Reviews for various video game soundtracks that can't be placed in any other area of this site. Due to the nature of the industry there's going to be a fair few digital releases here, physical collectors be warned.
MISCELLANEOUS GAME SOUNDTRACK REVIEWS
- 1998: Peter McConnell - Grim Fandango: Original Game Soundtrack
- 1999: Lennie Moore - Outcast: Original Soundtrack
- 2001: Ben Houge - Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura OST
- 2001: Various - Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition
- 2004: Various - World of Warcraft OST
- 2010: Mark Morgan - Vault Archives
PETER MCCONNELL - GRIM FANDANGO: ORIGINAL GAME SOUNTRACK
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|1998||6||"Hi-Tone Fandango", "Lost Souls Alliance", "Ninth Heaven"|
1) Casino Calavera; 2) Swanky Maximino; 3) Smooth Hector; 4) Mr. Frustration Man; 5) Hector Steps Out; 6) Hi-Tone Fandango; 7) She Sailed Away; 8) High Roller; 9) Domino's in Charge; 10) Trouble with Carla; 11) Blue Casket Bop; 12) Manny's Office; 13) Rubacava; 14) Blue Hector; 15) This Elevator Is Slow; 16) Domino; 17) Don Copal; 18) Neon Ledge; 19) Nuevo Marrow; 20) Gambling Glottis; 21) Raoul Appears; 22) Scrimshaw; 23) Talking Limbo; 24) Coaxing Meche; 25) Lost Souls' Alliance; 26) Los Angelitos; 27) The Enlightened Florist; 28) Temple Gate; 29) Ninth Heaven; 30) Companeros; 31) Manny & Meche; 32) Bone Wagon
Like it says on the cover: big band, bebop and bones. But what if I don't like big band and bebop...
My great musical crime which forever bars me from entering the cool kids club is that I don't like jazz. It's a genre I have literally zero emotional resonance with, unless it gets particularly bad at which point it becomes one of the few tangents in the wide world of music as an art form that I genuinely dislike; free jazz is something I can earnestly say I hate, and I very rarely use that word with music. This is a weight I've carried on my shoulders for decades and I don't see this changing, unless I end up with some kind of major head injury that rewires me from the ground up. Sorry, not sorry. The Grim Fandango soundtrack is as close to a jazz album as I'll probably ever come to own. The Rate Your Music genre listing for the album specifically breaks its influences down to bebop, smooth jazz, Latin jazz and big band among a few others - I couldn't really tell where one ends and another begins, but presumably it's somewhere within this diaspora where my brain finds some kind of an acceptable threshold. Or perhaps it's simply the bias shining, because this is the soundtrack one of my favourite greatest games of all time and that kind of association can pull a hefty weight.
Click-and-point adventure games were one of the first genres I remember falling in love with when I first encountered the medium of video games - I didn’t even understand English when I started playing them, but I was so enchanted by how they played in contrast to the platformer games I mostly associated with games at that point, that I played them with a dictionary by my side or meticulously determining what the words meant through context: I self-taught myself English long before school and I can genuinely attribute a good deal of my bilingualism to those games. Grim Fandango, released in 1998, is often cited as the last great hoorah for the genre, before it fell out of favour in the mainstream and its torch was passed down to the hands of European niche enthusiasts. If it were to be considered a swan song, then it is a spectacular closing act. Its setting is truly unique in gaming, it’s seasoned thoroughly with incredible writing and acting that lends it full of emotion (be it genuine laughs or actual gravitas) and the core gameplay - centered around your typical adventure game puzzles - are thoroughly entertaining and avoids many of the quirks the genre was criticsed for. Many games boast to be cinematic but this is always in reference to epic set pieces and fancy on-rails sections: Grim Fandango is like an incredible miniseries where the characters and the writing pull you in for a binge watch you’ll never forget. From the perspective of someone who grew up with the genre and who loves it dearly, Grim Fandango is absolutely one of its greatest peaks.
