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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided review round-up: augmented or augward?

The latest game in the Deus Ex series has finally been released, almost five years after Human Revolution first came out.

Of course, the third game in the series received plenty of positive reviews, but does the follow-up make for a worthy title? Well, the reviews seem to think so…

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Tackle things in your own way

The Deus Ex franchise has made a name for itself thanks to the free-form nature of missions, and Ars Technica‘s Sam Machnovech found the fourth title to be no different (saying that people should “buy the heck out of the game”).

“Missions feed into each other in organic ways, and giant structures and sneak-around sequences have been built into zones that might otherwise look pedestrian. Eidos Montreal really rewards players who treat this game as a ‘play how you want’ adventure, as well,” the reviewer noted.

“Being able to leap, sneak, muscle, or hack my way into almost anywhere wouldn’t mean much if there wasn’t anything there worth discovering, but my feats of high-tech infiltration were always rewarded in one way or another. An innocent-looking curio shop might have a secret passage leading to a storage locker full of valuable items, or sneaking through a neighbouring apartment might lead to you stumbling into one of the meaty multi-part sidequests,” wrote Vince Ingenito, for IGN, bestowing a 9.2/10 rating.

PC Gamer‘s Andy Kelly also reacted favourably to the level design and open-ended nature of missions, giving the game a total score of 88%.

“Experimenting with cool augmentations and manipulating the AI and systems is exactly what I want from a Deus Ex game, and Mankind Divided frequently delivers. The sheer variety of ways to tackle an objective is impressive, and almost everything is designed with your augs in mind. And if you don’t have a particular aug to get through one way, there’s always an alternative. And don’t worry: Eidos Montreal has learned its lesson when it comes to boss battles.”

Has Deus Ex gameplay itself improved?

The title has a lot to live up to, as Human Revolution made quite the impact in 2011. But it appears that the new game does indeed bring a host of gameplay improvements.

“Additionally, some of the stealth-assistance augs that were optional in Human Revolution… are now given to you for free (a nice change from the usual sequel approach of de-powering the hero back to base levels, which Mankind Divided cleverly sidesteps). These are subtle choices, but taken as a whole they remove most of the guessing and hoping that made Human Revolution’s stealth occasionally frustrating,” Ingenito notes.

“Even better, when things do escalate gunplay feels precise, and resetting the situation after setting off an alarm is much more manageable. Where in Human Revolution being seen would almost invariably plunge encounters into total chaos, Mankind Divided allows a well equipped and prepared player to feel powerful even when bullets begin to fly. The new Crysis-style on-the-fly weapon modification plays a big role here, adding a ton of utility and flexibility to standard firearms.”

‘The new Crysis-style on-the-fly weapon modification plays a big role here, adding a ton of utility and flexibility to standard firearms’

Machnovech said that the gameplay and augmentation system was mostly the same as the previous title.

“The big difference in DX:MD is the addition of some jacked-up powers that Jensen learns were somehow hidden in him all along. Whilst figuring out how the heck someone stealth-installed that tech into his body, he learns to take advantage of its juice in the meantime… at a cost,” the Ars Technica reviewer explains.

If you turn on any of the experimental bonuses — like the ability to turn electric elements off from a distance or shoot friggin’ lasers from your hands — you’ll have to permanently deactivate some other element of your suit. Whatever you deactivate will truly never come back, forcing a killer tradeoff that fuels the ‘oh, gosh, what am I going to upgrade’ anxiety that people simultaneously love and hate about Deus Ex.

Machnovech explained that movement, power activation and other systems were largely the same too, but that you always had enough energy for short periods of augmentation use.

The story

If there was one common thread of mild disappointment at the least, it would have to be the story.

Gamespot‘s Edmond Tran (rating Deus Ex 8/10) said that the story could get too complex at times.

“It’s easy to become completely engrossed in this morally ambiguous chess game, with so many unknown factors lurking beneath the surface. But the lack of a clear antagonist or driving purpose at any one time can lead to temporary disillusionment, with no one enemy ever standing in the metaphorical crosshairs for too long,” Tran wrote.

“The only real criticism I can level at Mankind Divided is that, especially in the wake of the events that close Human Revolution, its plot is decidedly less ambitious. It’s still well produced (barring slightly suspect lip-syncing) with dutiful, believable performances by the entire voice cast, but the story feels like it’s stuck in second gear,” IGN’s Ingenito wrote, comparing it to the first episode of a “potentially great” TV show rather than a film.

“The story takes place mostly in Prague, with a few stops in other countries that I won’t spoil for you. And, honestly, it’s the weakest part of the game. I never felt that invested in what was going on, and by the end I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything about Jensen as a character,” wrote PC Gamer’s Kelly.

The reviewer also took aim at the “inconsistent” writing and “heavy-handed” use of real-world history (such as “augmented lives matter”).

Breach mode a welcome bonus?

Reviewers had mixed things to say about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s Breach mode, with some praising the addition, and others (like Giant Bomb, who gave the game four out of five) not caring for it.

“But the real issue is that when you remove the action from any kind of cohesive narrative, it isn’t exciting enough on its own, particularly when presented as a sterile, featureless environment the way cyberspace appears in Breach. It’s a dull addition to the game that feels like the developers needed to add a ‘living’ mode to the game, complete with the increasingly standard (and increasingly dismaying) consumable card pack concept,” Jeff Gerstmann wrote for Giant Bomb.

If there was a common criticism, it would be Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s story

“It’s a goofy premise, but considering it’s essentially the Deus Ex world’s version of the original Metal Gear Solid‘s masterful VR missions, we’ll allow it. The quick-burst opportunities to employ your personal mix of stealth and combat seem like the kind of thing someone should have modded into Deus Ex years ago; it’s a great way to plunk down about 15 minutes of time into a bunch of satisfying missions (or to spend all 15 of those minutes trying to get your highest score possible in one particular mission),” wrote Ars Technica’s Machnovech.

Metro‘s review (giving Deus Ex 8/10) found that the new mode was an example of the developers mindlessly throwing in new features.

“Breach is a sort of time trial mode set in a stylish VR world, that has its own separate skill tree and online high scores. A lot of effort has clearly gone into it, but in truth it’s not terribly interesting and after an hour or so you start to wonder why it’s even a part of the game at all.”

In a review for Time, Matt Peckham viewed the new mode in a favourable light, giving the title 4.5/5 overall.

It’s surprisingly smart, complements story mode’s more sedate tempo, and adds layers of complexity as you go. You can unlock analogous augments to bolster metrics like attack, movement or defense, tack on modifiers that up your health points or speed, and there’s a collection game whereby weapons, items and modifiers are assigned a card and rarity rating (you get cards by buying booster packs with credits earned through play). It’s a mini-game that feels more like a macro-game, tactically nuanced and elegantly asymmetric, and I’ll admit I’m kind of in love with Breach so far.

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