The RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 2nd – Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

What was the best city videogames allowed us to visit in 2016? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is…

Why, it’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided!

Brendan: I agree with Alec’s assessment of Adam Jensen’s character. He is as boring as rain, a human town planning meeting. If you told Jensen he could only have one type of pizza for the rest of his life, and asked him what would it be, he would answer “Margherita” because he has no imagination and he reckons the Pepperoni industry is in cahoots with Dominoes.

But I didn’t play Mankind Divided for its monotone hero. I played it for Prague. Squeenix were so confident with the city they’d created, they felt fine with sending you out into the streets and letting you completely ignore the main opening objectives for hours as you snuck into people’s homes to steal all their floppy disks. Keep this up without following the story’s main path and waypoints, and you will start getting calls from your boss asking why the hell you have not shown up for work. Sorry boss, I was busy thieving all the duracells in a block of flats and crawling down a nearby manhole like a giant robot rat.

The most impressive thing is that Prague isn’t even that big a place when you compare it to its peers. The creators of open world games constantly brag about how many square kilometres their worlds are, making much of the industry feel like an ongoing pissing contest over map size. DX:MD’s trips around Prague (and its subsequent misadventures in the roboslums) are manageable and detailed, filled with alternate routes and shortcuts that only make it feel bigger. The level design is toppest notchest. You can get lost in the bank and knock out every guard trying to find your way out. Although it’s possible you’ll discover an hour or two later that you need to go back to said financial institution to complete a storyline-sanctioned robbery, as if one high-stakes heist that ended in a couple of accidental murders simply wasn’t enough.

John: I have three joint number ones when it comes to my favourite ever game. The three, and I’ll never be able to pick between them, are Day Of The Tentacle, The Longest Journey, and Deus Ex. Each offers something wildly different, don’t make me pick my favourite child. So then came Invisible War, and guess what, it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone angrily said it was at the time. I thought it was great, if hugely short of the original. Human Revolution is announced, different team, years later, and I’m very worried, but apart from some truly stupid boss fights it was fantastic. Not as good as the original, but fantastic. So if you had told me at the beginning of this year that I’d get bored of Mankind Divided in the first few hours, I’d have scoffed at you.

I got bored. I didn’t feel like anything meant anything. I didn’t care about Blankface McNothing I was being asked to play, I didn’t care about the situation he was in, and I didn’t care about any of the tasks I was being given. I found it irritating more than I found it interesting, and I drifted away. Which I know is crazy! Because everyone I trust about these things tells me it has loads to offer, and I really ought to plough on to enjoy them. But for some reason I haven’t.

Adam: I played this out at the studio long before release and absolutely loved it. Preview events are often tightly controlled affairs, with little room for mucking about with a game’s systems, but I managed to get some of the Deus Ex team gathered around a monitor as I knocked out every person in a level and piled them high in a little room. There’s little point in engaging with the plot or the characters when you’re playing a chunk of game without having played all the parts building up to that, so I just wanted to muck about.

Mankind Divided does good mucking about. At least in that one part. I haven’t gone back to it since release, because I’ve been too busy rather than because I’m not interested, but I suspect when I do play it, I’ll want to gather sleeping people and pile them in a room rather than engaging with the politics of it all. On paper, I’m fascinated by post- and trans-humanism, but in a game that lets me stack people in cubicles, it’s not necessarily going to make the impact it otherwise might.

Graham: To me, the immersive sim is defined by the question, “What happens if I…?” As in, what happens if I jump out the window? What happens if I pick up that fire extinguisher and try to use it as a weapon? What happens if I drag this object over there, and use it to block this piece of machinery? What happens if I connect this thing with that thing so that when the guard does this, that happens? It’s a genre that simulates enough of the world that you’re never sure where the limits of what’s possible lie, and at its best you can find solutions that even the developers never predicted.

