Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has finally arrived after Human Revolution hit the shelves five years ago. It was hard to know if Eidos was really going to nail it after the poorly received Invisible War. Thankfully, one of the most politically interesting depictions of our future could not have been realised better. So now that the honeymoon with a beloved rehash of an older franchise is well and truly over, does Mankind Divided maintain the high bar now expected of it?
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Avg Game Length: 14.5 hrs
In most parts yes. Yet, as a development process it was a different story as corporate meddling and greed have gotten in the way of the creation of what could have been a perfect RPG. Something to dissect later in the review. Just bear in mind, the few faults found in this game may not be from Eidos, so much as Square Enix…
Mankind Divided Is An Apt Title
Human Revolution offered up an enticing new world. It focused on a sense of rebirth for a mankind rediscovering itself. Controversies about playing god had bubbled up and so the smart decision of using political intrigue was implemented. It served for even more immersion in a great story. Mankind Divided starts off two years after the end of all that ‘establishing world’ stuff. We inhabit Adam Jensen once again to find a world of segregation, media fear mongering and militarised police forces. After the explosion of fear among non-augmented folk, things have sure taken a turn for the crap.
As a result, the glittering world of a second renaissance is no more. Which is kind of a shame, now that we get the greys and blacks of a dank fearful setting. This does not impact on just how brilliant the game is, however. Alas, the gloomy new setting was the logical next step for the developers. That is, if we are indeed catching up to the time setting of the original Deus Ex. Thankfully, inhabiting Jensen again after all this time felt like coming home. If you played the last iteration, control schemes and gameplay choices will slip into place and you’ll feel right at home. Nice and ready to get stuck into a new political gateau.
Square Enix Divided
The world and story of Mankind Divided is as enthralling and thought provoking as you’d expect from a Deus Ex title. However, it is clear that Square Enix meddled in what Eidos originally had planned. Thanks to YouTuber Jim Sterling, we have learned a lot from him and his buddy on the inside. His video, How Square Enix Kept Meddling With Deus Ex, sums things up perfectly. You see, Mankind Divided comes to a rather abrupt end. It just…stops. While it does have a roundabout feel to it, many questions even from Human Revolution remain unanswered. It’s justifiably frustrating and the game feels shorter than its predecessor as a result. That’s not to suggest there’s a lack of content here, as Mankind Divided’s world will keep you occupied for many many hours.
Once again, you’ll find yourself globetrotting as is tradition with Deus Ex. However, this time the only hub city is Prague. This may seem like a limiting factor but cleverly, it is the opposite. With other locations as small, separate levels, Prague has had far more dev resources poured into it. Had it been one of several hubs, the overall impression of each would feel slightly underdone. As it is, Prague is huge. Giving a feeling a scope in the trains you’ll have make use of to get around. On top of this, there’s always something going on in the streets. Another Aug arrest. Civilians having heated debates. The list goes on and Prague feels alive or it.
Many buildings are accessible through sneaky use of windows and vents. Occasionally you may even stack a couple of dumpsters to get into these buildings. Was that the devs intention? Who cares? The fact that you can use your initiative as a means to an end with the tools you’re given, is very rewarding. The automated xp boost for exploring only adds to that sense of reward. Many hours can be lost in looting apartments and gang hideouts, without really fulfilling an objective.
Therefor, it goes without saying – Prague and other mission areas benefit from brilliant level design. More so than the last iteration, Mankind Divided allows you so many avenues to accomplish your goals. Players can hack security systems to turn on their masters and clear a room without even pulling a trigger. They can tactfully use short bursts of invisibility to go completely unnoticed. They can go guns blazing or silently make their way through a series of knockouts. What’s never explained is how you can go about things in any way you like with the proper application of initiative. You can literally augment your playstyle as you see fit. Finding that out for yourself is the essence of what makes Deus Ex games such a memorable experience.
What’s been explained so far sounds pretty similar to Human Revolution. That’s because it is. However, this time it’s been refined down to a fine polish. On higher difficulties, a stealth approach is pretty much a necessity. Which is fine because the cover system that works in tandem with it is…well, perfect. It now feels far more streamlined with a directional line indicating where you’ll end up once you break cover. That said – entire areas can be cleared making use of this cover system, not once returning to a first person view. Don’t worry, it’s still very challenging to pull off. This isn’t a gamebreaker, here.
There is one crucial part to the gameplay that unfortunately still feels a little stiff. As a result of the above, Mankind Divided almost feels optimised for third person. As such, going loud in a first person perspective is harder than it needs to be. This comes down to an issue that has always haunted Deus Ex – slightly clunky FPS mechanics. Expect to miss a lot and lose plenty of health. This is why stealth is so important to clear higher difficulties.
Choose Your Own Fate
Branching story options will be presented to you at different points in the game. One of which, in the middle of the game, will have you frantically trying to decide what’s best. This continues a typical Deus Ex trope of shaping events with player choice.The game wastes no time in making the player feel something about the consequences of their actions. Be it guilt or satisfaction, you’ll eventually find out how you should feel about what you’ve chosen to do.
New augments unlocked to Jensen also keep your favourite playstyle feeling fresh. Many of the crazy abilities you’ve seen in the trailers are available from fairly near the start of the game. However, they’ll overload your systems. So you’ll have to deactivate another augment (permanently) for your HUD to remain functional. Again, some serious decision making is going down here, adding player investment into the game.
Your Face! Look At That High Definition!
As you’d expect from a Square Enix game, Mankind Divided is a pretty demanding piece of software. It certainly shows in the graphics that the Dawn engine has to offer. Sources report that Mankind Divided runs at 32 frames per second on average for the PS4 Pro. So on a standard PS4 with lower resolutions, the graphical trade off is not a compromise that completely saves Mankind Divided from the occasional technical issue. Occasionally frame rate will judder a little between takedown animations and returning to first person. This can be a little jarring in tense stealth sequences.
Environment design is undeniably impressive. Prague will insist that you walk through it slowly, taking time to soak it all in. Its buildings have a real sense of perspective as they tower above you. On top of that, attention to detail in lighting shines through in Mankind Divided’s varying locations. Of course, Jensen’s character design is so intricate you won’t be able to take your eyeballs of him in conversation pieces… Which is also a shame. You see, mouth movement in this game is unforgivably awful. For a game that sets the bar so high in all other areas, the bad lip syncing is like a tear in the Mona Lisa. It certainly qualifies as an immersion breaker as you’ll eventually try looking at other things just to pretend it’s not there.
Let’s Wrap This Up
It’s a shame that Square Enix insisted on Eidos ending the game where they did. It is of course, to turn this franchise into a trilogy, in turn squeezing more money out of fans. Something they have already tried with the game mode Breach and the micro transactions it involves. According to our YouTuber, Jim Sterling, Eidos were only informed they had to implement these features just three months away from release! It begs the question – couldn’t those last minute resources have been spent on polishing the game even more? Maybe even fix the awful lip syncing?
Mankind Divided Is Ultimately A Successful Sequel
Despite Square Enix’s insatiable hunger for money, Mankind Divided is officially a successful sequel. There is plenty of replay value in decision making, playstyles and augments chosen. While the glittering allure of the last game’s aesthetic is there no longer, the incredibly rewarding use of initiative keeps Mankind Divided’s head above water. While it does lose sight of its political agenda after the halfway point, for all we know it could have been back in full swing in the following chapter that we’ll now have to wait years for. Yes, it’s frustrating that we still have unanswered questions from the last game. But most importantly, is how the dev team have successfully stayed on point with what Deus Ex should be. A game world that feels alive, that makes you think and that won’t go forgotten or unplayed right up until the next one.