Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn’t exactly a polished piece of digital art. It had visual glitches galore, the controls could be a pain at times and the less said about those boss fights the better. But if you had to look beyond that, you’d find yourself jamming an undeniably ballsy title that not only tied in perfectly to the history of the original Deus Ex games, it reinvented their history with a prequel that refined a global conspiracy with utterly breath-taking Renaissance-inspired cyberpunk art direction.
Five years later, and series star Adam Jensen is once again forced into a game of cat and mouse on a worldwide scale that he didn’t ask for. In many ways, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided makes up for the shortcomings of its predecessors, opting to create a leaner yet still engaging experience that is very much still feeling the ramifications of Human Revolution’s massive third act.
It’s just a pity that it just never goes far enough with some of its heavy political ideas, while making a few missteps along the way as well.
It’s been two years since “The Incident”, an event that isn’t referring to one of the oddest Mitchell and Webb sketches ever devised. The world is still devastated after an event where every augmented human turned into a raving and psychotic embodiment of the YouTube comments sections on a video about feminism, and there’s a healthy distrust circulating around the globe for Augs, clanks or various other oddly derogatory terms for people who have replaced a few limbs with a shiny piece of mechanical engineering at its finest.
So much so in fact, that most of the planet has conveniently forgotten just how much of a blinding human rights cock-up Apartheid was in South Africa and decided to start all-new forms of segregation for the mechanically-advanced lest another Incident occur. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided drives that idea home hard and fast. Everywhere you go in Prague, you’ll find trigger-happy cops and checkpoints as the aug population is harassed or corralled to go live out the remainder of their lives in makeshift cities for them.
It’s very much on the nose, with Jensen himself regularly stopped by hostile law enforcers and forced to show his papers or risk deportation. In a way it works. Seeing blatant human rights abuses and being told to stay away from the norms is a very sobering experience, especially when you’re old enough to remember living in a country where this very sort of thing actually happened.
At the same time, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is only paying lip service to its mechanical Apartheid marketing. Jensen has an attitude that would get anyone of a darker skin tone shot if they dared tried mouthing off to the cops, with the player feeling more slightly annoyed than genuinely outraged at being treated like a third-class living organism with minimal rights. It’s more a mild annoyance than the genuine subjugation of Apartheid. You could call it wired privilege.