A Criminal Past is the second story-driven piece of DLC for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This is probably the last piece of content we’ll see for the franchise in a long time after Eidos Montréal’s recently announced involvement in The Avengers Project. I couldn’t help but feel a little upset during my playthrough knowing this. After the let-down that was System Rift, the first story DLC, I feared that A Criminal Past would also disappoint. Instead, my lingering memory of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be a good one. While offering barely anything regarding the overarching Deus Ex plot, A Criminal Past excels in its own right. With an intriguing self-contained narrative and veritable playground of paths and passages, Adam Jensen certainly earns his extended vacation.
A Criminal Past takes place 9 months prior to the events of Mankind Divided. In a session with Delara Auzenne, Task Force 29’s resident psychiatrist, Jensen relives his first mission with Task Force 29 in a flashback. Adam is tasked with recovering information from a fellow agent stationed undercover in The Pent House, an ultra-high security prison for augmented criminals. The problems are numerous; the agent, codenamed Hector Guerrero, has gone dark, and when we arrive, the prison is in the midst of a highly volatile standoff between the guards and the inmates. Jensen never liked it easy. The Pent House is by far the most intricate and interesting environment to navigate in the new generation of Deus Ex games. After being detained in cell block B, your first objective is to reach cell block A and make contact with Guerrero. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but you wouldn’t think so from the outset.
This being a prison, circumventing security is extremely problematic. Jensen has also had access to his arsenal of augmentations restricted by a pain inducing microchip inserted into his neck. To top it off, you start your stint in prison with literally nothing, not even a smuggled pack of cigarettes. I spent the first hour or two of the DLC not really knowing how to proceed, and it was incredibly fun. I spent those hours exploring every nook and cranny, searching for anything that could give me an advantage, as well as an understanding of the current situation in The Pent House. I truly felt like I had my work cut out for me, and it was a refreshing change from just being able to cloak my way past most obstacles in the main game. Eventually, I did what any other prisoner would do: steal other people’s stuff and exchange it for what I needed. It was gratifying to construct a solution rather than just being able to duck into the nearest convenient vent.
While there wasn’t really anything offered up in the way of new abilities, weapons or enemy types, this innovative dynamic mixes things up just enough to make Deus Ex feel fresh again. Probably the only addition to the gameplay was an effect of the chip in Jensen’s neck, named by the inmates as “The Choke”. Periodically, the chip administers a dose of pain any time a prisoner even thinks about using their augmentations, causing the screen to flicker as if taking damage. There is a way to counter the effects of The Choke, but A Criminal Past does a great job of making you distrust everyone, so I chose to just grit my teeth. Unfortunately, upon discovering a way to regain the use of your augmentations, The Choke’s effects are worsened by draining your health for as long as you use an ability. Oddly, I found that this additional restriction enhanced my enjoyment of the DLC even further. A Criminal Past takes real skill to complete, and you’ll need to utilize everything you learned during the main campaign and System Rift to progress. Plus, I do love a challenge.
This difficulty wanes off slightly during the second half of the DLC as Praxis kits start to become abundant, but by this point, the genuinely interesting story is what will be driving you onward. I had hoped that A Criminal Past would leave me with some grand revelation about the overarching conspiracy of the Deus Ex world, but aside from some highly loaded exchanges between Jensen and Delara (remember who she really is) at the end, you’ll be left wanting. Although, the plot of A Criminal Past in itself more than makes up for this. There are so many twists and turns that it becomes a really tough choice to pick who you really trust at the end. At a pleasing 8-10 hours in length, you’ll definitely feel like you have got your money’s worth.
While it’s unfortunate that we won’t be seeing anything from Deus Ex in a while, A Criminal Past is in many ways an apt send-off. With a great narrative, challenging gameplay, and interesting characters, you’ll be left with warm fuzzy memories of the franchise as our society creeps towards a dystopian future not too dissimilar to Human Revolution. For the full review of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, refer to our comprehensive article.