Halo -Spartan Assault- Original Soundtrack
Halo -Spartan Assault- Original Soundtrack
July 18, 2013
Download at iTunes
Halo: Spartan Assault was developed as a top-down third-person shooter by 343 Industries and Vanguard Entertainment for the Microsoft Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Steam platforms. The story of the game is set between Halo 3 and Halo 4, focusing on two SPARTAN-IVs, Sarah Palmer and Edward Davis, as they fight their way through a rogue faction of Covenant (yep, they’re still around). The musical score for Spartan Assault was composed by Tom Salta, a man behind the reorchestrated Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. While the composer has had extensive experience on Tom Clancy licenses, this score gave him the challenge of working on something game-related where the signature sound had already been established by someone else. Salta refers to the music of Halo: Combat Evolved as ‘sacred ground’ and it was his main inspiration to start composing music for video games. For Spartan Assault being primarily built with a mobile device in mind, Salta worked to ensure that the sound quality of the final product was high on small mobile speakers, as well as on headphones and other high-end hardware. Since there was such a limited budget for the game’s music, Salta ended up choosing which sounds and instruments would be recorded and performed live. The score won ‘Best Original Soundtrack’ at the 2014 Game Audio Network Guild Awards and was nominated for several other accolades. So, how does his take on the Halo sound stand? Is it a worthy addition to the overall soundscapes of the Halo series?
“Legacy”, the main theme of the game (not to be confused with the Halo 4 track of the same name), was nominated for ‘Best Original Vocal Track (Choral)’ at the 2014 G.A.N.G. Awards, and not it’s too hard to figure out why. It’s similar enough to what previous composers like Marty O’Donnell, Mike Salvatori, Stephen Rippy and Kazuma Jinnouchi have done in the past, yet it’s different enough to be its own beast. Similar in terms of overall elements used like the chanting choir, piano and percussion; yet completely different in terms of execution, especially within a short 1:03 running time. In terms of overall sound, it almost seems like a spiritual successor to “Spirit of Fire” from Halo Wars. It gets the album off to a nice start, but is too brief to be a monumental highlight. While “Stark” has a beautiful sound to it, I do wish that the choir from the 0:38 mark was a bit more subtly mixed into the background and the piano notes that accompany it were more sustained. Despite some mixing issues, it’s a well performed and achieves a lot in its 1:20 playtime. “A Bridge Too Far” is a more substantial highlight, with ethereal scoring and melodic fragments reminiscent of various tracks from the franchise.
“Prelude” is another example of the score’s slow somber scoring approach, with piano chords invoking a similar mood to past Halo tracks, particularly those from Halo: Reach. Tom Salta seems to have a good grasp, so far of what the bare necessities are to create the Halo sound and from my perspective, he treats it with a fair amount of respect. Joe Hammond once stated that “the music of the Halo series has always been at it’s best when it’s slowed down and focused on building up interesting textures, something that Marty O’Donnell was very good at” and the same holds true here. “Rising” continues this mystical, sombre choral scoring throughout its first half. The first section of “Rising” goes deep into that mournful, but heroic undertones from the choir, brass and strings that are most evidently found in music like “Overture” from Halo: Reach, evoking this feeling of grieving over those who maybe long gone, but are certainly not forgotten. Until the drums kick in at 1:34, to give it a more moving, cinematic touch not unlike “Arrival” from Halo 4. A more introspective highlight is “Ready or Not”, which develops from its focus on chorus and piano into a rounded cue. This track is very well-mixed for a handheld title, with no forces overpowering the others. “Intimate” is another soothing piano piece that builds up with some ambient electronics, the occasional synth stab, and romantic strings, sounding a lot like Marty O’Donnell’s work on Halo 3: ODST.
Throughout the soundtrack, Salta seems to pay homage to Halo scores of old and this continues with the darker material. With “Who’s There?”, Tom Salta has created a piece that, in my mind, is intended to be a homage to “Covenant Dance/Choreographite” from Halo: Combat Evolved. Right down to the slow tribal drum beat and underlying synth patches. A reference that I highly doubt was intentional, but is greatly appreciated, nonetheless. Like O’Donnell and Rippy before him, Tom Salta isn’t afraid to focus on the core essentials and building up these said textures with just one or two instruments; an example is “Breaking the Code”, which has a nice electronic backbone and subtle ostinato strings that capture a stealthy feel. “Hunted” also certainly lives up to its name. Dark and menacing, the rattlesnake-like shakes in the background add a real spine-tingling chill to the track. The type of slow tension-building atmosphere that make every hair on your body stand straight up. Powerful, percussive and with just the slightest hint of malice, “Survive” captures the aura of a mighty force lurking in the shadows. “Simple Mystery” is also a really dark piece to start off with, but grows more uplifting with drums and distorted guitars.
