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The future’s so bright, Adam Jensen’s gotta wear shades. Cybernetic shades that flick over his mechanical eyes, to go along with the bionic limbs, the artificial organs and the computer software humming inside his techno-organic nervous system.
All of which make him an outcast in a world that fears those who have enhanced their bodies with the latest technology. Fear that’s driving acts of heinous terrorism and fuelling a conspiracy with tentacles reaching deep into government, law enforcement and some of the world’s largest corporations.
The original Deus Ex – a dystopian, cyberpunk action/role-playing adventure released in 2000 by the late, great studio Ion Storm – is my all-time favourite game, full stop. So when the Montreal arm of development studio Eidos came out with their 2011 prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I was beyond delighted.
Turns out the original game’s lightning in a bottle was harder to recapture than I thought. Human Revolution was a solid title but had significant flaws that held it back from greatness. Mankind Divided files off the previous game’s rough edges, beefs up the visuals and bolts on some slick new upgrades. It’s not quite a quantum leap forward, but it’s a better, meatier, more confident game.
Players once again inhabit the flesh-and-carbon-fibre body of Adam Jensen, an augmented agent who now plies his sometimes-questionable trade under the banner of Interpol. Two years have passed since the 2027 events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which ended with a megalomaniacal baddie triggering a kill switch that sent the world’s millions of augmented humans into a psychotic killing rage.
That dark day still weighs heavily on people’s minds. The augmented – or simply augs – are viewed with either suspicion or outright hostility by most of the world. It’s a heady, steamy setting to leap into, with the majority of the game taking place in an old-yet-new futuristic Prague and a sprawling, Blade Runner-y shantytown on the city’s outskirts.
It’s clear that Eidos Montreal poured a lot into Mankind Divided and those who take their time with the game will be duly rewarded. While it’s possible to sprint through the main storyline relatively quickly, I found myself spending hour upon hour exploring every nook and cranny and taking on dense, optional side quests, whether it was shutting down an illicit underground drug lab or mounting a white-knuckle data heist from a massive bank in order to shine a light on a shady media organization.
Jensen himself – whose gravelly voice is once again provided by Montreal actor Elias Toufexis (The Expanse) – has also evolved. Through a broader range of conversation options, Jensen can be more thoughtful, more morally conflicted and often even dryly funny. The character may still look like a stock video game badass but, in Mankind Divided, he feels much more, well, human.
The most frequent hiccups in Mankind Divided come from the game gleefully breaking its own world-building immersion. Ultra-secure facilities have man-sized ventilation shafts that skirt around laser tripwire grids. Guards routinely leave clunky PDAs containing computer passwords lying around. Walls have convenient weak points that Jensen can punch through if he has the proper upgrades.
But that’s simply Deus Ex being Deus Ex. The game gives players the freedom to pick and choose Jensen’s cybernetic augmentations, determining which sorts of obstacles he’ll be equipped to handle and which he’ll have to find ways to avoid.
In fact, Mankind Divided almost feels like two separate games in one (and that’s not including the new Breach mode, a series of VR-type time-trial missions.) Cyber ninjas like me will go for a non-lethal playthrough, taking down enemies with a stun gun, tranquilizer rifle and augmentations that focus on hacking and hidden movement. Warriors, on the other hand, might upgrade Jensen with spring-loaded arm blades, diamond-hard skin and automatic rifles. While combat never feels quite as satisfying as stealth, the options to turn Jensen into a killing machine are wonderfully varied, if you swing that way.
Mankind Divided’s story corkscrews through so many levels of intrigue that at times it’s hard to keep track of exactly who is suspected of what. But it has some fantastic plot beats, such as an ideological showdown with the leader of an augmented rights group suspected of the terror attack that kicks off the game’s prologue. And there are also plenty of quiet, hidden moments, too: I was genuinely saddened when I stumbled across the body of a young, dead addict under a staircase in the grim streets of Golem City, clutching a note to his mother asking for forgiveness.
While I’m not sure any game will replace my nostalgic, rose-coloured memories of the original Deus Ex, Mankind Divided is a small but satisfying step forward for the franchise, offering tons of player freedom in a dark, dangerous and intricately detailed future.