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Posts Tagged ‘Soundtrack review’

DRAGON AGE II

Composer: Inon Zur

Release: March 2011

Length: 12 Tracks

Label: EA

The success of the first Dragon Age: Origins was a sure thing. BioWare is one of the videogame industries leading developers of RPGs, and Dragon Age proved to be their most challenging one yet. The sequel brings back some of the things we loved about the first videogame, the difficulty, the dark design, and Inon Zur’s musical genius.

Zur’s past titles, Fallout 3, Everquest, and Baulder’s Gate II have all received great praise from fans, and the composer seems to have used these works, including the previous Dragon Age title, as inspiration in his latest score.

The fantasy world wouldn’t be as evocative or as cinematic without Zur’s ability to create graceful compositions. In “Hawke Family Theme”, Zur gives us a loving and soft track made up of melodic guitar pieces and wood sections. However, Dragon Age is a game with a violent context, so combat music plays a role that is just as important as the fantasy element. In “Qunari on the Rise” we hear Zur’s darker side. There’s an element of Feudal Japan hidden in the deep drums, but it’s the bass wind instrument couple with the male choir chants that really captures the violence of the game.

We’re given a sample of Zur’s more romantic side too in “Love Scene”. Pan pipes, soft violins, and rhythm picking guitar come elegantly together to support the silky female vocal that fades in and out intermittently.

The soundtrack is a rather short one, lasting less than thirty minutes. My guess is that EA plan to release more music later on, but at the moment what we’ve got is a mix of Zur’s score. “Tavern Music” gives us a chance to hear some in-game music; it’s as you’d expect from a fantasy tavern; lively and rich with joy.

The last track worth mentioning is “Rogue Heart” a soft song, sung in a language I fail to identify. Its structure is brilliant, beginning very faint, with piano and synths. The vocal just repeats, but more and more instruments are introduced. By the point the bass has had a turn get your foot-tapping, the drums and guitar pick up the rhythm – it’s a shiver giver.

Inon Zur remains a master of the fantasy genre. Though I must admit that the fantasy is a big no-no for me, Zur manages to capture the magic that will tempt new players to the genre. Dragon Age II is set to be one of the most impressive RPGs of the year, and Zur’s soundtrack will certainly help make that experience even greater.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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HOMEFRONT

Composer: Matthew Harwood

Release: November 2011

Length: 34 Tracks

Label: THQ

It’s great to see some fresh blood on the videogame music scene. Sure, this little niche still has its greats that have been writing and composing videogame scores for years, and it’s great to hear new material from them. However, every now and again I yearn to hear the work of someone fresh to the scene. The guys behind the award-winning Red Dead Redemption soundtrack hadn’t worked on videogames before, and as far as I’m aware, neither has Matthew Harwood, the composer behind the original score to Homefront.

Listening to a soundtrack before a game’s release has its benefits. You can conjure up images in your head that the music might represent. Homefront is labelled as a cinematic and character driven experience, and after listening to the soundtrack the first time you can tell that the music aims to sustain that experience.

The soundtrack is phenomenal; the 34 tracked score will hold you attention for its entirety. The “Main Theme” is a powerful track that uses bits from other scores, there’s an essence of Star Wars, Hitman, and The Matrix soundtracks. The main theme doesn’t stand out as some of the more prominent games out there; however, when you hear the track called “Lobby”, which is a variation of the main theme, you’ll realise that it’s a memorable theme nonetheless. What follows is the track “Golden Gate” a composition that is provocative enough for you to imagine images of a Korean Army invading San Francisco. It features a grand brass and an erratic string section working harmoniously together, covering ever available gap in the rhythm, as if leaving no stone unturned.

Another track that features at the beginning of the score is “Oasis”. Initially the track resonates memories of Indiana Jones’ quieter moments. It’s a peaceful track, the strings carry most of the drama, and the piano and flute moments bring in a great deal of sadness.

Towards the end of the soundtrack we return to this peaceful place, however things have drastically changed. “Burnt Oasis” carries a great deal of emptiness with it, as if there’s a desolate wasteland where a potential base of operations for the survivors once was.

