The second next-gen Deus Ex game from Squenix and Eidos Montreal is both better and worse than its predecessor, Human Revolution. The cyberpunk aesthetic is still in full force, and there is a pretty good story inside it, but some of the storytelling and gameplay choice are just baffling.
Our Stories Define Us
Set two years after Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mankind Divided finds Adam Jensen, our supercool cyberpunk hero, working for both TF29, an Interpol special forces group, and the Juggernaut Collective, a hacking collective. Because of the so-called Aug Incident from the end of the last game, where all the augmented folks went crazy and killed a bunch of people, augmented people are discriminated against all over the world. The game wants us to draw parallels between augmented people in the world of Deus Ex, and oppressed peoples in the real world, especially African-Americans during the ages of Jim Crow and segregation. The problem with this, of course, is that African-Americans can’t punch through walls or shoot experimental typhoon ammo. The augmented are, by definition, a privileged class. Before the incident, they were the ones with money to enhance themselves. Now we’re supposed to believe they’re some kind of underclass? Their wealth and privilege didn’t protect them? It’s pretty hard to swallow, frankly.
But aside from that rather poorly-thought out conceit, the actual story is pretty good (not counting the boring and seemingly never-ending opening chapter in Dubai). There’s a secret cabal of one-percenters moving pieces around the world, there are pro- and anti-aug terrorist groups, and nearly every person Jensen meets is pretty interesting, especially his TF29 team members. But man, that opening Dubai mission is super boring. I understand it’s supposed to introduce players to the new control scheme and the new weapons systems, but it’s so long and drawn-out that I started shooting people on purpose after awhile just to feel something. I almost stopped playing then and there, but thankfully it picks up rather a lot after Dubai.
And in case players completely forgot what happened in Human Revolution, Mankind Divided offers a 20-minute cinematic recap of the game to make sure everyone’s on the same page, and that was very, very welcome.
Our World Defines Us
The Czech capital city of Prague is a fantastic hub, much better than the Detroit of the previous game. There’s a lot of big and small mysteries peppered all over the city, and I was often more interested in the side stories and just exploring than making progress in the main story (I often found myself only doing the main story missions when I happened to be nearby or when there was nothing else left to do). Most of the shops have secret areas, or lead to secret areas, and there are many apartments to break into and loot and hack the laptops therein, so that you can read the horrible stories of what happened to the tenants (though the “Naturals Only” benches just served to remind me how horrible this analogy really is). But the most fun I had was breaking into Palisade Property Bank for fun. Getting in there and taking every single piece of gear and information from every single vault makes you feel like a one-man Ocean’s Eleven.
And then, when a player does get around to doing the main story missions, they get to go to Utulek Complex aka Golem City, and that might be an even better hub. Again, making a ghetto for people who could throw dump trucks at you is really weird (and the X-Men comics consistently have this problem too), but at that point I had stopped caring because Golem City is exactly what a cyberpunk setting should look like: it’s dark, it’s grimy, and it reminded me of the best parts of Hengsha from Human Revolution.
Our Choices Define Us
One of the biggest gameplay problems was the illusion of choice. Mankind Divided pretends to offer players many choices, including how to tackle various missions (guns blazing, stealthy, lethal, non-lethal, etc.), and it explains one of the biggest choices as soon as players meet Jensen’s doctor, Václav Koller. After the initial (quite boring) Dubai mission, Jensen’s augmentations are acting up, and he needs to see his underground aug doctor (who just happens to be under siege by some thugs from the Dvali crime family). Koller reboots Jensen and tells him that he’s actually got some experimental tech inside him. Koller doesn’t know where it came from (that’s not revealed until later), but he knows that using any of it might overload Jensen’s systems unless he also decides to permanently disable another bit of experimental tech.
This actually makes for quite interesting gameplay, as players would have to decide which experimental tech trees to invest in (some would be fairly useful immediately, like the Focus or Remote Hacking enhancements, but some might be extremely useful only after players have invested a few Praxis kits in the tree, like the Titan or Icarus Dash enhacements), and which to sacrifice (who knows what will ultimately become more useful down the line?). Or, it would have been interesting gameplay, if Koller didn’t immediately tell you how you would actually be able to use everything without sacrificing anything simply by taking a side mission you were probably going to do anyway, and retrieving the Neuroplasticity Calibrator that his Dvali friends have in their possession. Why even pretend this was going to be an issue?
And while yes, a player could conceivably go in guns blazing everywhere, more often than not, it’s simply easier to hack the right door or computer, find the right vent, and/or bust through the right wall to just sneak in everywhere (though I will admit, sneaking around inside the Palisade Property Bank is proving a bit more difficult than I first thought). This “choice” isn’t really a choice at all, especially when the guns blazing approach will almost always get you killed. But for the love of God, would it have killed somebody to map a holster button on the default control scheme? I kept having to throw my gun away and then pick it back up just so I wouldn’t terrify all the civilians.