The original Deus Ex will always hold a special place in my gaming library, at the time there was nothing like it and if we're honest not many games have surpassed the exemplary level design since. I will never forget the level that that ends with your brother's death. I remember wondering: what if he can be saved? It was a revelation to find it was possible and not only that, but many situations from that moment on would change with a key character now alive. Obviously, the original game now looks very dated, hell even Human Revolution is looking a little rough around the edges. I guess this is the downside to having a series that spans decades and generations of gamers: where a game like say Mass Effect can just about manage to look like it's from the same mould. So let us take a look at how they did with this latest Deus Ex.
Adam Jenson returns at the lead protagonist in Mankind Divided and now two years after the last game things haven't worked out very well for augmented humans. At the end of Human Revolutions players were given multiple endings to choose from and despite that branch, the developers assume you chose to keep the world ticking along for the sake of not making three different games. 'Augs' are now feared, segregated and mistreated in every walk if society. Adam has now moved on from Sarif Industries and joined a specialist unit called Task Force 29. When I first booted the game up I appreciated the fact you can watch a lengthy video summary for new players covering the key events in the previous game. The prologue mission then drops Adam into the action (literally) and does a respectable job of familiarising new players with the controls and systems in the game.
Within minutes of returning to Prague (your new home) you get caught up in a terrorist bombing and though not severely damaged all your abilities take a good knock. While having a local Aug specialist fix your systems he uncovers a whole new suite of experimental upgrades that have been spliced into your current systems without Adam's knowledge. As far as the story elements are concerned this is as far as I will go with specifics but needless to say, Adam sets out to find who has made him even more awesome and why.
Move with the times
From the moment I took control of Adam in the prologue mission I have been trying not to let the way he moves bother me, but it really does. When I move forward there is no subtle build up of momentum, strafing doesn't cause my view angle to slightly tilt and sprinting feels like Jenson is mocking the player with his hands flailing all over the show. The first person view almost feels like the spectator camera from arena shooters like Overwatch, detached from all the signs you are a living being and instead free to float around unhindered by weight and inertia. In games like Dishonoured, the developer totally nailed how to make the movement work in a first person view. There is a perfect degree of momentum, an indication of weight and yet with that, there is also credence to the fact you are not playing as the average man or woman. Running in guns blazing has never been one of Deus Ex's strong suites, in fact, I would argue that you only get the very best out its intricate environments when using stealth and only when cornered using brute force. Yet with each game, Adam is given more 'full breach' tools such as the Typhoon and Titan shield.
I have watched many games series go through this process: Splinter Cell seems like a good example. When Sam Fisher first started out the gameplay was purely about sneaking and stealth, any full blown combat situations would put you at a distinct disadvantage. Then a few games back the developers gave all the games mechanics and systems an overhaul, making Sam move and fight with far more grace and deadly ferocity. This kind of overhaul is exactly what I feel like the Deus Ex series needs in order to add that extra dimension I think is missing because many times I felt like I was fighting the controls and not my enemies. It's worth noting that Mankind Divided does feel more adept at handling gunplay so this is more of a request than a complaint.
All the right buttons
Ok so technical and control issues aside how does the gameplay pan out? Well for anyone who played and liked Human Revolutions you will feel right at home. Even before you leave Adams apartment block there are vents to clamber through and doors to hack. As you start to explore the city of Prague more side missions will become available, it actually took me nine hours just to reach my HQ after the bombing because I was busy poking around the crevices of my neighbourhood and testing the games stealth systems. While hacking a laptop in a high rise block of flats I'd broken into, I suddenly realised - it was my bosses apartment! This is where Deus Ex is at its best and in terms of level design Square Enix have delivered.
There are some very nice touches to the environments, when talking to NPCs they will turn their heads toward you with their bodies then following: this looks really good adding a layer of realism. As already mentioned, Adam now has a whole suite of new augments to play around with and I have to say these add a lot of fun to the various situations you come across. There are so many ways you can deal with the same situation and this choice is core to the Deus Ex DNA. One of the most useful of these new powers has to be the Icarus Dash which allows Adam to leap forward at incredible speed and even reach otherwise unreachable places: it actually reminds me very much of the blink power in Dishonoured. We also now have a remote hacking upgrade which depending on your play style could be awesome or maybe a little too overpowered. Regardless, remote hacking lets you mess with many of the systems the city and adds, even more, options for Adam to employ while doing what he does.
The good, the bad and the downright ugly
Overall Mankind Divided is a mixture of good and bad when it comes to looks. Right now, even the most powerful systems are having problems running the game on full whack but let's assume these wrinkles get patched and optimised. I did look at many of the environments in the game with the settings on ultra and for the most part, it is a very pretty game. The textures look great up close and many of the areas in the city really stand out.
