I’ve not played Cyberpunk 2077, on account of it supposedly being a buggy over-hyped mess. I felt excited about it like everyone else, a sci-fi RPG made by the same studio that made Witcher 3? Sounded perfect. Maybe they’ll fix it one day. For now, I’m staying clear.
There are other ways to get your cyberpunk fix though, like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. It’s the fourth game in a series that started in 2000, but this instalment is a direct sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution from 2011. Together they are prequels to the first two Deus Ex games, but they’re only tenuously linked.
Mankind Divided takes place in 2029, a near-future where cybernetics are widely available. Rather than providing a way for all sick or disabled people to live better lives, it has created a world where rich people can enhance their own lives further, leading to bigger wealth gaps in society.
This is fairly typical of the cyberpunk genre. It depicts futures where humans have become technologically-advanced, but are still unable to solve social problems. This contrasts with more optimistic sci-fi, where the future is all shiny cities and spaceships.
Welcome Backo, Mr. Roboto
You play as Adam Jensen, a gravelly-voiced cyborg with a Tony Stark beard who wears sunglasses regardless of how dark it is. The developers seemed to have been going for a generic cool guy look, but he’s charming enough to be relatable rather than cringe.
During the previous game, villains transmitted a signal that caused people with cybernetics to go on murder sprees. Meaning that, now, they’re feared by the rest of society. You will hear them referred to as “augs”, or “clanks” when people want to be a bit nasty.
As Adam, you work with Interpol to investigate some recent terrorist attacks blamed on an aug rights group. But there’s evidence that someone else may be behind the incidents. Someone looking to further alienate augs from the rest of society.
It isn’t quite an open-world game, but you do get to roam around a section of Prague which acts as a hub world. It’s a refreshing difference from throwing the player onto a huge map. No endless side quests and collectables to drain a few hundred hours of your life.
Czechia Is A Wreckia
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is mostly in first-person, which helps you to feel immersed in the world. Future Prague is a grim place, where it’s always nighttime and often raining. Taking place shortly after a train station bombing, there’s a tense atmosphere. Heavily-armed law enforcement almost outnumbers the augmented locals.
Litter, homeless people, and brothels are side-by-side with high-tech police robots and shiny government buildings. It's the epitome of the cyberpunk vibe. There’s an added layer of interesting design, with futuristic motifs built around the historic architecture of Prague.
We Can Rebuild Him, We Have The Technology
Adam’s augmentations mean he can access a variety of different upgrades. These include invisibility, x-ray vision, projectile weapons, and general improvements to your physiology. You can choose to make your adventure more focused on stealth or action, depending on which upgrades you spend your skill points on.
Skill points are fairly hard to come by, so you should probably prioritise one play style. I went for a stealthy approach because there are more run-and-gun games out there than sneaky games, so it made a nice change. This decision was also influenced by some early enemy encounters where I tried brute force, but they took me down almost instantly.
Some of the upgrades are permanent, such as improved jumping and the ability to resist poison gas. But others require activation and deplete an energy meter. You can top up the meter with “biocells,” but I found these to be scarce. This meant I was reluctant to use some of the more interesting powers too often, so I didn’t end up powerless in the middle of a hostile environment. I often used invisibility, but other battery-hungry powers include faster movement and armour plating. It’s reasonable to limit these abilities, but I think they’ve limited too much by not making biocells easier to find or buy.
Softly Softly Catchy Clanky
It feels like they designed the game with stealth in mind. The enemies are all well-armed and well-armoured, while you just wear a Matrix-style long black coat. There are echoes of Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. Many levels involve infiltrating secure facilities that you’re not supposed to be in. There are often multiple routes to your destination, including sneaking through vents and hidden doors.
Raise Your Weapon
There are a lot of ways to bring the pain in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. You can pick up typical game weapons from enemies like pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and sniper rifles. You can modify them to increase damage and ammo capacity, as well as add silencers and use different ammo types. I mostly stuck with silenced pistols, but there are plenty of options to mix it up if you want to play it like a Terminator.
