Our download code for Mankind Divided arrived on Tuesday, and fittingly for a sandbox game, there were several things I could do as a result. I could blaze through it on very little sleep in order to get a full review up at embargo. I could take my time and produce a more considered but late review at a future date. I could run our Human Revolution review, changing only those two words. I could ignore it completely. (Admittedly, these choices aren't quite as scintillating as the ones you make in your typical Deus Ex title.)
But really, there was only one choice I could make, for I couldn’t rush through a Deus Ex game if Adam Jensen's fist blades were at my throat. These are titles to soak in, titles to savour and reflect upon. Besides, my Internet currently sucks, so the roughly 45GB download took out my first night of play. This means I'm about 10 hours into a meticulous investigate-everything stealth run, but hopefully I can still provide some insight.
Writing about visuals when things like trailers and screenshots exist seems silly, but I must say that Mankind Divided is an astoundingly detailed game, even on console. The perfect antidote to the randomly-generated monotony of No Man's Sky, its world is one that you can't help but play tourist in, eager to see what's around the next corner or behind its many hackable security systems. The new Dawn Engine is a nice step up, and this is a game that'll look incredible on PC.
Mankind Divided is set in 2029, two years after the massively lethal "Aug Incident" of Human Revolution, and understandably, there's tension on the streets. Many augmented have been pushed into ghettos, and those still living among naturals are referred to as 'clanks' and treated with disdain – thus, "mechanical apartheid". There are political groups on both sides fighting for their rights – some with violence, some not – but naturally, shadowy powers lurking above it all are the ones with the real influence.
Adam Jensen is back of course – sculpted goatee, shades, gruffness and all – and he's now working for an Interpol-funded task force that tracks down augmented terrorists using violence to somehow advance the cause of their fellow enhanced citizens. However, his mechanical heart is really set on bringing down those responsible for the Aug Incident, and that desire sees him entwined with Anonymous-style hacking group the Juggernaut Collective.
So far, so cyberpunk, but from what I've experienced, Eidos Montreal really sells it. I'm largely enjoying the cast, particularly colourful former pilot Alex Vega (who appeared in The Fall and a number of Deus Ex novellas), and a nutty cult leader who I get the feeling is more Wizard of Oz than he is Jim Jones. No-nonsense task force soldier Duncan MacReady and underground augmentation specialist Václav Koller hew a little to close to archetypes at the moment, but I'm hopeful they'll get a little more depth as the game progresses.
A new gamepad control scheme is available, and although its unorthodox use of L3 and R3 takes some getting used to (augmentations and inventory open with a long clock of each), it's now my favourite layout, even though it relegates sprint to the face buttons. No biggie, this is a world I'm happy to meander through. And up. Did I mention how much more vertical the levels are? It's great.
For most other things, the phrase "it's the same as before, but improved" applies. It's easier to run between pieces of cover now, there are fun new augmentations to experiment with very early on, and combat is faster and more satisfying. Everything is a little slicker than before. Despite being primarily a stealth player, I found frontal assault to generally be the most effective yet least exciting approach in Human Revolution, and the same is true here. However, Eidos has tried to give assault fans more to work with in the form of non-lethal weapons and more diverse gun modifications.
Enemies can be a bit dumb. I broke into what turned out to be a janitor's closet at a train station (score!) and was duly fired upon by a small squad of guards. Trapped, I simply closed the door and prepared to make my final stand, Jon Bon Jovi's soaring melody momentarily drowning out the pulsing electronic beats of the game's soundtrack. However, the door somehow absorbed all gunfire and explosives thrown my way, and was never breached.
Instead, my adversaries all simultaneously forgot where I was. They poked around hopelessly for a few seconds, then resumed their regular duties, the one-sided gun battle little more than a dream. I strolled out of the closet and between them to my freedom, the most forgettable six foot aug in a trenchcoat and shades ever, apparently. Perhaps higher-level enemies are a little more perceptive.
More worryingly, I had half a dozen hours of play effectively nullified by a bug that made Jensen unable to converse with NPCs that weren't quest givers. The button prompt still appeared, but they simply stared at him blankly, either in awe of his facial hair, or because he hasn't washed his leathers for a few years. I also lost the target reticule that should have been present when I was in cover.
I didn't strike these bugs again when I started a new game, so here's hoping they are something we can chalk up to prelease code tomfoolery rather than anything more serious. However, I'm pretty steamed my careful play to that point had been all for naught (and the first few enemies in my subsequent game suffered as a result).
Performance-wise, on PlayStation 4 Mankind Divided runs well, with one (and only one) exception: an early cutscene has frame rate and screen tear issues. Fortunately, said scene is played in its entirety in one of the game's trailers, and it's bearable to watch in-game anyway. Elsewhere, the game's lip syncing can be pretty off, but this is hardly a new phenomenon – even in high budget franchises like this one – and I still find the hacking minigame, which is more or less a direct transplant from that of Human Revolution pretty dull (but aren't they all?).
I still don't think much of the new arcade-style Breach mode either. It's commendable that Eidos has adopted such a strikingly minimalistic art style for these levels, but its clean-walled mini-mazes are boring to look at and easy to get lost in, which is of great annoyance considering there is an escape timer on every level.
But overall, despite losing a save to the whims of a cruel digital god, I'm having a blast. It's too early to know if the story builds to anything great, but right now it has serious potential – even the side missions have been enjoyable and interesting. If you are the type who loves to read in-game newspapers and diaries, you'll be in heaven (I am). It might be a little overwhelming for series newcomers, but to these people I say: have patience, from what I've seen so far, it'll more than likely be worth it.
◆ We have more coverage of Mankind Divided coming in the next couple of weeks – stay tuned!