Eidos Montreal has returned to the world of Deus Ex five years after its resoundingly successful resurrection of the series, Human Revolution. While that game didn't manage to hit the rose-tinted heights of its progenitor, it certainly removed the bad taste left by the bite-sized disappointments of its technologically-hobbled sequel. As a result, hopes were high that Mankind Divided could recapture that same magic and deliver another stunning adventure into an augmented yet broken future. For the most part, Eidos has delivered, but unfortunately, not all of the game's limbs seem to be wired correctly.
Mankind Divided is set two years after the infamous Aug Incident which saw a large proportion of the world’s augmented population temporarily driven insane by a mad-man intent on driving a wedge between the world’s augmented citizens and “natural” humans. Our protagonist Adam Jensen was able to shut down the signal shortly after its activation preventing even further loss of life, but not before an already countless number of innocent lives were lost. The aftermath of this event is at the very core of the Mankind Divided story, which takes place in a world where the augmented are treated with distrust, fear, and outright hatred.
Drawing parallels with current and historic real world social issues – in particular contemporary U.S. racial tensions, and pre-WWII Germany, Eidos attempts to inject themes of abject racism into their dystopia. The augmented have become second class citizens, in many ways mirroring the monitoring and mistreatment of Germany’s Jewish and population in the years leading up to WWII. While the attempt to address these issue is commendable it never really connects, and as a result feels ham-fisted. More importantly, Mankind Divided never really attempts to say anything important about the themes it raises, and shies away from doing anything interesting with them. Instead, the theme of institutionalised racism ends up being extremely superficial and does little to offer any emotional depth to the world or the people on either side of the divide. It’s all just window dressing hoping to draw you in with the promise of something deeper, but ultimately has nothing to offer.
The main story of Mankind Divided certainly doesn’t help. While it’s a serviceable tale of terrorism, corruption, and conflicting ideologies in the wake of an international disaster, it all ends rather abruptly, as if Eidos ran out of time to provide a satisfying conclusion, or always meant for Mankind Divided to be part of a bigger story.
Another gripe I had is that I found Adam Jensen particularly asshole-ish this time round. His distant, almost flippant demeanour in Human Revolution made a degree of sense considering the events early in that game, but on the back of the Aug Incident and his personal investment, his almost sociopathic failure to address these events beyond mere lip service makes his attitude all the more bizarre. His lack of humanity is rather ironic considering the core themes of this game, and I cannot name a more unlikeable “good guy” protagonist in modern gaming. Almost every response is delivered in a tone that's hard to name as anything other than mildly disinterested at best, or tersely dismissive at worst. This is the guy we’re supposed to identify with? I certainly could not. Never before has any game been a bigger advocate for the silent protagonist argument.
Thankfully, despite these rather glaring shortcomings and annoyances, there is a lot of game here worthy of your time. Much of what made Human Revolution great is back, and at least partially improved for the sequel. Every location and mission can be tackled however the player chooses, there are multiple paths to any given objective, and enemies can be avoided, stunned, or killed depending on what approach you prefer. The area where the game truly shines is in its level design. Massive sprawling levels with multiple points of ingress, vents, corridors, destructible walls give Adam ample opportunity to deploy his expanded inventory of augmentations and tools of the trade.
Adam’s arsenal of implants has been expanded to include a few more powerful albeit narrowly focused abilities. These experimental Augs require some active power management at the beginning, but – like all of his toys – can be improved via upgrades earned throughout the game. The only experimental Augs that offer real utility are the remote hacking ability and the Blink – I mean Icarus Dash. Building on the expanded scope of Adam’s abilities is the single most enjoyable part of the game.
The side missions are not your usual go to point A and collect X filler, but more complex, involving missions requiring exploration and a high degree of finesse to complete. Each has its own story to tell, and is executed to such a high level that you wonder if there was more than one team involved in the creation of the game’s content. If the main story maintained this level of quality we would be looking at a Game of the Year contender, rather than the very good yet unremarkable game that was delivered.
One other area that deserves mention is the game’s visuals. Much has been said about the game post-launch, particularly on PC. In my opinion, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is gorgeous. Very complex geometry and detailed textures abound, all expertly enhanced with top shelf post-processing effects, and PC-specific bells and whistles. What it lacks in The Witcher's sweeping vistas and grand architecture it makes up for with a grim and grimy utopia of lost austereness that perfectly captures the tone of this fractured future. The "wow!" factor isn’t in the big picture, but the smaller details – you just have to pay attention to them. Granted, you will need a powerful rig to fully appreciate all the eye candy on offer, but what’s there is impressive. With a Direct X 12 update on the horizon, there should be further improvements, and some additional performance to be gained very soon.
There is also a Breach Mode. Don’t bother, it is in every way a pointless tacked on feature that was unneeded, pointless, and best ignored.