Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The past remains the future
PC, PS4, Xbox One
The Cyber Renaissance is dead. Deus Ex:
Human Revolution showed us a world elevated by technology, then torn apart by it. Mankind Divided presents the aftermath, where people are forced to get by with what they have left. It’s neatly reflective of Eidos Montreal’s changing goals for its series. If
Human Revolution was the grand reinvention – applying new technological power to the aged Deus Ex formula – then Mankind Divided is something like upcycling, taking those same pieces and making something better out of them.
The moment we begin playing through the game’s tutorial-cum-prologue, an anti-terror sting set in the crumbling construction site of a Dubai hotel left derelict, things feel familiar. The camera swoops from first- to thirdperson as returning lead Adam Jensen squeezes behind cover, before engaging in heavy, almost clinical combat. In a couple of playthroughs, we see straightforward paths through the level, with optional extras designed to allow for stealth (active camo and rangy jumps enable us to tiptoe through a crate-strewn storehouse with ease) or combat (that same storehouse holds a cache of grenades). It’s less an introduction than a reacquaintance, even offering up many of the late-game upgrades we’d screwed into Jensen’s polycarbonate extremities last time around. However, that’s something of a trick. In a Metroid Prime- like tease, Jensen has those upgrades taken away from him (seemingly because he has a building fall on him at the end of the level), and it’s when we’re forced to work with the basics that Eidos’s efforts become clear.
We’re transported to the Dvali Theatre, a rainswept square of old-world bricks and mortar that will make up a small part of the final game’s Prague setting. Our only objective is to reach the building’s basement office, with no further instructions given. To simulate the various upgrade paths players could’ve taken up until this point, we’re given a choice between three separate loadouts of items and augments.
Human Revolution built itself around combat, stealth and social abilities (with
hacking, Eidos’s “fourth pillar”, supplementing each of the others). While we’re told that our loadouts here are for combat, stealth or balance, it feels as though Mankind Divided’s approach is more nuanced and situational than that of its predecessor. The ‘combat’ build, for instance, offers a shotgun, a rifle, three types of explosives, and the new Titan augmentation, which shields Jensen against all but the most powerful weaponry (at least until his energy bar runs out). And yet, when we attempt a frontal assault on the theatre – blowing off its front door and attempting to storm the stalls – we come up against patrol robots that just won’t go down. The ostensibly stealth-oriented Tesla ability, which locks onto enemies and arcs electricity into augmented human parts, is actually the best weapon here, able to shut robots down in a single hit. Similarly, the superheated projectile Nanoblades Jensen can launch in the combat build tend to serve far better as explosive distractions than as efficient weapons in a firefight.
The intention is clear. We’re no longer meant to be blindly following an expected ideal for gameplay; we’re supposed to be creating our own, interpreting situations based on the abilities we’ve chosen, rather than forcing Jensen down certain paths because they seem to suit. That situational approach is clearest in the new on-the-fly gun customisation: hold the reload button and Jensen now positions his weapon to allow you to change ammo types or add a suppressor. You’re actively encouraged to change how you play mid-mission.
With this new focus on flitting between combat and stealth approaches, the obvious missing piece here is the social side of the game. We’ve previously seen a “diplomatic” boss fight resolved using words alone, but our hands-on here offers no opportunities to talk it out. Whether it can fit alongside the other two elements quite so seamlessly seems doubtful – it’s difficult to imagine Jensen murdering a room of men, then settling down for a chat with a survivor.
In talking to the dev team, the idea seems to be for social to be more reactive in its own way. While still not finalised (perhaps a contributing factor to the game’s lengthy delay until August), the plan was for choices made to affect not only how you travel through the game, but also why – for example, one player’s Jensen might have very different reasons for ending up at the Dvali than another. It’s this kind of internalised thinking that appears to define Mankind
Divided at this point. Eidos Montreal doesn’t – perhaps cannot – aim for a game as stridently new as Human Revolution, but its thinking in how to shake up the structures that defined the prior game are as resourceful and ingenious as the characters inside.
It’s when we’re forced to work with the basics that Eidos’s efforts become clear
Human enemies are easier to dispatch, but patrol erratically. Robotic enemies have set paths, but are often better avoided altogether. Together, they can be deadly
ABOVE Deus Ex’s political divides have switched from haves and have-nots to augmented and unaugmented. Jensen’s more invisible augmentations place him somewhere in a grey area between
TOP LEFT Close-combat takedowns remain practically unchanged, still offering a choice to knock out or kill targets, and playing out as a miniature cutscene.
The Dubai introduction is among one of the only times a DeusEx level has been set during daylight hours – a conscious decision to unsettle fans
Jensen’s now a member of an international anti-terror task force, making the people he encounters a slightly more colourful bunch than the corporate types he used to hang around with