Under these rules, Mankind Divided is not an immersive sim. It’s hard to imagine there’s something in the game that its developers didn’t plan for. It feels like a game built to an extremely strict design document, and the design document was called Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

I think this is why some others here thought the game boring. It’s also why I loved it. I loved Human Revolution, and a better version of same does me just fine. By knowing the boundaries of what they were trying to create, it feels as if Eidos Montreal were able to pour extra detail and finesse into their level design. Sure, it’s defined by simple patterns – route A (a door), route B (a vent), and route C (drag a dumpster over, hop on it, get on the roof) – but those doors, vents and dumpsters let you enter places which look incredible. As Brendan says above, you spend the entire game in Prague and the more of it you explore, the more of it you uncover – and it’s like a swiss cheese city. There are hidden routes everywhere such that you’ll still be finding new ways to traverse the same areas 30 hours in. It’s not the best Deus Ex game, because Human Revolution still has the better story and characters, but it’s the best architectural creation in any game, period.

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42 Comments

  1. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    I always love the RPS calendar. It’s the most exciting time of the year. But why are you spoiling the name of the games in the title of the posts, robbing me of that excited click, full of anticipation?

    • Zaraf says:

      There was the same question during the last year advent calendar. I think the answer was some issues with the search engine, but I’m too lazy to check that.

      To get back that excited click full of anticipation, maybe you could put the main calendar page in your favorites, and check the number each day (hopefully the calendar will be regularly updated this year)

  2. ResonanceCascade says:

    I really liked this one, primarily for the level design and side missions. Prague was fantastic. I spent untold hours breaking into every apartment in the multiple apartment complexes. The bank area was one of my favorite levels in any game, and definitely the best bank mission since First City Bank and Trust in Thief 2.

    I was a bit disappointed that the globehopping element of the previous games was gone, and the main plot was pretty predictable, but I still definitely recommend it.

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    subdog says:

    2 for 2 on Contrary John so far! I love it.

  4. Zenicetus says:

    Maybe I missed something, but Prague didn’t make that big an impression on me. Certainly not at the “best architectural creation in any game, period” level. It felt cramped, with too many obvious blocking points to prevent further exploration.

    Also, waaaay too much unnecessary back-and-forth travel on that freakin’ subway just to do something like turn in a mission. I got to the point where I dreaded another subway ride because it killed the pacing of the game. That alone disqualifies it as a great city design for me. They used the subway as a crutch to avoid optimizing the load times for different parts of the city.

    Anyway, I finished the game and rated it a B+ mainly on good level design at the main mission locations. It was fun finding alternate pathways to an objective. The story sucked, and the characters were wooden puppets that I couldn’t care about, but some of the levels were good fun.

  5. Cronstintein says:

    “a human town planning meeting” had me literally lol, a beautiful turn of phrase.

    My main problem with the newest DX games compared to the original is the environmental design. The first game felt believable whereas the new games all seem very artificial in the propensity of convenient vents.

  6. Abacus says:

    One word: Beauclair.

  7. Mr. Perfect says:

    Serious question time:

    I played through DX:HR and thought it was decent, better yet as the Director’s Cut, but there where enough annoyances that I didn’t want to put up with said annoyances for another 40+ hours in Mankind Divided.

    So, in no particular order, have these things changed?

    -That miserable hacking minigame that I’ve already played over a hundred times: Is it back again? Does it still soak up about half of my Praxis points? Is it part of everything I want to interact with again?
    -Ammo: Does it still consume massive amounts of inventory space? In DX:HR about half of my inventory was used up by ammo for my bread-and-butter guns, so there wasn’t really room for fun, situational gear like the crossbow. In the origonal game and DX:IW, inventory wasn’t taken up by ammo, so you could drag around fun gear you just used for the giggles.
    -Mines and Grenades: Are these still separate items? Do they still not stack? In Deus Ex and DX:IW one explosive did both functions, and they stacked fairly deep, so you could actually carry around a nice selection of explosives. In DX:HR the ammo was taking up so much inventory (see point 2), that there wasn’t room for non-stacking grenades or mines that only stacked like two deep.
    -Nonlethal takedowns: Are these still as fleeting as a mosquito fart? It irritated me no end that I could put a tranquilizer dart that was designed to take down an elephant (in game description) into a 150 pound guy, and his friend could just shake him awake as soon as he hit the ground. It got to the point where I’d just do a nonlethal takedown for the Merciful Soul XP bonus, then pop the bastards once in the head so they couldn’t be woken up while being dragged to the nearest airduct for hiding.

