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When I recently had the chance to sit down with Square-Enix's upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I went in with a specific plan of attack.
Rather than seeing how far I could push myself through the narrative over the course of an extended preview session, I had something different in mind: figuring out just how many ways I could approach a single mission within the time allotted.
Since its 2000 debut, Deus Ex has sold itself as a hybrid FPS/RPG experience featuring an impressive amount of potential ways to approach various objectives. It's a series rooted in a particularly hardcore PC gaming context, and even though Deus Ex has grown much more playable over the years, there's always been the fear that its complexity could one day be dialed back for the sake of pulling in the large audience a triple-A game needs to survive these days.
Thankfully, like 2011's great Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mankind Divided strikes a good balance between being a fun and flashy spectacle, and something much more cerebral. At the start of my session, I assumed I'd see the end of the mission I chose to explore to its fullest—an optional one, mind you—but soon found it unraveling and unraveling to the point where I had no choice but to step away before I could see the conclusion. That said, if you've been worried about the fate of this Square-Enix series during its five years of absence, don't be. In short, Deus Ex is still Deus Ex.
A Smooth Transition
If you played Human Revolution, you won't need to keep Mankind Divided's training wheels on for long. Like Deus Ex's 2011 installment, MD plays out via a first-person perspective that smartly jumps to a third-person point of view whenever you click the left analog stick to Solid Snake yourself against a wall or other flat obstacle. And while you can go for a more lethal approach, jumping into the fray with guns blazing will usually get you killed in a heartbeat. In most situations, stealth is the preferred approach, and tricking/subduing enemies with distractions as well as your various cybernetic augments—which provide special abilities like seeing through walls and silencing the sound of your footsteps. Progress through even a single room of a potentially dangerous area takes some planning, and sometimes, several tries to refine your approach. (Thankfully, checkpoints in MD are plentiful.)
Mankind Divided kicks off with a tutorial mission of sorts, which puts you back in the shoes of Human Revolution's protagonist, Adam Jensen. Two years before the start of MD, an event known as "The Aug Incident" caused every human with cybernetic augmentations to go on a killing spree. With the light of suspicion falling upon "Augs," the augmented Jensen finds himself on Task Force 29, an Interpol squad tasked with investigating and resolving cybernetic-related crimes. After MD walks you through Jensen's basic actions—which can also be tested out through optional, consequence-free tutorials—this journey through an abandoned Dubai hotel ends when you finally encounter your targets: two illegal cybernetic arms dealers looking to make a secret exchange.
But before Jensen and his team can complete their mission, they're interrupted by a massive sandstorm, and the appearance of hooded, robot-masked soldiers, who eliminate the two men before they can. Naturally, after leaving the chaos behind and returning to his home in Prague, Jensen has more than a few unanswered questions.
Plan of Attack
Once you hit Prague, Mankind Divided starts to feel a lot more like Deus Ex—specifically, Human Revolution. Upon arriving, a suicide bomber destroys a large portion of the train station, knocking Adam out and removing most of the abilities he had during the tutorial mission in a very Metroid-like contrivance. From here, you're free to explore Prague on your own terms, and, like the environments of Human Revolution, it's not exactly an open-world setup, but it's still fairly large and very, very dense.
I probably spent my first half-hour just touring the level, and making note of the many nooks and crannies I'd have to revisit later—some with locked doors too difficult for me to hack, and others blocked by different obstacles that could be removed by augmentations Jensen didn't yet have.
Instead of heading to the proper destination, I zeroed in on a subquest: A friend of Jensen's wanted to meet up with him, but the front of his store was currently being blocked by a group of thugs. Not wanting to start a firefight I couldn't win, I instead tried to find my way to the shop's back entrance, which entailed the following steps:
- First, I tried to find the most direct route to the back of the bookstore. A police checkpoint stood in my way, and the officer informed me I'd need a much higher form of clearance to pass through—one I could easily obtain from a friendly local forger.
- I tracked down the forger's headquarters, and the guard out front offered to sell me a forged pass for more credits than could possibly earn up to that point.
- So, I decided to approach the problem head on by infiltrating the forger's HQ. Looking around, I spotted a way over the gate and guard blocking my path: scaling up to a second floor apartment and carefully creeping past window ledges so I could drop behind him. (I later learned you can also get rid of him by messing with his nearby car and getting the police to take care of him when he starts firing at you.)
- I then snuck into the forger's den, carefully moving around a maze of tripwire lasers. Making my way to the second floor, I spotted the woman responsible for forgeries behind a thick security door. The computer terminal connected to its lock was too difficult for me to hack, so I had to find another way in.
- A trapdoor on the first floor led to a basement area that could have provided a possible solution, but a cloud of deadly gas blocked my progress. (Unlike in the tutorial, I didn't have the ability to walk through this stuff unscathed.)
- I headed out to explore the outskirts of the HQ to find any leads, and discovered a document tucked away in an alley that provided a password to a nearby storage locker. After opening it, I found a vent that led directly to the forger's room.
- Here, I learn the unfortunate truth: The forged passes actually don't work due to heightened security concerns. The woman then provided more objectives that would lead me to a working pass—and keep in mind these are all steps in an optional side-quest.
This might have been one optional quest out of (I'm guessing) dozens available in Mankind Divided, but attempting to explore it to its fullest showed me Deus Ex hasn't lost a step in the past five years. Plenty of series have gradually mutated over time to meet the demands of a more general audience, but despite its flashy exterior, Mankind Divided still boasts the same amount of complexity as its PC debut.
While so many other games use their mission structure to turn you into nothing more than a glorified courier, Deus Ex makes the most of its dense urban areas by giving you a number of ways to solve problems—ways you have to figure out yourself. With the amount of fun I had exploring possibilities with almost none of Jensen's powers at my fingertips, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing just how much I can tinker with its very reactive world when I have complete access to his cybernetic bag of tricks.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided launches for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on August 23, 2016. Check back with USgamer before then for our full review!
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