I’m roughly ten hours into Mankind Divided and I’ve stopped waiting for the story to improve. I find the game fairly mediocre but most of all, I’m struck by how disjointed the game’s production feels.
I felt I had a great disposition going into the game. I was expecting an average Deus Ex-ish experience and was ready to enjoy it warts and all. Heck I started with the controversial Invisible War and loved it. Went back to the original to be further impressed and had a great time with Human Revolution. So what’s the problem here?
I’ve mostly enjoyed the stealth and action, but I feel the main detractions are ineffective story telling and inconsistent visuals.
Let’s start with the visuals, which are all over the place. While it’s common for the important character models to look much better than insignificant NPCs, it goes far beyond that. Even the art direction seems vastly different. Adam Jensen looks ultra realistic, while many other characters he speaks with can look vastly different. Skin textures, hair, and face models can look like they’re from different games. I understand video games are made by very large teams of people and Deus Ex is not Uncharted. Eidos Montreal needs to populate large, open-ended environment and deal with the player approaching the missions and characters in unpredictable ways. I can understand a smaller amount of character detail in such a large game, but I do expect a consistent visual tone.
Many fans clamor for the good old days of 2000’s landmark Deus Ex. Unfortunately, I’m often reminded of that era in the clumsy execution of areas and NPCs. Characters never seem to be going anywhere or doing anything other than muttering sound bytes….all at the same time. Honestly it’s a little ridiculous how many conversations you hear clearly. A little more audio separation would have helped the areas feel more natural. The ghetto area is particularly troublesome. Destitute characters spend their lives sitting in one spot or being harassed by the police doing their best impressions of the worst offenders caught on smartphones in 2016. Where do these people live? Why is the Market on the other side of a massive restricted area that only a highly trained and augmented secret agent can bypass. Clumsy design like this furthers my thoughts that the game was put together poorly. The individual elements usually look quite nice, but the synergy between them is often lacking.
I’ve been waiting for the story to take off but so far it hasn’t left the ground. Human Revolution put the human element into it’s plot by beginning with a brutal attack and death of a character close to Adam Jensen. Mankind Divided also starts with a surprise attack (during your own surprise attack) but fails to connect any emotion to the events. Adam is an outsider to his squad and we don’t meet any character’s who appear to be closely connected to him. Mankind Divided is a sequel, but feels like another reboot in a different universe all together.
A Deus Ex title should always contain a healthy amount of side quests with their own plots, as well as even smaller micro-plots, such as revealing the story of a room’s occupants. These can be great for fleshing out the world and providing more engagement for the player. Many of these have fallen flat. One in particular occurs after searching a dead body. Reading a few emails reveals a correspondence between a son and his mother. The son (for no explainable reason) decides to head to the slums to become an augmented. Yes, the very same augmented that are segregated and abused. The son eventually becomes hooked on drugs and dies. Before this, he asks his mother for forgiveness, and I assume he doesn’t read her kind reply. The execution of this story is a microcosm of the entire ‘aug lives matter’ theme. It aims to tug heart strings and stir emotion but lacks the logical ties that make it believable.
It’s not all bad of course. The combat, stealth, and environments are all greatly improved from the previous title. If you enjoy infiltrating sandbox areas with a plethora of tools you’ll find things to like here. As a Deus Ex game it captures some, but not all of what made the original so great. I wasn’t expecting a great Deus Ex game and I didn’t get one. But what I got was good enough to see it through.