Ahhh, summer. That time in between school years for some. For others, it's just when the weather gets hot. For me, it's the three month gap between the end of the hockey playoffs and the beginning of football season, during which I try to make use of some of the stuff that I bought on Steam for $1.99. I recently enjoyed the privilege of being reminded of how much I loved Deus Ex: Mankind Divided when I cracked open the game’s DLC. Like so many Summer Backlog candidates, I had, at some point, piled the DLC into my library as part of a Steam sale. I had then proceeded to forget about it completely until one day, while looking for a palette cleanser, I rediscovered it and decided to reinstall the whole package.
All of the DLC, which includes one free chapter that came with the game (Desperate Measures) and then two paid DLCs, (System Rift and Criminal Past), embodies everything that I love about Mankind Divided, while also embodying everything that I don’t love about DLC. And the main thing that I don’t love about DLC is what poor value it usually is. When new games come out for $60 and you can play them solidly for a couple of weeks, why should you pay $15 for something that you can finish in an afternoon? As much as I enjoyed this DLC, I likely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone until you can get it on a Steam sale. To be fair, it's by far not the worst offender in this area. It probably isn’t even worse than average. Still, I don’t think that paying $20 to get all of the pieces is justified.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is (to me) one of the most puzzling commercial failures in the recent memory. The game deserved to be a huge hit. It was an excellent game and, other than lacking a compelling story, there was nothing wrong with it – or at least there was nothing wrong with it that wasn’t also wrong with previous Deux Ex games. The fantastic levels were designed with a degree of simulation, detail, and variety that is virtually unheard of. The visuals were gorgeous. The music was spot-on. The hub portion of the game might have been a little smaller than people were hoping for, but it more than made up for it with depth. It was loaded with side missions and little mini-stories that only the most diligent explorers could discover. Why did people not like this game? Was it because of lingering bad feelings from the pre-order bonus PR fiasco? I don’t understand why it would be. As sleazy business tactics go, that one doesn’t even register on the radar for me. Was the game not a hit because the marketing materials did a poor job of showcasing what the game was going to offer? It could be. If so, I wish that more people had given it a chance. Regardless of the reason, Mankind Divided was deeply discounted on a Steam sale just a few months after it came out.
I love the formula that that series uses when it is at its best. There isn’t any other series that combines exploration, infiltration, hacking, stealth, dialog, and RPG elements quite in a similar way. The DLC carries on very much in the spirit of the core game, and in the case of Criminal Past, it's better in some major ways. All three DLCs are short, but very densely packed with content. You can find all kinds of hidden side missions and mini-stories. The levels have a lot of routes through them and a lot of different ways to tackle every challenge. Criminal Past is so open-ended in its design that it rivals the original game. Once I started playing the DLC, I was instantly sucked in and I finished them back-to-back-to-back without getting diverted to another game.
I liked System Rift, mostly because I love a good bank heist. I also am a big fan of the Pritchard character, so it was nice to have a quick story with him once again. Mankind Divided already had a bank heist mission, though, so System Rift didn’t quite feel like something brand new, up until a weird Tron-like VR section that came out of nowhere at the end. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for me.
If you have to pick one DLC though, then it should be Criminal Past. Not only does it have the most interesting setting in the series, but it also has a terrific story and a charismatic villain. If you count the entire DLC as one level, then it is also, by far, the most open-ended of the series. The entire DLC takes place in a huge prison for augmented criminals. Since you are posing as one of the inmates as part of an undercover operation, you aren’t allowed to go many places and you will get shot on sight if you are in an unauthorized area. However, shortly after the introduction, you can reach just about anywhere in the entire DLC if you want to take the time to get there. If you wish, you can get to the end area within the first half hour, although you can’t do much of anything until you play through some of the story first. I did just that because I felt like wandering around off the bat instead of immediately jumping into the game's story, and I got slaughtered repeatedly by automated defense systems and guards. Criminal Past is really tough - probably the toughest Deus Ex experience of them all.
The Criminal Past story heavily features psychology. More specifically, it explores the immense psychological stress that arises from the type of high stakes work that Adam Jensen does for a living. The plot centers around a fellow agent who has been undercover for so long that he is reaching a mental breaking point. He is a great character, and so is the DLC’s comic relief, a fellow inmate and doctor who probably fried his brain by taking too much of his own meds. It is, however, the cruel and sadistic warden who frequently steals the show. Warden Stenger is a welcome bit of camp in a series that perhaps takes itself a little too seriously at times. He is the best bad guy that the series has had since Bob Page.
The DLC left me wanting more – enough that I would have started a second playthrough of Mankind Divided if I didn't have to play through a couple of other games for review. Perhaps I will have some time to give it another round in the near future. It would be the next best thing to a brand new Deus Ex game, which I hope we have not seen the last of. I'm afraid, however, that the series is probably going to be a casualty of the industry’s migration towards other business models that are, unfortunately, more profitable. I can’t begrudge an industry executive for not wanting to sink tens of millions of dollars into the next game when the most recent one got such lukewarm reception from gamers. Between this game and the poor reception for Thief 4, I wonder if Square Enix is just going to look at those old Looking Glass/Ion Storm titles from the late 90s and conclude that gamers have moved on to something else.