When games make analogies to real world problems, it doesn’t always end well. The comparisons often feel clunky and forced and almost never manage to successfully tell a good story about these issues. Deus Ex Mankind Divided might be the epitome of this problem. From the get-go with its marketing, it was clear that Mankind Divided was desperate to make a point about race issues, especially with its controversial ‘mechanical apartheid’ slogan, and many people were concerned that the game would fail to say anything truly meaningful about race issues. They were right to be concerned.
Mankind Divided sees the return of Adam Jensen, the protagonist from Human Revolution, who is this time tasked with solving a train station bombing whilst simultaneously dealing with a worldwide conspiracy involving corporations and other shady individuals. This is all set amongst the backdrop of issues between so-called ‘augmented’ people (basically cyborgs) and non-augmented people, with the augmented being increasingly persecuted. Whilst the set-up could have been interesting, the story is largely disappointing in all aspects.
© Square Enix
The augmented/non-augmented divide storyline is particularly troublesome. It is far to on the nose with its racism comparisons to ever really amount to much. There is absolutely zero subtlety in the way the game handles these issues, with it whacking you in the face over and over, whilst constantly screaming ‘IT’S LIKE RACISM, GET IT?’ at you. There is no nuance, and as a result, the whole aspect feels clunky, and even becomes grating the more you play, with police constantly stopping you when you are trying to do something, just so that the game can once again try to make an intelligent argument about racism.
Even the wider story of Mankind Divided falls short, which is a shame considering the heights previously achieved by the series (except for Invisible War of course). The world of Deus Ex is so complicated at this point that, if you don’t have deep knowledge of the plot and cast of previous titles, Mankind Divided will leave you confused for much of the early sections, with names being dropped constantly, with almost zero explanation as to what they referring to, expecting the player to already know the whole universe inside and out.
© Square Enix
It doesn’t get much better when you finally do get a grasp on the lore of the universe, due to the biggest fault of the game, being that the story is criminally short. It starts slowly, and, just when it is about to get going, when the storylines are truly ramping up, it ends. This sudden ending completely destroys any goodwill the story had built up previously to that. What came before was fine because you play through expecting resolution to the majority of storylines, but the sudden ending doesn’t allow for that. There is practically no resolution to any of the plotlines in the game, with them seemingly being left open for future sequels, which now look unlikely to ever happen.
It wouldn’t have mattered if resolution was to be provided in later games either. Consumers buy games expecting a coherent story and some resolution, especially when they come with a $60 price tag, and it feels like an insult when titles such as Mankind Divided provide nothing of the sort. The story may have been interesting, but when the ending jerks you around that much, it’s hard to really care about what came before anymore.
The true saving grace for the title is the gameplay, which is pretty damn excellent. As in previous titles, players have a choice about how they want to play, be it non-lethal or lethal, and then can choose whether they want to sneak around environments or ignore stealth completely and opt for regular combat. The level of choice available to the player means that there is a way to play that will suit most gamers.
© Square Enix
What distinguishes Deus Ex from other titles that attempt this kind of gameplay choice are the augmentations. This system is effectively a level-up perk system where, after earning a certain amount of XP, the player can upgrade a certain skill, or even learn new ones. The variety is impressive, with fun skills being available that cater to how you want to play the game, whether that be via hacking (which isn’t all that interesting) or more outlandish skills, like punching through weak walls, which never gets old. Even after hours of playing, there were still many skills that I had never even touched, meaning that, if I wished to play the game again, there would be plenty of ways to make the gameplay seem fresh.
Mankind Divided also sees the return of a hub world, in this case, a futuristic Prague. The city is a joy to explore, with it being densely packed with hidden secrets, side quests, and other smaller stories, fleshing out the world and its inhabitants. Most buildings can be explored, and it’s rare that there won’t be at least something interesting to do in each one. Fancy breaking into apartments and looting everything? Go right ahead. What about discovering an underground hypnosis cult? That’s there too. Hell, you can even rob the bank. (Something I may have done multiple times…)
© Square Enix
It’s these side quests that add a lot of the meat to the game, when not embarking upon main missions, and they are arguably more interesting than the actual central storyline. They feel more compact, and most importantly, provide resolutions to the stories they tell. They take what would have been quite a bare-bones experience and transform it into something far more interesting, thanks to the excellence of the writing in these quests.
Technically speaking, the game is average. The graphical style is an odd one, lying somewhere between realism and cel-shaded, but, for the world that is trying to be created, it works, due to the manufactured nature of the universe. However, the rest of the technical aspects are far more shaky. Frame-rates in particular often suffer, especially when traversing the hub world, where it can become really poor, with almost constant stuttering. These issues hamper some of the enjoyment to be had in the hub world, as it can become quite annoying to bother to get around the world when the game can’t keep up with its own world.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided could have been something truly special. The gameplay and hub world exploration are both well-crafted, and allow for much enjoyment. However, it is severely let down by its story. The lack of nuance in which Mankind Divided deals with its racism analogy is, although unsurprising, a bit disappointing, and means that one of the central messages of the game misses the mark. More problematic however is the fact that the story of Mankind Divided has very clearly been cut in half. What is on display here feels like half a game. There is no resolution to almost any of the plotlines, and when the end comes suddenly, it feels disappointing and undeserved. If the story had actually been completed, it would have been a truly worthwhile experience, but as it is, Mankind Divided feels inessential, and if you do play, you may feel like your time has been wasted.
Value-for-Money Score: 7/10 (All of the different gameplay choices, as well as branching plot lines allow for the option of much replayability, but, considering the story, you may not feel like replaying it at all…)
Overall Score: 6/10