Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Criminal Past Review (PlayStation 4)
Going deep undercover has always been an element of the Deus Ex series that's been just on the periphery of what players could do in-game. There were other characters you would encounter that were operatives working as the inside man of a criminal organization, but Adam Jensen himself was always just a facilitator. "A Criminal Past" finally gives players the chance to go under deep cover to rescue an ally that's gone radio silent in one of the most secure augmented prisons on the planet. Combining some excellent stealth gameplay, lots of exploration, and some terrific plotting, it's peak Deus Ex.
When we last saw Adam Jensen, he'd just managed to save the future of augmented rights and prevented a radicalized group of augmented humans from enabling the Human Restoration Act to be approved (at least in our save anyway). "A Criminal Past," the second of two downloadable add-ons that flesh out Jensen's history a bit more, picks up not long after the conclusion of the core game --- though it focuses on Jensen reflecting back at his first mission for TF-29.
Right out of the gate, it's clear not everything is on the up and up at the "Pent House," the nickname given to Arizona's Penley T. Housefeather Correctional Facility. Jensen is under disguise as a member of the Junk Yard, a criminal organization that harvests the aug parts from dead inmates at this facility. They don't always wind up dead for legitimate reasons though, which is one of the mysteries you'll be tasked with solving while undercover. The core reason for infiltration though is to meet with "Guerrero," the agent that went dark while in lock-up. There are rumors of a terror attack pending, and Guerrero is the only agent who can help verify the claims, even if they are slightly dubious.
There's also the matter of an impending riot that's about to go down, as one of the big criminals, Frederick Flossy, has arranged for things to go south just in time for Jensen to arrive on the scene. Nothing puts a man already on a deadline under more pressure than having to maintain his cool amidst a prison riot. Except maybe not having access to any augmented abilities.
It's a surprising amount of plot for a bit of DLC that only lasts a few hours, but it never gets too confusing. There are just a lot of pieces moving around the board at any given time. Depending on the decisions you'll make to either help Flossy or help yourself, getting around the prison post-riot can be troublesome or rather easy. You'll still have the guards to contend with no matter what, but having helped Flossy only makes what Jensen has to do in his limited timetable easier. Like the main game, there are a number of decisions and routes to take in navigating the prison ecosystem, but in continuing our play of Jensen as a bit of a pacifist, non-lethal was certainly the more challenging way to play.
The Pent House has a lot of defenses in place, and avoiding them wasn't always easy. Searching high and low for other paths of egress is a big part of "A Criminal Past," and staying out of sight does reward you handsomely with Praxis and non-lethal weapons to use with relative frequency. It's not that you can't go full assault with Jensen's escape, but the path to freedom is a lot more difficult to navigate given the firepower the prison guards can throw your way.
If you're playing this DLC however, you've already played the core game --- or at least parts of it --- and know just how your gameplay choices can influence your success rate. Where "A Criminal Past" really shines is in the writing, which presents some true shades of gray for Jensen to wander through. Every character he has lengthy interaction with has some degree of shadiness about him, even beyond the fact that he wound up in prison. No single character's motivations or intentions are immediately obvious, save Jensen's, and "A Criminal Past" does a great job leaving players constantly questioning the reasoning for their choices.
The prison also presents a unique character in and of itself, as the setting is quite unlike any visited in this iteration of Deus Ex before. It does honestly feel like a maximum security fortress, especially prior to the riot happening. Though the time to explore the stock prison is limited, it's very hard to move around to areas you aren't supposed to visit. After the riot, that same difficulty is there, only now with the added benefit of even more people trying to shoot you. Interestingly enough, opening the right doors at the right time can work to your advantage. Some rioters are just looking for an excuse to take down cops, and if you're feeling ambivalent towards the lives of correctional officers, you might be persuaded to give the inmates an advantage. Even if it is just so you can sneak through that same room or hallway undetected after the shootout.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was already one of our favorite games of last year, but both add-ons in Jensen's Stories have kept the game feeling fresh long after release. "A Criminal Past" was a bit more enjoyable than "System Rift" if only because "System Rift" took place in the same confines as the main campaign, and this new DLC lets us see someplace new and different we haven't been exploring for hours on end already. Whatever Square and Eidos have in store for Deus Ex in the future, "A Criminal Past" and Mankind Divided show there are plenty of ways to keep us coming back for more.
This review was completed using a download code for "A Criminal Past" provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.