The Deus Ex series is known for its open-ended cyberpunk universe, a sprawling virtual playground in which you – a cyber-augmented supersoldier – are free to approach mission objectives using your preferred style. Tune and upgrade your glistening cyberbod with noisy weapons and you can blast through the game. Spend your time learning to hack and you can stealth through the entire plot without killing a single enemy.
2011’s Human Revolution was the series’ high-point. When blockbuster titles like Call of Duty and Uncharted trended towards on-rails entertainment, Deus Ex steadfastly stuck to the core ideas of player freedom within a world built of reactive and unpredictable systems. This is part-shooter, part-RPG and part-simulation.
Mankind Divided continues the story of cybernetic super-agent Adam Jensen while retaining those values. But picking up the threads of a plot this complex is a tall order. Despite some strong potential this sequel falls short of the previous entry.
You can’t fault the setting. The game takes place in a meticulously constructed world, set two years after the events of Human Revolution.
Saturated in starkly contemporary themes, Mankind Divided is a vision of a near-future in which humanity has splintered into two opposing factions. On one side there are the 100 per cent organic and FairTrade humans, and on the other there’s the “augmented” – an oppressed underclass who have had their flesh melded with biomechanical enhancements.
Any subtlety of theme that developer Eidos Montreal had hoped to retain evaporated when they included an “aug lives matter” banner in the game’s promotional artwork, but there’s intelligent commentary to be found in Mankind Divided’s world. Notions of race, class, politics and ethics are threaded throughout the DNA of the game.
Stunning art direction greets you throughout. You visit a futuristic Dubai before relocating to a downtrodden Prague – the hub world that you’ll explore and retread many times throughout the course of the game. Deus Ex’s uniquely gold-tinged art style makes these places shimmer in the daylight, a spectacular show that few other games come close to.
The game’s highlight, Neo-Prague, is an especially dense hub area, packed with side missions, optional locations and tons of stuff to investigate. You’ll also visit a ghettoised settlement, Golem City, and a VIP party in the middle of London, but despite a busy virtual itinerary, the game’s story never comes into its own. A weak, protracted opening saps any initial plot momentum, while some iffy voice work and terrible facial animations undermine the writing’s noble ambitions. Worse still, the game comes to a hard-stop at the climax of the second act, failing to resolve much of anthing that goes on in the 25 hours leading up to it.
Mankind Divided’s greatest achievement is how it blends its different avenues of play, upgrading your abilities to become invisible, to dash great distances in seconds, become super strong or see through walls. The game provides a diverse set of tools that allows you to manipulate the world’s technology to your own advantage, encouraging you to play, replay and re-explore every inch of the world.
While Mankind Divided never compromises on its promise of player freedom and versatility – some excellent infiltration missions demonstrate the open-ended nature of the series at its absolute best – it can’t quite measure up to its better directed predecessor.