Deus Ex: Mankind Di­vided

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Con­fronted with a high fence and a gate we couldn’t hack, we sim­ply stacked some bins and hopped over

Pub­lisher Square Enix Devel­oper Ei­dos Mon­treal For­mat PC (tested), PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Where Deus Ex: Hu­man Revo­lu­tion’s tran­shu­man­ism theme felt broadly timely in 2011, Mankind Di­vided’s deeper ex­plo­ration of a world be­set by ter­ror­ism, tear­ing it­self apart over dif­fer­ing be­liefs, mis­trust, vi­o­lent law en­force­ment and de­hu­man­is­ing lan­guage, is a sober­ing re­flec­tion of our times. Its un­com­fort­able prox­im­ity to cur­rent events has caused con­tro­versy, too, with lan­guage such as ‘me­chan­i­cal apartheid’ and, more re­cently, ‘Aug lives mat­ter’ hav­ing sparked crit­i­cism of its devel­oper’s judge­ment. But while there has been un­der­stand­able con­tro­versy around the real-world par­al­lels in Mankind Di­vided’s themes, that they have caused such a re­ac­tion is tes­ta­ment to the game’s pow­er­ful de­pic­tion of the so­cial di­vides at the cen­tre of its fic­tion.

Set in 2029, two years af­ter the Pan­chaea in­ci­dent saw sab­o­tage send thou­sands of aug­mented hu­mans into a mur­der­ous, un­con­trol­lable rage, this is a world where augs are marginalised and vil­i­fied. Adam Jensen is now based in Prague and part of Task Force 29, a multi­na­tional anti-ter­ror­ism unit formed by In­ter­pol in the wake of Pan­chaea, but his post­ing has ran­kled some of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s top brass. And while the free move­ment of some­one as re­source­ful as Jensen could never be truly cur­tailed, he is treated with un­con­cealed con­tempt by Prague’s po­lice, rul­ing classes and crim­i­nal un­der­world. Metro sta­tions have seg­re­gated sec­tions for the aug­mented; fre­quent cre­den­tial checks can see in­di­vid­u­als ar­rested or dis­ap­peared; and un­scrupu­lous sorts will even try to shake you down for money. While Mankind Di­vided gives you even more tac­ti­cal and nav­i­ga­tional op­tions, you are still con­tin­u­ally ha­rassed, made to feel like a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen ir­re­spec­tive of your badge and (mostly) sup­port­ive col­leagues.

This strain on Jensen’s loy­al­ties, as he at­tempts to rec­on­cile the rights of augs with the safety of ev­ery­one, sets up the po­tent ten­sion at the cen­tre of Mankind Di­vided. While you are of­fi­cially em­ployed by Task Force 29, you’ll also work with a con­tact from the Aug­mented Rights Coali­tion as you seek to un­cover the truth be­hind a spate of ter­ror­ist at­tacks which ap­pear to have been in­sti­gated by the ac­tivist col­lec­tive, while at the same time in­ves­ti­gat­ing ev­i­dence of po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal steer­ing within TF29.

The game’s sprawl­ing, com­plex plot pro­vides plenty to get your in­ves­tiga­tive teeth into, and the sheer amount of avail­able in­for­ma­tion – squir­relled away in elec­tronic di­aries, locked lap­tops and safes – makes it a par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing rab­bit hole down which to tum­ble. Un­for­tu­nately, what would oth­er­wise be a fine tale is fre­quently un­der­mined by a script that can feel lumpen and hack­neyed, as well as act­ing that varies wildly in qual­ity. Elias Toufexis re­turns to voice the grav­elly Jensen and is ex­cel­lent through­out, en­liven­ing even the most ex­po­si­tion-heavy lines, and there are sev­eral other en­joy­able per­for­mances. But Toufexis con­sis­tently finds him­self work­ing along­side vo­cal ta­lent whose range and nu­ance make Ja­son Statham seem like Daniel Day-Lewis in com­par­i­son, cre­at­ing an in­con­gruity that chips away at the sense of at­mo­sphere. It’s one of the few ar­eas in which Mankind Di­vided slips up, and is made all the more frus­trat­ing given the pol­ish ev­i­dent else­where.