Grim Fandango’s world is a mishmash of 1930s art deco and the Mexican Day of the Dead, and so its soundtrack is also a meeting of two worlds. The lounge-y jazz vibes that have already been mentioned interact with Mexican folk music as the game moves from its swanky high roller locales towards the more folk-loric heart of the Mexican underworld, and the soundtrack does a splendid job fleshing out these incredibly contrasting surroundings. The jazz elements of the score are for large parts relatively restrained thanks to their purpose in describing the tone of the setting through sound, which prevents them from going off rails, and despite my genre allergy there are a number of songs here that I do appreciate because of their role in the game. “Hi-Tone Fandango” in particular is an iconic video game song for me, and though it may not sound much to anyone who hasn’t played the game, it’s a song that so vividly brings the listener back to its appointed locale if you have had the chance to wander the world with it tracing your steps. I can't say I'm too enamoured by most of the music here on its own, without the context, but I can enjoy it to the extent that it gives the world a faint hope that maybe my taste can be saved one day.
The special parts of the Grim Fandango score for me are the ones that lean heavier towards the Latin and Mexican influences. Peter McConnell's music is incredibly atmospheric throughout and while the jazz parts work with the film noir tension and high style aesthetics of Grim Fandango's world at its swankiest, the music that's more in line with the folklore heart of the game and feature the score's most beautiful and most atmospheric cuts. The wistful optimism of “Ninth Heaven” is absolutely lovely and practically acts as the game's theme for me, and "Lost Souls' Alliance" actually benefits from being taken away from its context. It has a very slow pace and build and the area it plays in is normally heavy with dialogue, so hearing it on its own really helps appreciate just what a delightfully crafted thing it is. There are a few other genre hops scattered throughout that are delightful in their own ways, such as the psychedelic surf rock of "Bone Wagon" as well as the hilariously sadsack "Talking Limbo" which is almost kind of touching in its own special heartbroken sailor way.
If there is a principal reason as to why I don’t find myself tuning onto the Grim Fandango soundtrack as much as I might expect to given my reverence for the game, it’s not actually because of its genres of choice. Game music by its nature often behaves in loops, and I’m not a fan of when soundtracks squeeze the songs in by limiting the loops they go through; and so my largest complaint about the Grim Fandango OST is how most of its 32 songs are gone in 1-2 minutes. Many of these songs would be good enough to have warranted a few runs through their central loop, to let the songs and the melodies linger around for a while for a greater impact; some of them are great to the point that limiting them to a quick 1-minute round feels practically unfair and like you're being robbed out of the full portion. There are obviously also songs within that extensive that don’t stand out as much, sometimes intentionally, but when those songs are the same length as the more essential tracks you specifically listen to this soundtrack for, it ends up highlighting the less engaging sentiment of the former while at the same time failing to give justice to the latter.
Which leads to the central dilemma. In the recent months I’ve been reviewing a number of video game soundtracks and I find them to be a challenging balancing act full of pitfalls. By default I dislike the notion to treat soundtracks differently to any other music - you have a reasonable argument in how the context of playing the game bears such a heavy impact when considering the music, but as music listeners we imprint our own contexts to so many "normal" albums that it feels like a moot point. But it’s soundtracks like Grim Fandango’s that throw me off my own high horse. I appreciate the music because of the reverence I hold for the game, but it feels practically impossible to reconcile that with how so much of this music I would probably turn off if not for those memories they evoke, and how even the great moments can sometimes pass by like they’re nothing of interest purely because the way they have been edited and presented in this collection. That’s an aspect that’s unique to soundtracks and it breaks my logic, and I've spent the days I've sketched out this review considering how much I actually enjoy this soundtrack. So I take a coward's way out and rate it somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: it's music that evokes a lot in me, but it's one of the soundtracks in my collection I probably listen to the least.
Physically: n/a, I only have this digitally.
LENNIE MOORE - OUTCAST: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|1999||9||"Heaven on Adelpha", "World of Snow", "World of Temples"|
1) Prelude; 2) Daokas; 3) Soldier's Camp; 4) Heaven on Adelpha; 5) World of Marshes; 6) Fatally Wounded; 7) Main Theme; 8) The Ancient Forest World; 9) Watch Out!; 10) Let's Fight!; 11) World of Snow; 12) World of Temples; 13) Main Theme (Reprise); 14) Oriental Spirit; 15) World of Mountains; 16) Orchestra Rehearsal; 17) Ülukai Dance
Sweeping orchestral mountains and valleys, rousing vivid landscapes with extended compositions. A classic soundtrack for a classic game.
