The Soundtrack to a Generation Pt. II
In our first look at the soundtracks that have defined the last generation of consoles we encountered everything, from well-scored launch titles to a revitalised horror genre. We saw good games with exceptional music and a few bad games brought away from the brink thanks to some sterling work on the audio side. Now, as we continue into our next five soundtracks, we look at a series cementing its place as a franchise, another genre refreshed and the beginnings of the indie revolution.
Composed by: Solar Fields (aka. Magnus Birgersson), Rami Yacoub, Arnthor Birgisson
Performed by: Lisa Miskovsky, Solar Fields
Record Label: E.A.R.S.
Solar Fields’ work on Mirror’s Edge stands as one of the defining scores of the last generation, perfectly suiting the cold, clinical but transcendent aesthetic of EA’s parkour runathon. The title theme ‘Still Alive’ (not that one), sung by Lisa Miskovsky, sounds like electronica and Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’ got together and created musical brilliance. The piano riff continues throughout the rest of the score, there as a beacon of hope reminding you of Faith’s determination to overthrow oppression. While a hefty portion is drum and bass, these are the moments that work the best in the game itself, kicking things into overdrive as you run away from armed enemies. It’s sublime, challenging and a wonderfully leftfield choice by EA in choosing Solar Fields to compose the score. Equally rare is a song specifically composed for a game receiving chart airplay and not feeling out of place or a cash-in. We can only hope that Solar Fields returns to compose for the next Mirror’s Edge, as his sound is synonymous to the point of iconic.
Standout tracks: Still Alive, Introduction, Ropeburn
Assassin’s Creed II
Composed by: Jesper Kyd
Record Label: Ubisoft Music
Half of the fun with Assassin’s Creed comes from the historical detail; the representation of a place and time in a way only games can depict. By this stage in the Assassin’s Creed franchise we had only visited the Crusades and the Renaissance – piracy, constitutions and tea parties would be years away. Such is the power of Jesper Kyd’s score to evoke the Renaissance - while remaining contemporary - that it surpasses his brilliant work on the first game. It’s a subtle score, unafraid to move into ethereal ambience, but the main theme has come to define the franchise to date. Cropping up in every subsequent game, ‘Ezio’s Family’ puts this theme to the fore. Delicate, playful tarantellas mirror the change in tone from the dour Altair to Ezio the rogue and yet the score has something historical to it too. The lone chorister is used to great effect, recalling the religious prevalence to be found within Italy’s classic cities. Meanwhile, more atmospheric tracks such as the ‘Approaching Target’ pair use echo and reverb to unnerve while recalling the threat of danger (as well as the cold alienation of the Animus itself). All in all, truly a score for the ages.
Standout tracks: Ezio’s Family, Approaching Target 2, Florence Tarantella
Red Dead Redemption
Composed by: Bill Elm, Woody Jackson
Record Label: Rockstar Games
Ask someone to transcribe a Morricone score while hallucinating and you might happen upon a soundtrack as brilliantly diverse yet so true to the genre as Red Dead Redemption’s reverential, contemporary music. There’s everything you could want here; the periodic chime of a lone bell, twangy guitar riffs, Mariachi horns and more. It’s stunning. Bill Elm and Woody Jackson were Rockstar’s first major foray into using untraditional musicians to compose a score – something they’ve gone on to do with every later release. Licensed music – so often backing a Grand Theft Auto – wouldn’t fit in 19th Century America so Elm and Jackson composed this love letter to the Western. From the traditional, evocative main theme to the jazz beats of ‘The Outlaw’s Return’, Red Dead Redemption’s score combines so many genres to form a score that would impress Tarantino. The Wild West is changing in Rockstar’s sun-bleached opus and this shakeup comes across in the score, fusing dub with horn sections and rough riffs with quirky percussion. Add in Jose Gonzalez’s iconic ‘Far Away’ – played during one of the best moments in any game of the past decade – alongside other contemporary but perfectly selected tracks from bands like Ashtar Command and you’ve got a recipe for greatness.
Standout tracks: (Theme from) Red Dead Redemption, Far Away, The Outlaw’s Return
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Composed by: Oscar Araujo
Performed by: The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra
Record Label: Sumthing Else Music Works
There are some pieces of music where every successive note just… works. Everything comes together in aural bliss – Oscar Araujo’s soundtrack to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is one such example. When the main theme bursts forth from amidst a maelstrom of strings, choir and grandiose percussion… well, it’s near perfection. Every instrument in the orchestra is thrown at this score – it’s big, brash and tumultuous and yet the subtle melodies are never lost amongst the chaos. At times recalling Howard Shore’s work on Lord of the Rings, Lords of Shadow has the same soaring brass, the towering symphonies and the little flourishes that excite. ‘The Ice Titan’ makes a Shadow of the Colossus-style fight all the better thanks to a rising prelude culminating in that scintillating, heroic main theme. A re-release in the form of the Ultimate Edition finally saw this soundtrack officially released, with the Director’s Cut doubling the tracklist. Scores don’t get much better than this.
Standout tracks: The Ice Titan, The Evil Butcher, Final Confrontation
Composed by: Darren Korb
Performed by: Logan Cunningham, Ashley Barrett, Darren Korb
Record Label: Supergiant Games
Intimate, eclectic and unique, Bastion’s folk-infused score was a surprise when experiencing Supergiant Games intriguing arcade title. With Logan Cunningham’s narration peppering every action in game, it makes sense that his recognisable burr opens this album before a jangly guitar launches into a funky beat. It’s indicative of the rest of the score: folksy strumming and home-worn strings mixed with complex, occasionally trippy percussion. Offsetting the many-layered intricacy of the level music comes a handful of intensely moving, very personal songs. Immediately hummable, they initially seem like character grace notes – there to give a voice to the voiceless, with only the narrator speaking throughout. By the end of the soundtrack ‘Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)’ and ‘Mother, I’m Here (Zulf’s Theme)’ have combined to make ‘Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme)’, a track that will go right to your core. In an inspired move, this song also incorporates the staccato beat that drives most of the usual score, bringing together every aspect of the game from character to sonic landscape in three minutes of utmost brilliance. It’s alienating on first listen but Bastion’s score has a warmth that grows stronger each time you hear it. If Firefly had hit five series, this is what its music might have become.
Standout tracks: A Proper Story, In Case of Trouble, Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme), Mother, I’m Here (Zulf’s Theme), Setting Sail, Coming Home (End Theme)
So that’s part two… Only two more to go. With ten scores left to choose (and plenty to choose from) who knows what’s to come! Do you agree with our choices so far? What would you like to see chosen?