After finishing Mankind Divided, my strongest thought was if Invisible War was better? If I consider the games relative to the time they were released, I would have to say Mankind Divided falls at the bottom. None of the games are terrible, but I found MD the least interesting to get through. The story was weak and the presentation was very uneven. AAA games are often made by several teams, but it never feels or looks this apparent.
Invisible War caught a lot of shit trying to follow up the groundbreaking original, arguably the greatest PC game of all time. In many instances the harsh criticism is justified. It was indeed dumbed down for multi-platform (console) release. The RPG mechanics were stripped, the universal ammo was plain stupid, and the environments were laughably small and claustrophobic. It’s hard to imagine you’re globetrotting through cities when every area looks like an empty airport lobby.
At the time however, I accepted the limitations and enjoyed the story, especially the balance of multiple factions, none of them painted as clearcut ‘bad guys’. The example I always give is a mission involving a scientist and a super weapon. The multiple factions ask for multiple resolutions but it’s up to you to decide how to act. Save or kill the scientist? Destroy/use/sell the weapon? There’s no paragon/renegade here, you can only think for yourself. Although Invisible War lost so much of what made the first Deus Ex so fantastic, I feel it fully delivered in this aspect.
Back to Mankind Divided
Eidos Montreal’s latest Deus Ex has many of the hallmarks the first game established: Large sandbox levels with various methods of approach, a branching story, multiple mission paths with moral decisions, and a conspiracy-heavy plot in a believable cyber-punk world. However, MD executes these elements with varying degrees of success.
Centering the majority of the game around the hub of Prague provided the best sense of scale since the original Deus Ex. Unfortunately, the fake Czech accents are irritating as hell, but the city layout is wide and deep. The neighborhoods are distinct and vibrant, the Bank is a large and well-designed level in itself, and the sewer system provides useful transportation and further color for characters who wish to remain hidden.
In a game that delivers a decent enough Deus Ex experience, the story is by far the biggest offender. Mystery is obviously a great ingredient for a story in this setting, but it’s overused. The narrative spends too long answering questions with questions, layering a suffocating amount of characters, organizations, and motivations without providing enough meaning. Before the main plot thread can become grounded, the ending is rushed and finishes insultingly open-ended, especially for a franchise that’s now “on-hiatus”.
Mankind Divided gave me just enough stealth infiltration and cyberpunk atmosphere to keep me playing, but I was left flat. There were a few memorable moments – most notably in side-quests – but the overall story was easily the worst of the series, and the rest of the package felt the least impactful of the four main games.
I truly enjoyed Eidos Montreal’s Human Revolution at the time – though I doubt it would hold up today – but after this sequel, I’d like to see a new developer take a crack at what should be a much more relevant franchise.
Deus Ex may be one of the best PC games ever made, but its legacy is unfortunately becoming more watered down with every new release.