Crysis Original Soundtrack
Crysis Original Soundtrack
Electronic Arts (Collector’s Edition); Sumthing Else Music Works (Commercial Edition)
November 23, 2007; January 29, 2008
Buy at Amazon
Going from strength to strength, the best-selling Far Cry franchise of first-person shooters continued in 2007 with Crysis, the first in a planned trilogy of games. Developed on an immense budget of $22 million, the game was hailed by reviewers as a milestone and became one of the most feted PC games of past years, ultimately selling three million copies. Particularly the game’s jaw-droppingly photorealistic graphics brought it acclaim, although they also ensured that Crysis would continue the series’ tradition of requiring high-end machines to actually run the game at a decent resolution. For Crysis‘ soundtrack, game score veteran Inon Zur was brought on board to reflect both the game’s setting on a Philippine island and the malevolent alien invaders. First released as a bonus CD that accompanied some editions of the game, Crysis‘s soundtrack later appeared as a commercial CD release available through Amazon and other retailers.
Musically, Crysis takes a different path than its predecessor, Far Cry 2. While the latter took a more cerebral approach to scoring a first-person action game, Zur’s compositions on Crysis are less surprising and adhere to the conventions of modern movie action score writing. The score’s most characteristic feature is its almost relentlessly rhythmic nature — there’s hardly a track that doesn’t feature loud, muscular rhythms that are supposed to energise the pieces and motivate the gamer for battle. These rhythms are provided either by the orchestra, tribal percussion, electronic beats or various combinations of all three. This particular focus is most successful when Zur creates a dense foundation of rhythms that make good use of the stereo field, usually combining electronic and tribal elements. Stretches of compositions like “Terminal”, “Infiltration” and “Grave Danger” — the latter cue’s forward momentum supported by a drum kit — are not only entertaining, but also invite close listening to dig through the layers of percussion that power them.
Rarely does a piece actually go into overdrive based on the strength of these rhythmic foundations and they’re not powerful or intricate enough to turn compositions into unqualified successes by themselves. But Zur is certainly apt at creating a steady supply of such textures and he’s savvy enough to vary the resulting rhythmic accompaniment sufficiently on a piece like “Strickland’s March”. The piece opens like a straightforward, uninspiring march, but soon becomes textually richer without giving up its militaristic nature. But don’t expect the ethnic percussion that are mixed into the omnipresent rhythms to give the score nearly as much local flavour as Far Cry 2 possessed. Rarely do these more exotic sounds take the spotlight and they usually merge just with the electronic elements.
But to truly convince you that this is the score for an ‘epic’ action game, Zur deploys massive orchestral forces, and this is where things get dreary. Way too often, Zur relies on simplistic, martial 4/4 rhythms performed by the string and brass section of the orchestra (yep, don’t expect to hear woodwinds all too often on this album). There’s not much to this orchestral pounding and, ultimately, these segments simply rely on their sheer volume and anthemic nature to impress. This approach works reasonably well for an early track like “Nexus”. But the longer the album drags on, the more predictable and boring do these manifestations of orchestral power become. And since these orchestral sounds are usually supposed to carry the music and are mixed into the foreground over the ethnic and electronic rhythms, their dullness becomes a major problem. True, rarely does Zur rely exclusively on monotonous orchestral statements to create a piece and he includes more ambient sounds to create a bit of a balance. But that doesn’t change the fact that more often than not, the music on Crysis sounds like a collage of recent Hollywood action scoring clichés, right down to the electronic enhancement of the orchestra’s bass region at the expense of a crisp instrumental sound.
The dullness of the orchestral rhythms wasn’t so much of a problem if there’s something else the music could hang its hat on. But melodically, Crysis fails to deliver as well. For almost all of the album’s running time, melodies come in exactly one shape: slow, pseudo-heroic and performed by (what else) the horns. And none of the short horn melodies that Zur lays over the action rhythms in patented manner are particularly memorable. Don’t expect to walk away from Crysis humming any melodies — the horn writing on tracks like “Reactor”, “Sometimes You Win” and “Phyrric Victory” is simply bland and uninspired. One of the few exceptions from this rule is “First Light”, which opens with an inviting, warm horn call. With its greater role for sweeping strings and ethnic woodwind, the richly orchestrated piece also comes close to attaining that vast sense of scope which the score so desperately wants to achieve. Another nice break from the general tediousness is “Sometimes You Lose”, an unexpectedly weighty, sombre piece for choir, backed by unsubtle, but appropriately mournful strings and brass. Due to the artificial nature of the choir and the general recording of the album, the choral and orchestral layers are much less clearly defined than one would wish. But the piece’s melodic focus makes it more appealing than many of its peers on the score.
