Medal of Honor -Warfighter- Original Videogame Score
Medal of Honor -Warfighter- Original Videogame Score
September 25, 2012
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Electronic Arts’ 2010 re-launch of the once mighty Medal of Honor franchise wasn’t a Call of Duty-sized blockbuster, but it was no slouch in the sales department either. Across platforms, 2010’s Medal of Honor sold more than five million copies, despite reviews that were good rather than outstanding, hinting at the fact that the Medal of Honor brand name might still have considerable drawing power. For the globe-trotting 2012 sequel, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, EA played up the game’s realism, underlining that missions would be based on recent real-world events and that EA was consulting with Tier 1 Operators from countries around the globe, going so far as to partner with the brands that supply Tier 1 Operators — all in the name of providing gamers with as authentic an experience as possible (more cynical minds might wonder whether Warfighter would convey other war-related, real-life phenomena like posttraumatic stress disorder just as convincingly as shooting bad guys).
As the Medal of Honor reboot brought the franchise from WWII scenarios into the immediate present through its Afghanistan setting, the game’s producers not surprisingly also went with a new musical direction. Instead of Michael Giacchino and Christopher Lennertz’ lush orchestral sound, the new Medal of Honor was given a hybrid score that fused electronic, ethnic and orchestral elements. Written by Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Clash of the Titans), the resulting soundtrack divided fans, but although it was a mixed bag, Djawadi’s work still contained a number of entertaining compositions. As was to be expected, Djawadi returned for Warfighter, although for this new game, he teamed up with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, who had made his film scoring debut just previously with The Raid: Redemption. Considering that Linkin Park had been associated with the revived Medal of Honor franchise for a while — mainly through the use of the band’s songs in trailers and the games themselves — giving Shinoda co-composition duties seemed like a logical step, and certainly wouldn’t hurt album sales. In the end though, Shinoda only contributed two tracks to the score’s soundtrack album. That album saw the light of day a whole month before the game itself, underscoring EA’s correct perception that Warfighter was one 2012’s more anticipated game scores.
After Medal of Honor failed to live up to the series’ historically high musical standards, but certainly showed promise, does Warfighter manage to realise this potential? Sadly, that’s not the case — on the contrary, Warfighter can claim the unenviable crown of being the worst soundtrack in the Medal of Honor franchise so far. The reason for this drop off in quality doesn’t lie with the score’s stylistic foundations though: Djawadi still combines ethnic, electronic and (processed) orchestral sounds with ease, while adding some electric guitar riffs here and there. One of the few positive things to say about Warfighter is that it usually manages to mix these various ingredients into one coherent whole. Only on “NOC Out” and “Saa’iq” — tellingly Shinoda’s tracks — do the electronic elements feel out of place, giving parts of the former the feel of a rave rather than that of a tense action track.
While there’s nothing wrong with the essential building blocks of Warfighter, what hurts the album is the fact that Djawadi and Shinoda show no interest in implementing these elements beyond their most basic shape — with one exception, which we’ll get to later on. Medal of Honor didn’t win any awards for breaking new musical territory, but while it closely followed current scoring conventions for gritty, present-day FPS shooters, it did contain flashes of originality, such as the intriguing use of vocal elements on “Falling Away” and “Wiyar”. Another plus of that earlier score was its mostly clich&eacite;-free use of ethnic instruments that fittingly set the scene and even created some surprisingly hard-edged, jagged sounds that balanced the blandness of some of Medal of Honor‘s other components.
Warfighter loses both these advantages, playing like a formulaic exercise from beginning to end, devoid of any interesting ideas or at least variations of its general approach. The music gives no indication whatsoever that you’re rescuing hostages in the Phillipines and later assaulting pirate towns in Somalia. The only instruments here that manage to give the music a sense of location are the various ethnic instruments — mostly dense, arid hand percussion layers and some brief passages for woodwind or plucked string instruments — which through the way they’re being applied here only evoke the most generic sense of Middle-Eastern flair, far less characteristic than their counterparts on the predecessor score. For anybody not familiar with the game’s plot, Warfighter sounds like any recent war-related score set in broadly desert-related environments, painting its locations in non-specific shades of brown and grey. Compare this to a similar ethnically-tinged FPS score like Marc Canham’s Far Cry 2, and Warfighter‘s blandness quickly becomes apparent.
That being said, Warfighter‘s strongest point actually are its ethnic instruments, or at least the barrage of percussion instruments that underpin each of the action tracks here. Medal of Honor‘s action tracks were that work’s biggest downfall, a woefully underpowered collection of scoring clich—s — and while the score’s battle cues are ultimately only a slight improvement, at least you can’t accuse them of not being powerful enough. The various African and Middle-Eastern percussion instruments, by far the score’s most colourful element, are layered in vivacious, driving layers, and through their vivid sounds give Warfighter‘s combat pieces a vibrancy that Medal of Honor was lacking. In a sign of the trouble that befalls most aspects of the score, these percussion rhythms aren’t presented with any significant degree of variation though and lose some of their appeal and impact over the album’s running time, but they’re never less then effective.
Unfortunately, that assessment doesn’t apply to other aspects of Warfighter‘s action tracks. The development of most of these pieces is schematic – they flow well enough from section to section, but only manage to develop any kind of direction by simply growing in volume and speed toward their end, and by adding more layers to the music at the same time. It’s also in these moments that the listener encounters the return of Medal of Honor‘s least savoury component: painfully simple and boring string ostinati that instead of adding urgency to the music are simply obnoxious — hurray for more never-ending ‘da-da-da-da-da’ staccato sequences from the violins and celli. “NOC Out” and “Green Light” is the worst offenders on the album, while “Saa’iq” and “Force Multiplier” at least feature string ostinati that aren’t utterly dull.
