Deus Ex : Mankind Divided

Let me make this clear from the outset - Mankind Divided is one of those games that you just have to play at least once to try. It is by no means perfect, but there is so much to enjoy in the game that if you do get into, it is oh so easy to forgive some of its greater flaws. And the thing is, the game is not without its flaws by any means - in fact, it has one of the most frustrating flaws I've come across in a game, but it is well worth playing in spite of this.

I'm going to start with the bad, just to lay it all on the table so you know what you are getting yourself into.

Firstly, the plot more or less falls flat. This is for two reasons, one major one (which I will come back to below), but also because the main plot in the game tries to carry on the plot from the first game and largely fails. Sure, there is some continuity - including a helpful 10 minute video reminding at the start of the game articulating the main plot points from the Human Revolution (HR), but there are many hints at characters and plot points from the first game that are essentially not followed up on or poorly articulated in the sequel. By the end of the game, sure, I had fought back against a terrorist threat, but i never really felt Mankind was Divided, the stakes were really highly or that I was fighting for the future of humanity. The real peaks of the main plot were, no spoilers, not really that exciting or resolved- it was felt very much like i was playing out someone else's story rather than shaping my own in terms of the main plot.

Secondly, and this is the major point mentioned above, the game seemingly ends 2/3 of the way through. The "final" missions stopped and the ending sequence was essentially a recap of some of the main events of the game. I looked around my living room wondering had i blacked out and missed something but basically, nope, the game just finished at the point I thought the final act was being teed up. The cynic in me thought this was because the intent was leave the game open for another sequel, but apparently (or at least according to the internet), the plug was pulled on the game and it had to be launced 2/3rds complete. It figures, and it shows.

The plot aside, there are other flaws - your player character becomes over powered in the game and, even on the 2nd highest difficulty, becomes relatively easy about half way through the game I played on "give me deus ex" and while i died multiple times, it always felt like a "good challenge" rather than "Christ this is hard". There are uninspiring game sequences - in particular where you infiltrate a neuro-network to solve a bunch of fairly boring box based puzzles - and the game restricts you to a relatively small number of game areas. While Prague is used as a hub for the game missions, a larger world is mentioned but, ultimately you've got one main area and dozen or so side areas to explore in standalone missions. In short, on occasions, the scope feels restrictive sometimes, not just tight or well managed.

Now then - if you've got this far and are a thinking "but he said he loved the game", then bear with me, because i do. Like i also said - the flaws are there, but they are oh so easy to forgive in the context of the wider game. In fact, the fact that they all feel so minor is a testament to how wonderful the core game is. 

Few games have such variety of gameplay and reward innovation as MD does. You can play as a hacker, hacker / assassin, Sniper, Non Lethal Sniper, Stealth, Stealth Assassin, Tank, Explorer and many mor different variations of traditional combat tropes. If you dont like combat you can, virtually avoid it entirely using mainly close quarters non-lethal take downs. Also, the game rewards you for varying your style -  sure, you may find it hard to switch from a tank to a stealth expert, but you can still try and while it can be hard, you can succeed. This is a game designed with flexibility in mind and it rewards innovation. Rarely - if ever - did i feel restricted in how i played the game. In fact, i enjoyed trying different tactics out my reloading my save game just to see if could complete a certain section another way. The game is that good that, in game, you want to replay sections of it. 

Then you have the side missions. And by side missions, what i really mean is world building. While the main plot falls somewhat flat, the side missions are fascinating for the most part. They play out in interesting ways, you face complex moral choices, get a much greater feel for what matters in the Deus Ex universe and, somewhat ironically, connect the game to its predecessor in a way the main plot fails to. They are also incredibly varied - you get to play detective, investigator, combat pro, explorer, political activist, people smugglerand many more roles and often have big choices that play out in interesting ways in the game. If the main plot is the spine of the game, the side missions are the heart and soul and, for the most part, where the real enjoyment can be had.

