Deus Ex: Mankind Divided - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2016/09/deus-ex-mankind-divided-review.html

Adam Jensen is back.
Despite Deus Ex: Human Revolution delivering multiple endings to the story, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided nevertheless puts Interpol agent Adam Jensen into the aftermath of the devastating events from the last game.
With the "mechanical apartheid" now having split the world's population into two factions, several terrorist attacks further put fuel to the debate and troubles of the world.
Upgraded with new abilities, it's up to Jensen to stop the crisis. And with Human Revolution showcasing a great concept, much potential but also a lot of problems, here's hoping developers Eidos Montreal took fans' suggestions for improvements to heart in Mankind Divided.
So the question is: did we ask for this...or didn't we?


Story

The plot:
The year is 2029, two years after the events of Human Revolution and the "Aug Incident"—an event in which mechanically augmented humans became uncontrollable and lethally violent. Unbeknownst to the public, the affected augmented received implanted technology designed to control them by the shadowy Illuminati, which is abused by a rogue member of the group to discredit augmentations completely. The Illuminati successfully conceal the truth behind rumors and disinformation, while the augmented are now outcasts from normal humans in an era of "mechanical apartheid". The player character is Adam Jensen, an augmented former private security officer now working with a special Interpol unit to capture a terrorist group of augmented humans. However, Jensen also secretly works for the Juggernaut Collective, a hacker group helping him to confront the Illuminati.
(source: Wikipedia)



Even though the last entry in the franchise, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, had three different endings, one of which even had the main protagonist Adam Jensen sacrifice himself, Mankind Divided's story nevertheless picks up right after the devastating events of Human Revolution and shows the entire world's society divided. Giving meaning to the title "Mankind Divided", the sequel's story greatly focusses on the "mechanical apartheid" that now greatly influenced the world after the events in Human Revolution. Now, the distrust between normal people and augmented people took entirely new heights. After the manipulation of augmented people caused them to go berserk in the finale of the last game, people naturally don't trust augmented people anymore. The result is a world in Mankind Divided in which many big cities are under constant police surveillance to keep riots and even potential (and ever so frequent) terrorist attacks under control. And while the general setting and plot outline in Mankind Divided is actually way more intriguing than the one in its predecessor, the main story sadly feels a bit too tame in comparison.

Human Revolution definitely made things more complicated.

With that said, Mankind Divided once again puts you into the augmented shoes of Adam Jensen, Interpol agent and ally of a hacker group trying to prevent the evil actions of the Illuminati.
Mankind Divided's story basically starts off with a terrorist attack that greatly influences the distrust of men towards augmented people. With augmentations corporation Sarif already having to deal with the aftermath of the last game, the entire main story of the game is a big quest to find the true terrorists and masterminds behind the attack and to find out what motivations lie behind it all.
And even though Mankind Divided's story is actually very intriguing through its thematical matter alone, it's hard to deny that the story is very slowly paced and only has very few highlights. With a lot of backtracking involved, following the course of the main story can feel a bit dragging at times with truely interesting revelations only occuring fairly rarely. On the other hand, side-mission stories in the game do a great job of shedding additional light on the aftermath of the first game as well as the events in Mankind Divided and how those influenced many citizens' lives.

Mankind Divided's main story is servicable but not overly exciting either.

Resultingly, most side-missions in Mankind Divided deal with specific characters in the game's hub worlds and their respective personal stories. What makes those so much more intriguing is that they give the entire atmosphere and setting a true feel of personality. While the main story of finding the terrorists is good and all, it lacks a certain personal "drive" that makes the player seriously want to "get that bad guy".
The ending of the game is widely considered to be a cliffhanger whereas it's really not. Mankind Divided's story has a clear ending, which just very obviously hints at the fact that Jensen's story is far from over and that a sequel is most probably already in the making - ala "this fight is won, but not the war".
However, considering that Mankind Divided also offers multiple endings, there really are (as far as it's known) only two different endings - a bad and a good one. Those are not really influenced by any other action in the entire game though and you pretty much decide what ending you want to get with a single button press during the final showdown (more or less like the first game), which is yet again somewhat of a lazy way to end your game with an illusion of true meaning to your actions.

The side-missions' stories though are definitely showstealers.


Gameplay
 

Hub Worlds - "Brave New World"

Playing out in similar fashion to Human Revoltion, Mankind Divided is played in various different hub worlds that are mostly located in the futuristic yet also classic city of Prague. And seeing how fairly small and limited the hub worlds in Human Revolutino felt, Mankind Divided made a huge leap in regards to the size and design of its hub worlds.
Now, not only are hub worlds much more easily and clearly to navigate by just heading to the nearby subway station and simply choosing which hub world you want to go to (unlike in Human Revolution where you had to exactly know which door would lead to what place), but also, hub worlds actually really feel like true "worlds" inhabited by actual people.

