It is a surprise to nobody who reads this site that, often times, the “surprise,” “sleeper,” or “out-of-nowhere” game hits of the year are often accompanied by a great score. It is even less of a surprise to this same class of individuals that such scores are often invaluable to the artistic and critical success of said games. One need not look any further than Flower, Braid, or Demon’s Souls – just to name a few – to see how innovative gameplay paired with an unforgettable soundtrack can propel a small game into the discussion of the greats of the industry, and, very often, with a budget a small fraction the size of the big boys’.
2010 found its first “surprise” hit rather quickly (early January) in Vigil Games’ first outing, Darksiders. Designed by Marvel Comics acclaimed artist, Joe Madureira, Darksiders is a beautiful-looking mish-mosh of several games’ mechanics weaved together gracefully to create an experience that scored near-unanimous acclaim in the gaming community.
Composers Cris Velasco and Mike Reagan of God of War fame are here to accompany War’s charge against the angels and demons, and they brought their friend, Scott Morton, to help.
Click the jump to read how Darksiders might just be another title to add to this list. Or is it on a different list altogether?! More importantly, did Cris Velasco bring his drums?
First, yes, Mr. Velasco brought his drums. I lovingly kid Mr. Velasco but a great deal of his tracks – in particular on the God of War soundtracks – are largely percussive. The same is true here. The opening theme, “Darksiders Theme”, begins with a young voice giving way to percussion and bass in a thick march, finally introducing an intense, gothic and choir-driven theme. This track, credited to both Velasco and Reagan, is a fine theme for the story’s protagonist who – in this humble reviewer’s eyes – is among the most underrated in recent gaming history. Additionally, the use of the double bass as a lead instrument is very effective and creates a mischievous, comic book-like atmosphere matching the game’s key players quite well.
“Battle With Silitha” and “Battle With Straga” are a great tandem of boss battle themes with the latter being slightly stronger and more congruous with the ambience and aesthetic of the game and story established by the main theme. Composed by Velasco and Reagan respectively, these boss themes provide ever-increasing drama to these battles which are quite a sight to see – especially Straga.
Mike Reagan continues on with “Battle With Greaver.” Opting for more brass in this encounter, Reagan picks up the intensity right where he left off, this time, deciding to bring a few more orchestral buddies and vocals. Although Reagan’s outing is a very strong one, it is all too brief as only three out of the soundtrack’s twenty-three tracks are attributed to him.
Cris Velasco revisits the main theme quite charmingly in the thunderous track, “Empowered.” This aptly titled track accompanies War’s action sequences with great fervor and is easily one of the strongest in the action music variety. He continues with “Chaos Eater”- a hand-drum anthem that oozes excitement and comes at a great part in the game. Velasco accounts for seven tracks and they are all competent, intense, and fitting of War and his epic, stylized struggle to clear his name.
Although both Velasco and Reagan contribute handsomely to the score and experience of Darksiders, it is relative newcomer, Scott Morton, who comes in for the kill and steals the show. Credited for scoring the TitanQuest games, Morton writes nearly half the music in the game and scores some of the most pivotal and emotional moments.
Darksiders is a game with seemingly low sentiment and/or emotion; there is no love interest, no vengeance for the death of anyone near and dear to the protagonist, etc. But, the music of Scott Morton adds this third dimension to the character of War. Suddenly, a character whose prime directive it is simply to clear his own name and honor not only becomes sympathetic, but his quest becomes one the player cares deeply for and – dare I say – understands.
“Eden” is a stunning string piece accompanying War’s visit to the Garden of Eden. The sadness of a happiness War will never know stung me as the strings soared above. The lyrical theme introduced here follows Morton into “Keeping Pace”, and perhaps a hint of it in one of the more surprising tracks, “Flight Path.” The only reason I describe it as such is that it may be one of the best tracks in the score but accompanied one of the more annoying sequences of the game.
When the first of the Star Wars prequels was released, John Williams’ soundtrack was available a few weeks prior. In one of the most nauseating oversights, Williams titled one of the tracks, “Qui Gon’s Noble End” which – of course – allowed anyone with half a brain to infer that the character of Qui Gon was to die somewhere within the first film. Thankfully, it is obvious Mr. Morton knew better as one of the more dramatic pieces on the track is simply titled, “Epic Moment.” “Battle With Abaddon” comes out screaming and is the track gamers want in a battle. Hand drums and other percussion race this chorus and string-filled piece to the game’s spectacular conclusion. Finally, “War’s Theme” – vastly different from “Darksiders Theme” – is a winning theme reminiscent of the great superhero themes (Elfman’s Batman comes to mind) and keeps with the spirit of Darksiders.
Could Darksiders have survived as well without such a successful and creative score? There are certainly a myriad of fantastic elements to the game so I don’t doubt that it would’ve still been an enjoyable experience. This score, however, and particularly the work of Scott Morton, pushed this game from being a cute conglomerate of older mechanics into a personality and heart all its own. I am very excited to see what the future brings for Mr. Morton. We all know how great Velasco and Reagan are – and it was especially great to see how much heart they provided for a relatively small project here in Vigil Games’ first outing. Now, Scott Morton adds his name beside theirs.
Darksiders soundtrack clocks in at just over fifty minutes of music and is currently on sale at Amazon for a mere $7.99. I highly recommend both the game and its soundtrack.Tags: Cris Velasco, Darksiders, Mike Reagan, Reviews, Scott Morton, Star Wars, THQ, Videogame