Mankind Divided is definitely not the hottest game on the market right now, but after picking it up again recently, I decided that it warranted a review, as Deus Ex is a recognised franchise in the industry and the most recent installment of the series can be a gateway into the DX Universe.
The game looks good and runs good. The different maps and areas feel distinct from each other, and make excellent use different color palettes to reflect the atmosphere of the location. Just in the main hub of the game, the sewers, red light district, and bank all use different colors and materials that fits with the part of society that inhabits the area. The sewer where the less fortunate struggle to survive is a sickly brown and green with the occasional red brick. The red light district, ran by a criminal organisation, features bright red lights and golden railings to hammer in the opulence, and the Palissade bank, meant for the corporate elite, is filled with monolithic pieces of black marble, sharp white lights, and one way windows. The rest of the main hub, which is the streets of Prague, changes throughout the campaign. When the city is introduced to the player, it’s bright and sunny. Halfway through the game, it becomes grey and cloudy, and then, in the finale, which takes place at night, the streets are foggy and flooded with flashing red and blue lights. The change in time of day and weather is a good way to reuse the same level without it feeling repetitive, and subtly reflects the progress of the story. The previous entry in the franchise, Human Revolution, featured a yellow tint that covered the screen for the entirety of the game. Human Revolution: Director’s cut toned it down, and Mankind Divided got rid of the filter completely. The colors and environments look sharp and the lights are bright, although the lens flare from the red and blue police lights is excessive, particularly at night. On a technical note, the game runs smoothly at 60+FPS at medium-high on a mid-range gaming PC, only stuttering at night because of the fog and excessive lighting, and during a mission in a densely populated area. Even then, the FPS only tanked below 40 two or three times during the gameplay.
All playstyles are valid, some more than others
Mankind Divided, like it’s predecessors, offers the player multiple ways to complete their objectives. The levels are usually separated into two different zones: safe zones and restricted zones. Safe zones are, well, safe, unless the player takes a hostile action (shooting weapons, being spotted while harming NPCs) and restricted zones mean that enemies will shoot the player on sight and trigger alarms. The zones are marked in black and red on the minimap to avoid frustration and confusion. Most quests play out in a similar way; the player starts in a safe zone, and has to make their way to an objective located in a restricted zone. The player can then decide to roleplay as a T-800 and kill everything in their way with a combat shotgun and TITAN armor augmentation, or sneak past enemy patrols entirely, hacking doors and shutting down cameras with EMP bullets, accomplishing the objective and leaving the restricted zone without ever being seen. However, the ninja playstyle allows the player face almost any encounter without any real fear of a game over. By ninja, I mean taking out enemies one by one via melee or a suppressed weapon, hiding bodies, and repeating until everything is dead or unconscious, hiding in vents until the alarm resets if the player is spotted. That playstyle allows the player to collect maximum XP from neutralized enemies, hacked terminals and non-lethal takedowns, to loot the combat arena without fear of being spotted, and the minimal damage taken / ammo consumption means the players is always fully stocked on health items and ammo. The player can then afford to use all resources during boss fights because they won’t need the items during regular gameplay, making the most challenging parts of the game look ridiculously easy. While on the subject of playstyle choices, the game features a vast array of augmentations (which, for the uninitiated, are Deus Ex’s version of skills) that can be obtained with XP or with Praxis kits found while exploring. The amount of XP and kits available in a single run is limited. In most games, that means that the player has to choose a playstyle and stick to it. But in Mankind Divided, there enough Praxis kits to get more than halfway into each skill set, allowing the player to pick and mix during missions.
Manholes and plot holes
The following section contains minor spoilers regarding the main campaign
The story begins two years after the events of the previous game. The protagonist, Adam Jensen now works as a field agent for Task Force 29, a division of Interpol. Adam and the team he works with are ambushed by masked enemies while investigating an arms deal in Dubai. On his way back home to Prague, Adam meets up with Alex Vega, an agent of The Juggernaut Collective, a shadowy organisation which aims to thwart the Illuminati’s attempts at controlling the world. During the cutscene where Alex is introduced, the player sees how the world has changed since the incident, when augmented people all over the world went mad temporarily due to a hack. Augmented people have been marginalised and are forced to live in ghettos, separated from “naturals”. In the same cutscene, Adam and Alex are victims of a terrorist bombing, which acts as a motivator for Adam, and a convenient way to disable all of his augmentations and have the player reactivate them with XP. Adam then goes on a wild chase after those responsible for the bombing, uncovering secrets about terrorist organizations, the mafia that operates in Prague, and how the corporate elite wants to control the population. The story is well paced; characters will call Adam asking for updates on their respective questlines, and every now and then quests will organically pause to give the player time to complete side quests. The world is also reactive to your choices; if you decide to murder cops and militants, other characters will shun Adam during cutscenes, but they won’t care if you kill Golden Masks, the clear antagonists of the game. There is a fine line between a complex story and a confusing one, and Mankind Divided walks it. Enough factions and plot twists to keep it interesting, but not enough to make the player forget what they’re doing. Depending on the time spent exploring, the game runs between 25 and 35 hours, yet it still fell short, especially with the sequel-baiting ending. Still, there are some elements of the story that will make the player scratch their head: why is a biological weapon that only works on augmented people also deadly to non-augmented people? At some point in the story, Adam is attacked with that same weapon, but discovers that he is immune to it a day later. Why doesn’t he seem to care at all? Why don’t police scanners see Adam’s weapons when he’s being scanned? Why such an extensive sewer and manhole system when so little happens down there? Do augmented poeple dream of augmented sheep?
Rise and shine, Mr. Jensen
Initially, Mankind Divided started off with a strong Half-Life scent. A man with odd facial hair fighting an obscure yet overwhelming evil entity in an eastern European country with an ally named some variation of Alex. But it quickly became a Deus Ex game again, taking notes from its predecessors, focusing on player freedom, rewarding gameplay, and a believable futuristic world chock-full of lore, all that in a highly replayable formula. The game has some issues story-wise and can be too easy if the player puts points in the right skills. That being said, the pacing of the story will quickly make the player forget about any plot hole, and should the player go the way of the ninja, the lack of difficulty gives even more incentive to explore and learn about the inner workings of the Deus Ex universe.