Outcast is one of those cult classics that by some strange string of fate has ended up becoming something big and meaningful to little old me. It’s always one of the first no-brainer choices when I’m asked to list my all-time favourite games, and its relative obscurity has in some way made it feel even more like it’s something special to me personally. Its grand open-world design, character-driven story beats and epic scale was something very different from my usual video game habits when I encountered it by chance, and its very distinct personality best described as European made it feel incredibly different to anything else that tried to do the same afterwards but always felt they fell short. It’s probably the first game that genuinely drew an emotional reaction out of me when I completed it for the first time. In many ways, it revealed a new aspects to one of my favourite pastimes at the time, and that special magic still remains as I’ve replayed it countless times over the years.
What set Outcast apart from other games at the time is how it presented itself: not just in its graphics with the rather unique voxel-based looks, but in the overall scope of its design. It’s a weird game that dreamt big, and Appeal (the developers) treated it like a special prodigy that could achieve those dreams. A lot of effort and money went into making the game feel that you were in fact witnessing a grand cinematic adventure, and one of the aspects helping to drive that was the soundtrack composed by Lennie Moore and performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir. By today’s standards this isn’t a big deal but an actual orchestrated game soundtrack was absolutely not a thing back in 1999. CD quality audio in games hadn't been around for all that long relatively speaking and so most games aiming for the same style of music went with MIDI strings, and games had only recently started to stretch their wings to the new sonic extents that the evolving technology allowed. This was one of the big promotional points around Outcast as well, with a blurb on the game box advertising it as one of the main features and the orchestra getting credited early on in the movie-like opening credits roll.
The orchestral score of Outcast doesn't simply rely on having a big, big sound. The greatest thing about Moore's compositions is that the songs get to live and breathe, ebb and flow. Most of the songs on this soundtrack go for around five minutes, often longer, and not a minute is wasted and only rarely looped. Outcast's big worlds meant players would spend a long time in particular areas and so the songs have been constructed with that in mind, with the multi-minute compositions moving between different moods and variations on their key melodies across their length. Moore went to painstaking lengths to give the game a unified feel across its score while making sure all the various areas had their own flair, and his songs are miniature pieces of art on their own rather than simply backing music. They paint worlds with their movements, particularly the songs dedicated to the key regions of the game. Centerpiece songs such as the pastoral arcs of "World of Temples", the deep-seated melancholy of "World of Snow", the middle-eastern flourishes of the sprawling "Oriental Spirit" and the dramatic slow-builds of "World of Mountains" colour their respective areas with a gripping evocative touch, glueing your attention to the world around you from the moment you step foot into a new area with a new arrangement above it.
I'm normally not a big fan of orchestral scores, and nine times out of ten they're the epitome of soundtracks that are there to exist and fill space rather than bring something special to the overall experience. The twist is that I think this soundtrack ruined all the others for me. This was the first orchestral game soundtrack I remember hearing and it's such a fantastic score that any other game walking in its footsteps felt like a complete letdown musically. It's still in my opinion among the best soundtracks of its kind, not just in games but across mediums e.g. films (where orchestral scores are, by default, more prominent but also usually even more throwaway). Moore took every advantage he could out of the chance to compose something with a large orchestra in tow and I'm not afraid to say that the results are emotionally stirring for me. Heck, "Heaven on Adelpha" in particular is a vividly beautiful song that can honestly get me a little misty-eyed if caught on a tender moment; it's high up among my favourite video game pieces.
Everything about Outcast's music reflects the game in general so well: it's a labour of love, created by people who truly believed in their art and poured their everything into it to ensure that it was something unique and genuinely special. It's a remarkable soundtrack and among my favourites. And if you're wondering what nicks off one point from the score of one of my favourite games of all time, it's the three combat music pieces where the soundtrack's general building blocks are a little ill-fitting and get stretched a bit too thin for their own good. The combat is probably the game's weakest part, and that applies for the music too.
Physically: Technically I own this physically as the game's original CD-ROM doubles up as a CD you can put in your player...
BEN HOUGE - ARCANUM: OF STEAMWORKS AND MAGICK OBSCURA OST
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2001||8||"Arcanum", "Tarant", "Villages"|
1) Arcanum; 2) The Demise of the Zephyr; 3) Wilderness; 4) Tarant; 5) Tarant Sewers; 6) Caladon; 7) Caladon Catacombs; 8) Dungeons; 9) Battle at Vendigroth; 10) Tulla; 11) Towns; 12) The Isle of Despair; 13) Mines; 14) Cities; 15) Radcliffe's Commission; 16) The Vendigroth Wastes; 17) Villages; 18) Qintarra; 19) The Wheel Clan; 20) The Void; 21) Kerghan's Castle
An atypically mournful score for an arrestingly captivating game.
