I liked a whole lot of things about Deus Ex: Human Revolution, chief among them the way it felt like a loving tribute to so many different games that I love. It successfully combined a ton of familiar mechanics— Metal Gear-style stealth, Mass Effect-style dialogue, Deus Ex-style open levels, and even L.A. Noire-style interrogations.
But it made all of those things its own. This was due in large part to the its two most distinctive aesthetic attributes: Its glowing, gorgeous art design and its menacing, melancholy musical score.
Composed by Michael McCann, the soundtrack for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an understated triumph. It recalls (and even occasionally quotes) Alexander Brandon's iconic score from the first Deus Ex while combining synths, electronic beats, and sampled vocals into a distinctive and evocative aural stew.
The Human Revolution soundtrack is an understated, brooding affair; even when the shit hits the fan, the music rarely if ever reaches the melodramatic highs of Batman: Arkham City or inFamous 2. But all the same, it presents a thicker, more atmospheric vibe than either of those games.
Here are three favorite tracks, though with this game in particular, the entire soundtrack is more than the sum of its parts.
The main theme from Human Revolution captures much of what makes the soundtrack great, while laying out a harmonic and sonic template for the rest of the score. Most of the pieces in the game do a steady build, from ambient synths up through layered vocals with an eventual beat, and finally, a chord change. (Usually to a chord based on the flat sixth—in this case, it goes from a G minor to an E-flat major.) That particular chord change is kind of compositional shorthand for "epic" - it turns up in many a superhero game (like, say Arkham City and inFamous 2) and conveys a uniquely intense, heroic vibe.
It's not the most explosive track on the soundtrack, but "L.I.M.B. Clinic" might be my favorite. More so than most games, the music of Human Revolution is tied to the places and experiences of the game. This is, of course, true of most games, but it's even truer of this one. The first time I entered the Detroit L.I.M.B. Clinic was probably the first time I felt the vibe of this game. It reminded me of nothing so much as the brilliant (and occasionally overlooked) Spielberg film Minority Report, all clean whites, locked hospital rooms, muted robotic clicks and aseptic menace.
This mournful track plays during a major revelation about 70% of the way into the story—it's another slow burn, with an even more paranoid, dark churn to it than "Icarus" before it. Notice some of the same tones from "L.I.M.B. Clinic," the high-pitched synths carving room for the sorrowful female voice. Then, the darkness sets in and builds, builds, growing synth stomps paving the way for the beat to drop. Distorted strings and ripped-up vocals mix together with a sweet electronic beat as past themes make their way into the fringes. It's a dense-as-hell track, and a great example of strong electronic music design and mixing; somehow, there's room for everything amid the dirge.
You can download the soundtrack on Amazon, and it makes a great accompanying track for any computer hacking or digital lockpicking you may have to do. It's also cool to listen to in less intense/futuristic settings.
We'll have more of the best video game soundtracks all this week!
"The Best Game Music of 2011" is a multi-part series highlighting the best video game soundtracks of the year.