December 31st, 2011 and things are quickly moving far from the expected close to an average New Year’s Eve. In the span of one night, less than eight hours, one of my very best friends will be married and one of my old roommates will be murdered. This is also the night I realize that I am in love with someone who is inconceivably out of my reach and hundreds of miles away. It is 4 am that morning and as I am booting-up the Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s menu for the first time… I am given this startling and heartbreaking news (my roommate’s death) from my sister who is quite literally standing on a volcano in Hawaii some 3000 plus miles away. My sister is emotionally unraveling on the other end of the line. I can hear the desperation in her voice. She wants to control the situation wholesale, manipulate the night’s horrific events, anchor them with safeguards. She can’t. Our friend is gone. What’s left is a terrible feeling: having no control is real paralysis. It’s something that also reminds me that life can be much more than cruel; it is largely evil.
Listen: Main Menu
The multiple major turns of that night altered everything. For the first time in years, I was completely lost. Realizing that everything is fragile and is made to spoil upon mere contact gave me reason to retreat. Coming to terms is a brutal process for anyone, that unbeknownst to me, is something I left almost entirely in the hands of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s composer Michael McCann. His score followed me everywhere for months.
Upon its outset, the score for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is concerned with fact, with answers… it wants them, and someone living in the past like Adam Jensen (our game’s protagonist, and at this point in our story… myself) is by definition existing in abstraction. Nothing in this state can be measured, read or prodded with any amount of accuracy. Searching for hard data here would be like asking ears of corn to make exact change. Answers similarly will be hard to come by as the days spent in a cycle of this nature revolve around ritual. Cornerstone to the passing of these hours is a focus on the splicing together of old images. Those past experiences involving whomever, or whatever, now newly colored with some form of bias. Where the original event ended in tears, or disagreement, the reassessment now grasps to find the positive slant. This is Michael McCann’s daunting insertion point into Deus Ex: Human Revolution: to articulate the paralysis of consequences, of choices, and finding enough strength to move beyond the specters of looming emotional wreckage. It is something you might have not expected if you were going by box art and static images alone. This is not a game of mercenaries, nor is it splintered factions blindly moving forward with heavy weapon. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the story of a very broken man, trying to meet the middle ground of accepting what he’s lost and salvaging whatever is left of the pieces that remain of his old life.
Set against a limping Jensen, it is astounding to hear Michael McCann’s vision of the future world. McCann’s gorgeous destitution can be found in every pore of every building, every vacant hallway. The score serves to make each moment something to analyze. McCann realizes that so much of what is going on is mental, and he tackles the games set pieces with such a degree of organic and metaphysical concentration that while you know Jensen is half machine, there is also nothing irregular, or unnatural in his blood. Nor is there anything amongst his surroundings that was made by any other process than by hand. You become connected to everything and everyone in the world as you can easily see them being connected to you. McCann trades the bellowing toll of gargantuan symphonies and their signature mark of the fantastical for something with unparalleled grit. The music keeps everything grounded. It harnesses, maintains even, its glaring weaknesses, in place of some sterling armor. One shot to the wrong part of the body is enough to kill, and the events unfolding inside this Detroit could very well be happening inside the home next to yours. McCann creates his tension with a visceral, mortally wounded despair that is intent on staying with you.
Listen: Everybody Lies
Don’t let me mislead you because when action is called for, McCann has few, if any, contemporaries that can even pay compliment to his brand. Propulsive and seedy, McCann can be absolutely terrifying in encounters. Bullets remaining is only part of the focal point here though, it’s the emphasis placed on the doubt and on the demons that come with leaving an opponent to bleed out that make it something without measure. McCann wants to understand the plight of his enemy, he wants to hear out their cause, peruse their pamphlets of propaganda. The enemy has been bred and built to stand for something averse to McCann, but is it enough of a reason to stand behind a wall waiting for a lucky shot. McCann’s playground of physically violent cues is of the few that take into account the entire sphere of its malignant consequences.
Listen: The Mole
Wisely, McCann composes fragments of music that are revisited and carefully, CAREFULLY distributed throughout the album. By doing this, he creates moments of dignified time. Giving you a brief pause to look back at whatever you choose, what you’ve done, who you’ve met and most importantly… to think. It is something I rarely see game composers tackle: the moment alone. Listen intently to the refrains found in The Mole, a gorgeous string of 7 notes that not only creates the well of regret Adam Jensen is drowning in, but it also becomes his ally. This theme is central to everything in the game and has the gut-wrenching ability to provoke any number of unexpected emotional responses from its audience. Michael McCann’s approach on Deus Ex: Human Revolution is something that is so plainspoken and honest that it makes you want to reach out to him, to communicate and project your own failures upon his tablature. I have never seen it done quite the way McCann does it. The score exists solely to tie itself to the user, and that gives it an uncanny ability: the prowess to count itself among the records that could save your life. No score this generation can even come within reach of McCann’s own Bridge Over Troubled Water. Nothing here is too much. Nor does it sound forced. Nor seem added for trivial flare. This is as confessional as McCann could ever hope to be, locked away in some dreary cabin pining for the love of his life, or grieving for the loss of family. It cannot be manufactured. McCann isn’t drawing you silhouettes, he’s painting exhaustive, painstaking portraits.
Listen: Hensha Daylight Part 1
Michael McCann’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution compositions are by far this generation’s most brilliant musical pieces. It is rare to find something this revealing, uncensored and heartbroken anywhere. This is such a personal statement that those who actually play the game and hear his chorus will likely be transformed by it. McCann went beyond every parameter set for him, laying waste to even the greatest and most celebrated of cyberpunk, sci-fi recordings. This is indeed the genre’s new benchmark, and nothing can touch it.