Future and history neatly blend together in Prague of 2029.

In that sense, the hub worlds in Mankind Divided feel a whole lot more vibrant. Even though the politically troubled situation of the world is constantly present with police forces always on the streets controlling and surveilling citizen activites all around the city, Prague (and another hub world called Golem City) actually feel like real places. Aside from people talking to each other about random things, there is a whole lot more to explore and experience in the city. With many stores, people's apartments, secret getaway locations underground, etc. present in the hub world, you can actually really get lost in the amount of things you can find. From the fairly bland hub worlds in Human Revolution to these colorful and exciting new areas of Prague in Mankind Divided, the new and much more exciting hub worlds are most probably the biggest innovation the sequel has to offer.

Even the exile city, Golem City, is beautiful in its own way.


Mission Design - "What did I miss?"

Mission Design in Mankind Divided follows very much the same credo of Human Revolution, focussing on missions that you can complete in various different ways. While either going through the mission in a stealth kind of way or guns blazing are the two most prominent options, you are also free to play it in a mix kind of way, changing your tactics depending on the specific situation you are in. Mankind Divided perfectly takes this to heart and even takes it so far as to have a trophy for not killing one single enemy in the entire game.
Accordingly, players can once again freely choose how they want to play the game, while it still is rather clear that Mankind Divided once again is a far more enjoyable experience when not played like a full-on shooter but rather primarily as a stealth game (with the occasional shootout involved).

Play it anyway you want, but stealth is still the most fun in Deus Ex.

Story missions however are just like the story itself rather slow paced and involve little highlights or actual missions that stand out. Resultingly, most main story missions sort of bleed together very much and feel quite a bit samey in their design with only the different locations the missions are set in providing welcome variety in how you tackle them. With that said, that doesn't mean that Mankind Divided's missions are boring. Far from it. While many missions involve a lot of annoying backtracking and back and forth only to trigger yet another story driven dialogue sequence, the many infiltration missions in the game are the true meat of the experience. Without taking you by the hand too much, there's a lot of "finding it out for yourself" involved with only the goal marked and the player being completely free to explore the environment and just finding out how to get there. Thus, the game does a good job in only very rarely showcasing a clearly preferred path for the player to take. In most cases, just like the many different styles and approaches you can take advantage of, the player always has many different ways of achieving his goal that range from hacking through locked doors, to stealing passcodes from guards, or stealing passcodes from employees' computers, or finding a hidden airduct to crawl through, or just shooting the place up and taking the key, etc.

Infiltrate. Recover. Retreat. Repeat.

And while the main story missions are fun and all despite their slow pace, the side-missions are the (in most reviews) unsung true highlight of the game. As already said, side-missions involve surprisingly personal stories of various citizens having to deal with the political troubles of the mechanical apartheid in their own distinct ways. In that way, side-missions are refreshingly more varied in comparison to the more infiltration focussed main story missions of the game. From finding out what's behind a secretive cult hidden in the sewers of the city, over solving a mysterious murder case, to securing a desperate A.I.'s memory, each side-mission story's involved characters manage to nicely stand out through their various personalities and motivations.
Thus, it is once again sadly a very annoying design choice, that side-missions in the game can easily be missed. This is made only worse by the fact that there are only roughly 10 to 12 side-missions available. Side-missions are also not marked on your map from the get-go but have to be triggered through finding certain items, listening to certain conversations, talking to certain people or even completing a previous mission in a very distinct way in order to trigger a follow-up side-mission. Therefore, it is HIGHLY recommended to at least look up how to trigger each side-mission beforehand so that you can avoid missing out on any of their great stories.

Side-missions are easily missable. Use a walkthrough to trigger them all.

And lastly, in regards to the boss battles, which have been a big problem in the Human Revolution, the developers of Eidos took care of it in Mankind Divided...sort of. While they promised to work on improving the boss battles for the sequel, those "improvements" (if you can even call them that) are a big exaggeration due to the fact that Mankind Divided barely even has any boss battles at all. In my playthrough I only encountered one seemingly unavoidable shootout boss battle with the main antagonist during the game's showdown and one boss battle with a character during a side-mission, which though could be entirely avoided. Even though boss battles are notoriously hard to pull off in a satisfying way in stealth games, Eidos Montreal sort of cheated their way through this problem in Mankind Divided by more or less just dumping boss battles alltogether. 

Boss battles mostly are still an unsolved  problem in Mankind Divided.