One of the recurring phrases and themes in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series is that the world has moved on: that the passage of time is inevitable and natural, but it's made out of different eras starting and ending and that transition is rarely an instant process. Sometimes you find yourself in a time and place where the old world is dying while the new one is yet to truly begin. Whenever I play through Arcanum, that phrase keeps entering my head. The setting of Arcanum is a fantasy realm the kind of which we know inside and out, with its noble knights, fearsome dragons, powerful wizards and familiar faces from dwarves to orcs to elves. But the game itself takes place at a time when those dwarves have discovered steam technology and where the realm's most fearsome knights suffered an embarrasing defeat when the opposing nation brought out muskets. The last dragon was slain not too long ago, and the formerly ever-present magic is now being replaced by synthetic electricity as the industrial age beckons forward. The world has moved on, and many of its inhabitants have found themselves misplaced in the process.
Arcanum is a game with a great sadness in its heart. The technology that has appeared is not evil, but as the old world shifts to the new the change leaves a melancholy trace behind it. Ben Houge's beautiful score underlines this sentiment perfectly. The vast majority of Houge's soundtrack has been arranged for and performed by a string quartet, with the mournful tones of its components left to dominate the game's music almost fully on their own. It's a subdued and downstated soundtrack, with its melodies playing out like laments for the areas the player character travels in; even the combat music isn't the kind that gets your energy pumping, but one which draws out the tension of the conflict. It's only in the last four songs of the tracklist where the score changes tract: The score only changes tract for the last four tracks in the tracklist: "Qintarra" and "The Wheel Clan" feature additional percussion while "The Void" and "Kerghan's Castle" are ambient-like synthesizer exercises. They break the cohesive mood to some extent, but they're different for a reason as the first two feature in the areas that act as the few lasting remnants of Arcanum's pre-technological age, while the latter are used in the more otherwordly sections of the game which literally move away from the game's normal setting. So, they're conceptually solid and the arrangements are just as sharp (for the percussion cuts anyway, given the minimalist approach of the other two), and leaving them to the end of the tracklist is probably the least disruptive way they could be included.
If you can call a game soundtrack an underappreciated gem then this fits the description excellently - much like the game itself, which belongs in my personal pantheon of all-time greats even if the gaming world at large has moved on from it. Houge's score is a gorgeous accompaniment to the generally brilliant game because it fleshes out the game's setting so strongly and leaves an impact in just how perfectly it emphasises the game's tone. I might even carefully choose to suggest it for even those who haven't played the game, if string quartets are one's jam - the arrangements are perfectly evocative on their own.
Physically: No physical release exists.
VARIOUS - DEUS EX: GAME OF THE YEAR EDITION
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2001||8||"Main Title", "UNATCO", "DuClare Chateau"|
1) Main Title (GOTY Remix); 2) Intro Sequence; 3) Liberty Island; 4) UNATCO; 5) Battery Park; 6) NYC Streets; 7) Lebedev's Airfield; 8) Airfield Action; 9) Enemy Within; 10) Desolation (Hong Kong Canal); 11) The Synapse (Hong Kong Streets); 12) Hong Kong Action; 13) Majestic 12 Labs; 14) Versalife; 15) Naval Base; 16) Paris Streets; 17) DuClare Chateau; 18) Paris Action; 19) Return to NYC; 20) Oceanlab; 21) Ocean Action; 22) Oceanlab Complex; 23) Vandenberg; 24) Begin the End (Bunker); 25) Area 51; 26) Ending 1; 27) Ending 2; 28) Ending 3; 29) The Illuminati; 30) DX Club Mix
Put on a trench coat, and fight some conspiracies... A classic game has a great score, obviously - even with the usual soundtrack caveats.
