DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a victim of a vast conspiracy. Not one equal to an Illuminati takeover, mind you, but a money-grubbing publisher that seemed hellbent on killing an amazing series with piecemeal promises turned to ash and tears in our mouths.
. For those of you uninitiated with the history of this current series, it boils down to this: it's a dystopia wherein technological advancements have given us augmented body parts, limbs, and organs, turning humans into something greater and more badass. However, since this is a true dystopia, the world has decided that something so cool and good is actually shit, mostly due to something something racial apartheid and also a slight accident that happened in the previous game, where millions of augmented people got their bodies hacked and went nuts for a few hours. You are Adam Jensen, the strongest supercop secret agent ever, and you have more augments than any human alive. Why is that? Something Illuminati something. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because you're dropped into the Kafkaesque world of Prague, and your mission is to help the public and investigate a recent terrorist attack.
DXMD curbs a lot from the previous Human Revolution game, which is mostly a good thing. Grates are still half of the solutions for puzzles, so it's good to see that grate construction and airduct design are universal from Detroit to Hong Kong to Czech Republic. I imagine there was some fucking Geneva Convention on how every secretive area must have at least one air duct leading in or out; I'm thankful for them, so thank you whoever put this mandate into effect. DXMD also brings back the classic "dialogue boss fights," though sometimes "winning" an argument with someone doesn't really lead to anything special. It's still very much a cover-based, sneak-oriented FPS RPG game, playing jack of all trades and master of none--you won't find these elements as refined as Hitman, Dishonored, Call of Duty, or Destiny, but they blend well enough such that you'll be asking the bartender for another.
DXMD also cribs the "start in a nervous city area and then proceed to the fucking slums" cycle, which is kind of lazy since I expected something different. Detroit is to Prague as Hong Kong's undercity is to Golem City; they're all still interesting but I wanted the developers to change shit up a little.
One of the hooks in DXMD is a brand new subsect of uberpowers like "exploding ceramic wristblade" or "psychic Mewtwo hacking" and "a really fast dash." As much as some of these are fun, I found myself relying on old standby powers like cloaking and Hulk hand takedowns, if not for their practicality but for their easy applications. The new powers, at first, require you to lock out other powers to balance things out, though spoiler alert--3/4 through the game you get to kind of go hogwild anyway. (Not that it matters with your annoyingly small battery life, even with upgrades.) At the very least, when DXMD tries to Metroid you with a skill reset, you are refunded 8 or 9 points at the start to use on mandatory shit like Icarus Landing System or Expanded Attache.
DXMD also promised a better weapon modular system, but this only amounts to "sometimes switch to EMP ammo, or maybe turn off your silencer." It's a complete non-feature that doesn't really add or subtract to the experience. The gunplay is the same as ever; not exactly Bungie-levels of control but it does the job in a cover-based RPG shootmans.
From a conceptual point, I have to say that my issues with the Mankind Divided story don't always lie within the plotline and environment, but rather with the piss-poor supporting cast. The game is badly damaged by the replacement of Pritchard, Malik, and Sarif with....your gruff "you're a loose cannon" boss, some whatever who cares co-worker who just vanishes midway, a sidekick hacker lady who you barely know shit about, and the CSI scanner guy I guess? I didn't feel much for Alex Vega, Smiley, or even Talos Rucker; whatever high notes they come close to hitting are snatched back due to constraint with the narrative. Adam, through it all, is also robbed of much of his personal vindication and emotional spots. In the previous game, you were at least in the center of trying to deal with your new body, the death of your girlfriend, and the Illuminati. Here, Adam just kind of coolly walks through the shit and handles things with annoyance, albeit with that killer gruff voice of his. One of the better sidequests involving actually honest-to-god detective work sees Adam doing some interesting beatcop shit, forging a nice connection with a crime victim and a world-weary desk sergeant. If Mankind Divided was more of a "super detective" simulator with shit like this and less of an "Interpol guy handling huge national crisis" thing, the character roster would have been richer for it. Instead, sidequests are just as mixed as the first game--not in terms of quality, but in ludonarrative disconnection. Handling snoop jobs for the office psychologist makes sense; finding some random cult in the sewer, less so. I suppose I can't complain though, since the better narratives and experiences lie within the sidequests. Maybe Squeenix should just go full-hog and make a Judge Dredd game instead so we can accept the distant, growly wetwork more readily.
The RPG system of Mankind Divided is much like how Human Revolution was: an amalgam of dialogue challenges, detective work, exploration, hacking, and clever application of your skills. But, what about the combat when push comes to shove? In my experience, combat in MD boils down to taking comfortable cover behind a shelf or desk, and pointing your shotgun at the conga line of morons who file in. I feel like this was a symptom of the map layouts, since even Human revolution had multi-tiered battlegrounds like the shootout and escape at Hengshua Gardens capsule hotel. DXMD has much of the same fight or flight scenarios, but it feels like the AI is more inclined to engaging head-on than in the previous game. Why they think they can fight the world's best supercop is a mystery to me, but when I was actually discovered and thus was forced to play sharpshooter, the fights didn't feel especially memorable. There's a reason why stealth is the preferable option, after all--though if you want to do a pseudo-psychopath run, the Titan augment is there for you. And if you're like me and prioritize a no-armor upgrade, stealth-focused playthrough, getting caught means that you probably don't have the ability to win any shootouts without cover. (This is actually how I think it ought to be, though the mediocre shooting mechanics make it less fun to engage in gun combat.)
3/4 through the game, the environment suddenly becomes uberhostile, and thus all the other remaining sidequests become boorish to travel to without fighting a jaded security force. I don't feel this is as significant a spoiler, mainly because it's a very significant low point in the entire game. Suddenly, things become extremely annoying, and the world's teeming life is replaced with laborious sneaking against armored foes. In fact, I was so loathe to play through this bullshit, that my whole review of this is appearing super late as a result. It seems to be a theme lately, too--lots of these immersive sims have a terrible third act that feels rushed.
I find it hard to grade DXMD on a slightly lower end than I wanted to, and I feel bad for the people who developed it with good intentions. It's common knowledge by now that Eidos was basically told by Squeenix to split their project in half so it could be sold in multiple parts--and as a result, DXMD suffers for it with a stunted end and a Frank Pritchard DLC being portioned off for monies. It's a disgustingly garbage tactic to try on consumers, and in the long run it ruined a lot of the game's potential to be even greater. I loved Human Revolution dearly--it felt so chromatically cool and fresh, giving you more of a super-detective / pseudo security chief mystery story than the Interpol agent narrative that Mankind Divided offers. In my opinion, the street-level work that Adam did in the previous game was far more interesting, especially with the tense political and emotional resonance involved (and Pritchard.) Mankind Divided's status as a good game instead of a great one is largely due to not only the weaker storyboard and location, but the unfortunate chopjob that Square saw fit to execute. Much like many of the unlucky Augs, Mankind Divided was taken apart for extortionist measure. What's worse is that Deus Ex as a series has been sent to the freezer indefinitely, as Square-Enix now focuses on a potential Avengers cash cow game. It's hugely fucked up that this game was mutilated just to be portioned off, and now we won't even get the goddamn conclusion that was being held hostage. I hate to see such a grand intellectual property die like this. I can only hope that, in the future, they sell off this property to someone who has the capacity to give it earnest love and effort--like Arkane and original writer Harvey Smith, for instance. Until then, we can only dream of electric sheep and microtransactions.
Better luck next time, Hanzer.
Comments are closed.
Retrospectives, big and small. Oddities and obscurities await.