Game Music, Reviews

Red Dead Redemption OST: Good, Bad, or Ugly? (Review)

May 24, 2010 | | 10 Comments Share thison Facebook Red Dead Redemption OST: Good, Bad, or Ugly? (Review)on Twitter

The only genre that is truly American is the Western. If you think about it, an action film, drama, or comedy can take place anywhere and in almost any time period. But, when dealing with the genre of Westerns, it must – by definition – be set in the Western United States. Though some of the best Westerns ever created have been filmed elsewhere and by non-American filmmakers, they are always about one place and one era. Because no other genre has such a constant instilled in it, I find the Western – whether it be film, music, or game (or combination) – to be the most fascinating.

Naturally, Ennio Morricone’s iconic soundtracks – particularly those of the Man With No Name Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and the legendary The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) – provide the template to which other Western soundtracks since adhere. The soundtrack to Red Dead Redemption wisely does not deviate very far from the tried and true methods of the great Morricone: whistle, strings, harmonica, acoustic and electric guitar, and simple percussion. All of these make up the aesthetic that evokes images of tumbleweed, high noon, and six-shooters. You know, the really good stuff.

In the end, the music behind Rockstar’s latest smash hit, Red Dead Redemption (composed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson), should scratch that Western itch. Could it survive a showdown against your wallet and/or other great Western soundtracks? You’ll have to wait till high noon for that (or click the jump).

The main theme from Red Dead Redemption delivers. This is especially important since the theme returns several times throughout. The infamous church bell, building snare drum, and a fine melody carried by guitar at first, then to the whistle and voices puts us in the saddle firmly. We are ready. Borrowing liberally from the great spaghetti Westerns in style, this is a very respectable theme.

The first track, “Born Unto Trouble,” is a slow, whistle-led tune one would expect to hear during an establishing shot of a small town, or – in this case – to describe the main character. In the end, it’s a very cool and somewhat ambient piece. “The Shootist” is a very modern take on the more traditional moving pieces. The electric guitar wails and the percussion rumbles as the main theme is wonderfully recapitulated.

“Luz y Sombra” pays homage to the Mexican and Native-American influence on the Western genre. The trumpets and harmonica take the lead alongside the tambourine for this rhythmic piece that paints the setting well. The harmonica continues in “El Club de los Cuerpos” but gives way to the distorted guitar with another recapitulation of a previous theme. This track reminded me of “The Chase” from Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars but much more modern in sound.

To write music for an open-world game is no easy task. The composer must be mindful that the player will be spending many hours in many of the same areas. In this situation, to have a strong theme-based soundtrack constantly droning on and on can grow quite tiresome. Kai Rosenkranz, composer of Gothic III, said quite plainly at the press event for Risen that though it is one of his favorite scores, he made a mistake in Gothic III by writing such a theme-based soundtrack for an RPG. As a result of this, many composers go the other way causing many open-world soundtracks to not survive quite so well out of their contexts as they serve a somewhat ambient purpose. Sadly, Red Dead Redemption falls prey to this to a degree. Despite this, we have seen some soundtracks of open-world games flourish. Red Faction: Guerrilla comes to mind, as does inFAMOUS and the first Assassin’s Creed (and some would argue its sequel, but not I). Red Dead Redemption does not have that one or two (or more) killer tracks the others do – nor does it get quite close enough to the greats of the genre in Morricone and Bernstein – but I really wish it did.

As a pre-order bonus, the soundtrack to Red Dead Redemption is a great deal. There is enough to keep one entertained and it is definitely a competent score – particularly when experienced in the context of this spectacular game. But, a new entry into a genre with such an incredible pedigree and library of greatness from which to choose must come to the dance with some impressive moves. Red Dead Redemption, though an honest and more-than-decent outing, is just a little too slow on the draw.

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