What’s that coming over the hill? It’s Adam Jensen. It’s Adam Jensen! *harmonics*
Yes, the latest Deus Ex game is out in the wild grazing on consumers’ wallets, with the same protagonist as Human Revolution. You can therefore look forward to a black trenchcoat, a voice suspicously close identical to Batman’s, and hilarious mind-controlled sunglasses welded to your face. The good news is that this new entry eradicates the most grating problem of Human Revolution, and further sharpens up bits that were already quite good. The bad news is that it introduces a few brand new problems of its own.
Whereas the last game primarily took place in Detroit, this time round you spend most of your time in Prague. The story follows on directly from the end – or, more accurately, one of the possible ends – of Human Revolution. There’s even a catchup video to watch should you be so inclined. In the aftermath of The Incident (where millions of people with augments turned violent against their will due to a sort of remote control PMT thanks to Hugh Darrow), global public opinion has largely turned against “augs”. The Illuminati have a hand in all this of course, and then there’s also ARC (the Augmented Rights Coalition) who are accused of carrying out terrorist acts. With an international law looming that would crush the rights of augmented people, it’s up to you (and the whole of Interpol, but mainly you as usual) to find out exactly what’s going on before things get even worse.
Now let me get something off my chest that, quite frankly, I’m extremely disappointed to see isn’t being discussed loudly and at length in the way that it should be. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend long on this soapbox – but remember the pre-release controversies first of “mechanical apartheid”, and then of the “aug lives matter” marketing phrases?
Unfortunately, this misappropriation of terminology specifically relating to modern racism bleeds into the game itself. I could spend ages going on about this (don’t run away, I won’t, not in a review), but a few things left a sour taste in my mouth. I saw the “augmented lives matter” phrase on an in-game poster, but that wasn’t the worst of it. On two separate occasions that I came across, the word “racist” was directly and shamelessly used to refer to people prejudiced against augmented people. Need I elaborate there?
That’s not to say that games can’t or shouldn’t attempt to discuss racism. I think that they can and they should. But Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has absolutely nothing to say about racism or prejudice. The whole thing stinks of a marketing executive seeing how much “engagement” such phrases generate on social media, and thinking it would be a great idea to throw them in and around a videogame. Without them, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at atmospheric touches such as segragated trains and aggressive police.
Okay, I’m done.
In more positive news the game is, in general, very good indeed. The basic formula remains the same. You can approach each mission with complete stealth, all guns blazing, or anywhere inbetween that you like. Using the social ‘CASIE’ aug can not only get you extra XP and information, there are certain occasions where the right words can avoid a fight completely. There is also – thankfully – none of the boss nonsense from Human Revolution. There’s only one actual boss fight in the game, and you can achieve a non-lethal end. There are in fact a few ways of doing so extremely quickly.
Again, you can use your precious Praxis kits to unlock augmentations that suit your playing style; though I’d say that good hacking abilities are more important for everybody this time round. There are a bunch of new augments to unlock after a little while, experimental ones that can put too much stress on your system unless you (a) disable another augmentation to compensate, or (b) complete an optional mission to remove the danger once and for all. New abilities include a built in non-lethal PEPS attack, remote hacking, and a shield that even laughs in the face of frag grenades.
Some of the acting (particularly in the first mission) is absolutely atrocious. Things mostly level out after that though, which is just as well – it would’ve dealt a significant hit to the writing and the missions. While the story missions are interesting enough, it’s a most welcome surprise to see just how much effort has gone into the side missions. Not only do these diversions give you plenty to see and do, many have ideas and plots that would ordinarily be deigned to be sufficient for an entire game. A mind control cult, a serial killer, hints at the origin of Jensen’s mysterious new augmentations, and much more are there for the investigating.
So yeah, I was very much enjoying myself until I (and lots of other people, spread across all formats) hit a game-breaking bug that brought my progress to a halt quicker than you can say “I hate modern gaming”. It got patched (eventually), but in the unlikely event that you’re thinking of buying this for a console unable to download updates – don’t do it!
Fast forwarding to the final run, I have mixed feelings about how the game came to a close. You’re whisked away to a new part of the world, but you’re restricted to one (admittedly large) building. It felt a little rushed. On the other hand, the way that which ending you’re handed is decided is interesting. Human Revolution waited right up until the last second, then almost literally said “Do you want ending A, B, C, or D?”. You do have some influence within Mankind Divided’s final mission, but a lot depends entirely on an early choice and your actions in the mission that followed.
One final thing which irked me within the story was availability of the Praxis kits which unlock and upgrade your abilities. You’re still awarded them for levelling up and completing missions, and you can still find them in hidey holes on rare occasions. I moulded Jensen’s immaculately bearded form as I wished. However, despite chasing side missions and searching pretty much everywhere, I didn’t manage to save up enough to buy a single ridiculously expensive Praxis kit from a trader in my playthrough. In my first Human Revolution run, I bought about five. Call me Mr Cynical Pants if you like (in fact please do), but methinks this has more to do with the new microtransactions and rewards from the “companion app” than a sudden lack of Deus Ex skill on my part.
The new Breach mode is… well, it’s rubbish. Aesthetically and conceptually it’s a cross between Deus Ex, Mirror’s Edge, and Tron – but not even 13% as awesome as that sounds. Entirely separate from the story, it’s a series of time trials masquerading as VR hacking. You hack and jump your way through the environment seeking out purple things, then make your way back to the exit (usually forced to find a different route thanks to ‘lockdown’). There are enemies, and cameras, and turrets, but… the whole thing just feels hollow.
What’s the bottom line? Entirely inappropriate racism analogies, unwelcome monetisation… yet somehow still one of the best Deus Ex titles.
Review by Luke Kemp and thanks to Xbox for the review code!