You know what makes work dull? Emails. People spend more time sending, reading and replying to emails than actual productive output. They clutter your inbox, forcing you into one of two camps: those of the OCD-level “must see white space” persuasion, or the “sod it, I’ll leave the majority unread” mentality. We want to get away from emails. Eighty percent of them are nonsense anyway, including complaints about people leaving stuff in the fridge and it going off, misuse of company toilets, and events being organised by that guy no-one likes in HR. Also, some involving work. We want to get away from emails after a stressful day in the office. What we don’t need is an office simulator, dragging us into the mundanity of a corporation with all of its staff’s neuroses laid bare in written form. If you’re loading up Mankind Divided’s first DLC hoping to get away from the accursed mail client then you should strap in, because emails are pretty much the bulk of the game.
System Rift brings back Frank Pritchard, the annoying pony-tailed smart arse from Human Revolution. He needs Jensen’s help to locate a friend who has been helping him to hack into a branch of the Palisade bank, a mega corporation allegedly doing all sorts of nefarious things. The opening conversation between the pair is far livelier than the majority of the dialogue from the main game, with Jensen’s vocal range actually moving outside of his normal mopey monotone and into something that could be classed as “possibly interested”. It’s brief, but it’s there. You’ll wander around Prague for about twenty minutes trying to track down first Pritchard’s contact, and then another contact known as Shadowchild (who you will recognise from Breach, the mission tree microtransaction leech included with Mankind Divided).
However, the initial setup is an elaborate way of telling you that you’ll ultimately be infiltrating a building. It’s a big building, but one which feels like someone threw the layout of some of Mankind Divided’s floors into a randomiser, and Palisade was spat out. There are few surprises lurking in the multi-storey complex. Each floor contains guards, turrets, cameras, sentries, or a combination of all four. You can either go in guns blazing, or take the more pacifistic route of sneaking around the vent system, subduing guards via stun gun or sleeper hold. The primary mission is to get to the server room on the sixth floor and locate some data. If you’re feeling indulgent, you can also help a murdered employee’s widower find out what happened to his wife. And if you’re feeling super helpful, you can leave a statue of Shadowchild on the desk of someone she doesn’t like, in a middle-finger gesture of defiance which is barely acknowledged, let alone explained. That is basically all you get in terms of objectives.
Character interaction is marginal at best, other than the bookended scenes with Jensen which are the most interesting aspect of the DLC. The majority of your conversations will be with Shadowchild over comms, but you can also eavesdrop on the local populace and the Palisade guards. The latter gives you a bit of comic relief from the po-facedness of Jensen’s mission, as you listen to them whine about boxes, or make self-referential remarks in a way that would make Shane Black proud. Otherwise, you’ll have to glean the rest of the mundane plot from the dozens and dozens of emails you can snoop through on laptops. Many of these missives are repeated, and at least some of them were mentioned at the start of this review. It turns out that office life really isn’t that exciting.
Everything you’ve seen in the main campaign is present and correct. Your augs are reset to approach the task in a different way should you wish; if you played a stealth build previously, you might want to try the more up-front approach here. However, Mankind Divided was very much geared towards sneaking around, and System Rift amplifies that by a factor of ten. There are so many camera sensors and guards lurking around that an assault is suicidal in almost every instance. A new addition here is the heat detector, a box or pressure pad which alerts cameras to your location if you stray too close to either. Running around like a loon is simply not possible. If you compare that to the almost laughably simple sixth floor which allows you to hack into a couple of security laptops to disable everything in sight and wander around freely, it’s pretty obvious which is the preferable way to play.
Hacking is the other thing you’re going to be spending your time doing. Doors, computers and terminals will all need to be accessed if you want to proceed, and there are a lot of them. Nothing has changed in this regard, but with a limited number of Praxis upgrades available to distribute amongst your augmentations, you’re again pushed towards subterfuge in the skill tree. The urgency of hacking lost its shine by the end of the thirty-hour campaign; here it simply grates. It’s not particularly challenging, and at this stage feels like padding to extend the running time of the DLC to the two-hour mark.
This could all be forgiven if the storyline revealed anything of note, but this is another missed opportunity. For all the talk of the Illuminati at the beginning of the episode, we’re no closer to finding out anything new by the end of System Rift and whilst the detective subplot proves marginally more interesting than the primary objective, they eventually merge into a banal conclusion of petty corruption. If there’s a bigger message, it isn’t apparent. Even the original - and optional - Palisade infiltration from Mankind Divided felt weightier than this. By the time you hit the final half hour and are thrown into a stripped back, tedious version of Breach (in what appears to be a brazen plug for the game’s other mode), you’ll be more than happy to log off.