I can still vividly remember creeping round the Statue of Liberty in the original Deus Ex, always starting a new game by listening to the guards complain about things (“rhetoric… always just rhetoric…”) and having to play with the lights off thanks to my PC monitor being a bit rubbish and not going bright enough to see what was going on. I can remember the atmosphere, the quiet swirl of the breeze, the clanking of the moored boats in the distance, the birds squawking nearby… it was like nothing I’d ever played before. I was mesmerised, but I was also pretty rubbish at it and didn’t get very far.
Fast forward 16 years, and I’m sat with the lights off playing Mankind Divided. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I’m still engrossed, the atmosphere is still highly impressive, and while it doesn’t feel as fresh as it used to do any more I’m still obsessing with killing as few people as possible, hunting for cut-throughs or air ducts I can crawl through to avoid a difficult hacking task or large set of bad guys. It’s tense, it still makes you jump, swear, panic and accidentally kick the cat when you get spotted… essentially, it’s still Deus Ex. Which is great.
And I’ll tell you why it’s great. In fact, that’ll all I’ll do. There’s a story to Deus Ex about man and machine working in harmony, which follows on from the previous Deus Ex game (where a hack made anyone with cybernetic implants go utterly bonkers) – it isn’t the best at times but it does a job. I don’t think you need the full details though; in a game like Deus Ex it’s the way you can play which is the big deal, the route you have to take, the style you have to adopt. Or, to put it more accurately, the fact that there isn’t a specific way, route or style. That’s the beauty.
You can play how you like, and you won’t get punished. Want to get the hottest weapons around and blow as much stuff up as possible? Yep, that’s an option. Sneak around and try to stay invisible to as many people as possible? Sure thing. Maybe you want to just be a nice guy, not hiding in the shadows but finding your way by chatting to people, asking questions, actually being nice. The game won’t punish you for doing any of those things, and while a game like Metal Gear Solid might get a bit arsey when you start to shoot a bit more, that’s not a worry.
Even when you get to pick your augmentations, the variety in what’s on offer means there’s no right way to play. Indeed, by the time you unlock a few you’ve probably already decided how you’re going to act through the game, with your extra abilities only working to improve your skills in your chosen areas. You can be more persuasive, you can move more quietly or even with invisibility, you can hack from afar or cause huge damage with explosives. You can go for a mix of course, try to become an all round badass machine, but you might have to limit yourself to the lower spec upgrades.
There are also some experimental augmentations (which are revealed in a pretty cool way) which you can only turn on bit by bit – overpowering yourself with these extra bolt-ons will apparently result in some pretty nasty side effects, although I did a few sections with most of them fired up and didn’t get any major issues. Maybe longer term use might give you more grief though.
The flexibility of playing style extends to the locations too, which are fantastic to look at and give you myriad ways to get from A to B, whether that’s through the streets, over the rooves, through an apartment complex you’ve managed to break into, whatever you can manage. There are some awesome areas to explore too – one side missions has you getting into a large bank to explore its vaults, contending with dozens or security measures, automated robotic defences and plenty of thinking, watching and waiting before you can figure out just how best to approach it all. Another region you visit, Golem City, is an area for Augs who have nowhere else, and gives a stunning depiction of what a futuristic slum would look like, with seemingly randomly placed housing on various wonky levels, down and out characters shouting after you and a heavy armed guard patrolling the streets. You’ll head to the Alps, and a rescue mission back in London, and each area looks awesome. They’re not all as flexible as each other, but there’s been a lot of love put into this game.
And so while the story might not be the biggest hit of the year, and some of the face and voice acting isn’t on par with modern games of its ilk, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is still a very impressive game. Follow your own thoughts, follow the path you want to follow, and enjoy being allowed to without the game telling you you’re doing it wrong.
This is still Deus Ex. It’s still great.
Reviewed on PS4