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Hands on: ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’

When hacking fails in 'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,' it's time to crack skulls

Unsurprisingly, our hands-on demo of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a sequel to 2011’s stealth-action RPG hit Deus Ex: Human Revolution, begins with a timed hacking puzzle. More unexpected, however, is the fact we perform the digital archive infiltration as a “Ripper,” rather than returning protagonist Adam Jensen.

A faction of elite hackers said to be skilled at accessing the world’s most secure servers, Rippers, it turns out, are the playable avatars of a brand-new game mode dubbed “Breach.”  According to producer Fleur Marty, Breach is “a stand-alone, connected puzzle-shooter … an arcade twist on Deus Ex gameplay.”

Upon diving from a chopper and sticking a landing that would make Black Widow blush with envy, Jensen enters a Dubai construction site.

Connected is the key word, as the accessible, challenge-based mode is meant to spark competition among friends. In addition to leaderboards, which track both time and score, Breach  features character leveling, upgrades, unlocks, and currency. None of these elements are shared with the main game, but instead aim to encourage replays, speed runs, and quick fixes that don’t require jumping into Jensen’s story.

Our short time with Breach didn’t earn us any bragging rights, but it certainly satisfied our itch for hacking terminals and shooting bad guys. Much like the main game, it also offers different paths and the option to complete objectives silently, violently, or somewhere in between. As we discovered upon earning a double-jump enhancement, it also borrows the ability to augment our avatar.

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Breach’s gameplay provides a similar, albeit stripped-down, streamlined experience, but its visual style represents a significant departure from the campaign’s attention to detail and realism. While its environments and characters sport a minimalist, virtual reality-inspired presentation evocative of the shards appearing so prominently in the series’ marketing, the levels’ abstract look and bite-sized length recall a modern take on an old-school Metal Gear Solid VR mission.

Our brief look at Breach provided a fresh, arcade-like take on cracking code, but our time behind the mechanically enhanced Jensen felt familiar in all the best ways. Now a member of an elite military force, the black-clad protagonist awkwardly sits as the only augmented agent in a unit tasked with stopping his kind from spreading terror. Of course, the potential rift between Jensen and his peers doesn’t stop him from letting the leash off his cybernetic implants.

Upon diving from a chopper and sticking a landing that would make Black Widow blush with envy, Jensen enters a Dubai construction site where an arms deal is about to go down. Having already absorbed the impact of the epic sky dive with his bionic legs, we go back to the augmentation well and fire up Jensen’s Smart Vision ability. Behind the controls, we’re able to utilize the enhanced eyesight to identify a structural weakness and immediately break through it like peanut brittle.

The stylish attack creates both a pile of corpses and a cloud of chaos that allows us to get closer to our objective.

While crushing concrete with Jensen’s fists is endlessly satisfying, we take a subtler approach against the unsuspecting foes patrolling the area. Complementing the game’s basic cover and stealth mechanics — which can be mastered via optional tutorials — with Cloak and Leg Silencer augmentations, we’re able to creep behind marks and, ultimately, leave a lengthy trail of incapacitated goons in our wake.

Following a couple of keypad hacks and a quiet crawl through an air duct, we come to a heavily guarded area not far from the exchange point. Our stealthy strategy continues to serve us well until backup arrives and we’re suddenly surrounded by six or so thugs. Trading our non-lethal tactics for a more, er,  aggressive approach, we trigger Jensen’s Typhoon ability; a favorite from Human Revolution, the augmentation sees Jensen elegantly spin in a circle while dropping explosives at his foes’ feet.

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The tiny bombs create a pile of corpses as well as a cloud of chaos that allows us to get closer to our objective. Unfortunately, a strengthening sand storm also approaches, making it difficult to discern whether it’s the whipping wind or the blades of the bad guys’ helicopter that’s compromising our visibility. As all hell breaks loose, the deal goes down and the evildoers high-tail it to their transport. Further complicating matters is the fact the weapons exchanged are—spoiler alert!—actual arms, well, augmented limbs.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

As the storm consumes everything in its path, including some foes attempting to flee, we’re able to hack the chopper’s power source and, for the moment, put the deal on ice. Sadly, our demo also concludes on this cliffhanger, leaving us craving more time behind the controller and, ya know,  wondering how Jensen’s going to clean all that sand from his cybernetic joints.

Mankind Divided‘s impressive visuals — the sandstorm is especially easy on the eyes — are clearly harnessing all those horses beneath the new consoles’ hood, but the gameplay feels more comfortably familiar than groundbreaking. Not necessarily a bad thing, but we hope the final release still has some surprises tucked into Jensen’s trench coat.

Based on our short time with Breach, the new mode seems like a welcome online addition. Assuming its creation doesn’t come at the cost of polishing the core campaign, we’ll happily embrace this visually stylized, competition-fueled take on the franchise’s defining gameplay.

We look forward to learning more about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided before it hits shelves on August 23rd.