Crysis 2 Complete Videogame Soundtrack
Crysis 2 Complete Videogame Soundtrack
La-La Land Records
April 26, 2011
Buy at Official Site
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. That physical release would include about 100 minutes of a total 160 minutes of live orchestral material that was recorded for the game. This review refers to the physical 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 and Balfe’s other tracks like “Insertion” and “Under Siege” — and most of the score’s action cues — are made from the same cloth of thumbing and slapping electronica, insisting ostinato string motifs, forceful percussion and melodic brass motif. “Invaders” takes the siren-like guitar motif and takes it to obnoxious heights by building the cue around it and then repeating the guitar riff over and over again. More noteworthy is “Epilogue”, which assigns the pulsating electronic motif that opened “Crysis 2 – Intro” to a solo violin. That solo violin and the way it helps to build the track towards another rendition of the main theme is the only original idea this track generates — particularly its first half is almost completely similar to “Crysis 2 – Intro”.
Things do improve somewhat with Slavov’s and Sillescu’s compositions, albeit not by a huge margin. One example for this trend is the thematic structure of this lengthy score. There are a number of motifs and themes to be found in Crysis 2, but none of them are applied completely satisfactorily. The score’s most spectacular thematic idea is a motif for New York, the game’s location. Surprisingly, it’s a gushing string melody that brings a welcome outburst of emotionality on “New York Aftermath” and “New York Theme”. The theme’s somewhat perfunctorily written, but its gravitas provides a potent reminder of the tragedy that has befallen the city and its inhabitants. On “New York Theme”, this mournful mood is further underlined through beautifully intertwining solo string lines that effectively set the stage for a dramatic rendering of the New York theme. However, the theme only appears on these two tracks and “Our Only Hope”, failing to shape the score as a whole.
The soundtrack’s other main thematic idea should be the sounds assigned to the alien invaders of Crysis 2, which according to Slavov are supposed “to make the music feel like it’s “corrupted” by the alien presence.” Receiving its definite rendition on “Alien Logo”, the thematic material for the aliens turns out to be indeed more a logo than a motif or theme. The alien race is underscored by a number of sound effects that seem to mimic the hissing, whispering, sometimes guttural and generally unpleasant noises these strange creatures produce. Sillescu claimed the composing team found “some unexpected and weird tones that give the player an uncomfortable feeling whenever in contact with them.” Weird and uncomfortable they certainly are, but hardly unexpected — scoring aliens with nasty sound effects has a long tradition even in game music (the ear-splitting opening of Chrono Trigger‘s “The Final Battle” comes to mind). The alien sounds return more and more frequently towards the end of the album on tracks like “Under the Clock” and “Unsafe Haven” and signal that the final confrontation is drawing closer. So while not terribly impressive in their own right, the aliens’ sonic logos help shape the album better than most other elements on Crysis 2.
The final thematic building stone are what Sillescu called “musical echoes which remind the player of the colourful and multi-ethnic city [New York] that once existed there.” It’s an intriguing idea, but again, its implementation fails to make much of an impact. A melancholic saxophone solo on “Catastrophic Beauty” isn’t hugely well developed, but effective and quite beautiful, just like the lonely duduk on “Devastation”. In both cases, these solos provide colour and emotionality, but they’re also fleeting moments that come and go without making shaping this double-disc soundtrack.
This general lack of a satisfying integration of interesting ideas extends to the soundtrack as a whole. Again and again, Sillescu and Slavov create intriguing details that never grow into more: brief dissonant woodwind flourishes at 1:06 in “Close Encounter”; the pizzicato motifs at 1:25 on “Sinister Breed”; shimmering violin major chord progressions in “Flooded Streets – Aquarium”; an unexpectedly light-hearted woodwind motif on “In Obscurum” that interrupts the constantly downcast mood; unusually ambiguous atmosphere of “Burning Night”, courtesy of light violin chord progressions over a distorted guitar motif. All these are captivating moments that are never developed further and remain details amidst the score’s often drab mix of bleak atmospherics and functional, yet stereotypical action pieces.