A final track worthy of note is the song “Stand Your Ground”, which was written, mixed, and performed by Harwood and his collaborator Scott Cresswell. It’s a rock song that sums up the context of the game brilliantly – “Stand your ground, don’t back down.” Cresswell sings the lead vocal and plays both bass and lead guitar, while Harwood provides the percussion, backing vocals, and the synth. It’s actually a really good song; if Homefront proves as popular as predicted then this song might be on everybody’s playlists.

Harwood is a fantastic addition to the videogame music scene. The music is powerful stuff and he may be on people’s minds long after the game is released. I definitely look forward to hearing more from him.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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DEAD SPACE

Composer: Jason Graves

Release: November 2008

Length: 12 Tracks

Label: EA

A few months ago, Thirteen1 had the golden opportunity to interview composer Jason Graves and discuss his work on Dead Space, the soundtrack that made him a household name for most gamers. It was a fantastic experience to hear the insight into one of the industry’s most terrifying scores, but we’ve come to realise that we never gave the soundtrack our own critique. So for the past month we’ve been listening to the original score in the darkness, heightening our senses and hoping to get the most out of it – it has been traumatising.

The soundtrack to Dead Space is an intense listen. You have to be prepared for what Graves is going to throw at you. You won’t find any moments where he lets you come up for air; you’re either on the edge of your seat in suspense, or cowering in horror as crescendos attack.  The soundtrack is a combination of the Sci-Fi genre and visceral nature of the game. The music is violent, relentless and asking for blood. Graves’s great command of compositions means he can have string sections or deep winds sections sneak up on you without a moment’s notice. One of his greatest assets is the ability to keep you in suspense, keeping things eerily quiet but not silent, and certainly not comfortable. Most of the music is spine-tingling and will send the worst kind of shivers down your spine.

Let’s look at some specific tracks shall we. Points have to go to Graves for his attempt at trying to humour us with the titles of the tracks; “I’ve Got You Devolving Under My Skin” and “Fly Me to the Aegis Seven Moon” being two examples. A piece that’s worth noting first is “Plasma Cutters are your Friend”, a disturbing track that ends in a ferociously. It begins with ambient synths imitating a siren, while violins stab in and out. Slowly more high-pitched strings meet the synths and the music cuts in and out. Suddenly your ears are attacked by drums and rhythmic strings, while symbols crash in and out – scary stuff

“Welcome Aboard the U.S.G Ishimura” sounds promising to begin with. The music has a soft orchestral melody, however the trained ear will pick up a high-pitched string in the background, and the use of minor chords is never a good sign. The melody may be softly played, but there’s a message in the notes used. It’s a great track because it puts emphasis on the Ishimura’s role in the story, and it also introduces you to the Dead Space world, an introduction you will not forget.

Graves is a masterful composer, and we hope his work on Dead Space is only the beginning. He could master the survival-horror genre with these skills, and we would love to see perhaps Capcom or Konami working with him on their next Resident Evil or Silent Hill game respectively.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com

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STREET FIGHTER IV OST

Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa

Release: February 2009

Length: 66 tracks

Label: N/A

Is it game over for Fukasawa’s latest project, or should we expect to be knocked out?

In my personal opinion, I’ve always found Japanese video game soundtracks just that little bit more original than the western part of the industry. With the exception of a few western composers such as Martin O’Donnell (Halo), Harry Gregson-Williams (Metal Gear Solid, Modern Warfare) and Jack Wall (Mass Effect, Jade Empire), Japanese composers tend to trump the rest in terms of imaginative and suitable soundtracks. Hideyuki Fukasawa, whose work includes the Onimusha series, is proof of this claim and it’s never more evident than in his latest project, Street Fighter IV.