Augmentations - "Adam Jensen 2.0"

Being a sequel to Human Revolution, expectedly the main protagonist Adam Jensen also got some new tricks up his sleeve.
While most augmentations and abilities from Human Revolution like punching through walls or Jensen's armblade takedowns are of course still present in Mankind Divided, new upgrades of his come in the form of experimental augmentations.
Their presence is not only nicely woven into the game's story but they are most importantly fun new additions to the already very enjoyable gameplay. Experimental augmentations like the invisibility cloak, nanoblades, or the titan mode now make Adam Jensen even more capable during his missions. And while those experimental augmentations are fun to use and also have to be balanced out in their energy usage with the other augmentation upgrades (meaning that oftentimes in order to use an experimental upgrade, you have to switch off another upgrade), there's no denying that Mankind Divided as whole is mostly quite an easy game. This is mostly due to Jensen simply becoming even too capable, especially towards the end of the game, for the game's own good. Jensen pretty much more and more starts to feel like an uber-soldier towards the end of the game in the same vein as in Crysis by being able to switch between being overly stealthy by being entirely invisible, or either almost entirely impenetrable with his titan skin switched on. Again, it makes Mankind Divided still a fun game, but (at least on normal mode) far away from being a challenging one (...well, except if you want to achieve the trophies for not killing anybody and or not setting off any alarms in the entire game).
This problem of Jensen being quite a bit overpowered and being able to "do what he wants" only gets increasingly bigger the more you realize that even shooting civilians and the police results in no penalties for the player as long as you manage to get out of the situation alive. Neither the missions nor the ending of the game get influenced by this, which is something that Eidos Montreal should definitely work on in the next installment.

One man army, Adam Jensen, just got more capable.


Graphics
 

Graphically, Mankind Divided is yet again a big improvement over Human Revolution.
Making good use of this console generation's technical possibilities, especially character models look much better than the very lackluster ones from Human Revolution. While not really on the same level of top notch movie quality as the visuals of Uncharted 4, Mankind Divided still is a very solidly beautiful game. While the game definitely looks good, it's more its artistic design and style that will awe players rather than its attempt at photorealistic graphics. Prague is very fascinatingly designed with futuristic sci-fi elements meeting the historic architecture of the city's buildings. It's a very nice blend of old and new and works well with the game's main theme of nature vs. technology. This is even the more enhanced when experiencing the same hub worlds at night when the entire city suddenly changes in tone with the red light district in particular coming to life and neon lights and big televised commercials prominentally displayed in the city.
Also, the transitions between rendered cutscenes and in-game cutscenes are impressively seemless.


Sound
 

Deus Ex: Human Revolution's soundtrack by Michael McCann is hands down one of the best modern videogame soundtracks ever made. And even though he returns again as a composer for Mankind Divided, the main style of McCann's work is still definitely present in the game, but unfortunately Mankind Divided doesn't offer a soundtrack with as many memorable tracks as Human Revolution. Sure enough this is again very subjective, yet working together with the more grounded, more realistic, and less dreamy style of the game (in comparison to Human Revolution), Mankind Divided's soundtrack is definitely good and delivers the atmosphere well, but just doesn't stand out as strongly as the one of its predecessor.
Voice acting performances in the game are consistently solid though throughout.

Thankfully, the franchise now got a much needed graphical overhaul.


The Verdict

All in all, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a great sequel for one of the most potential heavy RPG-stealth games of the past generation. With Adam Jensen returning to fight the Illuminati and cyborg terrorists, developer Eidos Montreal did great in improving Human Revolution's concept in a lot of ways.
While the main story of Mankind Divided is servicable yet admittedly quite underwhelming as a whole, same goes not for the side-missions of the game which (despite being easy to miss out on) are definitely the narrative highlights of the entire game. Most prominently though, the game's graphics and hub worlds are given much more love to. Both visually and in terms of content and things to explore, the hub worlds of Prague fell like actual vibrant cities with citizens living in them and dealing with the troubled political situation of the "mechanical apartheid" in their own personal ways. With police forces roaming the streets, you really feel like you are in the middle of a big conflict, while trying to find out who the terrorist masterminds truely are. In doing so, Jensen is given a good amount of new augmentations that make him even more capable. With that said, even though Mankind Divided once again offers players a vast amount of different possibilities in how they want to tackle each mission, there's no denying that Jensen tends to feel quite a bit overpowered towards the end of the game, making Mankind Divided a very fun but not really an overly challenging experience (on normal difficulty). 

Despite some problems of its predecessor still being present in this sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided nevertheless greatly showcases how open Eidos Montreal is towards improving their franchise while keeping the core gameplay concept of "choose your own playstyle" to heart. Mankind Divided is a great successor to Human Revolution and gives further hope and excitement for what may await us in the very likely next chapter in the Deus Ex franchise.
          
   


 Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 

Status: Great




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