Most of these action cues closely follow the rules of Remote Control film scores, with their trademark mix of orchestral and electronic elements, their relatively simple, but pronounced rhythms and ostinato figures, and their reliance on towering brass. Truth be told, Crysis 2 is quite a bit richer orchestrated than a typical RC soundtrack like Clash of the Titans. But all in all, 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. “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. In general, it’s the orchestra that drives Crysis 2‘s action tracks, while the electronic elements either support the rhythm section or adorn the pieces.
All of these battle cues are serviceable, but rarely more than that – and that’s simply not enough to sustain an album of such extensive length. Too often do the composers rely on the same churning string rhythms, busy violin ostinati, and mighty brass sounds and these ingredients become repetitive long before the album’s over. Particularly later action tracks like “Intersection”, “Resolution (Reprise)” and “Eye of the Storm” are bland examples of the same formula being applied over and over without much variation and to diminishing results. And again, good ideas often end up going nowhere: “Terminal Escape” and “The End of the Beginning” benefit from some stirring brass material that for once actually achieves the intended grand effect. But “Terminal Escape” finishes even before the minute mark is reached, and “The End of the Beginning” only segues into more humdrum electronic rhythms and portentous, build brass chord progressions.
The score’s earlier combat compositions fare better, and 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, 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. Finally, “Walk in the Park” isn’t quite intense enough to successfully underscore the game’s final confrontation, but it’s one of the denser, more varied action tracks and its rasping brass and biting alien sound effects help to increase the drama.
Despite these occasionally more successful action tracks, Crysis 2 is at its most interesting when operating outside the template of contemporary action scoring commonplaces. Particularly the album’s middle portion features a large amount of more subdued, atmospheric material that is relatively more interesting than the noise of the battle cues. These tracks not only successfully communicate the bleak, downcast atmosphere the score’s aiming for. They also develop some emotional pull that helps to sustain at least to a degree the album’s considerable running time. True, some of these quieter pieces fail to set themselves apart. “Gate Keepers” and “One Way In” 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. “Dead Man Walking” meanders aimlessly between deep string ostinati, looming brass chords and alien electronica.
But these duds are balanced by some of the score’s more interesting pieces. “Battery Park” and “Contamination” elegantly generate tension out of the juxtaposition of clashing musical elements. On the first piece, a harp motif is contrasted with churning guitar riffs and echoing electronic percussion to create a fitting sense of gloom and alienation. “Contamination” places a wandering, lonely piano melody amidst a hostile environment of suffocating, menacing electronic textures. “Dystopian Nightmares” evokes an even stronger sense of unease, with its use of modernist violin playing techniques such as layering natural harmonics and bowing behind the bridge — and the resulting creeping tones are actually a lot more ear-catching than those dissonant alien sound effects. And then there are those tracks that put the focus on emotive string melodies, such as “Shadowzone” and “Morituri”. On both cues, the melodic content is sometimes lackadaisical, but still manages to tuck at the heartstrings. And in the case of “Morituri”, it’s also backed by a decent amount of counterpoint. The same goes for the surprisingly layered, elegiac string melodies of “Nanosuit 2 – Crynet Systems”.
At least, the score for Crysis 2 is better than it’s depressingly dull predecessor, but that’s of course faint praise. Zimmer, Balfe, Slavov and Sillescu serve up a soundtrack that throughout a good part of its running time relies on film action scoring clichés — hurrah for more driving string ostinati, electronic rhythms and building heroic brass progressions than you can throw sticks at. Not that this style of compositions can’t yield impressive results. But here, the action pieces are only sometimes rousing and the melodies — those few that pop up — are rarely memorable. Notable exceptions from this rule are the stirring “Rampage” and “SOS New York”.
Thematically, the score fails to impress as well, with a clichéd if mildly memorable main theme that recurs only rarely, a surging beautiful theme for the game’s location that is underused, and a bunch of effective but unoriginal sound effects for the aliens. The music is at its most interesting during the more atmospheric moments that bring across the loss and tragedy that’s inherent in the game’s story of a destroyed and occupied New York. There’s a good chunk of such fetching material collected on the album’s middle portion and it helps a great deal towards making this release’s 100 minute running time more palatable. But even then, Crysis 2 too often remains a bland, forgettable affair that would have been so much better served by a 40 or so minute album release that only presented the score’s highlights.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on January 19, 2016.