Deus Ex, AKA one of video gaming’s all-time greats, is likely very familiar for most people who’d choose to read a review of its soundtrack, but here's a quick recap should you simply be archive binging my reviews (thank you). The 2000 release from Ion Storm Austin (not to be confused with their Dallas sibling studio who will most definitely never see their name in any gaming greats retrospectives) is widely considered a landmark in gaming, with deep gameplay, excellent world building, writing so good that it makes the game’s Conspiracy Theory Greatest Hits narrative actually work, and an emphasis on one of gaming’s most esteemed but widely misunderstood buzzwords: choice. Deus Ex is a player’s playground to go about however they please, and only half of it is actually ever pointed out explicitly. Between multilayered level design and the variety of gameplay styles catered to, Deus Ex gives players impressively free hands to go about their journey in their own way: some of it has been intended by the dev team who seemingly thought of everything, but the degree of completely valid gameplay choices that reward the ingenuity of more experimental/crazy players makes it stand out even today, two decades after its release. It's the kind of game that by its very nature creates a very dedicated and passionate fanbase, and which is spoken about with mystical reverence by those who’ve played it - and it still warrants that esteem to this day, only being dated in its graphics.
Part of what makes Deus Ex so captivating is its score, simply by way of its sound. The composers - mostly Alexander Brandon, with features from Michiel van den Bos and Dan Gardopeé - had prior video game credits but were mostly famous within the MOD tracker scene. MODs were originally an Amiga sound format but which by the late 90s had developed further and in turn created a veritable community dedicated to composing vast amounts of original music on the format, as well as the occasional PC game score. MODs have a very distinct synth sound to them, rough around the edges but with a particularly strong atmospheric texture, and the choice for Deus Ex to utilise the sound was an unconventional stroke of genius. Even back in 2000 Deus Ex wasn’t a particularly pretty game but it had a very distinct visual atmosphere to it. The designers built their ambitious ideas through an engine that didn’t necessarily stretch to accommodate all of them perfectly, and while set in the future with all the sci-fi polish that it entailed, the world itself was ugly and gritty. The very peculiar characteristic tone of MODs suited the visuals perfectly: high-tech and futuristic, but with a twang that dislodged it from any particular time period.
The choice of utilising the MOD tracker sound really adds a whole unique depth to Deus Ex and contributes so much to the game’s atmosphere, but the relatively free hands that the composers were given in terms of the actual compositions is what makes it a great score. Brandon and co didn’t just treat the music they made as background music, and in fact if you listened to the score on its own you might get an entirely different impression on the intensity and energy of the gameplay compared to what it actually is. It’s a hook-driven score, with songs that have distinct sections and development across their length. Most video game scores tend to either be atmospheric background textures or snappy compositions built around a tight loop that warrants repetition; Deus Ex’s score mostly resembles fully-formed songs. There’s still plenty of what you would consider more typical soundtrack fare, and the contrast between the centrepiece songs and the bridges in-between is pretty wide in terms of memorability, but the same sensibilities both in production and composition are filtered through. For a game that often encourages the player to take their time and focus on its world, the soundtrack is unexpectedly populated by actual jams with a rush of energy coursing through them.
The best thing here is, without a doubt, the main theme. It’s probably my favourite video game theme of all time: it’s epic in nature in a way that represents all the superlative feelings I have for the game so accurately, it has a killer central melody, the way it transforms throughout is a little journey of its own without ever going on a downswing, and the MOD production gives it an absolutely perfect unique aesthetic. The Game of the Year remix that appears on this particular soundtrack release is a little beefier and loses some of that MOD magic, and I prefer the original; but the version here still bears all of the strengths of the theme as a piece of music. Other particular standouts include the ambient melodies of “UNATCO” which has rightfully become the most iconic part of the soundtrack alongside the main theme (sneakily reprised in Deus Ex: Human Revolution for example), the gritty groove of “NYC Streets” and the beautiful piano-led melancholy of “DuClare Chateau” which then switches onto a stylish, cyber-noir stomper.
As far as the style and sound go this is as perfect a soundtrack as you could imagine for a game like Deus Ex, but the typical soundtrack release caveat applies here too: as great as it is to have the complete score, there's very few games with all-killer no-filler soundtracks, just because of the nature of games and especially narrative-oriented ones such as Deus Ex. Catch me unaware and make me list my favourite game soundtracks off the top of my head, and I'd probably happily include Deus Ex within that list; but my favourite way to enjoy this soundtrack is a personally abridged version that cuts out some of the thirty songs to create a definitive dive into the world of the game.
Physically: n/a unfortunately - the CD version of this release is quite obscure to find these days.
