Sunday, September 4, 2016

(Not So) Obscure Video Game Review - Deus Ex Mankind Divided

Oh boy, I honestly hope I don't get too much crap about this one. This will be a spoiler free review, for the most part, but caution is always warranted.

Mankind Divided is the Nth installment (I don't remember how many there actually have been, three?) in the controversial Deus Ex series. What usually grinds people's gears about the series is that you have to make a ton of choices throughout the games, but they don't really impact much. Also, in Mankind Evolved, if you followed some of the instructions in the quest log, you actually screwed yourself for a significant chunk of the game. That's something gamers always find refreshing and never get upset over, right?

But anyway, enough about the past, let's examine Mankind Divided on it's own merits, shall we? Since I'm an old pro at this, let's start with the PROS.

  • Graphics. This is not something I usually think much about, as many of my favorite, or what I consider most innovative games, do not have what you could call stunning graphics (Terraria, North and South, etc). Still, Mankind Divided's visuals', while not earth shattering or revolutionary, are pretty good. The dystopian, Blade Runner-esque locals are interesting, and while a little overwhelming to navigate sometimes, look pretty good. Character facial animations are above average, and dropped and interact-able items in the world look good and act right.
  • Inventory Management. I think I mentioned EONs ago that the inventory system in Deus Ex was handled better than most games. It still is. You have a limit to what you can carry, but you can expand it by using the upgrades, and manage it intelligently by simply not grabbing crap you aren't going to use.
  • Voice Acting. This IS something I usually think a lot about, and the VA in this game is decent, if, again, a bit uninspired. Adam Jensen, the playable character, is apparently the spiritual successor of Inspector Harry Callahan, and while your options for emotional responses seem limited between cranky and very cranky most of the time, it's the writers' fault, not the voice actor's. 
  • Pacing. All story driven games have an ebb and flow. Active and recovery. Brave and Default. Whatever you call it, it's important that the slow portions feel meaningful, and the fast portions seem rewarding. Otherwise, players are going to feel irritated by one or the other. For me, Deus Ex does neither well. The fast portions are really fast, and hampered by an odd control scheme. The slow portions are really slow, and seem almost interminable. Most of the tasks you perform in the slow phase, at least in the early game, feel like they should have been quickly addressed in the tutorial, or not included in a final product. The gun range teaches you how to shoot AN HOUR after you survive a furious 10 minute gunfight. The freedom to pillage uninhabited apartments sounds neat, but in reality, it just makes places like future Prague seem like a confusingly well-lit ghost town.
  • Confusing Controls. There's nothing I appreciate like a well crafted and intuitive control scheme. It would be great if this game had one of those. Having to hold, release, and press combinations of buttons to perform simple weapon tasks is silly. Use a radial menu that you can assign frequent tasks to, and use a conventional menu for the rest. Seriously, Mass Effect had this system nailed down years ago, it's not a new idea. Even Skyrim has a better quick menu system.
  • Silly Missions. Street cops detaining and diverting high ranking Interpol Agents is laughable. Seriously, this side quest early in the game is ridiculous. It is even more so in that you do not have an option to avoid it. It's not even really a side quest. There's no way around it. You have to spend a good amount of the early game trapped in one city block because one cop (who most of the other police officers nearby admit is not even really a cop!!) is running a forged paperwork scam. Explain to me how an Interpol Agent would not have a contact on his cellphone that would get this guy thrown in the slammer in minutes, if not seconds. It's just stupid, and it sours your suspension of disbelief for this game real early. It's like how if you start the day mad, everything else makes you mad for the rest of the day. Mankind Divided annoyed me fast, and I stayed that way for most of the duration.
  • Crafting and Upgrading. Usually character customization is a strong point of modern games, as it lets you play the game how you want, or differently on multiple playthroughs. Unfortunately, most of the upgrades Jensen can get are incremental, rather than revolutionary. Many of them are things that are  much less convenient to use than simply shooting the bad guys. Others are just roadblocks, like the hacking skill that blocks many areas. Got level one hacking because you are in the first area of the game? Well good luck, because this terminal is a level 5. Enjoy backtracking later if you want to see what's behind it.
  • Repetitive. Sometimes minigame gimmicks are fun and immersive. Like lockpicking in Skyrim, or hacking in the original Mass Effect. In Deus Ex, they are repetitive and feel entirely random. Click the node, hope you don't get caught. Repeat. Sometimes you get caught, sometimes you don't. The hacking upgrades are supposed to reduce your chances of getting caught, and that is reflected in the percentages shown, but like Fire Emblem hit chances, whether it's an accurate reflection of the real probability is up for debate.
I usually don't like doing out and out negative reviews, as I am one of those rare people that was raised to not say something if I don't have something nice to say (for this reason I am not reviewing No Man's Sky, lol). Still, for a modern, full price, main market release, Deus Ex Mankind Divided has a lot less going for it that it should.

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