Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PS4) Review – All Dressed up for Prague

It’s been five years since Human Revolution came along and finally gave the phenomenal Deus Ex the follow up it deserved. After the tonally inconsistent Invisible War which felt like it had very little in common with it’s predecessor at all, we were given a prequel that felt much more a part of the universe created by Warren Spectre back in 1999; telling a globe-trotting tale rife with political intrigue that took gamers back to the origins of the cyberised world seen in the original Deus Ex while introducing players to a brand new protagonist; forcefully augmented, chain-smoking, trench coat aficionado – Adam Jenson.

Mankind Divided is a direct sequel to Human Revolution, set two years after the “Aug incident” in which a hacker triggered a hidden “killswitch” in augmented humans that sent them on a homicidal rampage. Jenson now works for Interpol as part of Task Force 29 – a special group set up to investigate a terrorist cell in Prague comprised of heavily augmented individuals.

While life has gone from bad to worse for Augmented Humans, once seen as icons, they are now shunned and feared by society, while harsh new authoritarian laws have literally divided mankind (get it) as augmented humans are forced to live in ghettos away from the so-called all natural humans.

While Human Revolution successfully explored the socio-economic impact that augmentation could have on society and humanity at large, along with the potential problems of rejection and how people could be exploited as a result, Mankind Divided takes a long look at the potential for social upheaval and discrimination that augmented people could face.

In keeping with the series tradition of tackling larger issues and themes, Mankind Divided is very much a social commentary that puts issues of prejudice, social division, and authoritarian rule clearly in its sights. Admittedly it does handle some issues better than others, and while it does present an air of neutrality initially, basically playing Devil’s advocate for the first few hours, it soon becomes clear whose side of the various arguments Mankind Divided is on.

In general, the Augmented citizens of Prague are portrayed with a mix of sympathy and pity, the powers that be are represented as sneering, discriminatory, totalitarian, and always spoiling for a fight.  Despite his position, and good character Jenson is still an augmented individual and as such is distrusted and discriminated by non-augmented humans. He is regularly stopped by Police and forced to wait while they check his ID. Passers-by will stare and harass him in the street, referring to him as “clank”, while you’ll regularly see scenes of Augs being threatened by officials and forced against walls at gun point.

DXMD_2015_08_05_GC_screen_ONLINE_021_1438762645Considering the incendiary nature of the subject matter, Mankind Divided for the best part successfully walks the tightrope of examining difficult social issues without coming across as preachy.

There are some missteps; when it refers to anti-Augmented campaigners as “racist” it is somewhat tone deaf and lacks a level of nuance demanded when talking about such a delicate matter, as within the world of Deus Ex, people aren’t so much discriminatory as they are terrified of history repeating itself. That being said, it does a great job of exploring how justifiable fear, can lead to unjustifiable discrimination.

The main narrative thread centres around Jenson investigating several terror attacks that have been (apparently) linked to the Augmented Rights Coalition; a group fighting for the rights of Augmented Humans in the years following Human Revolution.

Though it’s not the globetrotting adventure that previous Deus Ex games were, with the vast majority of the action taking place in and around Prague, the city is large, varied and has more than enough to see and do over the course of the game’s thirty hour run time.

DXMD_Screenshot_2016_07_18_PREVIEW_ONLINE-43_05_1467710882.07.2016The main narrative is fun and well written, but it is nowhere near as compelling as some of Mankind Divided’s optional side quests. Each one of these lengthy, complex asides feature crime scene investigations, meeting (and occasionally interrogating) well-crafted characters and some bold social commentary, which takes the concept of what cyberisation could do to society to some really dark places.

Deus Ex has always prided itself on the flexibility of its gameplay, and Human Revolution’s gameplay was pretty much perfect back in 2011 (aside from those damn boss fights, which thankfully were vastly improved in the Directors Cut). As such, aside from a few minor tweaks, Mankind Divided sticks with the same combination of stealth, shooting and hacking, while Jenson’s range of augmented abilities are practically indistinguishable from those seen in Human Revolution.

Once again, Jensen is free to be as sneaky or shooty as the play sees fit; using a combination of augments such as cloaking (which makes you invisible) and silent footsteps (so no one can hear you), crawling through air vents and hacking his way past security to get in and out without anyone ever knowing he was even there. Alternatively, Jensen can tear the place apart, taking out guards with arm blades, machine gun fire, and launching volleys of mini-rockets firing from augmented nipples. Regardless of whether you go in guns blazing or slow and silent, both playstyles allow you to either knock out or kill enemies, depending on your own moral leanings.

There is also the ability to by-pass fights entirely through a combination of hacking and fast talking if that’s your bag; amboozling guards into letting you pass, destroying bots with EMP grenades or reprogramming them to attack guards.