What sets Fukasawa away from other Japanese composers is his ability to mix traditional scene music with techno, rock and heavy metal music. Tracks like “Crowded Downtown China” and “Deserted Temple Japan”, which feature oriental chords and scales played with traditional eastern instruments mixed with synthesisers and techno drum beats, are perfect examples of his unique creativity. These two arrangements are some of the best compositions that feature on the two disc soundtrack, which has just fewer than 60 tracks. However, several tracks are only five to fifty seconds long and it’s difficult to review that fraction of the soundtrack, because they’re only sound bites that feature on the VS. Screen or when a new warrior has entered the ring.

The character themes are amazing, each one matching their characters beautifully. The two that stand out the most are the dramatic “Theme of Gouken vs. Ryu”, which is by far the catchiest and strongest track to feature, and “Theme of Zangief’s”, a jazzy composition with a frivolous trumpet effect.

The title theme, “The Next Door”, performed by Exile, is the by far the weakest track to feature. It sounds like an old Backstreet Boys track that never got released because of its ridiculous lyrics and high-pitched harmonies.

Over looking Exile and the ten second sound bites and what you have is an exceptional work of art, put together by a creative and innovative composer. Fukasawa has set a prefect precedent for the Street Fighter series, and let’s hope his next work is also a knockout.

9/10
Recommended Downloads:

Theme of Gouken vs. Ryu

Morning Mist Bay Stage

TGS’08 PV BGM

This article was originally published in Issue 18 of Thirteen1

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UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES OST

Composer: Greg Edmonson

Release: October 2009

Length: 20 tracks

Label: SCEAI Music

Can Edmonson create a blockbuster soundtrack for a blockbuster game?

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a must title for anyone who owns a Playstation 3. The exclusive title is by far one of the best looking games for the Sony console and the quality of the production put into the game is outstanding, and the same applies to enrapturing soundtrack.

Relatively unknown American composer, Greg Edmonson, returns to provide the soundtrack for the sequel, and he’s reprised themes from the original game and layered them beautifully into his latest compositions. “Nate’s Theme 2.0” – a sure fan favourite – opens the soundtrack in a captivating and momentous way. Right off the bat many listeners will think of the Indiana Jones series, which is understandable; Naughty Dog took inspiration from the fedora hat wearing archaeologist, and it’s ever so likely that Edmonson did too. Edmonson cleverly layers tracks with Far East influences and exploratory colours and textures, resulting in a majestic and romantic score. The music engages the mind into a state of empathy and many players of the game will marvel at the superb way it enhances the cinematics and set pieces. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves plays out very much like a film, its intricate design allows the player to feel like they’re almost directing the story, and the music sustains that sensation. It provides maturity, elegance and – most importantly – suspension. The track, “Train Wreck”, is worth a mention. Its beautifully composed string pieces show Edmonson’s capability to conduct an orchestra and choir. Though the wailing vocal on this piece does reach a wincing crescendo and will cause most listeners to adjust the volume slightly.

This soundtrack is a must-have for fans of oriental film and video game scores. Many of the techniques Edmonson executes are nothing original or innovative – Jack Wall have been doing it for years – but his creative decision to keep the soundtrack consistent by frequently featuring a melody from “Nate’s Theme”, is a technique many composers fear to use nowadays.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves OST isn’t a defining piece of work, but its simplicity makes it a strong and captivating musical experience. There’s no doubt that it enhances the gameplay, but it doesn’t provide anything new or original to videogame music. Fans of Nate’s adventures should definitely look into purchasing a copy though, as it will be a valuable piece of video game memorabilia in the distant future.

8/10

Recommended Tracks:

Nate’s Theme 2.0

Train Wrecked

The Road to Shambhala

This article was originally published in Issue 21 of Thirteen1

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MADWORLD OST

Composer: Naoto Tanaka (aka Akemi Kimura)

Release: June 2009

Length: 20 tracks

Label: Sumthing Else Music Works

Do MadWorld’s pounding rhythms score high points?

MadWorld, a game that practically oozes controversy, is one of the most violent games to appear on the Nintendo Wii. The Sin City like design and embellished gore are astonishing, but the game’s unseen edge is in the hip-hop heavy soundtrack. With all honesty, I’ll state that I’m no big fan of the hip-hop genre, but my opinion has surely changed after having such an original and relatable soundtrack pumped into my ears.

