In 2011, Square Enix appeared to achieve the impossible, creating a new game in the Deus Ex canon that received both critical and public acclaim for a much lauded and iconic series. Human Revolution stayed true to the themes and gameplay mechanics of the original game and updated them for modern players without dumbing down. Mankind Divided is a direct sequel and certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel. If you loved Human Revolution, you’ll love this, no question.
Thematically the game excels, creating a near-future universe where advanced technology and poverty co-exist, against the backdrop of the threat of terrorism from a group representing ‘augs’, humans with robotic limbs and implants. The display of segregation, paranoia and media-led hysteria is well framed, seemingly using current real world invents as inspiration. As Adam Jensen, you’re an ‘aug’ yourself, working for Interpol and investigating the terrorist attacks.
As is usually the case in the Deus Ex universe, it’s a twisted tale where not everything is as it seems, where there’s no black or white, just endless shades of grey. Who you side with in this world is up to you, and it's an illustration of the amount of freedom given to the player that is almost unprecedented. Nearly everything, from how you choose to enter a room (Hack the door? Find the keycard? Drop through the air vents? Any are plausible) to who you decide to speak to, and even which key missions you decide to accept are all accounted for, with dialogue and story changing depending on your choices. It’s reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure books of the Eighties - your path might see you taking in just 20% of the writing, but there’s a hell of a lot more of it in the background.
Deus Ex has always been about stealth, and there are plenty of augmentations you can upgrade to help you with this, from invisibility to hacking abilities. There’s also a bevy of more violent upgrades for those who like to leave a trail of destruction, as well as new experimental augmentations, which are unstable and require you to shut down other body implants before you can use them safely. Or, you can just ignore all this and just go in guns blazing, Rambo style. That’s the Deus Ex freedom of choice at play again.
As the series is rooted in stealth, the gunplay has always been a bit lacking. In Mankind Divided, the guns feel beefy and are satisfying to shoot. To most this option will feel distinctly wrong and very un-Deus Ex, but it’s there for anyone who wants it.
Another major complaint about Human Revolution was the boss fights. Farmed out to another studio, they felt tacked on and totally separate to the rest of the game. This has been addressed in Mankind Divided by reducing their regularity and offering more options when they do crop up.
The majority of the game takes place in Prague, one of the two sprawling hub levels. It’s split across several sectors, each with its own business, homes and locales. The areas are broken up by train journeys, presumably masking loading times. These can be slightly jarring, especially as each time you’re treated to a cutscene of Jensen patiently waiting for his stop like just another Monday commuter. You’ll also need to go back and forth quite often, so the image will be burned into your memory by the time the credits roll. The other levels are well varied and distinguishable, from a remote, well-guarded base to a high profile London business meeting, encouraging you to carefully consider how you approach each one.
Mankind Divided introduces a separate mode called Breach, a fast-paced virtual hacking puzzle game that plonks you in a computer generated environment and tasks you with cracking servers in your best time. It’s a surprising addition, a nice change of pace from the main game, and robust enough that it feels like it could have been sold as a stand-alone downloadable title in its own right.
Fans will be pleased to hear that there is a new game plus mode, that lets you carry over your enhancements from your last play through, and that the display is highly customisable too, with almost everything from health count to radar able to be hidden, if you want an extra challenge. If that's not enough, after the first play through a new difficulty unlocks. 'I Never Asked For This' gives you one life to play with. Die, and it's back to the beginning.
The game isn’t without a few minor faults. Occasionally, the frame rate chugs (on the PS4 version we reviewed on at least), and the broken up hub in Prague does shatter the illusion of being in the world at times. It also distinctly feels like the middle entry of a larger story. It picks up where the last game left off, and when the end comes, it comes abruptly, with a tease for the next part of the story. It doesn’t quite capture the epic sense of scale and universe that Human Revolution did.
In spite of this, you’re unlikely to find many games that can deliver on their promises and create a real, breathing world where players are trusted with such a degree of freedom. The end result is that you never feel pushed into a certain path, and that you’re playing the game you want to play, rather than the one the developers think you should. Square Enix have also clearly listened to the few complaints that were made about Human Revolution, and set them right. Mankind Divided is an excellent addition to a series that is revered for its story, mechanics and respect for the player, and guarantees that its legacy is safe for some time yet.
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