Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One and PC
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 23 August
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided didn't really click with me until it asked me to rob a bank. It wasn't credit chips I was after though, but the evidence hidden in the safe of a high-up pencil-pusher.
Every couple of hours, Mankind Divided does this; it gives you a puzzle in the form of an objective in an enemy facility and it asks you to find a solution that works for you. Whether you want to go in guns blazing, skulk around in the shadows knocking out guards, or hack into security systems so you can sneak in and out without anyone noticing, is up to you. Mankind Divided doesn't care how you do it, so long as you have fun.
These moments are the finest that Mankind Divided has to offer, and when the game is bending over backwards to give you open-ended solutions to each of its puzzles, it's hard not to feel satisfied.
It feels like a Deus Ex game. Players will break into people's offices to read their emails, play with their "augs" and decide whether their run through the game will be non-lethal or not - because these elbow blades won't decapitate people by themselves.
When not tackling the game's bigger missions, you trawl around hub levels talking to people, solving little puzzles and stealing everything that isn't nailed down in the hope of acquiring information, money or Praxis kits - all invaluable resources for ensuring you can be the augmented government cyber-commando the world needs, although perhaps not the one it deserves.
The variety of augments you get is impressive, too. While I went for the hacking augments first, I later found a lot of love for the smart vision, which eventually allowed me to see important items through locked doors or walls - this helped me work out whether it was worth taking out an arms dealer and a room full of his goons to break into his supply closets, or whether to play nice.
Either option is a joy, with combat and stealth mechanics both being equally fun to play around with. Combat, and the augs associated with it, make it easy to bring the pain, while proper feedback and smart level design means stealth isn't so much a guessing game as an art-form.
Other highlights include bulletproof skin, the ability to turn invisible, a wrist mounted taser and the P.E.P.S - a concussive blast fired from your hand that will drop everyone in front of you momentarily, good for taking out attacking forces or stopping someone from reaching an alarm panel. These are just a handful of the complete bundle of augments available and sit alongside several that act as a 'Metroidvania' style key - perhaps you want to punch through a vent or fall a great distance? To paraphrase an Apple marketing campaign; there's an aug for that.
The story largely works, although it hits the same "who watches the Watchmen?" theme as the rest of the Deus Ex series. Mankind Divided is the sequel to Eidos Montreal's 2011 prequel, and goes a long way towards stitching up the gaps between Human Revolution and the original Deus Ex, with returning broody man Adam Jensen grumping his way into the middle of another massive conspiracy.
I should add that I am a white guy. With that caveat in mind, the way the game tries to suggest that augmented people and the fictional struggles they are facing are similar to those of people of colour - with train stations and toilets marked for augs / naturals and the "aug ghetto" - is at best crass and is at worst outright appropriating the images. I won't comment further beyond saying that it is incredibly jarring, and this is before we even get to the part where guards sling slurs in your face while they check your papers.
The world is dense and detailed and the mass of information the game presents you with really drives home that the world is alive. It's obvious, for example, that your commanding officer doesn't like you because you're an aug, what isn't obvious is that he has been emailing everyone who will listen to try and get you kicked off of his team. This approach, the game giving you an entire world and inviting you to pick out the signal from the static, makes you feel like an actual private eye. Codes for important computers are written on post-it notes, secret passageways are hinted at in emails, and any door you can't find a code for, you can hack.
You are the smartest person in this universe, and the game delights in letting you prove it over the length of its campaign. You are the person that pulls the threads together, you have a very real sense of agency and its refreshing.
Outside of the main campaign, you have the Jensen stories; stand-alone missions which exist in the same continuity as the main game, but are not strictly related. They are basically a good excuse to let your hair down and go murder-crazy outside of the main game, but I appreciated the extra content regardless.
Then there's the Breach mode (below). Breach strips the sealed puzzles out of the main game, boils them down to their most simple elements and then bolts them on to some of the more 'recent' game mechanics, such as leaderboards, booster packs and speedruns. It is fun, really it is, but it is also the weakest part of the package.
Deus Ex has never been about competing with anyone, or running nets as quickly as possible. Deus Ex is a thoughtful, contemplative experience and tonally Breach feels quite far away from that. Maybe this will feel better when the game is open to everyone - Breach is a mode designed to be played competitively - and perhaps that's the missing part, but for now it feels like the weakest part of an incredibly strong package.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided doesn't reinvent the wheel, nor does it need to. Compelling, tightly paced and most importantly, fun to play, Mankind Divided has created an exquisitely detailed world and now it wants to turn you loose in it. A stronger contender for Game of the Year in a year already filled with great games, what are you waiting for?