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.
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.
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.
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.