VARIOUS - WORLD OF WARCRAFT OST
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2004||7||"Stormwind", "Dun Morogh"|
1) Main Title: Legends of Azeroth; 2) The Shaping of the World; 3) Legacy; 4) Song of Elune; 5) Echoes of the Past; 6) A Call to Arms; 7) Intro Movie: Seasons of War; 8) Stormwind; 9) Orgrimmar; 10) The Undercity; 11) Thunder Bluff; 12) Darnassus; 13) Ironforge; 14) Elwynn Forest; 15) Duskwood; 16) Dun Morogh; 17) Burning Steppes; 18) Shimmering Flats; 19) Felwood; 20) Stranglethorn Vale; 21) Tanaris; 22) Teldrassil; 23) Tavern; 24) Moonfall; 25) Ruins; 26) Temple; 27) Lurking; 28) Sacred; 29) Graveyard; 30) War
Fantasy ambient for a nostalgic world.
World of Warcraft really isn't the kind of game I ever expected to pick up, much less enjoy, but a bored download of the free trial in the uneventful months between my high school/college (the Finnish equivalent, anyway) graduation and my first real job in my late teens turned out far more differently than I expected. Getting lost in the unbelievably vast world of Azeroth and its countless nooks and crannies ready to be explored tapped into something I hadn't really experienced in games before, at least not in this scale. To go into the exact details why the old school WoW became something special for me - and why it still holds up, as I write this in 2021 after a few weeks of returning to Azeroth in the form of WoW Classic - would take up too much space in what is meant to be a music review, but just to be clear on the context here: WoW could probably and unexpectedly find itself in my all time favourite games list, maybe not because of its mechanics and certainly not the writing, but because of how it made me feel. Its music is therefore the soundtrack to me falling in love with a virtual world and the countless hours spent there, sometimes simply just sitting on a lonely beach somewhere and soaking in the atmosphere as the music quietly played in the background.
Stylistically WoW's soundtrack is what you'd expect from a fantasy game, with orchestral swells, booming choirs and the like: if you have played a fantasy game or watched a fantasy film in a post-Lord of the Rings film trilogy world, you know what to expect here. What makes WoW's soundtrack a little different is that because it's a massive multiplayer game rather than a linear single player experience, the music isn't built around a guided journey or dramatic story beats. Rather, these songs are meant to accompany the player in more open-ended adventures as they wander around the many biomes of the game doing whatever it is that they fancy doing on that particular day, for the people to create their own context for these songs rather than the music backing particular scenes. Most of the music therefore lingers more than it thrills, slowly building the atmosphere and setting the overall tone for the areas they feature in. Many of the original game’s zones also share the same tracks despite how some of them have been named after particular areas, so very few of these songs are actually tied to particular themes and instead they operate by mood: some more pastoral and inviting, others evoking desolate landscapes and some building up tension. The typical high fantasy bombast is primarily reserved for the game’s faction capital cities which do have their unique themes - purpose built to make new players feel that they've taken their first real step in their epic adventure as they step through the gates of these grand hubs where they can encounter hundreds of other heroes.
It is therefore a score that isn’t really memorable per se in terms of catchy melodies, but by letting the mood linger it installs a sense of familiarity to the songs through how omnipresently they underline the events on the screen. I don't enjoy this soundtrack because it's back to back bangers, I enjoy it because so many of the songs here take me instantly back to my own memories of the game, to my own personal experiences that they soundtracked. WoW’s music practically begs to be nostalgia fodder for the hours you spent listening to the songs idly in the background while wandering the endless roads in wonder or spending more time than you wanted hunting down that goddamn elusive last quest item drop. Out of the many, many game soundtracks I have downloaded or owned during my lifetime, WoW's music is one of the most comfortable listening experiences I own even though I’d struggle to hum most of these songs. It's at times beautiful and full of wonder, but ultimately the reason it works is because of the sensory memories it evokes. In contrast, there's a number of "exclusive tracks" included to pad out the soundtrack disc - miscellaneous pieces which use the same musical guidestones as the rest of the soundtrack to portray more elaborate and purposefully crafted songs. They're not bad songs by all means, but if there's a flaw to this particular collection it's these cuts that appear briefly, if at all, in the main game itself as they are closer to your standard indistinguishable fantasy music fare without the benefit of the direct association with the game itself. An outsider to the game wouldn't bat an eyelid about their inclusion, but by being present next to the rest of the actual soundtrack does illustrate just how much more resonant the in-game music is.
