When Deus Ex stepped once again out of the shadows after seven years away in 2011, critics and gamers took notice. Deus Ex: Human Revolution stood out as a strong new entry in one of the few modern franchises whose gameplay was as slick as its cyberpunk setting. Now after another lengthy absence, Eidos Montreal have returned with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided to prove that it wasn’t all a happy accident and, fittingly, that their continuation of a story about the next step in human evolution has kept pace with advancing times.
Open-worlds have changed in the five years since Human Revolution – and stealth games have too. Mainstream blockbusters like Fallout 4 have taught us to expect tight, high-quality, almost COD-like shooter mechanics in open-world adventures. While Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looked at the smaller scope of stealth games generally, which traditionally saw players making their way from one level to another in a relatively linear fashion, and ratcheted it up to 11 – iterating on the ambitious ideas shown in games like Dishonored and the Sly Cooper series.
Where Deus Ex: Mankind Divided succeeds in this respect is in its commitment to fun. It’s near-dystopian vision of a futuristic Prague isn’t the biggest city hub we’ve ever seen, but the freedom – an ironic choice of words to describe a police state, I know – which players are given to explore and unearth its plethora of secrets is ingenious, and transformed what could’ve been a grumbling disappointment into one of Mankind Divided’s most engrossing elements. With few exceptions, every accessible area can be snuck, broken, or blasted into at any time – regardless of whether you’re trampling on the toes of a future mission or side-quest – allowing you to complete some story actions hilariously out of sequence (the details of which are a bit spoiler-y), but also leading to some brilliantly immersive and enjoyable infiltration.
Mankind Divided’s satisfyingly diverse power-set is at the core of this free-form exploration and, although the glass-shield invisibility skill is decidedly overpowered in story missions, the options they open up make the minute-to-minute task of getting around in Prague a joy. My top tip – spend upgrade points on the cybernetic leg prosthesis early.
If you hadn’t guessed, I quite like the new Deus Ex – And just one more thing: Mankind Divided makes me feel like Columbo, and that’s awesome.
Let me set the scene. Mankind Divided’s augmented protagonist Adam Jensen used to be a high-flying cop, and old habits die hard. Many of Deus Ex’s side-missions see our hero divert from the main story to crack a troubling case. That’s when the beautiful moment happened:
On the trail of an augmented killer, my investigation led me to the home of a man with a violent criminal past – but as my interrogation wore on, I hit on a small detail which blew the case wide open:
“Ah ha!”, I said out loud, before glancing around the empty room in embarrassment. “Of course, that’s right.”
I pressed the optional on-screen prompt to interrupt the conversation, and as if he’d heard me, Jensen jumps in: “Wait, wait, wait – what did you say then?”
Normally in mystery fiction, the author has no way to tell when the audience has cottoned on – so revelations can take you out of the experience, plonking you back in your own head as you piece the plot together, all while the action continues to unfold. But by adding this extra level of interactivity, Mankind Divided lets the player feel more immersed in the investigation.
Later in the same case, I’m chasing another loose end. I’ve tracked a key informant to his new hideout, but I’m getting nowhere – the guy’s a brick wall. As he shuts me down for the last time and the conversation ends, I turn for the door, walk out, and feel a twinge of regret. On a limb, I take another shot at the wall – this time it starts to crack:
“I think you’re holding out on me,” says Jensen, and after another timed button prompt, I’ve teased out the facts I need to keep the trail from going cold.
It’s not perfect, but with these small details Mankind Divided starts to do away with immersion-breaking video game logic, and more closely match what’s happening in the player’s head.
What the new Deus Ex does right, it does really well – and while its representation of socio-political conflict is sophomoric at times, the character models can be inconsistent, and the loading screens between hubs can be tedious – for me, it goes some way to making up for that with its accomplished sneaking, effortless cool, and sheer fun factor. It’s well worth a play.
The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.