You can also unlock combat abilities through the upgrade system. There were some that I felt were unnecessary because they were very similar to the weapons, like the ability to shoot electric shocks from your arm or shoot metal blades. These cost a lot of upgrade points, which you could spend elsewhere because weapons are easy to find throughout the game.
You can also use your bare hands to take down enemies “stealthily”. I use quotation marks because the takedowns are quite strange. You have the option to use non-lethal or lethal force. In both cases, you input the control, the screen turns black for a split second, and then the takedown shows as a mini cutscene.
It’s a strange choice because most stealth games would let you take down an enemy seamlessly in-game without any kind of cutaway. For example, Dishonored, a first-person action/stealth game from around the same time. However, I do enjoy the non-lethal takedown, where Adam taps his victim on the shoulder before laying into them with a metallic haymaker.
There’s one gameplay element that I’m glad is optional. Throughout the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided you’ll find computers and locks that you can hack into to find secrets and hidden booty. This launches a hacking minigame which the designers put a lot of effort into, but I find it too frustrating to be fun.
It looks like a flow chart and you have to “capture” successive nodes on the diagram to get from point A to B. However there’s always a chance to trigger an alarm, which starts a really quick countdown before you’re booted out of the system. Certain items and upgrades can improve your hacking skill, but in order to make it worthwhile, you’d have to skip out on most other upgrade options. But if you want to play the game as the world’s coolest-looking hacker, then you’ll have a great time.
Luckily there are often other ways to get around hacking, like taking passwords from defeated enemies or climbing through vents into locked rooms. This leads to a cool feature of the game, which is the multiple paths to an objective. Often you might be in some kind of typical sci-fi facility, trying to find a particular person or other plot devices. You can sneak from room to room, often connected by vents.
In this world, it feels like they encourage vent-crawling because they’re covered by neat sliding doors. Usually, in games, you have to break your way through, because generally, vents are for air and not people. When a suitable vent isn’t available, you can sometimes make your own door by punching through weak spots in the walls. I enjoyed taking my time trying to find the most efficient way to get around. Often found after painstakingly sneaking into a certain place, I’d look back and see there was a much simpler option! But I count this as a positive, giving incentive for replay.
Easy On The Eyes and Ears
The graphics are great, with an amazing level of detail in the environment. Much of it doesn’t add anything to the story. But it helps to make you feel like you’re in a real world. For example, there are fictional companies depicted on posters, vending machines, and products you can collect. Specifically, there are lots of different alcohol brands you can drink, all with specially-designed bottles and artwork. Their only purpose in-game is to get you drunk, which makes your police work a bit trickier. The lighting is also particularly good, especially in the dark and rainy streets you often find yourself in.
Michael McCann composes the music, which is outstanding. He’s also worked on Borderlands and XCOM, so he knows his sci-fi business. In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, he’s created a score that’s perfectly futuristic and haunting. Check out the track “TF29” for a taste.
I like to pretty much balance the positives and negatives in my reviews and then give a good score overall. This is because unless a game is awful, I enjoy my time playing it. Also, I probably wouldn’t volunteer to review a game I hated…
So here are some more things I didn’t like so much. The load times are pretty long, even though this game came out relatively early in the PS4’s lifecycle. They try to cover them sometimes with cutscenes, like the one which is a loop of Jensen slowly walking between underground train stations. I was shouting at the screen for him to get a jog on.
Also, I think a lot of the characters look overdesigned. I see this a lot in cyberpunk. What I mean by this, is that nobody seems to have subtle augmentations, like one cybernetic limb. Instead, most characters seem to have multiple augmented limbs, plus bolts and barcodes all over their skin. On top of this, they all seem to have loads of tattoos, piercings, and exaggerated haircuts. Nothing wrong with any of those things, it’s just not necessary to make everybody into a literal “cyber punk”. Would be more compelling to have a mix of average joes with cybernetics, as well as people from niche subcultures.
Deux Ex Mankind Divided is one of the best cyberpunk games you can play and works well as both an action shooter and stealth game. I’m still keeping an eye on Cyberpunk 2077 to see if they can patch it into something decent. Meanwhile, Bethesda (of Elder Scrolls and Fallout fame) are working on their own sci-fi RPG called Starfield, which may also be able to scratch the itch.