The entirety of A Criminal Past is set in the Penthouse, a sophisticated, maximum security prison for augmented ne'er-do-wells. It's a perfect location for a Deus Ex playground: there are tons of restricted areas, guards, security cameras, and turrets all begging to be sneaked past, exploited, and eliminated. The DLC is set between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, and sees our Neo-cum-Inspector Gadget hero Adam Jensen going undercover. Your main objective is to locate a fellow undercover agent who has some important information regarding a terrorist attack. Augmented literally up to his eyeballs, this should be a breeze for Jensen, right?
Well, no. As he arrives at the Penthouse, a chip is implanted that disables all of his augmentations. This changes up the gameplay, at least to start with, dramatically. With no surplus abilities to toy with, you're forced to play at a slower pace, exploring the level and scoping out opportunities. You can play through the DLC suffering from the effects of the chip or you can try and find a way to re-enable Jensen's augs. It's a great way of making the player change things up, adding an interesting dynamic to your normally extensive toolset, and giving A Criminal Past a unique flavour.
As we've already mentioned, the setting makes for an excellent location to sneak through. It's an intricate, complex place full of hidden paths, things to see, and NPCs to talk to. Then again, this is Deus Ex, so this should come as no surprise. Items are hard to come by, too, reinforcing the notion of exploring every nook and cranny in an effort to gain the upper hand.
All of the tight security measures also make for quite a challenging mission, especially when Jensen doesn't have access to his augmentations. This can become slightly frustrating as you probe the level for ways to progress. Thankfully, there are plenty of possibilities, as always, and the challenge can actually be somewhat refreshing; moving forwards isn't as easy here, and you'll need to think a little differently. Also, once you do get further and start earning Praxis kits, you can begin to fall back to tried and tested strategies if you wish.
Interestingly, it's the storytelling that sees more of a change. Jensen is recounting the events of A Criminal Past to Delara Auzenne, Task Force 29's psychiatrist, and their conversation overlays the action at key points, like a narration. It's a novel idea that works quite well, although Auzenne asking Jensen to tell her what really happened whenever we died felt rather silly. The story itself is totally self contained and, much like the main game, not exactly a page turner. It doesn't appear to have much bearing on the story of Mankind Divided either. Still, there are one or two interesting characters, and you'll have to make some morally-grey choices along the way, which should keep you paying attention.
Really, though, this is essentially a case of more of the same. Fans of Eidos Montreal's modern Deus Ex formula will enjoy the spin on the gameplay, but despite the fresh angle, everything that makes the series great is still here.
A Criminal Past is a decent last hurrah for Mankind Divided. Its story is fine, but doesn't really add to what's come before. However, the Penthouse is a wonderfully designed and unique level that's well worth exploring for the half-dozen or so hours you're there. It also cleverly demotes your abilities, forcing you to change up your approach. It's a strong effort that tries a lot of new things, and while it's certainly not essential, a little more Deus Ex is always welcome.