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Review: ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’

Excellent gameplay choices, elaborate story and intricate level design make this an easy game to recommend.

Developer: Eidos Montreal

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: August 23rd, 2016

NOTE: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was played on the PlayStation 4.

The Deus Ex franchise, since its inception on the PC back in 2000, has largely been about the politics and potential futures that await the human race as we evolve alongside machines. 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution – a pseudo prequel to the franchise – took place in 2027 and starred the augmented people person, Adam Jensen. Jensen, unlike the other augmented citizens, had his augments forced upon him due to a terrorist attack that spun into a larger corporate and global conspiracy headed by the Illuminati. Mankind Divided takes place two years after the Human Revolution. With the world at the brink of chaos and anarchy, the game asks the player if they can navigate such a harsh political climate.

During the events of the Human Revolution, there was an incident that forced augmented humans to lash out and attack anyone nearby, sometimes killing themselves. “The Aug Incident,” as it is commonly referred to in the game, divides the “non-augmented” and “the augmented.” Mankind Divided never shies away from what the developers referred to as a “mechanical apartheid” in the game’s central location of Prague. There are segregated bathrooms, train entrances and water fountains and with the player filling the role of an augmented Interpol agent, you will constantly be stopped to provide the requisite credentials between train stations. Some players may find that annoying and tedious but it’s a necessary sacrifice so that the player feels like a second class citizen.

Prague is an interesting setting for Mankind Divided, chosen for its many opportunities to show all walks of life and seedy underbellies that inhabit the near-future. The non-player characters will discuss recent events while the local police will arrest Augmented citizens and send them away to a ghetto, sometimes because of the sheer boredom that comes with police work. There are many interesting avenues and alleys -- the player is given free rein to explore each and every crevice. The one downside to having such a large city hub is that the game will often chug its frames per second down to a crawl. At the time of review, there is noticeable slowdown that – while not interrupting the gameplay experience – is worth mentioning.

The strength of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – as well as any other Deus Ex game – is the freedom of choice in how the player wants to play. Mankind Divided gives you all of the tools needed to flesh out your mechanical wrath on the various terrorists and gang organizations. The gunplay gives a lot of options in control configuration and the augmentations get a beefy upgrade as well. My favorite new addition is the Taser Fist. For non-lethal playthroughs, the Taser Fist electrocutes targets simultaneously -- this can be upgraded for a maximum of four targets. The player is restricted to a certain number of new augments so that Jensen doesn’t overheat his systems. It’s good going into Mankind Divided already aware of what kind of player you are. Mankind Divided does come with a New Game Plus mode that allows the player to take all of their items and weapons from their completed playthrough and carry them over into a new one. Mankind Divided pushes for multiple playthroughs and with a story as captivating as this, bolstered by even better side missions, there is enough incentive to replay the game a number of times.

And if the varied gameplay and intriguing world don’t bring you back, the main story and side missions will. Mankind Divided’s writing is top notch, with believable characters and motivations reflecting their backgrounds and where they hope to be in the future. Sometimes the side missions end up being more interesting than the main story and they continue, as the main story does, until the end of the game. One such side mission was stopping a fake checkpoint from extorting money from augmented citizens and stopping the forger. My gameplay choices led me to meet the forger -- that spun into a difficult situation where I had to choose between one of two characters who needed more legitimate looking documentation.

Some of the choices don’t matter as much, in the grand scheme of the story, but allowing the player to have such vague and ambiguous choices demands further replays to see the other outcomes. Much like the other Deus Ex games, Mankind Divided allows the player to choose dialogue options when they meet with key characters. Unlike other Role-Playing Games that give you a vague option and let you see what happens from there, Mankind Divided outlines exactly what your character is going to say. A small nicety but it makes a huge difference when you’re coaxing many of the extremist characters. Mankind Divided hasn’t really nailed the whole, “realistic lip movements,” thing yet. It often looks like a bad Japanese-American film dub. This is the one area I wish the developers paid more attention to.

As is the case with most open-world games of this nature, there are bound to be glitches and hiccups in the final product. I found this during my review playthrough. Whatever small issues you run into, the eclectic synthesizers, by composer Michael McCann, will suck you back into the cyberpunk world.

When you’re finished with the excellent story mode, you’re treated to a not-so-excellent mode called Breach. Breach takes level design inspired by a mission in the game and turns it into a separate story about hacktivists trying to expose companies. You play as a nameless avatar who upgrades, changes ammo and fights much like Jensen. The idea is that you go into a level, download the data or take out targets, and escape before time runs out. Honestly, there’s nothing to write home about this mode. The story is not nearly as appealing and the gameplay – while still entertaining – doesn’t hook me. It seems like a cypher for micro-transactions through their random number generated (RNG) card system that has been plaguing AAA games.

What is even more infuriating is that there are micro-transactions available for the main game as well. There are upgrade point and money packs available for purchase but I never felt like the game was pushing me towards buying them. There was no psychological battle with the micro-transactions as upgrade points and money were paced and distributed out evenly. They felt like something that was crowbarred into the game at the very last second so that the publisher could squeeze some more cash from a $59.99 USD purchase. Some have even reported that the upgrade points and money purchased during one playthrough do not carry over into another – effectively burning away whatever you spent playing the game. That is really a blemish that doesn’t suit such an outstanding package.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a wonderful game that comes with a few rough edges. However, the level of choice in the gameplay, the story and the intricate level design make this game an easy recommendation to start off the fall season of 2016.