It’s uncanny, sometimes, how a fictional story can seem to be so in tune with real world events. Such is the case with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game whose themes of prejudice, fear, and isolation may not seem so far removed from the issues and controversies happening right now in the real world. It’s a shame, then, that a game with such complex and timely themes as Mankind Divided should begin to lose steam after just a few short hours, despite the depth and level of complexity offered within those themes.
Set in the year 2029, Mankind Divided reacquaints us with Adam Jensen (the hero from Human Revolution), now working as a field agent for a Prague-based division of Interpol nearly two years after the events of the previous game. In this world, medical and cybernetic technologies have advanced to the point where human beings can now make drastic changes to their bodies with cybernetic limbs and neural enhancements called augmentations. No longer a technology developed solely for the disabled, many people throughout the world have embraced these new technologies and have willingly augmented their bodies in order to overcome handicaps, make their jobs easier, or even just to keep up with their grandchildren.
As the title suggests, mankind has become divided in the two years since the Aug Incident (the crisis near the end of Human Revolution that caused augmented people around the world to temporarily lose control of their enhancements) and the population is split between augmented people (referred to by many as “augs” or “clanks”) and those free of augmentations (often called “naturals”). With each passing day, global tensions between augs and naturals continue to escalate as people on both sides become victims of an ever-increasing number of hate crimes and acts of terrorism.
Pro-aug groups, like the Augmented Rights Coalition (ARC), conduct riots and terrorist attacks across the world, all while spouting messages of hope, freedom, and equality. At the same time, law enforcement groups profile and harass augmented peoples while claiming to uphold the tenets of peace, justice, and security. Mega corporations purchase political power regularly (and even hold seats within the United Nations), and augmented refugees from across the globe live and die in squalor while hoping that someone, anyone, will come to their aid. In this world (much like in real life), there are no archetypal heroes or villains. Here, the world exists in shades of grey. Everyone wants something and everyone has a story to tell.
Against this backdrop of futurism and poverty, bigotry and oppression, the player (as augmented super-spy, Adam Jensen) investigates a mysterious cabal of armed militants and an unfolding conspiracy that threatens to further divide society and engulf the world in a roiling conflict. As Jensen works to unravel the threads of this conspiracy, he meets a variety of people from all walks life who have been impacted by these events in some way. These encounters often come in the form of side quests, which the player can complete in order to learn more about the world and, occasionally, to unlock some benefit that will help Jensen later in the story.
As I said earlier, many of the themes and events in the story closely mirror some of the controversies we’ve been seeing in the news lately. Images of heavily armed police forcefully interrogating unarmed citizens, terrorist bombings in the streets of Prague, and poverty-stricken refugees fighting to survive all carry a significant amount of weight and hit awfully close to home, certainly more so than any other video game story currently on the market. What’s more is that the game presents these issues with a straight face and offers no real solution to any of them, acknowledging the idea that sometimes there just isn’t a right answer. Despite Jensen’s search for the truth and his quest to stop those who are pulling strings from the shadows, there just isn’t any single answer available to fix all the world’s problems. It’s this level of depth and complexity in relation to the real world that makes this game’s story so damn good; I just wish it could have been a bit longer.
As it is, Mankind Divided continues to get more interesting and action-packed as the story goes on… and then just kind of ends. The story throws you into a sudden boss battle and then immediately cuts to the ending afterward, with nothing else laid out along the way to hint that this is, indeed, the end. Nor is there any closure offered to the game’s story. We may have beat the first boss and his squad of goons, but what about the rest of the cabal? There’s a whole army of Illuminati members still out there and it seems as if we’ve only just scratched the surface of their master plan. And what about the state of emergency in Prague? Or the millions of displaced augs living—and dying—in poverty in Golem City (a slum for augs located at the outskirts of Prague)? The game provides no closure to any of this, ending the story with a half-assed cliffhanger and a narrative length that feels more akin to a $15 expansion pack than a full-blown game.
All in all, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a thoughtful and complex game that strives to capture the some of the more intense controversies facing our society today. Unfortunately, the game’s brevity and lack of a satisfying conclusion hold it back from becoming a truly great experience. Here’s hoping the next game (‘cause you know there has to be another one now) will revisit some of these themes and finally tie-up those loose ends.