(Pocket-lint) - If you were thinking of getting a nip or a tuck, playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided might just make you think again. That's because it examines what might happen when human narcissism extends beyond the mere administration of trout-pouts and the like, to embrace full-blown augmentation with mechanical body-parts. What it postulates isn't at all reassuring. But at least it makes for a game which is unusually thought-provoking and deeply enjoyable.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided review: Post Revolution
Mankind Divided takes place in 2029, two years after the events depicted in 2011's Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Once again you take the reins of Adam Jensen, now working for Task Force 29, which was set up by Interpol to combat the global wave of terrorism which is dominating the news programmes.
We learn that the world's current sorry state derives from an incident two years earlier, when a computer virus-style infection temporarily sent the world's "augs" (as in "augmentations") on a rampage that left vast numbers of ordinary humans dead. Iniquitously, but perhaps understandably, a form of mechanical apartheid" is now in place - embraced with particular enthusiasm in Prague, where Jensen now lives.
After a prologue mission in Dubai, which deviates worryingly from its plan, the storyline begins to assemble itself, in all its multi-layered glory.
Jensen dodges a bomb at Prague's train station, so his day-job involves investigating that, but he soon begins to suspect the motives of his boss, which leads him to become enmeshed with a hacker organisation called The Juggernaut. A shadowy, Illuminati-style outfit, which may or may not be in collusion with big business, pulls strings in the background, and a church which reveres the mechanically enhanced augs tries to get Jensen on its side.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided review: New augmentations
A wonderfully believable air of paranoia permeates Mankind Divided's depiction of Prague: officious, heavily armed cops are pretty much everywhere, except for those areas of the city that are in the grip of gangsters, and there's an epidemic of a drug called Neon.
Thankfully, Jensen has his superhuman, augmented powers: a neat, early story twist brings the discovery that he has even acquired some new augmentations, including the ability to near-teleport, like the Blink move in Dishonored; and a force-field, which can put enemies on their backsides. Familiar augmentations from Human Revolution - such as invisible camouflage and shock-absorbing legs - make a welcome return, too.
But at first, Jensen's augmentations drain his bio-power, rendering them annoyingly short-lived, and leaving you to depend on his excellent stealth engine, which lets him move from cover to cover with a single button-press. Once you complete a few missions, earning Praxis points, Jensen's augmentations come into effect properly, and the discovery of his new augmentations provides a welcome means of shaping him to fit your play-style at an early stage.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided review: Crafting and upgrades
The first part of the game, which is set in Prague, feels much more open-world than Human Revolution (although you still have to move around the city using the underground train system).
It's full of some of the best side-missions we've ever come across too. Usually in games the side-missions come across as a collection of afterthoughts - but in Mankind Divided, they are wonderfully diverse and universally memorable.
There's a lot to do in Prague, and it's well worth seeking out all these side-missions in order to upgrade Jensen's augmentations. The crafting system makes up for a relative dearth of essentials like bio-cells (to power Jensen's augmentations) and ammo, and it's pretty vital to use it to upgrade your weaponry, which is fairly ineffective in its base state, although the presence of things like EMP bullets do add versatility.
Deus Ex Mankind Divided review: Breach
Soon, though, you head off to Golem, a somewhat terrifying ghetto for augs, which is also pretty rich in side-missions and places to explore, but after that, the game descends somewhat into linearity, which is disappointing.
As is the way the story ends up collapsing to an extent. Its denouement is far too abrupt and unsatisfying, and a number of characters make brief appearances before disappearing just when they start to become interesting.
There's another new string to Mankind Divided's bow, in the form of Breach mode: an intriguingly arcade-style take on the game, the premise of which has you hacking into one of the banks which has essentially usurped government (a theme which is explored in an interesting manner in the game), in search of data, and at the controls of a VR-style avatar with similar skills to Jensen (and a separate upgrade path). It's basically a focused, pared-down take on Mankind Divided's core gameplay - which is pretty fun although not spectacular. It does, though, have wild, Tron-style visuals.
Because of the way in which Mankind Divided fails to live up to the promise displayed in its early stages (it also isn't quite as long as you initially think it might be, although it makes it over the 20-hour mark), it just falls short of greatness.
However, it's still thoroughly absorbing and gets closer than any of its predecessors to achieving the Deus Ex franchise's core desire to let you play how you want, rather than how the game dictates.
Atmospherically it is impeccable, too, with a glorious whiff of Blade Runner to its dystopian cityscapes and ghettoes, and its storyline - which is best described as a worryingly believable conspiracy theory - gets under your skin very effectively.
In other words, Mankind Divided oozes slickness and intelligence. And if that sounds appealing then you will enjoy it immensely.