I’ve just arrived in Golem City, an enormous complex built to house the huge influx of augmented workers from Prague. In the year 2027 however, it’s no more than a dilapidated ghetto-city. All around me are people with fabricated body parts living in squalor, some begging for credits, some just trying to get warm. I look up and try to make out the sky through the hundreds of criss-crossed cables and makeshift clotheslines bridging one tower of the complex to another, but it’s impossible. Turning a corner I find the body of a young man lying still in the darkness. Next to the corpse is a pocket secretary. On it I find an email from a son to his mother, imploring that she forgive him for all the things he’d said and done. Of course I forgive you, reads the reply, I wish I was there to hold you and help you. I look down at the dead ‘clank’, as he was no doubt called by the local police, and wonder if he had the chance to read his mother’s reply before dying in this pit, surrounded by the pain and suffering of people just like him.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a rich and fascinating game; full of grim, evocative and entirely missable moments like this that add an incredible depth and realism to its cyberpunk sci-fi. Set two years after the ‘Augmented Incident’ that took place at the end of Human Revolution, Augs are now being actively segregated, oppressed and persecuted, stopped in the street by police, and even forced out of their homes. At the centre of these tumultuous events is Adam Jensen, formerly the head of security for Sarif Industries, now based in Prague as part of Interpol’s Task Force 29. This elite group was formed to deal specifically with the growing number of terrorist attacks carried out by augmented extremists.
The structure of the game is similar to Human Revolution. As Jensen you’ll explore the sprawling city hub of Prague, sporting plenty of nooks and crannies to delve into. The city has a gloomy, claustrophobic atmosphere, reminiscent of both City 17 and Dunwall. As the sun goes down the neon comes to life, with holograms and huge projected images displayed on the side of medieval-era buildings. A handful of times you’ll also travel to smaller, mission-focused areas via airship. Prague may be bigger than Detroit, but it’s the only city this time around, which is a little disappointing. It’s also split in two by an impassable railway line which means quick travel is a necessity. The problem with this is that you can’t just quick travel from your map, you have to actually go to a subway station, select the destination then watch a loading screen. As long as you ensure that you progress all missions in one half of the city before moving on, it remains nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but it certainly became tiresome by the final missions of the game.
The tension and fear in Prague can be felt around every corner. The animosity between the paranoid ‘naturals’ and the helpless Augs is palpable. It’s like a cyberpunk recreation of the Jim Crow era, complete with subway platforms, drinkings fountains, benches and even cafes reserved for ‘naturals’ only. Perhaps a more relevant and striking parallel to draw is with the Islamophobia of modern times, where the actions of extremists only serve to harm the people they claim to be fighting for. While being surrounded by this dystopian prejudice had some influence on my decision-making during story moments, for the most part it serves as a backdrop to the action, mainly due to how disconnected Jensen himself feels from it all. Adam is about as augmented as they come, but he’s also a badass special forces operative, so any cop that checks his papers quickly realises that he’s not to be messed with and lets him go about his business. I’m not saying I wanted Mankind Divided to be a prejudice simulator, but at the same time it’s clear a lot of work has gone into making the segregation in this world feel real, so when the protagonist of the game is mostly unaffected by it, the whole concept falls by the wayside and, as already mentioned, becomes a mere backdrop.
Pretty much every system that returns from Human Revolution has been improved upon, ranging from smaller QOL enhancements to complete overhauls. Inventory management, hacking, looting, reading emails, movement, all these basic mechanics simply work better. I opted for a no-kill play through, successfully earning the ‘Pacifist’ achievement upon completion (if I can’t brag what’s the point). This meant that I skipped any shotguns or grenade launchers in favour of my trusty tranquilizer rifle and stun gun. It’s a sign of good gameplay design that at no point did I feel like I was missing out; the satisfaction of taking out an entire room full of guards without being seen was more rewarding than the promise of a new gun. By finding crafting parts you can make various items like multi-tools (allowing you to hack anything, regardless of skill level) as well as consumables to restore health and energy. I played on normal difficulty, and I don’t think I ever needed to craft a single item. If you specialise in hacking and like to explore every room, you’ll probably be the same.
The graphics are impressive, with character models being the most welcome leap forward. It’s unfortunate then, that the lip syncing is super rough. How it managed to pass through QA testing unnoticed I have no idea. After a while I just sort of got used to it, but it’s a real shame given how impressive the facial modelling is. The voice acting is also very inconsistent, with only a handful of the main characters really nailing it. Peter (It’s four in the f***ing morning!) Serafinowicz is a highlight as Macready, one of Jensen’s fellow Task Force 29 agents. Conversely Miller, Jensen’s boss and veteran of the Australian Civil War (yes, you read that right), is quite poorly acted. While admittedly it is nice to see a fully fleshed out Australian character for a change, the performance really lets it down as the actor delivers wooden, stilted lines one after the other. He sounds like a presenter on Play School.
And so we come to the biggest and most bewildering disappointment of all: the end of the games comes out of absolutely nowhere. If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s movie The Prestige, basically what they’ve done here is removed the prestige, or the payoff. They give you a solid pledge: the world itself, with all the different characters, corporations and resistance groups. Then comes the turn, where over the course of the game you’re shown how all these interconnected ideologies and personalities clash in fascinating ways, with Jensen being your point of reference among the chaos. However, just as you’re starting to get some answers, the plug is pulled and the credits roll. This game’s narrative and most of its more interesting characters are straight-up missing a climax. To add insult to injury there’s a post-game cutscene where you’re spoon-fed a series of news clips (via the in-world Picus News). These are meant to explain what happened to all the side characters and corporations you encountered in the game but they are immensely dissatisfying, amounting to little more than hastily-tied bows on enormously complex packages. I could speculate that the game was shipped unfinished or that some post-release DLC will answer my questions (blegh), but at the end of the day I’d just be guessing.
With that being said, right up until the end the main narrative of Illuminati conspiracy, mysterious terrorists and underground hacker groups is an engaging one, and the options provided to the player to overcome each scenario showcases some incredibly intelligent level design. It took an hour so for it to truly get its hooks in me, but once it did I realised it’s one of those games that becomes more rewarding the more time you invest in it. It wasn’t long before I was fully immersed, maybe not in the role of Adam, but definitely in the world and its machinations. After spending 22 hours with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the ending may have been a let down, but it’s not enough to ruin this beautifully nuanced, stimulating game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was reviewed with a PC code of the game, provided by the publisher.