Invisible War was my first Deus Ex so I went in with zero expectations and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I went back to the original and enjoyed that even more while understanding what people hated about it’s sequel. This franchise love led me to my first and only pre-order for Human Revolution and has carried over enough for me to give Mankind Divided a shot.
A quarter of the way into MD and I haven’t been very impressed. The game has definitely improved combat and stealth but the story and choices have been underwhelming. I also have to mention the overall sloppy presentation. The frame rate constantly chugs and the visuals are a hodgepodge of styles and quality. Obviously large games are made by large teams, but rarely do the lines of the puzzle pieces show through so clearly, and are sometimes in the wrong place! One head-slapping moment has Adam Jensen discussing a never-mentioned area called ‘The Throat”. It makes a lot more sense when the next major character goes on to explain “The Throat”.
This got me so charged up I decided to go back and play Invisible War. My main goal was to simply see how it held up, but I also wanted to unofficially rank one of them as the worst in the series. Here are my initial impressions.
Is Invisible War better?
While the game lacks the highly polished and exciting set piece of MD’s Dubai level, it still delivers a great setup. The pre-game CGI sets up an intriguing premise showing a single terrorist decimating an entire city, perhaps to target your organization, but left ambiguous. This identifies a powerful and mysterious force as the opposition. You begin the game in the new facility with mysterious rumblings. Your authorities shrug these off but they are soon revealed to be another attack, this time an infiltration of your new home base. Information is then revealed that further shakes your trust with just about anyone as you make your escape.
I thought this opening held up very well and set the table perfectly for a game filled with several large organizations asking you to perform different goals and asking the player to choose whom to believe in. It did feel a little too Half-Life in some parts, but that game’s influence was very hard to ignore.
This is the main strength of Invisible War and what I’m missing in Mankind Divided. I enjoy the ethical decisions without a clear-cut “right” answer. I want to think while I play Deus Ex. There is constant choice in your missions and it provides a nice weight to the experience.
Mankind Divided (so far at least) feels more like a ride. I’m watching a story slowly unfold and although I do make choices, they usually seem far less important. There was a particularly great early side-mission that thrusts a quick decision affecting two NPC lives, but I need more of this.
Is Mankind Divided Better?
Wow do I ever miss the take down. Human Revolution introduced an augmented ability to perform a cinematic takedown and Mankind Divided wisely kept it. Not only does it look much better than clumsy first-person melee, but it allows you to silently incapacitate guards (or kill them) while making your way through an area. Even better is the upgrade to take out two guards at a time.
Invisible War lacks an equivalent. I’ve tried sneaking up with an energy sword but I’ve yet to deliver a single killing blow. The stun baton gives them a seizure but isn’t a permanent solution. I’m constantly alerting guards and resorting to shotgunning everyone like I’m playing DOOM. I don’t remember the stealth option being this difficult and hold out hope I can figure out a better solution.
The corridors AKA “Cities”
The environments are terrible. Every city feels like a space station. You can catch glimpses of skyscrapers and landmarks but it mostly feels very claustrophobic. You’ll spend the majority of your time walking up and down sparesely populated corridors. If there was a fight, the NPCs remain as they were. The same dead bodies will litter the ground while guards will be frozen in an action pose hours after the initial encounter. It’s very sterile.
I understand the limitations of the hardware prevented a teeming city of life, but even simply removing the dead bodies and resetting the guards to a natural position would help with the suspension of disbelief.
Mankind Divded is better in this regard, but not perfect. The opening city of Prague is densely populated and open. Sure most of the shops have painted on doors that are not meant to be opened by the player, but it effectively feels like a real city. The NPCs could use a bit more realism however. They never seem to do anything other than stand and constantly chatter. Don’t these people have lives? Also, Jensen must have augmented hearing because you’ll be doing an overwhelming amount of eavesdropping wether you want to or not. Improved, but not enough.
I’m a quarter of the way through both and will continue to alternate playing them. You can watch them separately or together to get the full experience. So far I’ve enjoyed the story and choices of Invisible War and the action/stealth of Mankind Divided. If MD can up the ante with a few great plot twists I’ll have to give it the edge, but so far, Invisible War takes the coveted second-worst spot on my list.