Crysis 2 Original Videogame Soundtrack
Crysis 2 Original Videogame Soundtrack
March 22, 2011
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Another entry into one of the most acclaimed FPS franchises, Crysis 2 was met with particular anticipation after its predecessor Crysis had raised the bar for first person shooters and had set a new visual benchmark for PC games in general. Ultimately, Crysis 2 mostly lived up to expectations without garnering quite as overwhelming reviews as its prequel. Still, blockbuster sales ensured that more graphic bonanzas from developer Crytek would follow.
Musically, the Far Cry/Crysis series of games has had a checkered history, going from the colourful world music of Far Cry 2 to Inon Zur’s disappointing score for Crysis. Naturally, anticipation for Crysis 2 spilled over and build up interest in the game’s soundtrack as well. Tilman Sillescu of German game audio company Dynamedion and Borislav Slavov began work on the score, but after five months, they were joined by a third composer. His name was revealed only some weeks before the game’s release in March 2011 and predictably, the announcement increased the buzz around Crysis 2‘s soundtrack tenfold: the additional composer turned out to be Hollywood score veteran Hans Zimmer. According to the Crysis 2‘s Senior Audio Director Campbell Askew, this move was a “a natural response to our desire to achieve the best cinematic quality for the game”, although the additional press coverage following the announcement probably didn’t hurt either.
Speculation run rampant for a while about how big Zimmer’s involvement in the score’s creation had been and how much music he would actually contribute. Ultimately, his role turned out to be similar to the one he had held on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2; Zimmer would provide the main themes, while his co-composers would write the bulk of the score. Zimmer’s involvement was likely also the reason for Crysis 2‘s soundtrack to be released not just as a digital release, but also as a double disc album from soundtrack label La-La Land records. This review refers to the digital album release.
Well, to answer the most burning question many will have in regards to Crysis 2 after all that pre-launch frenzy: no, Zimmer’s compositions are unfortunately pretty average, and certainly don’t justify all the buzz. Zimmer gets to open the album with “Crysis 2 Intro” and it could hardly be a more stereotypical opening track. After an ominous start, the piece builds over pulsating electronica, an insisting ostinato string motif, forceful percussion and the occasional melodic brass motif. And yes, each and every single one of the these elements is taken straight from the &— by now way overused — toolbox of Remote Control soundtracks. It doesn’t get more original later on when the seven-note main theme is introduced. Both the theme’s generically muscular, anthemic nature and its electronically manipulated brass makes it sound like leftover material from Pirates of the Caribbean. At least it’s mildly memorable, but it doesn’t make any impact on the score as a whole — at least on this relatively short digital album release. The only element that makes “Crysis 2 Intro” stand out is the use of heavily distorted, grinding guitar riffs in the background, although they don’t add much to the experience.
Zimmer’s other two tracks don’t fare much better. “Insertion” uses the same sounds as “Crysis 2 Intro”, including that increasingly obnoxious electronic guitar, but puts greater focus on march rhythms. Like “Crysis 2 Intro” and a number of other compositions, “Insertion” tends to meander and simply segues from section into section without a greater design behind these shifts. And Crysis 2‘s final track “Invaders” closes the album on a bizarre note. After another vaguely atmospheric beginning, the same wailing, dissonant guitar riff is repeated ad nauseum against a wandering electronic figure — no sense of climax or closure. It’s a seriously unspectacular way to close the album and suggests a worrying lack of editorial care on the side of the album producers.
Most pieces by Slavov and Sillescu emulate the general stylistics of Zimmer’s compositions — the trademark mix of orchestral and electronic elements, the relatively simple but pronounced rhythms — and transpose them into a more action-oriented context. There are some hints of originality in these pieces, for example some brief dissonant woodwind flourishes at 1:06 in “Close Encounter”. But these are passing moments and most of the time, the game’s producers seemed to have agreed that a blockbuster action game needs a Hollywood blockbuster score. And so the listener ends up with a soundtrack that faithfully emulates a good chunk of film action scoring clichés from the last 15 years.