Prague. What a city. The recreation of a futuristic Prague is oppressive, hostile, beautiful, tortured and believable. As access to the different quarters of the city unfold, your appreciation of what the developers have done grows. You begin to realise that you have a sewer system to explore, a criminal underbelly you can influence - working with or against - citizens you can help or abuse, all set against an astonishingly beautiful backdrop. Just when you think you've got Prague susses, the game pulls one of its most enjoyable twists on you. Spoiler alert - but (in what turns out to be the final third of the game), the police that have already been out in force in Prague, suddenly transform the city to a curfew zone. They are heavily armored and armed, openly hostile to anyone in the street and have multiple reinforcements. You've still got to get around - i mean its not like your job is done - you've just got to be incredibly creative in how you do so and it is incredibly enjoyable. When this happens i genuinely felt like i was playing in a game that was designed around me, had given me the tools to succeed and allowed me to shape the game how i wanted. It was bloody brilliant.

Then there are many one off highlights - the bank heist mission is incredible and can be played many different ways, Jensen's take downs are super as always, one or two of the main plot twists are, genuinely, really interesting, some of the augments you can take are downright great fun to play with (the slow-down time one and exploding ball bearings are GREAT) and even the final boss fight is a blast. 

Yes - the game has some big problems, yet the fact that these problems feel so, so small when you play Deus Ex - Mankind Divided tell you all you need to know about how wonderful the game really is and why it is well worth completing. 

Deus Ex - Human Revolution

December 3rd 2012

I've been discussing Deus-Ex with a couple of colleagues, and those who've played it agree that its an incredibly flexible game where the whole really is better than the sum of its parts. But, before i comment on the 3 things i liked / disliked about the game, i wanted to spend a moment talking about the structure of the game.

It begins with choice
The great thing about deus ex is that it fundamentally encourages experimentation with each of its core game modes. As i saw it,it was more a very clever illusion of choice, that gives you a lot of variety, but is actually fairly repetitive. You see, you've got 3 main "types" of gameplay, and 3 main ways of playing through each, the story, exploration and combat. And you can pretty much play each of these game

Combat
1. Soldier (i.e. first person / 3rd person cover based action)
2. Stealth based (sneak around)
3. Blend i.e. take out emenies by stealth / run away / use sniper rifles etc

Role Playing (i.e. the plot and your role in it)
1. Good (i.e. generally accepting of people, want to see the best in the characters)
2. Bad (i.e. be badass, give people a hard time)
3. Smart (i.e. use the social interaction mod and really try and play the debates / complex moral dilemmas)

Exploration
1. Pay no attention, just progress the plot of the game forget trying to find random hidden areas / side quests)
2. Hack your way through - focus on upgrading hacking skills, disable cameras, make exploration easier
3. Use your Body - upgrade your jumping, strength and vision, make exlproing and finding stuff easier

The clever bit is of course that you are rarely faced with one of these gameplay components at a time, they all infact overlap and gave the game its feeling of enormous flexibility, albeit within predetermined rules.

About 1/3rd into the game, there is a moment of realisation where I was finally good enough at combat and taking out enemies quietly, that I started to try and explore a warehouse. Then i realised that i needed to upgrade my hacking skills to access an area, so i did. Next thing i knew, I had bypassed a whole pile of enemies on patrol, hacked a local security terminal and turned all the drones on my enemies, saving me a pile of ammo and hassle. This is a farely common occurance in the game - you frequently get the chance to mix up your own way of playing and are never penalised for it - you can be pretty much competent at everything major at the end of the game and still find interesting ways of solving what could have easily been routine problems.

Deus ex really does bend over backwards to accomodate multiple ways of approaching the game - and when i say that its more that the sum of its parts, this is specifically what i am referring to - the combat is not as strong as GOW, Resident Evil or even Mass Effect. Nor is the role playing as developed as Skyrim, Mass Effect (again) or Final Fantasy (in fact, the while the story here is good, its the pacing of it is strange). Finally, the exploration is particulary limited, despite early promise of having cities to explore. However, put them all together and you get a great and varied role playing game with enough interesting takes on pretty regular components to make it easy to recommend.