DXMD_2015_08_05_GC_screen_ONLINE_020_1438762644But best of all, there isn’t any of those irksome boss battles as seen in Human Revolution, that tried to shoehorn you into a certain playstyle that you probably didn’t put any points into. Ok, there is one boss battle, at the end, I don’t want to ruin it, but it is rather good.

PRAXIS kits can once again be attained via levelling or hidden in the environment, and are used to upgrade Adam’s augments. Pretty much all of his augments from Human Revolution return including improved hacking, targeting, and body armour. There are also several new augments for you to play with that have lain dormant until just the time a sequel came a calling; these include electronic darts that zap enemies into unconsciousness, remote hacking abilities and the ability to send enemies flying with a new arm mounted energy cannon.

These new augmentations are described as “experimental” and require you to deactivate other augmentations to stop Jensen overheating, at least initially. But chances are, if you focus on a particular playstyle you won’t even notice, since you can smply keep the few you need on and ignore everything else.

Though it’s always nice to have more options, after the initial novelty wore off  I found myself going back to relying on most of the same augmentations I did in Human Revolution.

DXMD_Screenshot_2016_07_18_PREVIEW_ONLINE-44_05_1467710883.07.2016That said, there are a couple of exceptions; the new Icarus Dash ability, which works in a very similar manner to ‘Blink’ in Dishonored, makes navigating the map swiftly and silently, a lot easier. Meanwhile, Remote Hacking makes taking out security systems, unlocking doors and bypassing pesky robots an absolute breeze.

You would be right in thinking that Mankind Divided is basically more of the same, with a few additional powers and a new setting; it’s more of a continuation than a giant leap forward. But this is one of the few occasions where this is no problem at all – why screw with a formula that is basically perfect to begin with?

The Prague of 2029 is wonderfully designed; with both the environment and the characters that inhabit them all looking fantastic. Each of Prague’s districts are crafted in such a manner that players can traverse them and complete any objective contained therein any way they want to. Exploration is rewarded as the winding streets and slums are rife with hidden pathways, whole apartment blocks full of bonus loot and intriguing lore, that you can easily spend hours exploring and committing acts of burglary in.

One thing that is missing from Mankind Divided is Human Revolution‘s famous (and somewhat divisive) “black and gold” stylings. While I appreciate that the renaissance that the scheme represented is well and truly over in Mankind Divided, it’s a little disappointing that Eidos didn’t try and find a similarly striking aesthetic to replace it, as such, the visuals lack the same kind of punch as its predecessor.

DXMD_2015_06_12_E3_screen_online_005_1434481532Though everything is well designed, unfortunately the animation leaves a lot to be desired with basic movements often appearing clumsy and awkward. This is most prevalent during Dialogue scenes in which characters interact with each other like a bunch of poorly handled marionettes; fidgeting and shaking their fists for no apparent reason. This is made all the more Punch and Judy as Jensen continues to mumble his way through his lines while other members of the cast ham it up like the lead in an amateur production of Dr. Faustus.

The PlayStation 4 version also suffers from dramatic drops in framerate that happen whenever you enter a busier area of the city or things get hectic during combat. This is particularly noticeable when sprinting, as the PS4 has a tough time streaming new areas before you reach them. This also results in occasional stuttering when you enter a new part of the city. It’s a bit jarring at times, but by no means a deal breaker (chances are this won’t happen on the PC, but considering how awful PC ports have been lately, it’s certainly something to consider).

The biggest problem with Mankind Divided though is that it just… well, ends. There isn’t any sense of climax at all, it’s just presented as the next mission and when it was over I was sat there scratching my head thinking, “Is that it?” as it leaves several major narrative threads completely unresolved and makes you feel that the entire game was simply part one of a much larger game.

Outside of Story mode, there’s also an online mode called Breach to try your hand at, although I wouldn’t recommend it at all.  Presented as a series of VR “hacking” missions in a similar vein to Mike Bithell’s Volume or the VR Missions in Metal Gear Solid, you are tasked with navigating maps to download important data and then escaping before the system A.I. gets you. Any rewards you gain from it can be converted into useful items and cash for use in the main story mode.

Conceptually it’s not a bad idea, but in practice it’s been implemented as a means to add obnoxious micro-transactions into an otherwise fine game. Each level is an exercise in tedium, and the mode spends most of its time trying to emotionally blackmail you into buying “packs” to improve your performance. My advice: ignore it entirely.

DXMD-BREACH_Screenshot_2016_07_18_PREVIEW_ONLINE-06_05_1467710879.07.2016Despite it’s somewhat abrupt ending (and sodding micro transactions) Mankind Divided is still a marvellous addition to the series with a well written narrative, tons of gameplay options and hours of fantastic optional content to dive into which is often better than the main questline. Though not quite the revolution that its predecessor was, the fact remains that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is one of the few rare cases where basically being more of the same is the highest praise I could give a game.

 

 

 

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