Most US readers will only have a vague memory of Astérix. “Oh yeah, we learned about him during French class” or “he looks like my uncle that touched me..”. It’s all too familiar for a European to hear these things, and somewhat shocking as well. You see for over 50 years, Astérix has been one of the most recognizable fictional characters in all of Europe, having comic books, feature length movies, theme parks and widespread product placement for kids to snatch up. The mustached hero from France is to Europe what Hulk Hogan is the America, a true symbol of bravery, patriotism, adventure and recognized sex symbol. Throughout the many years of his fame, there has been over 30 video games attached to his name. One of them is Astérix: The Gallic Wars.
It’s a game of strategy, warfare and shirtless men fighting the Roman forces to defend their land from Caesar, backed by some fantastic modern fusion music with characteristic flare. Sadly the game, like everything else Astérix, didn’t see a release in the US and went relatively unnoticed despite good sales in central Europe, but it is one to discover and love beyond any borders.
Find out why it is our SOTM!
This game is certainly not the first time an Astérix game can be noted for its soundtrack. Throughout the 8bit and 16bit era, many of the games based on the petite powerhouse were scored by Alberto Gonzàles, a Spanish video game composer who would push the capabilities of the NES with his incredible Astérix soundtrack. This particular game however was not handled by him.
The release of Gallic Wars came at a time where the Astérix franchise was going through a transition after having been seen as outdated and unable to cope with the change of what young audiences saw as fun or cool. Years leading up to this game has been filled with mediocre games and even movie outings based on the Gallic warrior, which forced the right holders to time out and keep him out of the public eye to not exhaust him even further. For that reason, Gallic Wars had next to none promotion of any kind, hardly a review, barely an ad, it was just put out on the market in hope it would keep the name at least somewhat relevant, and for Infogrames, the license holder, to recoup some of their money holding onto the property. It is for these reasons that the game is even more puzzling as it is quite good all around, providing proper challenge and humor to keep everyone entertained. But the very best part is the soundtrack.
Composed by the duo of Doug Boyes and Dave Boardman under the psuedonym 2dB. A mixture of Celtic music and cinematic epics, the soundtrack includes the quirky lighthearted melodies that one would see fit Astérix along with some epic passages with a sequenced orchestra using some very high end samples. Throw some jazz into mix and you know you’ve got yourself a great score. It can even be argued if the soundtrack is so good that it makes the game worth it alone. 2dB would go on to do soundtracks for numerous games, most notably Hogs of War and Looney Toons: Space Race, but nothing would touch their work on this particular title.
As the game takes players through a journey that spans many different seasons and areas, the music reflects this by having a wide range of tones and atmospheres to keep the action moving and proper. It’s done by a completely sequenced orchestra, but uses high end samples to the point where it would fool casual listeners for the most part. It is heavy on the brass to keep the sound sufficiently European.
Tracks such as “The Forest” and “Roman Fort” backs up the very familiar environments of the Astérix franchise and uses a very light humorous approach similar to what is found in the feature length movies. “Forest” has a bumbling progression to mimic the walking of Obélix (Astérix large sized sidekick) and shows no sign of emergency or intensity, as he is easily able to walk through with no concern due to his strength. “Roman Fort” has a militaristic march sound fittingly for a Roman legion, though again it shows little sign to seriousness as the Romans as weak and disorganized.
But where the soundtrack really picks up is in the uncharted areas, the notably more difficult stages in the game. Distinctively more adventurous from the first note, these songs are intergral in making the game pick up the pace. The snow storms of the “French Alps” have striking string sections to illustrate the intimidating cold, and the fast unrelenting melody gives the music a surge of panic. “Aquae Calidae”, arguably the best song in the entire game, is such a fantastic piece of mystery and splendor backing the waterfilled maze city, with the duality of the light and dark horns emote Astérix and Obélix in search wonderfully. Other stages such as the “Pirate Ship” and “Narboa” takes the direction in a more jazzier style, while the main portions of the game are populated by shorter jingles that reflect 2 different actions, the calm strategy and the aggressive attack.
Like Astérix himself, the soundtrack has a strong overlying feeling of adventures, with each song really hitting the point home with very engaging leads, and it never deviates from this which is essential to the overall game which is one of the most important aspects to game music. It’s not only to create a fine piece on its own, but it’s actually having it logically and emotionally fit in with the game. The Gallic Wars is a very fine example of this aspect to game music when done right.
But despite its occasional brilliance, the budget constrains as well as market reach was never going to enable a proper soundtrack CD release for this game. 2DB however were gracious enough in their ways, and managed to make the PC edition of the game double as a soundtrack CD, and not as a redbook soundtrack, but a fully tagged and properly mixed product. This made the purchase of a good game even sweeter, with the very best part of it being a free surprise gift for those who thought outside the box and placed the CD in their CD players instead of their computer.
But 10 years have passed and the game itself is long since forgotten, only faintly in the minds of a few who are passionate about the small sized Frenchy. Due to the difficulty of acquiring the game in the US seeing that it never had a proper release there, it might be too much work to track it down, but for those who do, you get a good game and a great soundtrack for your hard earned money.Tags: 2DB, Asterix, PC, PlayStation, SOTM, Soundtrack of the Month