Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
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.