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‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ Review

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UPDATE: So the issue that delayed this review has been patched out, and as well on PC the DirectX 12 patch has been released. With these two, as well as the continued patch support the developers have promised, a full review score has now been added.

It’s been two years since the events of the last game, and two years since the day augmented humans went insane and started attacking people due to the insidious plans of an anti-augment scientist. Adam Jensen returns to the scene as the sole augmented member of Task Force 29, a group that specializes in taking out augmented terrorists. On the side Jensen is also working for a group of secret activists that seek to dismantle the Illuminati and create a better world for all humans, augmented and otherwise.

Jensen is much more used to his augments by now, and much more willing to use them.

Jensen is much more used to his augments by now, and much more willing to use them.

Much like the older Deus Ex games, Mankind Divided is a game of walking between factions and finding your fit. There are several opportunities throughout the game to side with one group over another and even completely dismantle groups if you should so desire. You’ll work with secret government agencies, state police, eastern European gangsters, and underground activists as you weave through the ever enlarging web of lies that is the near future. Each group has their own distinct look and feel, and engaging each of the different groups feels unique to the point where you may even require a change in your tactical approach.

Unfortunately Mankind Divided spreads its net too far, and in an attempt to flush out the motivations for each group it fails to make any of them the actual good guys. Each faction and each person seems to be too grey to actually like, and at the end of the game Jensen feels like the only person with any sort of moral compass. It makes it difficult to root for anyone and choosing one faction over the others always seems like a gamble, hoping your group doesn’t turn out more evil than you initially thought.

Jensen really is the star of the show here. He’s a bit older, sure, but his experiences have completely reshaped him. Gone is the bumbling ex-cop turned corporate P.I, now he’s a one man machine shop and completely aware of it. The first hour or so lets you play as Jensen with all the toys turned on, and it’s immediately apparent that he’s embraced his cybernetics and is now fully attuned to his augments.

Of course this being a sequel there are new toys to play with, complete with a great in-game explanation as to how Jensen has his new abilities. Cool as the new abilities are, it runs into the same issue the series has always struggled with: some abilities are clearly better than others. No matter what character build you want the “remote hacking” aug is a must since it allows you to shut off cameras, turrets, lasers, and trip mines silently from a distance. On the other end, augs like “Titan armour” or any of the arm-weapon upgrades seem either useless or take up to much energy to make any difference. There’s no completely useless augs, and most of the returning augs have been tweaked to be better, but there are obvious builds that work more efficiently.

Augmented humans are corralled into ghettos to be contained and controlled.

Augmented humans are corralled into ghettos to be contained and controlled.

Other than Jensen, the second star of the game is the new location. Unlike prior games in the series, Mankind Divided sticks mostly to one region, specifically Prague in the Czech Republic. Prague is a perfect example of the world Deus Ex imagined, an uncomfortable mix of old and new that almost seem to be battling one another. Old European brick houses sporting holographic TVs and cobblestone streets lined with smart-signs and video blocks paint a perfect background for the political drama of man VS machine that makes up the game’s core concept.

More subtly the location of Prague helps the game’s attempt to delve into modern topics, specifically the touchy subject of segregation and profiling. It’s not a huge leap to go from the augmented ghettos displayed in Mankind Divided to the modern day real life living situation of displaced refugees seeking asylum in old European countries. A forced mix of new and old that’s actively protested and rejected, with people openly persecuted and profiled in the street. Mankind Divided goes the extra step by putting Jensen himself in the position of being both a government agent and an augmented human, placing him between both groups. For every free pass and political connection, Jensen still gets carded on the streets and berated if he rides the wrong subway car. It really helps shape his character and puts the player into a mindset of understanding what both augmented and normal humans think about one another.

Gameplay is largely the same as the previous games, with slight tweaks learned from Human Revolution. Combat is by far the most fluid its ever been in the franchise, and players that just want to blast through really should be able to get by playing it like any other shooter. Stealth AI is better too, with improvements to how enemies react to noises and distractions, as well as their sight-lines changing based on how alert they are. The cover mechanic returns, although now you can quickly dash from one cover to another, making both stealth and combat feel a lot more active.

Graphically the game looks great, and with a bit of tweaking it runs fine on PC. There’s plenty of different options to play with, although the changes are mostly minor. Character models look great, although animations seem a bit jittery at times, like they were animated at 30fps and sped up to match the speed. Prague looks absolutely gorgeous, both during the day and at night and offers plenty of incentive to explore. Other levels are similarly detailed, and the locations are noticeably larger and less linear then last game, giving players even more opportunities to play how they want.

On PC in particular the game looks amazing. Recently a DirectX 12 patch was released and the results are stunning. Mankind Divided was already a great looking game, but this puts it into a new ball park, with amazing detail and fantastic texture work. The DirectX 12 version has also been teased for the next release of consoles like the PS4 Pro or X1 Scorpio, but for the PC player with the machine to run it you’ll get a look at the future a little earlier.

Much like the visuals, the audio is top notch. The soundtrack is a good combination of driving electronic-metal combat music and more subtle, slowed down tracks for just walking around. Throw in the occasional euro-beat just to remind you of your global location and it all works great. Sound affects are decent enough, although weapon sounds seem to lack a notable punch, even something like the shotgun sounds tiny and intimidating. The real audio treat is the voice-acting with standout performances across the board, and a particularly great performance from Adam Jensen’s actor Elias Toufexis. Jensen is a lot more vocal this time and Toufexis pulls it off with gravitas.

Breach lets you test your skills against other players, or just spend money for faster upgrades.

Breach lets you test your skills against other players, or just spend money for faster upgrades.

Here’s where we get to the real problem though. The game is buggy. As mentioned there’s the bug that delayed (and kind of ruined) this review, but there’s also other ones as well. It is worth mentioning that the team is working on patches, so hopefully these issues will one day be eradicated, but here’s what was experienced during this review. First there’s the crashes, seemingly at random save for the Subway crash that stopped this review dead in its tracks. Other than that the game crashed during conversations at least twice without warning. There’s a myriad of other minor bugs, like animations playing out of sync with audio, glitching through level geometry, AI exploits that go beyond the normal scope of the game, and various minor audio bugs. I’d like to say none of these are game-breaking, but that’s simply not true and anyone looking to play the game is encouraged to wait a while until all the bugs are actually patched.

A short mention goes out to the game’s secondary mode: Breach. Not directly connected to the main game, Breach is instead a series of challenge missions that let you play around with the game’s various mechanics while competing with other players on the leaderboards. It’s a fun enough distraction, but its clearly a different game tacked on with obvious in-game purchases and a pay-to-win dynamic that feels out of place and sort of gross. Still, it doesn’t detract from the main game, it’s just sort of…there.

There’s a lot of reasons to recommend Mankind Divided, even despite it’s obvious failures. It once again shows that the Deus Ex games are to smart for video games, letting the player engage in debates of trans-humanism and the rights afforded to fringe groups by “normal” society. It’s also just a great shooter and a fantastic stealth game with a huge amount of player freedom and plenty of incentive to replay it over and over.

If you are a fan of the series, Mankind Divided will appeal to you, or even if your a fan of stealth action in general. It may not be a game changer like the original, or even as memorable as it’s predecessor, but it shows the series is willing to learn from its past mistakes and take steps in the right direction.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

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Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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