Bloodshed marked the end of Adam Jensen's last venture, as the world's mechanically enhanced inhabitants embarked on a murderous rampage, costing millions their lives and leaving thousands more wounded. Two years later and the devastation of the Aug Incident can still be felt, heavily armed militants patrol tattered streets shrouded in panic and mounting tensions have driven augmented humans into the shadows. Labelled as outcasts and fuelled by rage, select groups of augmented have been compelled to lash out on society using extremist tactics to seek revenge on their oppressors.
Following the collapse of Sarif Industries, Jensen secures a new opportunity with Task Force 29, a division formed by Interpol to combat terrorist threats. Following a string of radical attacks you'll work to compromise the plans of the augmented terrorists and claw deeper to uncover their true motives and concealed identities. Under the command of director Jim Miller you'll trot the globe, digging for clues and infiltrating facilities that range from the dilapidated slums of Golem City to sun-drenched regions of Dubai. Aided by a chain of drastic twists and turns its thought-provoking narrative indulged us in mystery and kept us firmly hooked throughout.
Doubling up as a tutorial, your first mission lands you in the city of Dubai, where you must halt the operation of a black market augmentation deal. After you've descended onto the rooftop of a ramshackle old hotel you must then cautiously manoeuvre through its winding corridors to reach the designated meeting area. With a whole arsenal of weapons and gadgets at your disposal, the game starts with a bang allowing you to let loose and giving you a taste of what's to come. Training sections are of course completely optional, but they do work to be a quick and completely painless way of getting to grips with the new controls.
Before delving into the tutorial there's a handy 12-minute recap of events from Human Revolution, keeping newcomers and those with patchy memories up to speed. Alongside its three tier difficulty structure there's also the option to choose between one of three control schemes to best compliment your play style. This includes Mankind Divided's refined controls, as well as those featured within its predecessor. There's even alternative settings that fall inline with typical first-person shooters, which seems to accommodate the more casual crowd of players. The level of flexibility offered with its controls is a welcoming touch and you even have the option to cycle between the three modes within the settings menu.
After heading back to Prague, Jensen is caught up in events that leave him in a state of disrepair. After seeking help from a blackmarket mechanic it's revealed that a number of experimental augmentations lie dormant in his system. But before you are able to activate any you must choose to permanently sacrifice another augmentation because triggering one is enough to send his system into overdrive and cause detrimental effects. This helps to separate Mankind Divided from many other RPGs and requires you to really weigh up your options before making a major upgrade. It also prevents players from becoming too overpowered as it's not possible to have all abilities activated at once.
These augmentations can be purchased through points that you'll acquire for gaining certain levels of XP. Giving us the illusion that we were playing as Predator we found ourselves using smart vision the most as it gives you a thermal view of the area, allowing you to pinpoint the movements and locations of enemies. Our other favourites included the taser knuckles, which allows you to knock your opponents back with a charged blow of electricity, and the chisel shot, which gives you the ability to impale guards with your retractable blades. These and plenty more offer a variety of creative solutions to combat and allow for a range of different player experiences.
With such an individual world and concept it's disappointing that weapons lack an element of flair and struggle to feel unique. That being said, you do have the option to modify your artillery on the fly in a similar fashion to Crysis and the recent Homefront: The Revolution. This allows you to alter the scope, barrel and ammunition type so that each individual weapon suits both stealthy and abrasive styles of combat. While they're not the most inventive, it still doesn't detract from the rush that you get from blowing guards away with a heavy combat shotgun or carefully eliminating them one by one with a silenced pistol.
Although it's fitted with the tag of being a stealth-action game, Mankind Divided doesn't make its players feel penalised for adopting a more aggressive, guns-blazing approach. XP is still dished out in ample supply, and you're never forced to repeat sections due to a preference towards a more strident execution. If you wish to go in completely unnoticed there's also plenty of hidden shortcuts that you can find to bypass the gaze of patrolling guards such as air vents and raised platforms. You can also take out individual henchmen one by one, dragging their bodies out of sight and slipping under the radar of detection.
Despite a few questionable choices, Mankind Divided's revised control scheme is noticeably more sharp and responsive than that of its predecessor. Pushing the left trigger allows you to easily snap behind cover and from there it's simple to direct Jensen for a dash into a nearby secluded area. Weapons and consumables are no longer cluttering the lower region of the screen and are now conveniently placed via an equipment wheel. Holding the same button to bring up the menu does however feel like an odd choice as it'll often lead to you accidentally vaulting over platforms and stumbling into the path of patrolling guards.
Pivotal decisions in the story adopt a Heavily Rain-like approach in the sense that your actions have meaningful consequences and mould the outcome of the story. During major plot points you'll find yourself caught at a crossroads and pushed to make a crucial choice. During social interactions with NPCs you'll also be prompted to respond to dialogue, choosing to either to patronise, be reasonable, or confront your acquaintances. There's a lot more gravity to these sections than you may think, as they can lead to revealing new segments of information and the possible avoidance of potential confrontations. This not only enhances the sense of replayability but it also forces you to pay attention as a wrong move might potentially devastating.
Just like its predecessor, hacking is featured as a major part of the experience, but this time hacking segments have received a complete visual overhaul and feel much sleeker and more refined. Whilst rummaging through dusty old apartments in downtown Prague or operating in missions overseas you'll come across doors and laptops that are fitted with hackable panels. Choosing to manipulate these systems will often uncover hidden shortcuts and concealed information in the form of emails and pocket secretaries. The hacking mini-game requires you to seize control of a grid whilst preventing the security program from sending the circuit into lockdown. Whilst scouting for goodies you'll come across software which enables you to manipulate the grid in multiple ways such as revealing hidden datastores and temporarily freezing the security program.
The standalone Breach Mode sees you take the side of the Rippers, an elite hacking group that uses virtual reality to smuggle corporate data. Under the wing of the mysterious Shadowchild you'll receive a range of overarching objectives that task you with stealing large data stores and eliminating pixelated droids. The experience reminded us slightly of Saints Row IV as you can use cheats in the virtual space to earn temporarily boosts in health, ammunition and speed. Replayability comes in the form of online leaderboards as you can compete with cyber criminals across the globe to secure the highest score and fastest completion time. Whilst it can be an entertaining distraction from the campaign, the appeal was soon lost on us as a lack of variation kept it from feeling fresh.
Showcasing the potential of Eidos' powerful new Dawn Engine, Mankind Divided's photorealistic visuals help to convey the dreary reality of a nation in lockdown. A bump in visual fidelity has enabled the developers to create what feels like a living and breathing cyberpunk playground, which still carries the influence of '80s classic Blade Runner. While its environments may appear alluring, facial animations do appear a little sketchy and NPCs often speak out of sync. To tie in with its futuristic cyberpunk setting the main score is primarily electronically based, filled with phasing synths and pulsating percussion. Whilst working to mirror the intensity of combat at also feels stylistically appropriate.
Just like other great follow ups, Mankind Divided maintains the essence of its acclaimed predecessor, whilst implementing its own individual mechanics and bringing new ideas to the table. It's an experience that conveys choice, with its narrative sculpted around your actions and combat approachable in multiple ways. The Breach Mode may lack substance, and there could have been more inventive weapons put at your disposal to counter the occasionally clunky controls, but nevertheless Mankind Divided still manages to deliver a thought provoking stealth-action experience.
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