So what did I like and dislike? I'll keep this fairly short, given how much i've already said on the game itself...

Likes
1. The action is always satisfying (except for boss fights)

The combat may not be as great as Gears of War, but boy is it fun. Once you get out of the first 4 hrs, the game lets go and you have enough toys to play with to ensure that routine action is plenty of fun. You get a healthy arsenal to shoot with (tranquilize or kill) including a shotgun (of course), a couple of fun rifles, grenades (which of course can be turned into mines), but you also have 2 swords up your arms for bloody death dealing to unsuspecting guards. Combine this with varied settings (both in design and layout) and you get a pretty enjoyable single player action game.

2. The Setting
Put simply, the scenery is great in Deus Ex with its orange hue throughout, it has plenty nice touches that make it feel like a believable dystopian (?) future. Also, Jensen your character looks like a ludicrously clothed badass when killing people. its so OTT, that its funny.

3. The Conversation Combat & Ambuguity
I'll not spoil either, but conversation combat (or "social duels") are a real highlight. You have to use what you know about your adversary and use your wits / words to take down a foe. The game gives you a spot of practice with this early on, and at several key moments employee's it expertly. Regarding the plot, while good, what makes it really interesting is the amount of ambiguity (with one exception - see the end, below), where there arent many clear cut decision. In fact, the game is littered with plenty of debates that are well structured and interesting to listen to. Where the FF games can be weighed down by their overly played out storylines, Deus Ex, true to its form gives you the choice as to how much you engage with it. You can read a good selection of PDA's, E-Books, Notes, Emails etc and hear interesting dialogue debating the ethics behind genetic modification & enhancement of humans. For the most part it is excellent and both well acted and written.

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Dislikes
1. The Boss fights
Enough has been said about this for me to not need to repeat it, but believe me, these are the least interesting parts of the game by far. All I'll say is that they reduce any choice from the scenario, and you a required to shoot the crap out of a heavily armed bad guy. Also, weirdly, the bosses get easier as the game goes on too - the first one is super hard if you've not really been paying attention to your augmentations (see below)>

2. The Pacing
The designers made some really weird pacing decisions. For a start, the bosses get easier - be this by by product (as you are just generally "harder" by the end) or a deliberate choice, it really hurts the overall flow of the game. The first two bosses are very punishing (especially #1) and if you have been playing as a light footed stealth character with little emphasis on guns, you're basically screwed. For me, it felt more like they were shoe-horned in to present natural climaxes in the plot.

3. The Inventory Management
For a game so slick in look, feel and general execution of ideas, my god did the skip a beat with the inventory. I can only assume the designers did this to keep the "challenge" in the game, but it is just so fiddly. Not only are you limited in space, you've frequently got to drop weapons / items to free up enough space just to upgrade / heal / equip new items. Its just a bit of a pain, but not enough to ruin the experience.
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So there you have it - dues ex human revolution is a great game to play with an interesting and well developed plot and varied gameplay. It is sometimes frustrating, but always has enough breadth and depth to keep you entertained and interested.

The last thing I'll say is the weird mis-step at the end. I'll not spoil it, but there are 4 different endings, and you have to make a choice that decides the fate of mankind. However, rather than this choice made overlooking some epic vista, or having any tension or urgency, you are plonked infront of 3 buttons, each of which has 1 distinct outcome (the 4th choice is unlockable if you've done something during the game). I literally made a save game and watched all 4. It totally removed all emotional impact the endings could have had as you can literally just play the 2 minute video sequences for each. Sure, they are interesting, but dont feature any real character resolution and the whole 'bit at the end' feels like a cheap CG ending at the end of a hollywood horror movie when you were expecting something truly epic.

Overall - B+

Thats it - interested in your thoughts!

D