Game Music, Reviews

Under a Dark Halo: The Brooding Sounds Of The Halo Wars Original Soundtrack (Review)

February 16, 2009 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Under a Dark Halo: The Brooding Sounds Of The Halo Wars Original Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

Get ready for something different. The Halo series thus far has seen somewhat of an evolution in its aural landscape from the rock-oriented Halo 2 soundtrack to the beautiful orchestral/ambient masterpiece that was the Halo 3 soundtrack. However, just as Halo Wars intends to take the franchise in a new direction with its real-time strategy gameplay, Halo Wars composer Stephen Rippy intends to do the same with the title’s music.

While the previously mentioned orchestral music is not entirely absent (the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir Prague are featured), you’re going to find the majority of the score is centered on an electronic ambient style, and I’ll tell you right now that it sounds absolutely amazing. This doesn’t mean you won’t hear some familiar themes weaved throughout the score though. Along with the single-disc soundtrack, there’s also a bonus DVD packed with extras, so make sure you don’t miss out.

Read our detailed impressions of the Halo Wars Original Soundtrack after the jump.

This soundtrack is mostly mellow. It also has some serious style. You’re going to find pulsating basses and pads, clicky synthesizer accents, and, of course, a full orchestral and choir throughout the Halo Wars soundtrack. Each of these is featured prominently in the opening track, “Spirit of Fire,” which references the memorable Halo theme composed by Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori. The repetitive bassline chugs along and starts the album off on an ominous note that sets the stage for the rest of the downbeat score. There’s a certain emptiness that is almost palpable despite the constant noise that comes out of your speakers. It’s definitely a strange feeling.

On that note, “Bad Here Day” opens with a droning pad and a melancholy piano and choir melody that sounds desolate even after the groovin’ electronic percussion and dreamy synthesizers join in. “Money or Meteors” makes use of a distinctive bell-like instrument that reminds of some of Thomas Newman’s work, while electric guitars join the mix momentarily to voice some singular notes that reverberate in the distance. One of my favorites, “Action Figure Hands,” is a simple and somber piece with a beautiful choir-like pad in the background, a scant piano melody, and these odd, filtered synthesizers sections that seem to cut in and out and shuffle between notes, creating a cool fluttering effect. There’s an epic gravity to the piece despite its simplicity.

Digging even deeper into mood music, “Unusually Quiet” and “Flip and Sizzle” had me thinking I was listening to a Metroid Prime soundtrack. The clicky electronic elements in “Unusually Quiet” and the pitch-bending synthesizer melodies in “Flip and Sizzle” are the likely culprits. The fat synthesized bass and thumping percussion in “Flip and Sizzle” also add to the spacey ambiance, and the live choir bits had me wishing that Nintendo had given Kenji Yamamoto a real choir to work with instead of the horrible sounding General MIDI choir pads.  Maybe I’m being too tough on Nintendo, but this is how Metroid Prime should have sounded!

Taking a quick crash course through some other styles, “Just Ad Nauseam” and “De Factor The Matter” both take a page from the rockin’ style of Halo 2. “Part of the Problem” takes a different approach with glassy pads that create a crystalline environment and twangy country guitars that add a gritty, space marine quality to the mix. Finally, “Fingerprints Are Broken” is a contemplative track with a trance-like quality. Dueling synth lines compete in the background, while live strings and choir carry the melody.

Rounding out the selection, “Under Your Hurdles” once again features the Halo main theme played on an ethnic woodwind, but only briefly before the piece digresses into a bassy, guttural ambiance. The final track on the album, “Insignificantia,” is as poppy as it’s going to get, introducing some clean guitar and piano chords alongside a traditional drum set. The triumphant brass melody is upbeat, although the choir and organ add a somewhat sinister element to the piece. This actually sounds like it was created to be a vocal track, but I’m glad Rippy decided to break the mold and avoid the possibility of ruining the track (funny that not having a vocal track is “breaking the mold” these days).

The second disc is actually a bonus DVD featuring a collection of videos and additional music tracks. The video section sports some of the game’s trailers and a brief glimpse of Stephen Rippy and the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague at work, which is definitely cool to see. As far as the music is concerned, there are nine bonus tracks including alternate versions of songs and trailer/cinematic pieces. These are definitely a much appreciated bonus. Even more, 5.1 stem mixes for another set of nine tracks are also available for those who want to enjoy them in all their 5.1 glory.

The packaging isn’t anything special with a one-page booklet a grainy looking print job on the CDs themselves, but hey, it doesn’t matter because this soundtrack is amazing. I’m thoroughly impressed with Stephen Rippy’s ability to tackle one of gaming’s biggest franchises, and to do it in his own unique style without leaning on past Halo scores. It takes a lot of guts to do something like this, and it definitely pays off. I recommend picking this up when it hits the United States on February 17 and Japan on March 18 (via TEAM Entertainment). Even if you weren’t a fan of the music in the original Halo titles, I suggest you give this one a chance.

Do you have any thoughts or feelings about the original Halo scores? Have you been looking forward to the release of Halo Wars?

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