In the world of video games, there are few cows more sacred than Deus Ex. Held by some above even the likes of Mario, Mega Man and big name icons of the first generation, the series is best remembered for its genre breaking cyberpunk story, choices and dynamic ending. Well, that and a terrible sequel which we will not speak of. After 2011's Human Revolution revitalized the franchise, it was naturally only a matter of time before Square Enix sought to continue the franchise.
Set two years after the bleak finale to Human Revolution's crisis, the world's brief cybernetic golden age is all but gone. With augemented humans treated as outcasts and resigned to slums thanks to the violent outbursts, tensions are higher than ever, and the Illuminati seek to turn this to their advantage. For Adam Jensen, sole survivor of the Panchaea facility disaster, life has become that much more complicated...
Much of the promotional material has made a point of focusing upon the new abilities above all else, and understandably so. After just a few years, Jensen has undergone a substantial number of upgrades with everything from sword launchers to a vastly improved battery life assisting him in his tasks. It's clear from very early on that Eidos sat down and took a serious look at how players used certain abilities to their advantage, both in terms of offensive strength and the more stealthy approaches. Many of the old niggling frustrations, such as power draining take-downs and tracking enemy patrols have been smoothed over, if not fixed entirely. Easily the most welcome among them is the ranged hacking, allowing you to take down cameras, robots and terminals from the other side of the room.
Each environment has been far better built to take full advantage of these new skills. Even in comparison to Human Revolution's sprawling levels, there are more opportunities to approach a task from just about any angle, or map out shortcuts by using the environment to your advantage. While you can still run through guns blazing, planning and careful advances will often yield some surprising secrets or even a few fun bonuses hidden away in the darkest corners of each environment. More than anything else though, there are more opportunities for characters to react or behave differently depending upon your methods. While stealth is not statistically superior, unlike last time, limiting casualties can open up new story opportunities.
Sadly though, the story is where things take a turn for the worse. Whereas Human Revolution offered a diverse and surprisingly memorable ensemble of characters, you'll be hard pressed to remember a single person here by the time the credits roll. Everyone from the Task Force 29 anti-terrorist unit to the pro-aug extremists are painfully banal, and often alarmingly one-note. The few attempts to flesh each of them out are also surprisingly clichéd if not downright predictable. Mankind Divided seems as if it wants to bring up certain themes, but it never actually tries to explore them in any depth. This also extends to the story itself, as there are no surprises on offer here or solid twists to keep you guessing. Often your first prediction will be the right one, and even as things spiral into hell there's little sense of desperation. There's no point where Jensen or his allies truly seem as if they are in peril, or even a tangible sense of danger building towards the climax.
Worst of all though, much of the original atmosphere is now gone. While the black/gold tinted combo of the original was done to the point of parody, it helped the world remain distinct and definitively cyberpunk; whereas here much of the world could be from almost and old science fiction setting. Prague is a big disappointment in this regard, bereft of the strong sense of identity which benefited Shanghai or Detroit. It's almost alarming to say the whole thing is soulless, a problem which is only exacerbated by the limited mission structure. Each of which lasts barely long enough for you to start to enjoy them before closing out, and lacks the sprawling lively sense of previous series locations.
Let this be clear - this is by no means another Invisible War. However, for every step forwards it makes Mankind Divided makes at least two backwards. Without that strong narrative core, it simply lacks its predecessors’ staying power. You'll likely remember this more for Jensen's new arsenal of wonderful toys over its complex themes or characters, so keep that in mind before buying it.
DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED / DEVELOPER: EIDOS MONTREAL / PUBLISHER: SQUARE ENIX / PLATFORM: PC, XBOX ONE, PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 23RD