Thus, scoring this particular release is slightly awkward because it's not exactly something I simply pick up and play and it ticks all the boxes for your usual only-for-the-big-fans soundtrack experience; compare this to for example the Wrath of the Lich King expansion soundtrack from the same people a few years later, which is simply a genuinely great soundtrack from a composition point alone and serves as a direct contrast to how the original scores is more about its mood than it is about the arrangements or songcraft. But having gone back to the game recently once more now that Blizzard have made its original form available to the public again (for those who haven’t played the game, it changed over the years and the expansions), I've realised just how much of the world's magic is in the music alone. The familiar places, characters and quests have been wonderful to experience again, but it's the music that really makes me feel at home. I might not be able to express directly how most of these songs sound apart from describing the general mood and tone of them ("Stormwind" and "Ironforge" are the main exceptions when it comes to “the hooks”, and not coincidentally they are the themes for the two biggest capitals), but the sheer serotonin that these orchestral ambient cuts provide at the best of times is immeasurable.
Physically: The only physical version came with the collector's edition of the game and I'm not that desperate to have this in my shelves to hunt it down.
MARK MORGAN - VAULT ARCHIVES
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2010||8||"Khans of the New California", "Moribund World", "Many Contrasts"|
1) Radiation Storm; 2) Industrial Junk; 3) Khans of the New California; 4) Metallic Monks; 5) Follower's Credo; 6) Vats of Goo; 7) A Trader's Life; 8) Moribund World; 9) The Vault of the Future; 10) Second Chance; 11) City of the Dead; 12) Underground Trouble; 13) City of Lost Angels; 14) Flame of the Ancient World; 15) Many Contrasts; 16) Gold Slouch; 17) My Chrysalis Highwayman; 18) Beyond the Canyon; 19) Biggest Little City in the World; 20) Dream Town; 21) California Revisited; 22) All-Clear Signal; 23) Acolytes of the New God; 24) Desert Wind
Wasteland ambient: thick in atmosphere, sparse in melody, but strong in painting scenes.
The first two Fallout games play a major role in my gaming life. The original Fallout arrived around the time when I started to get into more in-depth experiences than just simple platformers and click n point adventures, and it was the first RPG I ever played - suffice to say, it was an experience onto its own. The second one took everything I loved with the original and improved it, and in my all-time favourite games list it ranks right near the top. I've lost the count of how many times I've wandered through the post-apocalyptic wasteland wonders of both games, and the music in them is an understated but important part of that whole experience. Needless to say, Mark Morgan's score is well and truly familiar with me.
Vault Archives is a collection of Morgan's soundtracks for both games, as the music was largely shared between the two entries. It isn't the catchiest kind, and instead it represents the nuclear desert of post-apocalyptic USA fairly well: it's vast and barren of details, echoing with an air of mystery and melancholy. Most of it's ambient, with a weighty emphasis on actual ambience: they’re open-aired collages of natural backdrops that end up creating something musical by accident, with small additional elements like wind chimes, tribal percussion, industrial noise and the occasional glimpse of genuine melody and rhythm scattered within in a careful, minimalistic way. A good number of songs also extend beyond that scope, with a more rock-like twang or a more propulsive beat, but they operate on some same production elements, like mutations of the ideas expressed in the ambient cuts. It's music where building an atmosphere and setting the mood is the primary goal, a soundtrack that's primarily a, well, a soundtrack - the desolate, spacey sounds presented here were always meant to accompany the images of human life trying to form a new civilisation in the ruins of the old one, and not something that would endure well without that visual impact.
To Morgan's credit however, in making something that has such a strong link to the visuals it accompanies he's managed to create something really memorable, not just for the player in how well it helps to bring out the tone of the games' setting, but also just as something to listen to. Approaching the songs outside the visual context reveals how excellently they really are crafted and how surprisingly well they stand alone, allowing to really appreciate the subtle details within the songs. As a 76-minute package of oft-literal wasteland ambient it’s not exactly a casual listening record, but as an ambient record to get lost into it holds up well next to any non-soundtrack peers. And in terms of video game music, it’s still quite unique even now and iconic to its series.
Physically: Sadly no physical version exists.
Back to beginning