The cybernetically enhanced Adam Jensen returns to the law enforcement scene in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ($59.99), and he brings some new tools to the job. Jensen must track down a group of augmented terrorists within the gritty, segregated city of Prague in 2029, while also playing nice with the militaristic police and violent gangsters. This harsh, machine-biased city is your playground, where you can fight, sneak, and hack your way towards your objectives to uncover the truth behind the violent happenings occurring around the world. While Mankind Divided's story is somewhat shallow compared with those of previous Deus Ex games, the stellar atmosphere and incredible attention to detail elevates this PC game where the story does not.
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God From the Machine
If you're familiar with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you should feel right at home with Mankind Divided's controls and gameplay conventions. For those who are not, here is a quick rundown. Mankind Divided is a stealth-shooter with strong RPG elements that's played primarily from a first-person perspective. That said, taking cover or performing special attacks switches the camera to a cinematic third-person viewpoint, giving you an optimal view of the action.
You can customize Adam's enemy-busting "augments" by enhancing specific abilities, which lets you tackle missions as aggressively or stealthily as you want. For example, the cloaking shield makes him practically invisible for a few moments and is perfect for slipping past patrols or pesky security cameras. The Titan augment, new to Mankind Divided, turns Adam into a bullet-soaking tank for a few moments. It's an essential tool for surviving hectic firefights.
Stealth is a cornerstone of Deus Ex's gameplay, and it's on display in Mankind Divided. Adam can hug walls for cover, letting him duck under an enemy's line of sight and snoop around unnoticed. He can also take down or kill unsuspecting enemies when within melee range, which further encourages you to stay unseen.
Of course, even the best laid plans can fail, which usually means getting caught and dragged into a bullet exchange. Gunfights generally spell death unless you are customized to deal with them. The new augments are a godsend for players with itchy trigger fingers, as they let you fight aggressively and mitigate damage much more easily than in past games. However, the large number of enemies working in tandem, and their high damage output mean it's easy to get overwhelmed. You must know when to pick your battles.
Adventures in Wonderland
Mankind Divided takes place in Prague, the augmented people's paradise turned nightmare after the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The game takes you to new locations, such as the internment town Golem City and a military installment in the Swiss Alps, but Prague remains your center of operations throughout the game. The city undergoes several phases as the story moves forward, opening new areas and changing the exploration dynamic by introducing new hazards.
Story missions guide you to numerous Prague locations, but optional side quests litter the streets and sewer sanctuaries. Side quests flesh out the in-game universe by expanding the frequently referenced AUG-Incident from Human Revolution, and how that event turned the world into Mankind Divided's militaristic, discriminatory, police-state dystopia. Side quests and optional content are plentiful if you put in the effort to look for them. The main story and optional quests are highly open-ended, so you can approach them in any number of ways. You can go in guns blazing or use stealth, and there is a gamut of routes and secret paths for accomplishing your goal.
Some side quests are absolutely massive. For example, one early quest has Adam investigate a hacker who tries to unravel the front-business Interpol has set up to hide its base of operations. I easily spent an hour snooping around the apartment complex, another hour futzing around in the sewers, and yet another hour breaking into the bank's many offices and vaulted areas. Of course, you could make a mad dash to the objectives, but each area is so rich with details and flavor text, that it feels like a shame to rush through them.
Mankind Divided offers Breach mode alongside its story campaign, if you're looking for a little something extra to do. Breach is an in-game virtual simulation that hackers use of to steal information from the game's Palisade Corporation. The gameplay is identical to that of the main campaign, although the objective of each mission is to capture a data node within the allotted time. Breach uses surreal polygonal environments and character models, as well as soft, pastel colors to give its virtual world a unique look and feel that stands apart from Adam's adventure. It is a fun distraction that offers a sizable number of missions to tackle, and is worth fiddling around with if you want to step away from Prague's oppressive cityscape.
Man Versus Machine
Mankind Divided's plot is a ho-hum crime mystery set in a futuristic dystopia. The setting is more interesting than the story being told, which may be a touch disappointing for fans of the Deus Ex series. Mankind Divided focuses heavily on the mechanical apartheid currently gripping Prague. The AUG-Incident destroyed the trust humanity had for its augmented brethren, which has resulted in blatant discrimination and segregation of mechanically enhanced people the world over. In the midst of this civil unrest, a terrorist cell has been targeting major metropolitan areas across Europe, with all leads pointing to a group of augmented radicals as the culprit.
