The Soundtrack to a Generation, Pt IV
Here we are, six months into the latest console generation and plenty of amazing prospects breaking the horizon. From Paul McCartney’s involvement with Destiny to the ever-increasing profile of video game music on mainstream radio, there has never been a better time to love and extemporise the brilliance of music for games. In this, the final part of our look back at some of the greatest soundtracks of the last generation, we come to the end of our chronological journey. From pounding electronica to quiet, reflective guitar melodies, this part is as varied as our first, second and third features. Load up iTunes and prepare your bank account – here are our final five soundtracks you have to hear…
Composed by: Sun Araw, M|O|O|N, Perturbator, Jasper Byrne, Scattle, Synthetical, Eirik Suhrke, Coconuts, El Huervo
Released on: Devolver Digital (download via Steam)
This final feature might as well be an eighties tribute act for all the neon-drenched electro-pop to be found within. Hotline Miami, with its garish, retro aesthetic, has one of the most surreal, adrenaline-fuelled soundtracks in recent memory. Coming from a range of bizarrely named artists, you might not be able to hum most of the tracks but they’ll certainly be burned into your memory like an acid haze. Each artist has a distinctive sound, from the trippy, almost-tropical sounding cuts from Sun Araw to the driving beats of Perturbator. Dubbed as they are ‘Hotline’ and ‘Miami’, Jasper Byrne contributes the closest thing to a theme song but the real pleasure in Hotline Miami’s soundtrack is the ability to listen to full length versions of tracks only heard in snippets or beneath the violent sound effects that cover the game. Some might argue that these aren’t truly iconic tracks but, in the same way as Mario’s bouncy theme befits its friendly vibe, Hotline Miami’s horrific content is made all the more entrancing by these odd electronic tunes.
Standout tracks: Horse Steppin’, Miami Disco, Hotline, Electric Dreams
Composed by: Neil Davidge, Kazuma Jinnouchi
Performed by: The Chamber Orchestra of London
Released on: 7Hz Productions
A Halo soundtrack is always an event. One of the most popular and recognised game themes out there, Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s Celtic-tinged Gregorian chanting helped define a series. Kudos, then, to Neil Davidge for almost entirely forgoing the theme that made Master Chief an icon. Of course, the themes are still there – Volume 2 of the soundtrack includes a version of ‘Never Forget’, the mournful, sobering lament from Halo 3 – but the majority of the Halo 4 soundtrack is just as fresh as those monks were in 2001. ‘Requiem’ is a majestic yet ethereal symphony with powerful chords and delicate electronic accompaniment, while monks are replaced by female vocals on ‘Legacy’, recalling Karl Jenkins’ ‘Adiemus’. ‘Haven’ has a simple melody, repeated with growing intensity (and reworked to stunning effect in the remix album) while the chanting in ‘Nemesis’ has flashes of Akira’s intimidating score. Arguably the most triumphant success on the album, ‘To Galaxy’ sounds like Halo – lush strings, a militaristic touch – but erupts into a wholly new theme for the series, one every bit as memorable and brilliant as anything else recorded for the game. When the melody completes itself halfway through the track things feel cathartically finished – it’s no surprise this comes during an intense action scene. By the end of Halo 4 you might feel that the game has more emotion than expected and Neil Davidge’s score only accentuates this change. Brilliant work for a first-time games composer – who’d have thought Massive Attack would lead to this?!
Standout tracks: To Galaxy, Nemesis, Requiem
BONUS: Check out the remix album for some truly outstanding work (and some truly weird dubstep!)
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Composed by: Power Glove
Released on: Ubisoft
Oh, hey, somebody’s watching The Terminator again. Wait, this isn’t The Terminator theme? And therein lies the fun, spot-on spoofery that is Power Glove’s soundtrack to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Listen to that theme and ‘Rex Colt’ side-by-side and the homage is clear as day and it’s only just the start. ‘Blood Dragon Theme’ sounds like somebody found Vangelis’ synth samples and had a party – for a game that has eighties action movies squarely in its red-tinted, cyborg-augmented sights the soundtrack looks to higher-brow fare for reference. Blade Runner is an immediately recognisable source – ‘Dr Elizabeth Darling’ drips with oriental synths, gentle fades and languid melodies to such a degree that it could just as easily be ‘Rachael’s Theme’. This is the fun and depth of Power Glove’s work on Blood Dragon: it isn’t just a game for movie buffs, it’s a soundtrack for soundtrack enthusiasts! This is a heady blend of wailing guitars, pulsing drones, reverb-heavy drums and every other eighties soundtrack staple with a hint of contemporary electronica to take things to the max! (Or some other cheesy slang from the decade…) Topping it all off is a track from the so-bad-it’s-amazing movie Miami Connection, recorded by the fictional Dragon Sound, entitled ‘Friends’. Not since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has a game soundtrack so encapsulated a particular moment in time. With a rumoured vinyl version on the way there’s no better time to savour the awesome naffness of that decade – kudos to Power Glove!