    Sorry or being a downer, but I’ve not seen reviews on the web touch on these issues. I’m not sure if they’re just taken for granted as part of the game, or if they’re gone and no one’s missed them. Continue with your holiday cheer!

    • MiniMatt says:

      Hacking mini game – yes, largely unchanged, yes, it’ll eat a bunch of praxis points, yes it’s a decent mini game but occurs frequently enough that it becomes tedious.
      Inventory space – rather restrictive, though the primary culprit seems to come from weapons rather than ammo. One praxis point spent expanding inventory space is worthwhile, a second to expand further would be ideal (although perhaps wasteful). Grenades stack.
      Non-lethal takedowns are permanent unless one of their buddies wakes them up (in which case, after a short animation the effects of a bucket of ketamine coursing through their veins miraculously wears off). In practice this didn’t seem particularly problematic in MD and it’s been too long for me to remember HR – I think fewer wide open spaces in MD mean hiding bodies in discreet rooms seems easier.

      Overall a solid good game which in any other year I’d have no hesitation in putting in my personal calendar. 2016 has been so good for games (and so terrible for everything else) that I’m a little surprised to see it in the RPS 2016 calendar, but the write up above is bang on – the map is great, treat it as a bunch of connected Hitman levels and it comes out strong.

    • Tannhauser says:

      By lucky coincidence I’m playing Mankind Divided right now and can answer all your questions.

      -Hacking is the exact same mini-game with a few new elements tacked on, that you will do hundreds of more times in MD if you are a completionist.
      -Ammo takes up even more room, as most weapons can take different ammo types. So the pistol has stacks for normal ammo and EMP ammo, while the grenade launcher has separate stacks for frag, gas, and EMP grenades.
      -Mines and grenades are still separate items, but they do stack. In fact stacks in general are far more generous. One example is that for energy you just have biocells (instead of the candy bars and tubs in HE), which stack up to 20.
      -Unconscious enemies can still be woken.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The others covered most of it, so a comment on inventory Tetris. I didn’t feel as cramped for space as in the last game, but maybe it was because I settled on compact weapons — silenced assault rifle when things went south, then a stun gun and a pistol with EMP rounds the rest of the time. That plus the augs got me through everything and I didn’t have to carry too many different types of ammo.

      The only thing I really missed was enough room to carry a sniper rifle as well, but there weren’t actually that many places I could have used it. Most of the environments are pretty tight.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Interestingly, I too took them down non-lethal for the bonus and then killed them with the overflowing pisol ammo.
      Not the regular cops and hired guards but the folks who did evil like the guys who helped with the attack on Sarif.

    • welverin says:

      > -That miserable hacking minigame that I’ve already played over a hundred times: Is it back again? Does it still soak up about half of my Praxis points? Is it part of everything I want to interact with again?

      Yes and yes, but if it annoys you that much use a multi tool or just ignore it and find an alternative way around.

      Hacking was one of the first things I plowed Praxis into, but then I completely ignored combat focused upgrades so it wasn’t an issue.

      > -Ammo: Does it still consume massive amounts of inventory space?

      I have a question for you, why are you using guns?

      If you want shoot guns at things play the new Doom, it’s awesome.

      > -Nonlethal takedowns: Are these still as fleeting as a mosquito fart?

      Umm, no idea? I typically knocked people out up close an personal, and that precludes buddies waking them up. I never shot someone from a distance while they were standing next to someone else, it rather ruins your attempts at stealth.

      • Mr. Perfect says:

        I tend to play as a ranged stealth, at least against targets I’m not worried about offing. So things get shooty. Better stacking ammo is a godsend for that.

        Against nice people, like police or security guards who are just doing their job, then sure, it’s worth spending the time to get up close and breaking their arm. Sorry, that sounds wrong, I meant sucker punching them in the nose. Er, no. I meant a nice sleeper hold. Yes. That. Aaaanywho, when that’s not an option, generally because there are two or three together watching each others back, I’ve got to resort to tranquilizers. It’s just bizarre that these guys can shake of tranqs like that.

    • Mr. Perfect says:

      Hmm. Thanks for the feedback. The Ammo stacking deeper sounds good, and the multiple ammo for each gun thing could also be a plus. If one gun and two stacks of ammo can achieve the same things as two guns and two stacks of ammo, then perhaps there will be room left over for situational gear.

