Republished on Wednesday 27th December 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of January's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Like 2011's Deus Ex: Human Revolution, new-gen sequel Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Combining role-playing game elements with stealth and shooting, it's a title that tries its hand at just about everything, but its desire to stretch across numerous different genres isn't necessarily a weakness – it's actually part of what makes Adam Jensen's undercover adventure so compelling.
Player choice is at the core of Mankind Divided. Working as a field agent for an anti-terrorism task force, Jensen is usually called upon to do the dirty work, and how he handles each objective is almost entirely up to you. Whether you're comfortable sneaking your way through enemy territory without alerting a soul or you prefer grabbing your favourite rifle and spilling some blood to get things done, the vast majority of missions can be tackled any way that you like.
Even when it comes to basic things like getting past a locked door, the release does a great job of giving you options. You could hack the door's keypad, loot the code from the body of a guard, or simply look around for an air vent to crawl through. Every little choice that you make is backed by a nicely balanced skill system, too, allowing you to upgrade Jensen's cybernetic body parts as you see fit.
Naturally, this means that you can support your own style of play with perks and skills that make sense. If you want to focus on survival when it comes to combat, for example, you can pump skill points into lengthening Jensen's health bar, or you could use your points to unlock an experimental skin shield that soaks up incoming damage. The skill tree is pretty much the perfect companion to the title's branching mission design.
However, when you start to break Mankind Divided down into its separate components, you can't help but begin to see the cracks. While none of the game's core mechanics are especially bad, they're far from being perfect: the gunplay's a little stiff, the stealth often lacks challenge due to predictable artificial intelligence, and the minigame that occurs when hacking electronic items is far too overused to be considered entertaining.
Fortunately, the release keeps you hooked with a relatively complex story that's packed with multiple twists and turns. Jensen, finding himself caught between several different organisations while hellbent on trying to prevent a terrorist attack, has to deal with a diverse cast of characters – and you're never quite sure who you can trust. The plot unravels slowly – perhaps a little too slowly at first – but after a few hours, the narrative finds a better pace and sticks with it.
Overall, the story's an engaging one, but to fully enjoy it, you'll have to get used to the sometimes shockingly poor character animations that occur during dialogue. While Jensen himself and other main members of the cast don't suffer too badly from this, it's difficult to take lesser personalities seriously when their mouths don't match their speech whatsoever. It's a shame, too, because aside from some extremely hammy East European accents, the voice acting is largely on point.
When it comes to the length of the story, you could probably blitz through Mankind Divided in about ten hours if you ignored side missions and rushed down the critical path alone – but you'd be missing out on a lot of what makes the title tick. Some missions can conclude differently depending on how you approach them, and at times, you can even impact the outcome by taking matters into your own hands and following up on leads that aren't identified by a quest marker on your map. Put simply, this is a clever, intricate game that rewards you for using your head, and, as you can imagine, it's a release that practically begs to be replayed. Thankfully, there's an unlockable New Game + option to help you with that, which allows you to carry over all of your skills and items to a fresh run.
Meanwhile, if you're not quite up for the seriousness of the campaign, you can always test your skills in the title's Breach mode. An entirely separate and optional mode of play, Breach essentially takes the core gameplay mechanics of Mankind Divided and throws them into a set of smaller scale missions that take place in cyberspace. Breach offers its own background narrative about edgy hacker groups, but don't let the hashtags put you off – Breach is actually an addictive little time sink, complete with its own progression and rewards systems. If you find yourself yearning for quick stints of Deus Ex action outside of the main story, we heartily recommend it.
Mankind Divided may seem a little cobbled together at times, but there is one element of the release that does its best to tie everything together – and that's the game's great sense of style. As you'd expect of the cyberpunk series, there's a futuristic edge to everything, from vehicles to weapons to clothing, but it's all just realistic enough for it to seem plausible. Just walking through the streets of Prague – the title's hub area – makes for a very interesting visual experience.
That said, on a graphical level, the game struggles to really match its stylistic ambition. Models, whether it's non-playable characters or buildings, have a tendency to look jagged and unrefined. Likewise, general presentation is a tad hit and miss. Menus have a nice slick look to them and the HUD's well crafted, but the way that the title cuts to black when initiating dialogue can be jarring, and as mentioned, the poor lip-syncing can really ruin immersion. Thankfully, the moody electronic soundtrack is spot on throughout.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an intricate, intelligent journey through a well crafted cyberpunk world. Eidos Montreal's creation tries its hand at many things, offering an impressive amount of player choice, but it struggles to excel in any one particular area. As a result, we're left with a game that's solid when taken as a whole, but flawed when analysed piece by piece. Still, a great art style, a compelling plot, and a rewarding sense of progression do a lot to bolster the experience, ultimately contributing to a successful sequel.