The Soundtrack to a Generation Pt. I

So it’s come to this. The next generation is upon us, bringing a new pair of consoles into our houses, a glittering prospect of new franchises, heady experiences and probably a hiccup or two along the way. It means it’s a time to reflect on the past eight years. Soundtracks have always been a personal focal point, raising mediocre games to new levels and cementing legendary games as triumphs of the medium. A title can win or lose on the music to be found within in my eyes. So, at the dawning of a new era, what better time to look back upon the musical high points across nearly a decade of games. It’s tough to narrow it down to a select few (or twenty), but here goes… Maestro, if you please!

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Kameo: Elements of Power
Composed by: Steve Burke
Performed by: The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Kings Choir
Record Label: Sumthing Else Music Works


Kameo’s soundtrack, at times whimsical and bombastic elsewhere, has already featured in our Top Ten Soundtracks You Might’ve Missed, simply lost amidst the chaos of a console launch. The game is now fondly remembered and Steve Burke’s memorable music goes a long way in making a very dated game more than a passing thought. Who’d have expected a game about a changeling fairy to have such a diverse, powerful score ranging from the hauntingly beautiful vocals of tracks like ‘Serenity’ and ‘Enchanted Kingdom’ to the pounding percussion and punchy orchestra of ‘The Badlands’. There’s even a chance to throw some piratical swagger in the mix, with ‘Thorn’s Pass’ easily a standout track. Burke has gone on to release almost every note of music that didn’t make the cut as a tasty download – a great gesture to fans. As a herald of the seventh generation of consoles, Kameo’s soundtrack was a perfect invitation to the possibilities that lay over the next eight years of Xbox 360.
Standout tracks: Thorn’s Pass, The Badlands, Serenity, Forest Glade
BONUS LEVEL: Check out our interview with Steve here!

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Bioshock
Composed by: Garry Schyman
Record Label: Released for free and as a vinyl record in Bioshock 2 CE


If Rapture hasn’t already sunk into the recesses of your subconscious then Garry Schyman’s mournful, understated score will imbed Andrew Ryan’s failed utopia into your grey cells. The strings do most of the work here, lamenting the tragedy of Andrew Ryan in ‘The Ocean on His Shoulders’ or wailing in eerie terror in ‘This is Where They Sleep’. Each area in the game has its own distinctive sound. The engineering section has heavy, clunking beats underscoring the music, mirroring the giant pistons in Hephaestus, Rapture’s fiery heart. Meanwhile, ‘The Docks’ sees Schyman evoke sea shanties and creaking hulls. Cleverly, ‘Dr. Steinman’ even evokes John Williams’ iconic Jaws theme – what better way to increase the paranoia of an underwater city than hinting towards the toothy menace that swims mere feet away. Not to mention the piece de resistance, ‘Cohen’s Masterpiece’ – a wild piano piece that befits the crazed artiste. The strings-heavy score drips atmosphere while staying true to the style of the day – Django Reinhardt’s jangly guitar fits perfectly with Schyman’s smaller-scale sound. Add in the period correct licensed music – all hinging on ‘La Mer (Beyond the Sea)’ - and this is score will stay with you long after your stay in Rapture ends.
Standout tracks: Bioshock Main Theme (The Ocean on His Shoulders), Cohen’s Masterpiece


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Lair
Composed by: John Debney and Kevin Kaska
Record Label: Promo

Another score we’ve waxed lyrical about before, fans of adrenaline-fuelled orchestral beauty should make time to listen through these stunning tracks. There’s a definite central theme used in (almost) every track but it never seems to become repetitive, changing in style to suit any moment. The game was pretty terrible but, again, a score of beauty springs from the dragon-infested depths. As we posited in our last examination of the Lair score there’s an awful lot of familiar themes that can be spotted throughout – hey, this bit sounds like Gladiator and this bit is almost exactly the Zelda theme etc. It’s almost bordering on being too similar and therefore blending into a morass of indistinguishable mediocrity but those themes that sound out in every track are just too strong to ignore. Once you reach the poignantly triumphant ‘Epilogue’ you feel as if it’s been an epic, draining but ultimately revitalising journey. In fact, it’s probably best to listen to this without playing the game – things are always better in your imagination.
Standout tracks: Battle for Asylia, Epilogue


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Mass Effect
Composed by: Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques and David Kates
Record Label: Sumthing Else Music Works


It took a while for Mass Effect to click. To begin with it felt too limited – where was this huge galaxy to explore? Why am I stuck in a rather linear corridor shooting aliens when I should be driving around outpost-scattered planets? Then, about an hour into the game, a cutscene shows the Normandy soaring through nebulous clouds to reveal the Citadel in its awe-inspiring glory complete with back-lit god rays. This is the true Mass Effect, I thought, and from then on I was hooked. The cutscene may have looked stunning but it was the fanfare that scored it that really drove home the production values inherent in the game. While ‘The Citadel’ was primarily composed by Richard Jacques, it’s the combined talent of Jack Wall, Sam Hulick and David Kates as well that really lend Mass Effect a surprise with each track. Fusing dark electronic synths with grand orchestral flourishes, the descending note motif found in the main themes has become an iconic Mass Effect riff. It’s there at the end of ‘The Citadel’ and you’ll most likely hear it crop up in the strangest corners of the galaxy. Other standout tracks include the calming ambience of ‘Vigil’ – an oasis of serenity amidst the oppressively dark synths – and the triumphant ‘From the Wreckage’ that sounds spectacular whether your Shepard is a tyrant or a hero. Rounding out the soundtrack is probably the greatest credits song of the generation with Faunts’ ‘M4 Pt. II’ perfectly accompanying the electronic score in a cathartic eight minute opus befitting of Shepard’s adventure.
Standout tracks: The Citadel, Vigil, M4 Pt. II


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Dead Space
Composed by: Jason Graves
Performed by: Northwest Sinfonia Orchestra, Skywalker Symphony Orchestra
Record Label: E.A.R.S.


We all know Dead Space is a gauntlet for your resolve but it’s worth noting how integral Jason Graves’ music is to that horrifically tense, panic-inducing atmosphere. Everything about Dead Space screams classic horror sci-fi and Graves score during the opening of the game is perfect, encapsulating the dread felt upon first seeing the U.S.G. Ishimura. Like all good sci-fi horrors the music is tense yet melodic; as soon as the Necromorphs make their bloody entrance the score soon drops any pretence of decorum and joins in attempting to scare your pants off. It might be hard to hum the Dead Space soundtrack but this is about iconic scores and there’s no denying that the stabbing-strings, discordant (even grating) instruments and relentless percussion hammer your senses into submission. Dead Space’s score stays with you – any violin sting will reawaken those repressed memories of disfigured flesh erupting from an air vent. That’s why it makes our top twenty.
Standout tracks: Welcome to the U.S.G. Ishimura, Manual Survival Mode Seven
BONUS LEVEL: Check out our interview with Jason here!

So that’s part one of our soundtrack journey through the last generation. Which scores could be next? Stay tuned to find out!

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