      It’s also a relief to realize that there are multitools again. No idea how I missed that in the reviews. The Director’s cut of HR introduced UADs, but they where pretty rare.

      Now to wait until a “sale” price on the complete edition isn’t a six followed by a zero. O_o

  8. itchyeyes says:

    I think this game could have been hugely improved if they had just used a new protagonist. Jenson was already a little too much “gruff game hero trope” in the first game, but at least he had a personal connection to the story and made sense there.

    In MD though he doesn’t even have that. He’s completely generic and bland, and it makes the rest of the, otherwise interesting, game world bland by extension because the character has literally zero connection to it.

    • Risingson says:

      Yeah, well, I think the main character in the first Deus Ex was a moron, and the main one in HR was also a moron. There is something in videogame design that puts morons in a horrible style leading a videogame. And that only works when the game recognizes it as a moron, as it happened in Anachronox (which is maybe the only sf game that shows its writers read some real noir).

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      JC, Adam, Cloud, Squall, love them. It’s a dark cyberpunky game about conspiracies. Why would I play a dude like the one I spent the coffee break with?
      Brooding guys aren’t really evil or boring. They just keep their own counsel.

  9. tslog says:

    I love the concept, setting and some player powers for the latest 2 Deus EX games, but I really struggle with the combat and stealth fundamentals. It’s Combat is woefully inadequate these days, and the stealth system is decent but has been done far better in other recent games.

    With DE MD i’ve played twice from the beginning and haven’t got past the beginning of Prague twice.
    Add in Jesens monotone disinterested voice and you’ve got so many aspects pushing me away from the game.

    I only finished human Revolution after the directors cut. Looks like I’ll wait for the same directors cut with the mankind divided.

  10. thedosbox says:

    Huh, I’ve played through this game three times, but have yet to see the room with that deer head.

    Guess another playthrough is needed – this time with the objective of breaking and entering into everywhere.

    • hommesansclef says:

      I didn’t play this game (enjoyed Human Revolution, no need to revisit it, says I) but man, that deer screenshot weirded me out. I have this exact same thing in my office.

  11. Jenuall says:

    I find it mildly amusing that some of the RPS crew are still going on about how dull they find playing as the same character from Human Revolution when all the evidence points to the fact that the player isn’t actually playing the same Jensen in this game. Also I found Jensen to be hilarious in this.

    I thought Mankind Divided was a brilliant game, expanded on HR in some very important ways and in many ways felt like much more of a true immersive sim that Dishonored 2 did in the end. Biggest let downs for me were that it was far too short, could have done with more variety in its locations (although I agree that Prague was fantastic), and had a absolute whimper of an ending.

    • April March says:

      I don’t think their complaint is that it’s dull they’re playing as the same character as in the last game. I think their complaint is that they’re playing as a character who is dull.

  12. Banks says:

    Very disappointing and forgettable. Had great moments, but the overall direction and writing was abysmal.

  13. Nauallis says:

    All this talk about a day o’ sex, and everybody is so serious. Mankind Divided just sounds like a wild ride. If you know what I mean.

  14. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    Well, I like Adam Jensen. He’s one-half Bogart-esque film noir private eye and one-half player avatar character, so of course he’s going to be under-written compared to most video game protagonists. If he has too much personality then the player’s input in conversation and story outcomes is going to feel less important than it should. His dry sense of humor and all-business disposition is a welcome change from the usual loud mouth frat boy Troy Baker/Roger Craig Smith/Nolan North-voiced action protagonists.

  15. icarussc says:

    OK, so I don’t have the time to play all the lovely games in the world, and I’m trying to decide between picking up DX:MD and MGS V. I played MGS2, ages ago as a young bachelor, and loved it, but I found the control scheme on Ground Zeroes confusing. I’ve played every DX game so far and loved all of them.

    I love exploration, sneaking, sniping, discovering things, and great world design. I also love good stories, but I don’t expect to get that from either of these. Any opinions?

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Played both, both have their flaws and positives. They are very different.

      Both are very stylish, MG in alternate present, DE cyberpunky.

      MG is rather open-world, has better stealth and ending. I also got bored past 2/3-point and stopped but it’s pretty stylish in a mad japanese genius-kind of way.
      You get a dog with an eyepatch and a female sniper. Better sniping overall.
      Military outposts and camps dominate.

