Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided review

    I've been hesitating to do my review of this game for a long time because of a number of reasons: 1. It was a gift from my wife for my birthday. 2. I really-really love Deus Ex. However, just as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a beautiful spiritual successor to the original Deus Ex, this basically feels like a redux of the controversial Deus Ex: Invisible War. Actually, no, Deus Ex: Invisible War had a beginning, middle, and end. This just has a beginning and then stops.

    To clarify before we begin, I am not the world's biggest Deus Ex fan. I am, however, in the top hundred. I am a huge fan of the lore, I can recite the games damn near verbatim, and can tell you such facts as Illuminati member Elizabeth DuClare was the mistress of France's Prime Minister. My love for the franchise informs my disdain for the work here and the general sense I've been sold a half-finished product which doesn't seem like it would be that good even if it was finished.

I asked for this game. I didn't ask for its mistakes.
    The premise of the game is Adam Jensen survives the destruction of the Panchea Project from the first game, getting dumped in the middle of the freezing ocean, and being rescued by what is implied to be the Illuminati (before being outright confirmed a little while later). He spends a year in a medical clinic before emerging into a world which now fears and hates Augments. This is due to the "Augment Incident" where

    Mankind Divided used augmentation as a metaphor for privilege so this is kind of a weird reversal that initially took me out of the game before I accepted that, yes, most Augments going crazy and murdering people around them would do a decent job of making them social pariahs. However, this is the start of the game's troubled storytelling but I'll get back to that.

    Adam Jensen has joined UNATCO, err, sorry, Task Force 29 as part of a secret plan of his and the Juggernaut Collective's to track down the Illuminati. The Illuminati wasn't actually responsible for the Augment Incident but they killed a bunch of Jensen's friends so let's go with that. Stuff happens and Adam Jensen has to stop a big Russian cyborg terrorist who wants to start a race war with Augments.  Okay.

The gameplay is perfectly serviceable.
    This is where I get back to the issue I mentioned earlier. This game awful pacing. Incredibly important stuff is skipped over with a couple of lines of dialogue, new characters are introduced as old friends, old friends are removed from the game, and the motivations of characters are told to us without much justification. I can't help but think Adam escaping the Illuminati's control, finding out the world is now a ghetto for Augments, and ending up a Interpol wetworks operative with the secret friendship of Anonymous would have been a much better game than the one we got.

    The sense of stakes and priorities also feel really askew. The previous games were about stopping a globe-trotting conspiracy out to control the world through transhumanist evolution, money, media, and population control. This game is mostly about making sure a guy who builds ghettos isn't assassinated so he can build a really nice one for Augments to segregate themselves. It doesn't even feel like the main quest because major questions like Task Force 29's purpose, the Juggernaut Collective's goals, and so on are all left unanswered. If they want to make Adam Jensen's adventures a regular franchise, fine, but at least give us something meaty to deal with.

    What's really frustrating is there are some really good bits in the game. I genuinely do enjoy sneaking up behind people and punching the crap out of them. I like the expanded range of non-lethal options which the game has provided me. Albeit, I feel like some of the options are absolutely ridiculous and kind of make lethal combat lose its few temptations. Prague is a nice enough city even if I don't want to spend the entirety of my time there. However, even the better elements are twisted as we have a recast David Sarif and the opening level is a Call of Duty-esque attack on terrorists which feels nothing like Deus Ex.

Prague is a decent setting but they should have had more.
    Then there's the microtransactions. I'm an abnormally forgiving guy about this sort of thing. If Eidos wants to sell "Super Easy Mode" by charging real money to purchase Praxis Kits and in-game currency, that's their business. Except, playing the game, I was constantly blocked off from finishing side-quests unless I had specific augments even early in the game. I couldn't help but wonder if this was meant to be an "encouragement" for me to shell out RL money so I could play the game organically. If so, that's just....not cool, Eidos. Not cool, Eidos.

    The game has interesting ideas about mechanical apartheid and the attempt to get rid of unwanted individuals by segregating them out of sight so they're out of mind. A lot of the darkest and most interesting elements of the game come from appropriating this imagery. Still, I'm not sure it works as a metaphor since even mutants from the X-men are in-born as a persecuted minority. Augments, by contrast, are people who are made. Still, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this and I may yet change my mind.

   There's some decent things to say about the gameplay. It's still pretty much Deus Ex: Human Revolution and there's even an option to have the original game's control scheme. I also like how they've expanded the non-lethal options so you can more easily disable people without killing them. This includes a non-lethal version of the Typhoon which can knock out a whole section of enemies without killing them. It's still incredibly fun to just go around punching criminals and thugs without a care in the world.

There's some good ideas about terrorism but not great ones.
    I will say that Prague, one of only two hubs in the game, is pretty well-designed. There's a nice contrast between an ancient city and a technological dystopia which I only remember the original Deus Ex doing with Paris. You can feel the apathy and loathing for the environment which radiates off the citizens and police.

    There's a lot of relevant topics discussed in-between the heavy-handed "Augs=Minorities" metaphor like police brutality, the militarization of the police, and overreaction to terrorism. I also generally liked the sidequests as Adam playing cop is enjoyable, just not as his main mission. I even have a few moments which I really enjoyed like annoying the locals by constantly getting on the "Naturals Only" tram.

    In conclusion, Mankind Divided is a underwhelming sequel that I feel I'd have enjoyed even less if I hadn't read Deus Ex: Black Light beforehand to fill in the gaps. I'm still looking forward to the next game but I think they should find someone else to plot the main quest.


1 comment:

  1. Since Mankind Divided and Dishonored 2 seem to be a bit disappointing may I recommend DOOM(4)?