By mixing elements of role-playing games, first-person shooters, and stealth action games within the framework of a cyberpunk story, 2011’s Deus Ex Human Revolution was basically the Ghost In The Shell game that fans of that anime had been waiting for since the movie’s 1995 debut, myself included. And though we’re still waiting for the Ghost people to get it right, we can at least enjoy the next best thing with Deus Ex Mankind Divided (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC).
Set in 2029, Deus Ex Mankind Divided once again casts you as the cybernetically-enhanced cop Adam Jensen. With the world still reeling from the events of Deus Ex Human Revolution two years prior — in which terrorists hacked people’s cybernetics and caused them to go on killing sprees — and more attacks possible, Jensen has to figure out who’s behind them, what they want, and how he can stop them, while also dealing with the growing civil rights schism between those with cybernetic enhancements and those without.
At its core, Deus Ex Mankind Divided is an action-oriented role-playing game in the vein of Fallout 4, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and the Mass Effect and Borderlands games. When not completing the main missions that drive the story, you’ll also engage in side quests, crafting, looting, and multiple dialog choices. The game is also set in a series of small but open areas where you can not only go on missions or visit merchants, but you can also break into people’s apartments and steal their booze.
But when it comes to the combat, Deus Ex Mankind Divided is a predominantly a first-person shooter, albeit one that smartly cribs the more interesting elements of similar games. While it has the solid controls of Call Of Duty: Black Ops III, Halo 5: Guardians, and others, it also has the third-person cover mechanics of Rainbow Six: Vegas, the climbing mechanics of the new Doom, and such sneaky stuff as the radar from early Metal Gear Solid games and the ability to toss distracting items like in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. It even cribs from the Resident Evil series by limiting your ammo and having an inventory system that’s based on the size of items.
You also have a number of tech-based skills, which are employed and upgraded as you level up. Besides giving you a helpful vision mode like Batman has in Arkham Knight, and the ability to hack cameras and turrets, you also have access to a stun attack and the a pushing move not unlike a Jedi’s Force Push.
All of this action is set in a cyberpunk-flavored world inspired by such touchstones as Blade Runner, The Matrix, and, of course, Ghost In The Shell, especially the spin-off TV show, Stand Alone Complex. And while it gets tiresome having to show your papers to every subway cop on the job, the game does do a good job of making you feel like you’re in a dystopian future, with all of the technology and oppression that implies.
Together, all of these elements make for a compelling adventure, one that doesn’t just require an itchy trigger finger and a good eye, but some intelligence as well. Choice is paramount in Deus Ex Mankind Divided; you often have multiple ways to complete a task, not the least of which is whether to use lethal or non-lethal tactics. For instance, one early mission has you getting stopped at a checkpoint. So, you can either fight the guards; talk a guard into telling you about a forger who can make you a fake pass, and then convince the forger to do so; or you can jump up onto the roof, make your way through some air vents like John McClane in Die Hard, and eventually get past the checkpoint…where, as with all three options, you’ll get into a shootout with some bad guys. Which is not to say every mission ends in gunfire; just the good ones.
As compelling as Deus Ex Mankind Divided may be, though, it’s not without its flaws. For starters, the same button you tap to reload your weapon is also the one you hold to bring up the menu where you change aspects of that weapon. But the difference between a tap and a hold in this game isn’t that different, time-wise. In addition, the reload/gun menu button is also used in that gun menu to switch the kind of ammo you’re using, even if you’re out of that kind of ammo. Which means that if you’re in a frantic firefight, you might find yourself being riddled with bullets while stuck in the gun menu or trying to use an empty gun when there’s plenty of ammo for it in your pockets.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided also has four different button configurations, including the one from Human Revolution, but none are entirely intuitive. They all have odd, and sometimes untypical, buttons for such moves as going into cover and then from one cover point to another. And while, as with all games that don’t go with typical button layouts, you will get used to this game’s controls after a bit, even after playing for a while I still occasionally found myself failing to duck behind a barrier because I hit the wrong button.
Then there’s the platforming you have to do to get around sometimes, which is as awkward here as it is the new Doom and most first-person games.
The on-screen map in Deus Ex Mankind Divided is also somewhat unhelpful, as it doesn’t let you mark points of interest, nor does it indicate the quickest path to that spot or wherever your next objective may be, especially when you’re in a part where the world’s comprised of maze-like corridors. As a result, you have to constantly stop and switch to the larger map in the menu to figure out where to go if you’re trying to find a store or some other place that’s not part of a mission. Even weirder, while there’s an option to “Jump to mission,” this doesn’t bring you where that mission takes place, it takes you to the mission section of the menu.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided also has a problem so common these days that I’m getting a little tired of including this complaint in every relevant game review: some of the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading dialog boxes, PDA entries, and other menus. You’ll also have trouble reading the captions, though that’s more because they’re light grey in often grey world.
There’s also a myriad of annoying, though not game-breaking, technical problems. The most obvious and annoying of which is that the lip sync in the cut scenes are often misaligned, while the load times can be painfully slow, especially when you’re on a subway traveling to another section of town.
Lastly, while the story-driven campaign is the centerpiece of Deus Ex Mankind Divided, the game also includes a secondary challenge mode called “Breach.” In it, you control an avatar in a series of similarly geometric puzzle rooms. But while “Breach” has its appeal, and gets really tough, both intellectually and reflexively, it didn’t hold my interest for long.
Yet, even with all these problems — most of which are admittedly more annoyances than actual issues — Deus Ex Mankind Divided still manages to be compelling adventure with frantic combat and a lot of interesting ways to get stuff done. Sure, it’s not the Ghost In The Shell game we’ve wanted to play for twenty years, but as I said earlier, it is the next best thing.