The MadWorld soundtrack offers 20-tracks all written and composed by Platinum Games in-house composer, Naoto Tanaka. Working alongside four different artists, Tanaka created each track with a general theme for each level in mind. These tracks were then passed on to the artists – Ox, Doujah Raze, Sick-YG and Bandy Leggz – who wrote and performed the lyrics, which they wrote to fit the game’s levels. If only to give you an indication of what to expect, Tanaka admits to being inspired by the album Collision Course, by Linkin Park and Jay Z.

One track that really stands out is “Crazy”, performed by Doujah Raze. This eerie song plays during the Mad Castle stage (remember the Werewolf?), and its rap lyrics suit it perfectly, with the chorus asking: “Does the full moon make you go crazy?” The other two tracks featuring this artist – “Come With It” and “Deathwatch” – don’t match up to “Crazy”, but the former features a superb piano backing, just one example of Tanaka’s originality.

Ox seems to be the most favoured artist, appearing on half the album tracks. It would seem that Tanaka was very experimental with the tracks associated with Ox, as a fair few feature a 1950s backing track, layered with techno drums and distorted guitars. The credits track “Get It Up” is certainly a highlight. The scope of music creativity is astounding in this piece. It features a vintage sounding brass introduction, which is eventually joined by a head-banging rhythm guitar and the crassest lyrics ever heard in a video game.

A final mention has to be “Ain’t That Funny”, performed by Sick YG, yet another example of Tanaka’s ability to create music to fit the mood of a level. This track makes its debut on the first Asian Town stage and is assembled using Oriental scales and instruments. It also includes the catchiest lyric on the disc: “Jack, Jack. He’s a psycho maniac,” – brilliant.

With the exception of the title track and “Death & Honour”, the soundtrack is an innovative and wicked piece of work – these two tracks lack the originality and creativity of the rest. Despite this, it is a triumph for Tanaka. Let its tunes be violently beaten into your ear canals.

8/10
Recommended Downloads:

Crazy

Get it Up

Ain’t that Funny

This article was originally published in Issue 19 of Thirteen1

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A fan made production created by a SEGA forum member, MrTaco

HOUSE OF THE DEAD: OVERKILL OST

Composer: John Sanderson

Release: February 2009

Length: 20 tracks

Label: N/A

Is Pit Stop’s debut as infectious as a zombie bite?

If you’ve played The House of the Dead: Overkill, then you’ll know it’s a ridiculously fun game, with its relentless zombie carnage, over the top swearing and B-movie influenced plot. However, one element that stands out from the bloodbath is the soundtrack. Composed by Pit Stop Productions, the soundtrack features a mixture of rock, country and pop music.

Pit Stop’s session bass player is phenomenal, providing funky bass lines that induce a hell of a lot of foot tapping and it’s never more apparent than in the bass fuzzed “The Warden’s Mother”, which is accompanied by excellent drum fills and an over-the-top reverb guitar, which becomes an outstanding finishing solo. John Sanderson, Director of Pit Stop, provides vocals for a few tracks, and utilises his musical talent to change his voice to suit different music styles. The games credit track, “Beautiful Mind”, is an excellent example of Sanderson’s ability, especially in comparison to title rock track, “The House of the Dead”. It would be insane not to mention the fantastic drums that feature on the majority of the tracks, giving each song the dirty sleazy feel they need.
A few songs such as “Varla’s Theme” and “What the Funk” really drag the soundtrack down with their uninspiring rhythms, the latter featuring a really irritating organ backing, however its jazzy piano solo almost redeems the track.

In game the soundtrack works really magnificently with the constant zombie shooting action, and players have the ability to unlock specific tracks when they earn a high enough score. Overall, Overkill has an awesome soundtrack put together by a team of professional musicians and producers. Look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

7/10

This article was originally published in Issue 18 of Thirteen1

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