Miracle of Sound’s gaming inspired songs are some of my favourite things to listen and watch on YouTube. I’ve bought his records in the past and even dished out cash for a single song, that being the Borderlands 2 inspired “Breaking Down the Borders.”
Most of the time I’m just listening to the song, reading the lyrics and not paying much attention to the footage used in the music video, often cuts of official trailers and gameplay videos. But with “The Natural Heart,” the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided song, the footage kept drawing me in, engendering a response in me along with the fantastic lyrics and music.
More than an emotional response to the track, it was the sudden realisation that the footage used, the trailer for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, lied about the content of the game as it showed protagonist Adam Jensen having a personal stake in the events happening around him, instead of the truth that he’s essentially a detective solving a conspiracy.
He has a personal desire to find and expose the Illuminati, but they’re a faceless enemy and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided does a very shoddy job of making you care about the imminent villain, Marchenko.
But when you look at the footage, you see a closer relationship with the villain, the link being a downtrodden augmented young man, abused by the authorities and saved by Jensen. The constant pain of his existence in this anti-aug society eventually drives him into Marchenko’s arms and he goes on to set off that bomb at the station, one of the earlier events in the latest Deus Ex title, only Jensen’s point of view in the trailer is different, as he’s seen pursuing the young man, maybe hoping to make him change his mind and ways.
The trailer ends with Jensen confronting Marchenko in a theatre and fighting his men and the villain himself, after listening to him speak out his ideals. This theatre does make it into Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but you don’t meet Marchenko there but some mobsters. And Marchenko himself is a character you meet twice, with the first one being almost inconsequential. He clearly has “Bad Guy” stamped on his forehead, but aside from that, he’s just another NPC, not a central character to the story.
And that is perhaps the biggest difference between this trailer and the full Deus Ex: Mankind Divided game. Marchenko, in the trailer, is central to the plot. He’s the main antagonist, the man behind a movement and with the young man as a link, a young man Jensen feels is a powerless victim just as Megan was at the start of the first game—shown in the footage as Jensen having a flashback to her kidnapping when he sees the cops abuse the kid—the trailer creates a personal relationship between Adam Jensen and the villain.
In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided however, he’s just a mook, a servant of the Illuminati with very little importance to the story itself. He’s a characterisation void, without his own voice and personality. Replace him with a broom and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
You can have a villain be secondary in the face of the shadowy organisation backing him, but he has to bring something unique to the story, to the main character. Even in noir stories, where the protagonist’s starting motivation is just money or the pursuit of the truth, things happen that create a personal attachment to the ‘quest’, which shifts the motivations for the detective if only slightly.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided doesn’t do this, and so Jensen remains his detached self, when one of the reasons Human Revolution worked so well is how much Jensen’s caring for the people and events happening around him offsets his stoic personality.
I think maybe that’s why the end mission and thus the ending for the game feel like such a let-down. You never feel like you’ve taken down the main baddie, but just one of the secondary lieutenants. You end the game feeling as if there should have been another antagonist to fill that void, a villain you can care about, love or hate.
I would have loved to see more of the events in the trailer played out in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, with Jensen forming a bond with the downtrodden augs and struggling to keep them from becoming extremists. It would have driven home the question of which side Jensen is on and what he cares about much more effectively. It would also have made Marchenko a more charismatic and even imposing figure and so the confrontation between them at the end would have had a much stronger emotional impact.
In the end, with an RPG or any storytelling-driven game, arguably the primary task and challenge is simply to make me care.
Make me care. The trailer and Miracle of Sound’s song made me care. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided did not.