The per­for­mances and scriptwrit­ing are at their best dur­ing the game’s in­fre­quent de­bates – ‘so­cial boss bat­tles’ in which you must feel your way through com­plex, eth­i­cally am­bigu­ous con­ver­sa­tions. The first of these, a chat with hu­man­i­tar­ian aid doc­tor and ARC leader Ta­los Rucker, couldn’t be a greater con­trast to Hu­man Revo­lu­tion’s first boss fight, which was a game­break­ing bot­tle­neck against a walk­ing tank. Mankind Di­vided’s al­ter­na­tive is a clear state­ment of in­tent: Ei­dos Mon­treal has lis­tened to crit­i­cism and doesn’t in­tend to jeop­ar­dise Deus Ex’s equi­lib­rium again. In­deed, while the game does fea­ture a more tra­di­tional boss en­counter, you can tackle it how­ever you like, and no tac­tic feels any less ef­fec­tive than an­other.

Mankind Di­vided’s in­fil­tra­tion-fo­cused ac­tion is built on the twin se­cu­rity vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of se­lec­tively blind or for­get­ful guards and a net­work of ill-con­sid­ered ven­ti­la­tion shafts, but clearly com­mu­ni­cated and con­sis­tent rules of en­gage­ment make its sys­tems a joy to toy with. Your op­tions are man­i­fold. You might hack the key­pad of a bulky se­cu­rity door af­ter sub­du­ing or killing the guards nearby. Or per­haps avoid con­tact al­to­gether and find a cir­cuitous route to your ob­jec­tive through vents and stor­age cup­boards. A handy tran­quil­liser gun can put in­di­vid­u­als to sleep, lur­ing any­one who spots the body into your sights if you choose not to hide it. And if you can ac­cess a se­cu­rity com­puter, you could turn tur­rets, pa­trolling drones and ro­bots against their own­ers. The fas­tid­i­ous can find pass­words and door codes in emails or di­aries to open pre­vi­ously locked doors. Or, if you can’t be both­ered with all that read­ing, you can just bust out the com­bat shot­gun and mount a frontal as­sault. On one oc­ca­sion, con­fronted with a high fence and a locked gate we couldn’t hack, we sim­ply stacked some wheelie bins into a makeshift stair­case and hopped over.

Even more than Hu­man Revo­lu­tion, Mankind Di­vided en­cour­ages you to switch tac­tics on the fly, re­spond­ing to your mis­takes by chal­leng­ing you to adapt rather than pun­ish­ing you with fail­ure. If, three-quar­ters of the way through ghost­ing a heav­ily guarded lo­ca­tion, you slip up and get spot­ted, the game switches ef­fort­lessly into a slick, mus­cu­lar shooter. End­ing the fra­cas is only a mat­ter of break­ing line of sight and put­ting enough dis­tance be­tween you and your en­e­mies so that you can lay low for a minute or two be­fore

things calm down again. This flex­i­bil­ity, com­bined with Mankind Di­vided’s large, com­plex spa­ces, means that you’ll rarely find your­self backed into a cor­ner with no other op­tions.

Your ef­forts are sup­ported by a mostly ro­bust cover sys­tem – in a hand­ful of frus­trat­ing in­stances we were un­able to take cover be­hind large move­able ob­jects, de­spite their size – and an ex­panded aug­men­ta­tion tree. Jensen now has ac­cess to a raft of ad­di­tional tricks such as Icarus Dash, which al­lows him to zip a short dis­tance through space; a tem­po­rary in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak; and bul­let-stop­ping Ti­tan ar­mour. Up­grades are pur­chased with Praxis Points found in kits around the world, gifted by NPCs or earned by lev­el­ling up, and there are more op­tions than you’ll ac­quire enough cur­rency for in a sin­gle playthrough, en­cour­ag­ing you to spe­cialise. You’ll also have to man­age avail­able pro­cess­ing power, since equip­ping too many aug­men­ta­tions will strain your core sys­tems. You can over­clock and run hot, but there’s an in­creased like­li­hood of aug­men­ta­tions glitch­ing out at the worst pos­si­ble mo­ment.

