I hadn’t played a Deus Ex game since the original back in the early 2000’s and I probably wouldn’t have played this one if not for a Tesco’s employee who kept mixing up Doom and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I remember the original title as a game that I was too young to really understand; only able to accept what my older brothers told me: that it was a great game. Almost fourteen years later I still feel the same way. The only difference is that I know that the plot of the game is a good one; though I have been left somewhat underwhelmed regardless. Why?
The strange thing about Square Enix’s latest title is that it hits all the theoretical requirements of a successful game. The graphics are of a calibre that demonstrates the power of the current gen systems and even better for those of you PC purists. The recreation of a not-too-distant future Prague executes an excellent balance of maintaining the original beauty of the city whilst interspersing the tropes of a totalitarian system in a way that demonstrates the oppressive attitudes towards the augmented citizens of the Czech Republic. A nice surprising example of this is when I was walking out of a building and heard an explosion go off in the distance whilst members of the public ran for safety and the police presence become eerily present as they hunt the augmented terrorists responsible.
The depth and number of central and side mission will keep you up until one in the morning as you seek to maintain a sense of continuity within Jensen’s approach to his work, whilst the optional missions assist in developing the variety of the Deus Ex universe as you balance the various needs of different characters.
So why is it then that all these qualities culminate in a game that has so far left me apathetic to both the characters and the outcome of the story? The only answer I can give so far for this is that the game tries to do so much that it inevitably does everything to a mediocre degree. Whilst the environment of the game works to highlight the oppression faced by the augmented citizens of Prague; that immersive factor of the game is broken by so many small omissions within the game.
Take the train stations for example; the layout of each station segregates ‘naturals’ and ‘augs’. If you disobey this setup, as I did, you may expect some retaliation for such revolutionary action. Instead you get a telling off if you go on the wrong side of the train. And so the illusion of the discriminate society is broken. I’ll admit; it’s a small fault but it is one with an impact that grows and gathers influence over the playtime of the game. How can you buy into the idea of mistreatment when you, the player, are never sufficiently reprimanded? Instead you become a spectator to choreographed acts of discrimination that quickly lose impact as you continue playing.
This issue extends to the player’s empathy for Jensen; when speaking about the game VideoGamer’s Stephen Byrnes commented that aspects of the game: ‘fall apart because Adam Jensen can fire bombs out his body’. It is a feature that doesn’t really carry any significance until you begin to think about it; how can you view the protagonist as an underdog who is victimised by the authorities when he can just as easily pull out a tactical shotgun or pick up a dumpster and throw it at them? It is these features of the game that inevitably break the immersive factors of the game.
Overall, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a good game; it is on the cusp of being a great game but it seems it tries to do so much that it inevitably lets the player down. I can see so many great cosmetic aspects of the game; though the central plot of the game is dependent on immersing the player into a world in which they become part of the oppressed and this is where the game falls short.
You will want to replay the game to see the outcome of the alternate decisions you make from the first play through but you will probably get bored with the repetitive approach you are accidently drawn into; go in stealthy and draw your mission out by about 15 minutes, or go in loud, die, wait for the game to load up and try again until you become adept at murder. Or, you know, you’ll get bored of listening to the stereotypical gravelly voiced Jensen’s rhetoric as you manoeuvre your way through conversations you’re listening to and nodding along with but your conscience is whispering “You have no idea what’s going on or why it is happening do you?”