First Impressions: ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ (Xbox One)

Fluid mechanics, compelling story combine for a strong start

Disclaimer: I’ve never played a “Deus Ex” game. To be honest, until 2011’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” I’m not even sure I’d heard of the game series (the first one was released in 2000), despite the games’ general critical acclaim. My entire knowledge of the series comes from recently watching a YouTuber play through “Human Revolution.” After spending several hours in the latest entry in the series, I’m sorely regretting that lack of knowledge.

So, a quick primer: “Human Revolution” follows the story of Adam Jensen, a former employee of Sarif Industries, a leading company in human biomechanical augmentations. Long story short, Jensen finds himself at death’s door, and the only way to save him is to install the latest in augmentations, making him a veritable Swiss Army Knife on legs. (His skills include hacking; superhuman strength, speed and recovery; and other high-tech wizardry.) His goal is to find those responsible for nearly killing him. Before the final game’s final choices, what would be called the Aug Incident occurred, during which augmented humans go insane and inflict wanton slaughter. This event leads to the world of “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.”

In “Mankind Divided,” it’s two years after the Aug Incident (the game does offer a 12-minute recap video before you start playing, which clearly is meant for those who haven’t played “Human Revolution”), which we learn was caused by implants that were installed in augmented humans and secretly controlled by the Illuminati (yes, the Illuminati). The world’s social order from the previous game has flipped: Humans with augmentations no longer are considered to be the shining hope for humanity’s future. Instead, they’re outcasts, viewed with suspicion and scorn for what happened.

Jensen returns as the protagonist, this time working officially for Interpol (Sarif Industries is no more after the incident), while also a part of the Juggernaut Collective, a hacker group.

To kick things off, Jensen, part of Task Force 29, is sent to ambush a terrorist group in Dubai. Right from the beginning, player choice is introduced. As with “Human Revolution,” “Mankind Divided” is set up to allow for multiple ways to interact with other characters and to complete story missions. While stealth still is valued (more on this later), if you want to go in guns blazing every time, you’re more than welcome to.

As you work your way through the game’s beginning, you’re reintroduced to its gameplay mechanics, which mostly revolve around the power-ups you acquired in the last game. (Don’t worry: You won’t have the souped-up Jensen for long.) Tutorials show you how to sneak around and how to beat down your enemies. How you proceed to achieve your goals is completely up to you.

As for how you play, it’s clear stealth is generally going to serve you better, if the first few missions are any indication. Take it from me: You can try to overpower everyone in front of you, but I’m finding that’s generally not the wisest course of action. It may take longer (and may prove more frustrating) to sneak through the shadows to accomplish your objective, but it tends to pay off in the end.

And while you’re running around on rooftops or engaging in fisticuffs, you’re going to be doing so in stunning visual fashion. From basic environment interactions to battle triggers to cutscenes, “Mankind Divided” is a gorgeous video game. The game is cast in muted shades, from the grimy cyberpunk environs to the augments themselves.

The game’s themes mirror those of the broader series’: transhumanism, advanced biomechanical technology, a not-too-far-off future that borders on dystopia and an “Assassin’s Creed”-style shadow battle between hidden factions positioning themselves to control the world. “Mankind Divided” also adds a new one: “mechanical apartheid.” The term coined by the developers encompasses the overall social construct taking place here, one in which humans without augmentations view those with them to be dangerous and unnatural. (This stems from from the fear that followed the Aug Incident.) In effect, it’s a powerful allegory to racism and its effects within certain segments of the population.

So far, “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” is proving to be an excellent addition to the “Deus Ex” series. Its intriguing story is setting up to sate the conspiracy theorist in all of us, and its fluid mechanics and open-ended gameplay style should match any play style. I’m only a few hours in, but this much is true: If the rest of the game plays this well, the “Deus Ex” series will have found itself a new fan.

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