Whether you are new to the series or a longtime fan, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a work of art and a joy to play. With the main theme for gameplay being player freedom, I rarely — if ever — have felt so enabled by a game to traverse the environment, take on enemies, or avoid conflict altogether. While the game is by no means perfect, Mankind Divided is undoubtedly another notch in the Deus Ex series, and a strong start to the next few months of AAA releases.
First and foremost, I have to make a minor admission: before this review, I’d never played a Deus Ex game. As far as I’m concerned, that fact was one of the more egregious sins of my backlog. It may be a ballsy choice to start a two-decade long series in the middle of a larger storyuline, but it’s an important one to make — I wanted to find was how accessible the franchise would be to newcomers.
I’m happy to report that my novice status to the game was never a problem – the game begins with a (literal) fifteen-minute introduction describing an in-depth account of the world of Deus Ex, who Jensen is, what happened in 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and where the world has gone since then. Additionally, with four or five varying control settings, players will have more than enough options to adapt their normal playstyles.
If you are part of the uninitiated, Deus Ex takes place in an alternate timeline/science-fiction dystopia where mechanical human augmentation is not only a reality, but quite often a workplace necessity. Years after the “Aug Incident” (a seminal event from Human Revolution where augmented people across the world were remotely hacked and attacked their human counterparts), the world teeters between two factions: augs fighting for liberty and equality while the humans just hope for security.
Cue Adam Jensen, protagonist of the Deus Ex franchise and all-around RoboCop. Since the previous game he has joined up with an international task force to stop the recent wave of terrorism, while keeping tabs on the Illuminati on the side. With such a developed back story, I was a little surprised with how little I was gripped by the main story. It may have partially been due to either the poor lip-syncing or how robotic and unsympathetic Jensen seems to be, however it was hard for me to get truly attached to the 20-30 hour campaign.
This may, of course, simply be because I don’t have connections with prior games, but I would doubt that. I would often get lost in the side missions and constantly combed through any information about the state of the world – most of which is a fascinating read through emails, e-books, and logs. All-in-all, the world itself and what you can find in it is more interesting than the story beats, and that’s okay.
My initial hope was to try a stealth-only run, killing no people along the way — I made a valiant effort, but without a more honed idea of the game and its mechanics, I realized that (while possible) it is a strategy reserved to more seasoned players. Instead, I took the path of always trying to take the peaceful approach until backed into a corner. In order to try and utilize both strategies, exploration of each environment was key to success.
Thankfully, in Mankind Divided exploration is always rewarded, both physically and metaphorically. While there is always a direct route to get to an objective, there are like two or three other methods you can navigate to that some point. For instance, while I had the option to shoot the mobsters blocking access to a house, I instead explored the rooftops, found an open window leading into the neighbors house, punched through a wall with my augmented strength, and traversed through air ducts — avoiding all conflict (and possibilities of being detected).
Given the augmentations at your disposal, the scenario could have taken place in a litany of differing ways — I could have went silent, turned invisible and waltzed right in. Or, perhaps, I could have run into the middle of them, intentionally got myself surrounded, and knock the collective group out with an augmented, grenade-like ability. While the possibilities aren’t limitless, the scenarios differ wildly enough that you often want to load from an older checkpoint and see if you could manage the situation any better.
The biggest compliment I can offer the game is how easy it is to get lost in it. Finishing the game was nearly impossible, only because I would become too immersed reading the office politics of NPCs, skimming through the relationship issues of an estranged couple, and examining the state of global politics. Eidos Montreal are experts at building a world that not only feels lived in, but also one that is consistently interesting to explore — many times distracting you from your main objectives.
The game is by no means perfect — for instance, the game (from a visual standpoint) looks rigid, character models (besides Jensen) tend to look lifeless, and on PlayStation 4 there is a fair amount of screen-tearing and framerate problems when action gets demanding.
Not only that, but load times often feel punishingly long. With a game that has such a high stress on exploration and using different approaches to solve a problem, loading the game from the prior checkpoint took between thirty seconds and a minute. By no means is it the end of the world, but I caught myself tending to take the “safer” route rather than experiment because of it.
Even with these and a collection of other issues, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided still feels great. While there are clear sacrifices made in the visuals and load times, the breadth of the game shows that the horsepower was allocated elsewhere. And, besides the occasional framerate stutter, the controls are fluid and easy to get used to.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a testament to phenomenal world design and player freedom – matched with intense customization with impressive gameplay consequences, the majority of the game feels entirely personalized to your gameplay style. Despite the fact Jensen and his overarching story line are less engaging than the gameplay and world itself, there is an irresistible amount of fun to had in Mankind Divided.