who to give plot important items to. I loved the return of the "this is bigger than all of us" conspiracies. It really helps harken back to the original Deus Ex.
The social commentary was enjoyable and rarely became preachy. Once in a blue moon you'll stumble onto a document or TV broadcast that does seem to be a bit one sided though. The social commentary also isn't forced down your throat either. Besides the Augmented Rights Coalition during the main story, you will only find it in optional newspapers, e-books, and television broadcasts. So if you disagree with everything Eidos has to say or get offended easily, you're in luck.
Side quests are also much more dynamic and satisfying to complete than in Human Revolution. Most times, you will stumble out of a building and see a commotion off in the distance. Investigating further will likely activate a new side quest to complete. My personal favorites were The Harvester and Last Harvest side quests. In those quests, Adam becomes a bit like a consulting detective when he helps an ignorant detective solve a string of murders upon augmented people. The revelation is great and is written in a way that makes the world feel so three dimensional. That not everything is about you and your adventures.
All is not good in Jensen town though. The story has major issues. For starters, new characters to the series are never properly introduced. They just sort of show up out of nowhere and help advance whatever quest you're doing. Adam clearly knows them and has a past with them, but they weren't in Human Revolution so my only guess is that these characters were introduced in a secret game set in between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided that was never released. The only logical explanation is that Eidos got too close to the illuminati with this middle game so they made Mankind Divided and just advanced the story a few years. Or they were probably introduced in the midquel novel and we're expected to buy that too.
The main story has issues too. I can easily look past its serious pacing problems, but what really bothers me is the blatant sequel bait cliffhanger ending. With Human Revolution, it could have easily stand on its own as a prequel to the original Deus Ex. But it seems Eidos Montreal is getting cocky and probably plans a trilogy of to tie into the original game. It also doesn't help that the main story only clocks in at about 12 - 15 hours. Side quests add about another 5 or 6 hours though. Which is a let down compared to Human Revolution's 20 hour main story and 10 hours of side quests.
"If it it ain't broke, don't fix it" is and isn't true in Mankind Divided's case. Not only is it clear that Eidos Montreal took fan complaints about Human Revolution to heart and remedied them, but they also built onto the established gameplay to make Deus Ex fresh again. What does that mean? Well the overall clunky feel from Human Revolution is gone, but it also doesn't devolve into generic first person shooter territory either. Combat, stealth, and ghost gameplay have been improved on dramatically.
Now no one approach to a situation is anymore viable than they others. Want to stealthily navigate around your enemies to get to your objective? Look around your environment. There is often a door or a vent conveniently placed near you to avoid frontal assaults. Are you one to tackle your problems head on? Loud combat approaches are made all the more enjoyable with a larger arsenal of weapons at your disposal as well as a much needed overall to the controls.
After meeting up with the ghost of Prince, Adam learns that he has unstable experimental augs hidden away in his body that can be activated at a cost. That cost is overclocking his own body causing overheating and severe glitches. This is actually a nice and believable explanation to addition of new augmentations that does eventually tie into the main story. The balancing of your experimental augs is actually well done as well. To ensure that you can use those augs with serious side effects, you have to temporarily shut down another branch of augmentations to cool your system. This can be overridden with a plot device about half way through the game though so you can use everything without consequence.
Augmentations are just as fun to use in Mankind Divided, if not more so. All the augmentations that could be unlocked in Human Revolution return with some new friends. New additions include remote hacking, titan armor, nanoblade, and a few more. Augs are all the more fun to use with the return of Biocells. Instead of having to recharge your bio meter with random foods and drinks, Biocells can be used and are now craftable, buyable, and findable. For those who don't know, this is an item that was absent in Human Revolution, but found in the original and Invisible War (although under a different name).
Weapons also have gotten an overhaul since Human Revolution. Darting between cover and picking off targets both lethally and non-lethally has never felt better. Guns feel much more in line with usual first person shooters and that's thanks to the new control options. Now you can choose between classic Human Revolution controls, new Mankind Divided controls, and typical FPS controls. Your augmentations weren't the only thing that got upgraded. Guns have always been customizable in Deus Ex, but now you can customize to your heart's content on the fly. All you have to do is hold down the reload button/key and Adam will hold his gun out and allow you to change attachments, rate of fire, and even the ammo type. It's a bit like Crysis, if that makes sense. None of the gameplay really feels streamlined from Human Revolution. It just seems that Eidos fixed the problems people had and added more to the game. More developers should take notes.
Unlike Human Revolution that featured multiple decently sized city hubs, Mankind Divided instead opts for one large city hub where the majority of the game takes place. Many main missions and side quests are played out in the Prague hub, but a few missions are played out elsewhere like Golem City, an augmented ghetto. While Prague isn't a bad place for a city hub, it just isn't as memorable as Detroit or Hong Kong from Human Revolution. The samey grey buildings do get tiresome after hours of exploring. Perhaps this was a design choice to make landmarks like The Red Queen stand out more, but it still doesn't make that "been there, done that" feeling go away.