Standout tracks: Rex Colt, Blood Dragon Theme, Dr Elizabeth Darling, Love Theme, Friends
Composed by: Olivier Deriviere
Performed by: Philharmonia Orchestra
Released on: Capcom
The best score of 2013 – officially, given the awards bestowed upon Olivier Deriviere’s majestic soundtrack to a flawed masterpiece. Remember Me had some very interesting concepts, brilliant art design and a genuinely unique setting, but fell a little flat in terms of gameplay. Not so in the case of the soundtrack which expertly chops and distorts a traditional orchestral score into something infinitely listenable. Memories are fundamental to the plot of Remember Me, technology having developed to the extent that they can be digitally stored, remixed and deleted. Deriviere imbues his score with organic sounds – lush orchestra, sporadic vocals – which warp and twist into digital stutters, mirroring the transition of memories from something human to mechanic or digital. Unlike any ‘remixing’ heard before, it’s a brutal and unique sound, as if the digital music file is corrupted itself. It’s most audible in the track ‘Memorize’ when a horn pierces through the pounding beat, clear and clean, before glitching at the tail end of the note. There are many other cases of electronic sound intertwining and overpowering the orchestra, but the soundtrack as a whole is ambitious, warm and wholly satisfying. Olivier Deriviere is rightfully one to watch and this soundtrack should be a part of any collection.
Standout tracks: Memorize, Nilin the Memory Hunter, The Fight, Our Parents
BONUS: Check out our interviews with Olivier here and here!
The Last of Us (Vol. 1 and 2)
Composed by: Gustavo Santaolalla, Andrew Buresh, Anthony Caruso, Jonathan Mayer
Performed by: The Nashville Scoring Orchestra
Released on: MASTERWORKS (Sony Music Entertainment)
It’s only befitting that the best game of 2013 has one of the best soundtracks of the last generation. Gustavo Santaolalla’s lilting main theme haunts the tale of Joel and Ellie like a long-forgotten memory – a slice of Americana well past its best before date. As revealed in Grounded, the documentary chronicling the making of the game, the composer uses wholly unique instruments, rooting the player in the decaying world of post-infection America. Footsteps on gravel, thundering drums, moaning strings – all contribute to a fully realised soundscape that paints a mournful picture but one not completely without hope. The second volume of tracks, focusing on the Left Behind DLC, has a main theme that feels more traditional in structure and more inspiring in tone. With deep backstories, Joel and Ellie’s themes fluctuate as their worldview shifts but the lo-fi sparseness remains – this is a quiet world, away from the infected. We’ve seen lo-fi scores for other games but for such a AAA-title to have one such soundtrack is a first, especially from a composer known for a selective and exclusive back catalogue. The Last of Us stands as a turning point in games and the music plays a huge part in its ability to convey and elicit emotion. A highpoint for gaming and a great place from which the next-generation can take its inspiration.
Standout tracks: Left Behind, The Last of Us, All Gone (any version)
And there we have it – from Kameo to The Last of Us it’s been a long but immensely rewarding generation of soundtracks. In fairness, it’s a generation still chugging away but with games beginning to come out exclusively tied to the newest machines it’s one that won’t last forever. There’s plenty to look forward to – new IPs, established franchises, indie gems – and all with game soundtracks from composers great and unknown. Mainstream radio is finally waking up to the diversity and brilliance of game soundtracks and it’s only going to get bigger from now. To wrap things up, here are a few honourable mentions that deserve listens too. In the meantime, comment and tell us what soundtracks from this past generation you would have included – who knows, there might be another feature on the way!
HM: Dark Souls (composed by Motoi Sakuraba) – “As brutal and harsh as the game itself, Dark Souls soundtrack burns into your memory with every death and triumph. Not the easiest of listens, but a rewarding one for those who persist.”
HM: Mario and Zelda (composed by Mahito Yokota and Koji Kondo) – “With themes established decades ago, including Mario and Zelda felt a bit of a cheat given their legendary status already assured in the halls of gaming. Still, this was the generation where those wonderful themes made the leap to full orchestral versions and it was glorious to hear.”
HM: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (composed by Brian Tyler) – “The more you hear it, the more Black Flag’s fiddle-de-dee theme supplants Pirates of the Caribbean as de facto pirate music. Nothing beats cresting a wave and unleashing a broadside while the music reaches its peak.”
HM: Viva Pinata (composed by Grant Kirkhope) – “Taking cues from pastoral symphonies and supplanting them in fields of sweets, Kirkhope’s score is a pleasant breath of fresh air that feels magical yet never twee. A masterpiece in delicate understatement.”
HM: Bioshock Infinite (composed by Garry Schyman) – “Mixing traditional Americana with twisted hymns and a splash of anachronism, Schyman’s score is a treasure trove of telling quirks and revealing surprises. Nothing beats the amazing reverse covers of contemporary songs, nor the unease generated by ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’.”