It’s a setup that un­der­scores the po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous lure of ad­vance­ment over all else, and one that is echoed in the of­ten star­tling ar­chi­tec­ture of Mankind Di­vided’s fu­ture. Prague feels much more like a real place than Hu­man Revo­lu­tion’s Detroit hub ever did, and there’s some­thing of City 17 in the way that tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced struc­tures en­croach on the Baroque build­ings of the city’s past. Golem City, a ghetto on the out­skirts of Prague where un­doc­u­mented augs are sent, is a masterpiece of op­pres­sive high-rise struc­tures and dis­re­pair. That Mankind Di­vided’s spa­ces feel be­liev­ably lived-in, de­spite be­ing care­fully con­structed stealth and com­bat play­grounds, is a re­mark­able achieve­ment.

In Breach mode, how­ever, Ei­dos Mon­treal turns its at­ten­tion from clock­work sand­boxes to more fo­cused chal­lenges. It casts play­ers as Rip­pers, elite hack­ers who tackle ab­stract first­per­son rep­re­sen­ta­tions of cor­po­rate server net­works. While the ba­sic me­chan­ics of stealth, cover, hack­ing and gun­play re­main – you’ll face sys­tem de­fences in the form of tur­rets and bipedal en­e­mies – here you at­tempt to reach a data thresh­old by find­ing ex­posed servers and down­load­ing their con­tents. Once achieved, the sys­tem will at­tempt to pre­vent you leav­ing with the data, so you must reach the exit be­fore a count­down ends as the net­work is locked down.

Ex­tracted data is con­verted into ex­pe­ri­ence and cred­its, used to buy weapons, ammo and booster packs con­tain­ing cheat mod­i­fiers (in­creased pis­tol dam­age or run­ning speed, for in­stance) and patch mod­i­fiers which of­fer a score mul­ti­plier for meet­ing cer­tain con­di­tions. With on­line leader­boards and a slightly dif­fer­ent aug­men­ta­tion tree, Breach is an at­trac­tive bonus in a pack­age that al­ready of­fers colos­sal re­play value.

While Mankind Di­vided’s main story thread can be rat­tled through in 20 or so hours, its world – in which sid­e­quests un­furl into com­plex threads of their own and the po­ten­tial for ex­plo­ration and ex­per­i­men­tal play is dizzy­ing – in­vites you to linger. This con­fi­dent re­fine­ment of Hu­man Revo­lu­tion’s po­tent, though flawed, proof of con­cept has re­sulted in one of the most elab­o­rate videogame sand­boxes in which we’ve ever had the plea­sure of get­ting lost.

Equip­ping the So­cial En­hance­ment aug­men­ta­tion will pro­vide you with de­tailed anal­y­sis dur­ing de­bate en­coun­ters that can help you de­cide how to re­spond, and in some cases open up en­tirely new op­tions

PAD­DING OUT Hack­ing doors and com­put­ers lo­cally in Mankind Di­vided is rep­re­sented by a re­vised ver­sion of the minigame seen in Hu­man Revo­lu­tion. You cap­ture node points while try­ing to re­main un­de­tected by the sys­tem, for­ti­fy­ing points to slow any trace pro­gram you trig­ger and us­ing items such as Nuke, which in­stantly takes a node, to gain the up­per hand. It’s a smart, tac­ti­cally rich ab­strac­tion of hack­ing, but it feels op­ti­mised for mouse in­put: the frus­trat­ingly slug­gish cur­sor move­ment when tack­ling them with a con­troller is a huge dis­ad­van­tage in high-level grids.

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