However, there is a vast difference between the standards of how people look in the game, even the style changes from using actual footage of real people to the in-game models you will see most of the time. When in the drop ship at the beginning of the game I was actually impressed with the facial models and animation. Then I gave David Sarif a call from my apartment and was blown away by how poor it looks, almost like they were scared to change him too much from the last game in case people didn't recognise him. This contrast between real, really good and really bad doesn't work in my opinion. In addition, the lip syncing is poor to the point that cut scenes mostly reminded me of cheap Kung fu films, it's certainly not a major problem but something I noticed often. I also noticed that long hair doesn't look great and when talking to Alex before the bombing her hair was actually moving like grass in the wind.
Is it PC?
On the face of things the PC version of DE:MD has a fairly hefty options menu. As well as all the graphics preferences you could wish for there are plenty of other nice additions such as the ability to scale the HUD or even get elements to fade away when not being used at that time. There are currently some problems with the PC version of the game, the mouse acceleration is borked but I found it playable at 10% sensitivity. There are also a few options that tank FPS, such as MMSA and volumetric lighting: I'm certain by the time you read this a patch will have been implemented but for now just be aware of it. The company who produced this port are Nixxes who have been with Square Enix for years and seem to be pretty reliable, so who knows why we are seeing day one issues. I don't think I am the only PC gamer out there sick to the back teeth of PC ports being treated as an afterthought. As I always say guys, under no circumstances preorder games: let me review them for you and test the water. The game will still be there a week after launch and in all likelihood run a hell of a lot better.
'I'll have extra money with my money, please!'
I can't publish my review of DE:MD without touching on the problems around the game, specifically the preorder bonuses, micro transactions and the way the company have handled it. Many months ago Square Enix announced a tiered set of preorder packages for this title, they dubbed it 'augment your preorder'. Long story short, people didn't like this all too much because any one player would never have access to all of the game: it was removed. When the preorder package reappeared it had been renamed the 'Covert Agent Pack' and included various weapons, skins and items for use in game. The problem is that nowhere did it tell customers that once some of these items were used they would be save specific ie one use only. Now you could possibly give Square Enix the benefit of the doubt, if post release they hadn't renamed the package to the 'Augmented Covert Agents Consumables'. I'm sorry but that is just shady as hell and unless they can prove otherwise shows these are not just mistakes but they are treating their loyal fans with distain.
Add to this mixing pot of controversy the fact the game (a full priced single player game bear in mind), also comes with a shop containing micro transactions. If you check the Steam product page you will see the overall review rating is 'Mixed' (at the time of writing) and this is almost entirely the reason why. As is common now users take to Reddit and various other forums to vent their frustrations, while this totally undermines the legitimacy of Steam reviews (if there ever was any in the first place) you can't blame people for feeling a little exasperated and wanting to vent.
To be honest, if Square Enix want to add microtransactions to their game then who am I to say otherwise, but surely they must know how this will be received? Maybe the financial benefits outweigh a temporary scuff to their reputation: after all in a week or so fans will be outraged over a completely different game right? I personally think it's quite sad that there are gamers out there who would bypass some of the experience with real money (on top of the full game price) but at the end of the day, their actions don't affect my game because this is a single player experience. It's an interesting counterpoint: why should one player be upset that another has bought extra gear in a single player game? That said, the fact Square Enix are trying to milk some extra money out of players in this way feels really dirty and I can see why fans of the series are upset.
While playing the game I was prompted early on to download the Deus Ex Universe app so I could scan various triangle shaped QR codes. I rolled my eyes and begrudgingly downloaded the app for the sake of the review: see how much I love you guys. Once registered the app scans the code and this, in turn, gives you access to a video/audio clip. I have to admit that while initially not sold on it the videos actually turned out to be an interesting insight into the making of the game and by my sixth one I was glad I'd bothered. For example, you get to see the actor who plays Miller (your boss) and the voice actor for Jenson in the recording room: turns out Miller is played by Vernon Wells who I remember from many eighties films such as Commando and Innerspace.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a solid piece of work and certainly a worthy title in the Deus Ex legacy. All the things fans love about the series are here in various degrees despite my opinions on how the combat and movement could be improved. I guess if I had to highlight the game's biggest flaw is its lack of ambition and scope. While the city of Prague is wonderfully designed and big enough to house this game I am still disappointed you never visit any other cities. In a way, it feels like what happened with Dragon Age 2 when the whole game was set within one city. Given the globe-trotting antics in previous games was such a highlight, I kept hoping we would suddenly be whisked off to another hub, but that moment never came.
While Deus Ex certainly sets the stage for some very heady subjects such as the oppression of a subculture in society the game fails to really explore this in a satisfying way given this was an emphasis of much of the promotional material. All the issues I have raised in this review are even more infuriating because Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an excellent game and many of these issues could have been totally avoided by Square Enix is they hadn't employed such a ridiculous marketing strategy. I think like myself, most gamers just want to buy the game and play it: a concept that used to be a reality.
I hope you enjoyed my review of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on PC. Please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic and tell your gaming friends about my site. If you see a game you think I should be reviewing you can let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org