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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the latest of Square Enix’s reboot of the Deus Ex Franchise, whose story toys with the thought-provoking question “what does it mean to be human.” Mankind Divided specifically evokes imagery and themes that blatantly borrow from the pre-Civil Rights Movement era. Right from the start (well, after a full-sized tutorial), we are shown images of segregation between what the game’s inhabitants call “Augs” and “Naturals.” Here, somehow, the Augs take the oppressed role while the Naturals are the oppressors.
The Civil Rights Movement-inspired theme creates a strong sense of setting, as does the game’s anchored location in Prague. As one of the Augs – because, let’s face it, who wants to consider themselves as the oppressor – Adam Jensen (the protagonist) gets to roam the streets of Prague while “racist” insults are thrown at him and while locations are barred off by business owners and policemen.
Meanwhile, you get to uncover secret conspiracies run by governments, media outlets, and terrorists – which are about equal measures Aug and Natural.
I start this review with the game’s story and setting, because those are really the high points of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Everything else almost feels secondary or simply borrowed.
The way Deus Ex plays gets repetitive after a few infiltration missions. The game periodically sends you on missions to collect something in some building. Each time, that something is being guarded by a bunch of people. It is then your job to choose between sneaking past them, riddling them with bullets, or stealing all the passcodes to all the shortcuts to pass them.
I’ve found that sneaking past them with liberal use of tranquilizer darts is the most fun way to complete each mission. Digging through garbage to get all the pocket secretaries is long and boring. Shooting a couple guards just seems to alert the entire compound, leaving me filled with more lead than my grandmother’s walls.
Either way, missions get repetitive after a while, but that’s okay. The story is compelling enough to spur you on to the next one. This is true even in spite of Mankind Divided’s predictable tendency to snatch away whatever you were looking for at the very last minute.
Mechanically, the game is okay. The gunplay feels a little awkward. You usually have to stay behind cover if you hope to survive more than a couple microseconds. Leaving cover to shoot often throws your aim miles from where you’d expect it to go. This gives your target forever to unload a clip into you before you finish correcting your aim.
Alternatively, you could hack your way around your enemies. You hack by way of a mini-game, because how else would you hack/pick locks in a video game. The mini-game is okay if you take time to think about how you want to go about it. Usually, though, I can hack into most things by clicking buttons and hoping the big red timer doesn’t run out.
Where Deus Ex’s gameplay really shines is in its character customization. Yes, you play as Adam Jensen and only him. The way you can build and modify your particular Adam Jensen can differ from other Jensens. At least, until you accumulate enough praxis to unlock all of your mods. Until then, there are many Adam Jensens, but this one is mine.
Finally, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided suffers from what I call Excessive Loadtime Disorder, or ELD for short. The initial load time for each play session is brutally long. You go through that same loading process anytime you reload, like after dying. There’s also a painfully slow loading process anytime you use the subway to travel between city sectors.
So yeah, the actual playing part of Deus Ex is passable, but not exceptional. It’s good enough to warrant playing through the story and experiencing the richly detailed setting within the game.
I said the story was Mankind Divided’s strongest point, but its graphics comes a very close second. This game is just beautiful in both design and technical execution. Nearly every shot and every location follows beautiful color schemes. Character designs are outrageously “futuristic,” but they look so damn cool at the same time. Every time a shot of Jensen pops up, I found myself admiring his awesome jacket and gold sunglasses. Dr. Smiley’s plastic-covered futuristic science man design was similarly impressive, and his color scheme was just as fun to notice. The layer of sheen and gloss that we might expect from a AAA game just makes everything better.
Some of the actual gameplay mechanics like the combat and the hacking may not be the greatest, but they’re usually good enough to keep you playing. And that’s great, because Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game that delivers such an intense atmosphere and sense of place that it is hard not to get sucked in, and that’s where the game really shines.