The amount of detail, be it large or small, is incredible. From Adam quickly switching the safety on when holstering his gun, to enemies calling out your location and what weapon you're using in real time. Segregation is a theme and Mankind Divided, and it shows when you board a "Natural Only" metro car. Other passengers will glare at you and the state police will warn you not to do it again once you get off. I hadn't even realized what I did wrong at first when I stepped off the Natural Only metro car and got scolded by the police. I assumed that the segregation areas were just for show, but there were actual consequences for stepping over the line. It's clear that a special amount of love and care went into Mankind Divided that may be overlooked by many players looking for cheap explosive thrills instead
Even for 2011 standards, Human Revolution still looked a bit dated compared to other AAA releases at the time. Mankind Divided on the other hand looks downright beautiful thanks to the Dawn Engine. Clothing, faces, and weapons all look as if you could reach out and actually touch them. Bright neon lights reflect off of objects and NPCs. Rain will stick and drip off of Adam's well toned augmented body. Mankind Divided is candy for the eyes, for the most part.
Some textures don't get the same treatment. Textures such as certain walls, miscellaneous objects scattered around the world, and the little foliage that can be found are often incredibly basic textures that made me wonder if I was even supposed to be looking at them. But the biggest issue regarding the graphics is the frame rate. I played through Mankind Divided on the PS4, and I found an abundance of frame rate dips. "Dips" doesn't even begin to describe the problems with the frame rate. "Frame rate plummets" is a much better description. Even the act of walking down a lonely alley way can result in the frame rate tanking like the Titanic in a tsunami. Thankfully, the actual story missions stay at around 30 frames per second the entire time.
Besides the frame rate, the most noticeable issue with the graphics are the idle animations and lip syncing. Lip syncing ranges from serviceable to just plain bad. Outside of prerendered cutscenes, characters look like dogs when they have peanut butter in their mouths, filmed it, and then the developers just looped dialogue over that. Now what about animations? Well combat and takedown animations are great to watch and even seamlessly transition back into gameplay. Idle animations are another story. Often times characters will flail their arms about and shake their heads when they didn't say anything that would warrant that.
But by Philip K. Dick's ghost, that cyberpunk atmosphere though. Where Human Revolution was overflowing with cyberpunk cliches and a yellow and black color palette that often overstayed their welcome, Mankind Divided instead goes for a more nuanced approach to the cyberpunk genre. Much like the original Deus Ex. That doesn't mean Mankind Divided is any less cyberpunk than it's predecessor either. Neon still soaks through subtlety, especially in the red light district. Synthesizers still plays perfectly to the situation you're in. Whether you like to be bombarded with cyberpunk visuals and jargon or prefer or more realistic take on the genre is a matter of opinion.
If you thought Human Revolution's soundtrack was great, you're in for a magnetic treat with Mankind Divided's score. Following the gameplay's "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" mindset, the score in Mankind Divided is an orgasmic ensemble of synthesizers and cyberpunk good times. Expertly switching between slow and somber for depressing moments. Then ramping up the energy in each track as you go guns blazing after a botched stealth approach. If the atmosphere and story weren't cyberpunk enough for you, then the soundtrack is what you need.
The sound even factors into the gameplay. Just walking around a building that you're supposed to infiltrate can lead to wondrous discoveries. Many times I began to overhear idle chit chat between two NPCs discussing the building or location they are outside of that lead to me figuring out alternative paths that were pretty well hidden. Footsteps also make a welcome return. Nothing is more infuriating than a stealth where you can't hear your enemy's footsteps. Footsteps echo off of different materials and even your own footsteps are affected by the type of floor you're walking on and how fast you're moving. Thankfully, Mankind Divided remembers its stealth roots.
Elias Toufexis is back as Adam Jensen, but Stephen Shellen does not return to voice David Sarif. And that's a shame too. Shellen's performance as Adam's aggressive boss was one of the most memorable elements of Human Revolution. While Sarif's new voice actor does a more than serviceable job, it's still a shame that we won't hear "ADAAAM" in the right voice again. I'm not personally Czech, believe me I checked, so I can't comment on the authenticity of the accents of the Prague NPCs, but they sound believable enough. Almost every character has an accent so I hope it's authentic.
No game can be this good without an ugly sore hidden somewhere. That sore comes in the form of Breach. Breach is the incredibly unnecessary multiplayer mode for a single player centric game. Those who have played the original Deus Ex know that multiplayer isn't exactly new to the series, but not like this. Take the single player from Mankind Divided, neuter the gameplay, add actual microtransactions that forms a pay2win business model, neuter the gameplay even more, and bam: Breach mode. It isn't worth your time at all. Especially with new game plus for the base game. Luckily it can be ignore altogether.
To answer the opening rhetorical question: Mankind Divided proves that Human Revolution wasn't a fluke and the Deus Ex franchise has a bright future ahead of it. If you liked Human Revolution, you'll love Mankind Divided. It isn't exactly the definitive cyberpunk RPG, nor is it even the best in the Deus Ex serious, but it gets damn near close.