      DE is a Deus Ex Game, has cyberspace and illuminates, plays like Human Revolution, ending sucks. There is one open city map, Prague and several side locations. Exploration and finding items is better here, architecture and level construction.

      Deus Ex would be a safer choice but Metal Gear is more exotic.
      Also it’s military setting vs. conspiracies, wilderness vs. city.
      Crawling through Afghanistan vs. choosing a vent in Prague.
      Sorry but it’s very difficult.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      If you’re time-limited, just stay the hell away from MGS5. It requires a serious time investment to fully enjoy.

  16. trashbat says:

    Adam Jensen’s boring margherita choice is, objectively, the correct choice.

    Did Deus Ex teach you nothing?

    One word: augmentations.

  17. Agnosticus says:

    I’m wondering if Shadow Tactics will get a spot, as it came late to the party…

  18. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Swiss cheese is indeed the keyword. The city feels like like an artificial playing ground for the player complete with random art pieces lying around, everything’s being really cramped like the few metres from your building to the metro, low-level-verticality ~second floor mostly and such. Loading times (metro).
    Overall one of my favorite cities in reality and one of the best game cities in a year without many highlights.

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    alison says:

    Bought it last weekend, finished it today, no clue at all what people are seeing in Prague. I think it’s the worst hub Deus Ex has had yet. Aside from the total lack of cyberpunkishness, it felt incredibly silly to be walking around a town full of two-story buildings where an invisible ceiling prevented you climbing the roofs of any of them bar about three. After Hengsha did verticality so well, it’s almost criminal that this game felt so flat. Oh, but there’s more vents to crawl through. Fun.

    And that metro… the longest load time I have ever, ever experienced in a game – 10 minutes of waiting just to go into my apartment to answer a phone call, then 10 minutes back again? You have to be kidding me.

    Ugh. Maybe I am just frustrated because the storyline was so weak and the ending I experienced just a couple hours ago was a complete fizzer. I mean. It’s still Deus Ex. Dumpsters to hide behind. Stuff to hack. Emails to read. TV to watch. So it’s good. But the city and the storyline are not on a par with Human Revolution. I hope the producers recognize the good bits of this one (hypnotist side mission, AI side mission, drag the boss’s kid out the window side mission, singularity cultists) and give those writers the reins. Also, there better be a China hub, goddamnit.

  20. Zantium says:

    I enjoyed the mechanics of Mankind Divided and parts of the story but the placement and background very contradictory and it felt wrong.
    It boiled down to Adam’s character, he’s basically played as a decent straight up guy who’s trying to do the right thing. At least according to the dialogue.
    So, he’s now back working as a cop yet has to break the rules an awful lot just to get the basics done.
    He’s backed by a resourced law enforcement agency, yet has to go out and buy non-lethal ammo (or any ammo) on the black market just to do his day job.
    So if you want to play him a decent human who doesn’t just go out mindlessly killing people who happen to be in his way then the game makes this the most difficult path to follow.

    Much of it just didn’t sit right for me simply for the role he was meant to be playing and the situation he was meant to be in. At least in HR he was a good guy that went out to get revenge and track down his kidnapped girlfriend & scientists. Most of the people you were up against in HR were the “bad guys” so that made more sense thematically.

  21. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    John continues to prove that I’m not insane for finding many of this year’s critically acclaimed games to be total duds.

  22. frymaster says:

    “So then came Invisible War, and guess what, it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone angrily said it was at the time”

    The graphics look like clunky, the integrated ammo system is a pain, the controls are unwieldy, and the inventory UI is annoying – but goddamn did I like to be in that world.

    For example, the AI pop star is really suspicious – if you tell her about crimes she refers them to the police and I think you get an informant bonus. She seems like she’s really obviously a tool to get people to divulge secrets – like an amped-up facebook.

    But then I realised that she’s designed to appeal to her users. So… how much of her suspiciousness is innate, and how much is because presenting as a tool of a shadowy conspiracy is the correct way to appeal to the kind of character you are?

    I also genuinely appreciated how they managed to contrive a world where it wasn’t obvious which was the “canonical” choice from the first game