Thematically, Crysis doesn’t offer much either. Some of the brass material returns throughout the album — “Guardians”, for example, presents a variation of the horn motif from “Strickland’s March”. However, these melodies are too anemic to give the music any character beyond that of a Remote Control score imitation. Given the soundtrack’s rhythmic focus, it’s only fitting that its most dominant and memorable thematic element is a catchy, imposing string ostinato figure. It’s first presented on “First Light” at 1:42 and, while it’s not the most original of ideas, it carries the track’s stirring, crescendoing build-up well. The string figure returns throughout the score, although it’s not distinct enough from the other building blocks that form Crysis‘ action music to imbue the score with much personality. However, the motif does provide one of the soundtrack’s best moments on “Guardians”. After more march material that’s interspersed with episodes of sinister ambiance, the string motif is creatively broken up into segments and heard in intertwining choral lines. These in turn are surrounded by a whirlwind of mighty rhythms and escalating brass figures. It’s a majestic moment that unfortunately remains unmatched by anything on the album.
The pervading feeling of saminess isn’t helped by the fact that as hinted at before, the ethnic elements of the music are rarely emphasised. The tribal percussion instruments mostly disappear in the general wall of sound. Some tracks will open with some unaccompanied ethnic material consisting of subdued percussion and single woodwind calls, but these intros are rarely connected musically to the battle sounds that follow. Only on a couple of tracks like “Gaining Ground, Losing Time” and “Knee Deep” do the ethnic sounds — in the form of woodwind soli over the orchestral frenzy — play a significant role. This failure to tweak Crysis‘ sound into something more colourful is all the more disappointing considering how creatively Far Cry 2 responded to its equally exotic African setting. To make things worse, when compositions on Crysis develop, they mostly do so in the same way: they start with a quiet intro and then build over those incessant action rhythms without actually reaching a satisfying climax.
At least Zur mixes ethnic, electronic and orchestral elements effortlessly and without jarring interplays between the different ensembles. However, he’s helped by the fact that, due to electronic manipulation and enhancement, the orchestra sounds more like high-quality synthesisers than an actual orchestra. Another facet to Crysis‘ array of sounds are those atmospheric, creepy bits of electronic ambiance meant to underscore the alien invaders. These vaguely menacing stretches of alternatively floating, grinding or pulsating layers of synths are rarely original or developed much — the next avalanche of martial sounds is never far. But these quieter segments are an agreeable change of pace and also provide Zur with the chance to inject some dissonances and fragmented material into the score. Particularly the shrill, hammering piano chords that dominate the rhythms on “Loss of Pressure” and “Only a Way in” are an effective way to crank up the tension. “Shotgun” and “Legion” rely on sustained, suffocating chords and synth layers to instil a sense of threat, while “Only a Way In”, “Scavengers” and “Prophet’s Bridge” change the score’s overall style towards the album’s end and make the ambient, jarring alien material the dominant force, although without much effect or sense of drama.
Crysis is one of those albums that are actually hurt by its generous running time. At a length similar to that of Crysis 2‘s digital score album, Crysis could work as a reasonably varied and entertaining, albeit forgettable action soundtrack with some guilty pleasure potential. But at more than an hour of running time, Crysis turns into an endurance test. The overpowering, uninspired orchestral action rhythms and the constantly bland melodies make for more and more “not again!” moments the closer the album crawls to its unspectacular finish. The ethnic elements are hardly ever used in a way that would distinguish the music from its obvious and tired sources of inspiration: the monotonous scores of many contemporary Hollywood action blockbusters. Some of the rhythms that Zur creates to drive his compositions work quite well and the inclusion of some ambient, if anonymous material helps to hold boredom at bay to a certain degree. But ultimately, there’s hardly anything on Crysis that would encourage a second listen of the album as a whole.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.