While this scenario has the makings of a great story, it falls flat for several reasons. Mankind Divided's greatest flaw is its weak cast of characters. As you unravel the conspiracy and piece together the story, you never get a good sense for anyone's motivations. You do get some bits of exposition if you press characters for details, but the cast feels shallow overall. Its difficult to care or feel invested in the plot when you don't care for the characters, and Mankind Divided doesn't do enough to make its audience care.
I also find the lack of more grandiose conspiracies disappointing. Yes, the Illuminati play a part in the story, as they have in previous games, but the overall plot feels more subdued in an attempt to make Mankind Divided's story more topical. The 2000 Deus Ex was a campy smorgasbord of conspiracies, referencing the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati, MJ-12, Area 51, and even the Knights Templar in its tale of technology and political manipulation run awry. Mankind Divided avoids some of the more sensational conspiracies to keep its plot more grounded—and more boring—by comparison.
That said, I am a sucker for atmosphere, and Mankind Divided delivers that in spades. It goes to great lengths to depict its dystopian cityscapes, and the attention to detail that goes into every environment is nothing short of amazing. The environment itself tells a story, and that goes a long way towards elevating Mankind Divided's plot. You'll be stopped constantly for paperwork to prove you're a legal resident of the city, for example. Prague's labyrinthine sewer system is filled with the illegal augmented who are evading deportation to Golem City. Police are on edge, and are just as eager to shoot you for jumping on a parked car as they are for jumping them. The setting depicts a bleak future filled with discrimination and oppression, and this feels more engaging and genuine than any of the pseudo-political babble pushed by the plot.
Cogs in the Machine
Mankind Divided is a good-looking game. It doesn't boast graphics remarkably better than other major titles released this year, and in truth, some of the animations, particularly NPC movement during dialogue exchanges, look jerky and unpolished. The art direction, however, makes up for the graphical lack of luster. The artwork is impressive, with every area, NPC, and even disembodied mechanical limb featuring incredible detail. Many police officers share the same voice or facial model, sure, but their body armor looks both futuristic and highly practical. NPC's augmented limbs feature a startling amount of wear, which could be from either years of use, or months of abuse given the state of the game world. Clothing looks contemporary, but the heavy use of plastic and metallic flourishes gives many outfits a futuristic edge.
Mankind Divided offers many graphical options to accommodate current PC rigs, but it is a fairly demanding game, nonetheless. Basic graphical settings, such as texture quality, shadow quality, and depth of field are right there alongside anisotropic filtering, HBAO, multisample anti-aliasing, and subsurface scattering. For the most part, you can change these directly in the Options menu to see the setting's effect, with the exception of texture quality, which forces you to restart from the main menu to initiate changes.
The game offers presets for you to select if you don't want to futz around with individual settings or simply don't know what they do. Ultra, Very High, and High settings all feature fairly similar visuals at 1080p, with only minor features, like shadow detail and bloom, changing in any noticeable way. Medium and Low presets are where the graphical fidelity drops. Visuals on Medium and Low are muddier, and shadows and lighting take a hit, making the world look flatter and less vibrant. The flipside to these lower settings is that performance jumps significantly, giving you a much better frame rate.
My GTX 970 graphics card rendered the game at an erratic frame rate when I set the GPU options to the three highest presets. MSAA killed my frame rate outright, even at 2X, so I would highly recommend using TXAA instead to alleviate some of the performance issues, unless you own a monster rig. That said, when I dropped the settings to Medium, my rig pushed the game along at 60 frames per second.
Since launch, Mankind Divided has introduced micro transactions, offering currency and praxis kits for use in the game. Praxis kits are points you can use towards upgrading Adam's augmentations, and are earned every time you level up in game. Praxis from the cash shop comes in 1, 5, and 10 point kits, and cost $.99, $3.99, and $6.99, respectively. The cash shop is completely optional, but I can't help but think that the purchase of praxis for use in game trivializes the leveling system. Mankind Divided is a sizeable RPG, so players will amass a respectable number of praxis by playing through the game normally. I can only imagine that purchasing currency or praxis appeals to highly impatient players, but it is worth noting that Mankind Divided includes them, for better or worse.
Rise of the Robot
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gives fans more of the excellent stealth, fantastic locales, and ethical intrigue that made Human Revolution such a standout title. Mankind Divided delivers hours of cyberpunk intrigue, with its city chock full of quests to undertake, rich lore to unravel, and excellent art direction to hold it all together. The weak story is disappointing, but Mankind Divided brings enough to the table to keep you engaged for a long time to come.