Things do improve somewhat with Slavov’s and Sillescu’s compositions though, albeit not by a huge margin. Their cues are usually serviceable, if anonymous. “No Escape” serves as a good example, with its web of busy electronics, percussion and throbbing string crisis motifs. A later build up via run-of-the-mill brass chord progressions provides the entirely predictable melodic elements. At least this cue and others of its ilk, such as “Chase” with its particularly breathless string motifs, benefit from the use of a less processed orchestral sound and are a great deal more lively and powerful than Zimmer’s pieces. On most of Slavov’s and Sillescu’s action tracks, it’s the orchestra that drives the compositions, while the electronic elements either support the rhythm section or adorn the pieces here and there. In this regard, the soundtrack album fails to convey a central design idea behind Crysis 2‘s battle tracks, which according to Slavov exist in two versions in the game. There’s the orchestra-percussive ‘original’ and then the same compositions, “augmented with alien-representative electronics” that are supposed to make the music feel like it’s “being “corrupted” by the alien presence.” Be it the fault of the composers or the album producers, but on Crysis 2, there are very few instances where such a stylistic clash can be detected. Most of the time, orchestra and electronics go hand in hand.
In all fairness, Crysis 2‘s action tracks aren’t all completely the same. “Crynet, Shoot Him Down!” sports a denser, more suffocating atmosphere than most other tracks and doesn’t build over the standard driving string motifs, but instead over single string accents. It’s nothing particularly original or memorable, but at least it’s a change of pace. “Sneak And Shoot” dabbles in Metal Gear Solid-style stealth atmosphere and puts greater emphasis on electronic elements, which this time appear in the shape of subdued electronic percussion. Again, the cue tends to meander during its almost four minutes of running time, but at least it works itself into more agitated string ostinato rhythms towards the end and adds the occasional melodic hook. “Gate Keepers” and “One Way In” build upon this more atmospheric approach and contrast vaguely menacing synth layers with repetitive string motifs, without much effect. The surprisingly abrasive ascending and descending violin motif of “One Way In” is a nice touch, but again this glimpse of originality remains ephemeral.
The two action tracks that actually do manage to conjure up some drama are “SOS New York” and “Rampage”. Both are stylistically similar to other battle cues, with the replete busy string ostinati and swelling brass chords. But “Rampage” is denser and more energetic than other tracks and for once, the brass melodies are actually rousing and effective, particularly when set against cascading violin figures after 0:38. The second half of “SOS New York” features the album’s most stirring build up and before that creatively juxtaposes the sounds of a solo violin with palpitating electronica.
Despite these occasionally more successful action tracks — calling them ‘highlights’ would be too much praise — Crysis 2 is at its most interesting when operating outside the template of contemporary action scoring commonplaces. “Battery Park” first surprises with the album’s only instance of a successful combination of orchestra and electric guitar. After some more well-worn combat music, a string melody segues into an uncommonly introspective segment that contrasts a harp motif with churning guitar riffs and echoing electronic percussion to create a fitting sense of gloom and alienation. “New York Aftermath” is the score’s most luscious composition and contrasts an unexpected solo cello with interrupting electronica and swelling brass chords. The solo cello later erupts into a gushing string melody adorned by noble brass counterpoint. Although the melodic content here is somewhat perfunctorily written, this outburst of emotionality is very welcome amidst all the supposedly gritty action sounds.
At least, the score for Crysis 2 is better than it’s depressingly dull predecessor, but that’s of course faint praise. Zimmer, Slavov and Sillescu serve up a soundtrack that throughout most of its running time relies on film action scoring clichés; hurrah for more driving string ostinati, electronic rhythms and short heroic brass figures than you can throw sticks at. Not that this style of compositions can’t yield impressive results, as Zimmer himself has proven often enough on other (film) projects. But here, the action pieces are only sometimes rousing, the melodies — those few that pop up — are rarely memorable and most of the music sounds like tired second-rate versions of better modern action scores. The standard phrase “It works well within the context of the game” applies here as well. The music is at the least serviceable and there are some more engaging compositions, like the dramatic “Rampage” and the surprisingly impassioned “New York Aftermath”. The fact that the album is priced at only $4 will sweeten the deal for some listeners. But even the bargain pricing doesn’t change the fact that Crysis 2‘s score mostly is a bland, forgettable affair.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.