“Wolverines’ Return” is where things really start to pick up musically. Here, Tom Salta mixes in thematic fragments with some live, high-gain electric guitar work performed by Steve Ouimette of Guitar Hero fame. It makes for a refreshing change of pace and grounds the Halo: Spartan Assault soundtrack even further into the Halo universe. However, if the track were maybe half a minute or so longer and a tiny bit faster in pace, Tom Salta could have perhaps added some more variety and development to the piece, for example through different layering and ‘call and response’ structures. This could have allowed Steve Ouimette to have at least a some form of creative freedom within his own overdriven electric guitar expertise to either improvise with it or solo over the top of it as he sees fit. Continuing the rock-oriented sound, “The Big Guns” (a.k.a. “Wolverines’ Return” version 2.5) boasts a lot of contrast: lead instruments versus rhythm instruments; staccato notes versus long-sustained chords; dynamic variations and so forth. However, once again its short length and lack of development really spoils it. That said, “Wolverines’ Reborn” provides a third near-identical variation of the piece. For a soundtrack that’s so brief in the first place, this lack of variation really doesn’t bring much to the experience.
Between all the disappointingly short tracks, there are some fully-fledged tracks. “Epic Evolution” has the type of variation and progression I expect from a Halo game. The quiet beginning and ending helps to create a great bookend, while the louder middle section assists with bringing out some dynamics in production values. Some nice peaks and troughs of which even Neil Davidge would be proud of. Plus, that solo cello that slowly, but surely comes into the light as the track keeps moving is just pure, unadulterated ear candy. It’s just heaven for your ears. Among the only two tracks exceeding a three minute playtime here, “Night Dreams” also goes down the Neil Davidge with a more electronic, slightly more beat-driven direction. Thankfully, his take on this particular style really works well within the context of a Halo game. The other three minute track, “Quiet Giant” gives off a mood of wanting to write an inspiring speech to boost the morale of the soldiers under your command, who figure, for all intents and purposes, that all hope is lost.
Moving towards the climax of he soundtrack, “Castle Defense” is probably my favourite track on the album. As well as giving off the evident resonance of Red vs. Blue vibes, it provides a sweet hybrid mashup of orchestral, electronic and choral elements. Had the soundtrack featured more tracks like these, it could have been a more substantial and satisfying listen. “Eliminate the Resistance” is a little too blaring in the choral parts for my liking, but it does boast an impressive interlude. The penultimate tracks “Onslaught”, “Knock Knock”, and “Night Guards” are eerie, dissonant electronic compositions. While decent enough, the latter two tracks are too short and ambient to bring any sense of closure to this already wavering album. And finally, the Halo: Spartan Assault album comes to a close with “Finishing the Fight”. It’s a Halo end credits theme, without sounding too much like a Halo end credits theme. But it’s a pretty decent track, nevertheless, bringing together the orchestral, choral, and rock elements of the score into quite an impressive melee.
Halo: Spartan Assault’s soundtrack can truly sustain itself for one listen and one listen only. I don’t think it can hold up on its own if it’s repeatedly listened to. Video game soundtracks like this, especially if they’re set in the realm of Halo, should get better and better the more you hear them. This soundtrack, however, does the polar opposite for me. Though there are plenty of highlights, ranging from “Castle Defense” to “Rising”, and the soundtrack as a whole is professionally composed and mixed. However, most tracks are too brief, underdeveloped, or ambient to be particularly inspiring. While serviceable in context, many of the tracks are uninteresting outside the game and the stand-alone soundtrack doesn’t come together as a particularly balanced product. When half of the tracks are less than 90 seconds long, the final experience doesn’t always inspire. Halo: Spartan Assault, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is easily my least favourite soundtrack of all the Halo spin-off games currently released so far.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on July 27, 2014 by Milan Saunders. Last modified on July 27, 2014.