Game Music, Reviews

Short, Sweet, and Nothing Like Hell: Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (Review)

February 9, 2009 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Short, Sweet, and Nothing Like Hell: Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (Review)on Twitter

While I can’t claim to be a Brothers in Arms fan (I haven’t played the series), I have always been a fan of the music. Stephen Hardwood Jr.’s work on Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 in 2005 brought the series to my attention, and when the soundtrack for the third installment of the series, Hell’s Highway, was announced, I took note.

So, what can you expect?  It’s composed by Gearbox Software’s Ed Lima and Duncan Watt, and was recorded live by the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir Prague. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking though; in fact, you’re going to find that the sounds of Hell’s Highway are very familiar, but at least the compositions here are reminiscent of some great music instead of a lot of the generic stuff that seems to dominate the “World War II game” genre.

Read our impressions after the jump.

I’ll come right out and say this soundtrack is way too short. The albums’ 10 tracks come in at just over 22 minutes, which is quite a shame given the quality of music here.  If you’re at all competent in mathematics, 22 minutes and 10 tracks come out to about two minutes a piece, which, again, is too short! I can’t imagine that this is all the music in the game, so perhaps this is just the live orchestral material (or maybe the game features a lot of silence).

From the opening phrases of “Main Theme,” I immediately was reminded of the Backdraft score by Hans Zimmer. For those in the know, the music from Backdraft was used extensively in the Japanese version of Iron Chef that was aired on Food Network in years past, so it definitely holds a special place in my heart. Sweeping, airy strings, defiant brass, deliberate bass stabs, and steady snare rolls do sound a whole lot like a soundtrack from a WWII game on paper, but when you hear the music, I think you’ll also be wondering whose cusine reigns supreme.

This familiarity pervades throughout many of the proceeding tracks, as they use the same instrumentation and follow the same structure. The tense moments of “Double Time” and the foreboding opening to “The First Bad News / Letters to Loved Ones” do break away from the mold for a moment, but eventually fall back in line as they revisit the title’s main theme.

“We Happy Fewer” is a charming woodwind and brass rendition of the main theme that I found to be very soothing with its minimalistic approach. The powerful timpani segment towards the end interrupts this moment of peace, but it ends on a light note. The “Eindhoven” portion of “Eindhoven / Roadblocks / Frankie’s Choice” is a victory fanfare that makes use of brass, bass drum, and cymbals only, and sounds like an authentic and sincere welcome home.

The final track is the longest, coming in at 6 minutes in length (yeah, that means the other tracks on the album are even shorter). It opens with a touching melody before moving on to a melancholy piano and strings segment that sounds almost note-for-note like that track from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring where (SPOILER) Gandalf “dies.” Remember when Gandalf falls, and all the hobbits are outside crying, and Aragorn says, “Get them up! These hills will be swarming with orcs by nightfall.” Sorry for the excursion, but the melody here is so simple and effective that I’m not surprised that Lima and Watt stumbled across something similar.  However, as usual, the gentle rattle of the snare rolls and familiar string swells return once again and bring the album full circle with the main theme.

Overall, the music here sounds great, and it even features a live orchestra for those of you out there that look for that quality. It’s a good album, but much too short, and some may be turned off by the familiarity of the material.  The booklet is actually pretty comprehensive for such a short release, with comments from both Lima and Watt. I would say that Sumthing Else’s suggested list price of $15.98 is a little steep for 22 minutes of music, but some sellers on Amazon are offering sales prices that are a little more reasonable.

Are you a fan of the Brothers in Arms series? Do you take notice of soundtrack releases that specifically feature live orchestral recordings?

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