The laziness that the composers display with this particular rhythmic element unfortunately extends to Warfighter‘s action tracks as a whole. The melodic elements that should turn the combat cues into more than just percussion sessions are not only thin, as the lethargic string melodies and overlays lack any memorable features. Worse, one of Warfighter‘s general tendencies is to overuse an already simple musical idea and run it well and truly into the ground in the process. Be it the echoing string attacks in “Green Light” after 1:40, the blandly Middle-Eastern cello motif on “Kit Up”, or the sharp metallic sounds of an ethnic plucked string instrument on “Blackbird On a Wire” and “Old Friend, New Foe”, Djawadi is happy to put a quite basic idea on top of the thumbing percussion layers and then stretch it way beyond breaking point.
Given the score’s general lack of variety, it’s also no surprise that the action tracks are all pitched at the same intensity, rarely conveying the idea of raising stakes and intensifying battles towards the game’s end. One example among many is “Victory At Sea”, which never sounds much like victory, but simply continues Warfighter‘s unrelentingly overcast, tense mood that makes the album a drag after it’s passed the halfway-mark. The final battle piece “Buzz in the Air” is heavier than previous combat cues with its hard rock riffs and thundering percussion, but it’s ultimately still too similar to what has come before to function as a rousing final call to arms.
What’s most disappointing on Warfighter though is that the melodic weakness of its action tracks seeps into the score’s more emotional compositions as well. Like its predecessor, the score features a considerable number of quieter pieces that are supposed to bring gravitas and emotional resonance to the proceedings. But while Medal of Honor featured a reasonably stirring, if simple main theme, the melodies here are significantly more restrained, carefully avoiding any overt display of emotionality beyond solemnity and a vague feeling of both regret and resilience. While that’s a valid approach, what undoes the composers’ plans for their supposedly weighty pieces is a how astoundingly simplistic and unimaginative the melodies are that they come up with.
Outside of occasional recollections of Medal of Honor‘s main theme, the melodies on Warfighter‘s more subdued pieces hardly ever change expression: slow-moving, introspective motifs performed by a closely miked solo cello or resonant string ensemble, all melodies similar in length (six notes is the maximum here) and slavishly remaining in the minor key — and all of them portentous in the extreme. While these compositions try to strike a pose of quiet heroism, acting like they have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, their melodies are so banal that these high-flying ambitions come crashing down, and Warfighter‘s supposedly ‘big’ emotional moments feel sappy, self-important and melodramatic — ironic, given how much the music tries to avoid sentimentality. Also, as with the action tracks, it doesn’t help that the composers repeat their melodic ideas ad nauseum, and what sounds agreeable or even involving the first time feels merely uninspired when presented five more times without significant variation.
That’s not to say that Warfighter‘s melody-drive moments are unpleasant. In fact, “For Rabbit” is a convincing album opener, as the natural warmth and heft of the solo cello at the track’s beginning is attractive enough. In a rare occurrence of musical development, “For Rabbit” even takes the solo cello’s opening motif and let’s it slowly grow in stature and emotional effect — if not complexity — until the track climaxes in a string-driven, ardent adagio that even features bit of counterpoint. But Warfighter‘s remains a one-trick pony and by the time “With Honors” closes the album, with four minutes of only mildly inspired variations on Medal of Honor‘s main theme, it’s difficult to feel moved rather than bored.
Speaking of which, while Medal of Honor‘s main theme does return throughout Warfighter, it does so in somewhat random fashion that doesn’t hint at any carefully planned thematic structures, but feels more like an attempt to musically connect the scores, no matter how. The second track “Deploy” features Medal of Honor‘s main theme in noble shape (and repeats it and repeats and…), but then the melody disappears until the end of the score, when it make a surprisingly fervid appearance on “H.A.H.O.”. Despite the theme’s simplicity that doesn’t bear repetition too well, its return on “H.A.H.O.” is still is one of the album’s highlights — a sign how tedious the score is as a whole.
Outside of this straightforward recycling, Warfighter doesn’t do much to establish any new thematic identities. “Victory At Sea” quotes material from “Kit Up” and the swelling string chords on “The Raid” unsuccessfully aspire to heroism by playing a variation on the motif that opened “For Rabbit”, but all of this remains inconsequential, and since all these melodies sound so much alike, returning them more often throughout Warfighter wouldn’t yield much effect anyway. “Lena’s Theme” and “Lena’s Dream” add a minimum of variety to the album through their softer sounds — lilting acoustic guitar on the first track, a chiming synth motif on the second one — but of course, both tracks are as underdeveloped as the rest of their ilk.
While Djawadi’s Medal of Honor wasn’t as bad as many score fans had assumed it would be, Warfighter feels like the embodiment of almost all that could have gone wrong, and now has. Outside of its vibrant ethnic percussion rhythms that make the score’s action cues functional, if repetitive affairs, the soundtrack is an unimaginative bore, devoid of originality or anything particularly memorable from start to finish. Its action tracks are hampered by formulaic development, monotony and simply lazy writing that manifests itself in the relentless repetition of ideas that weren’t very interesting in the first place. While on Medal of Honor, the melody-focused, emotional pieces were the score’s draw card, this is no longer the case on Warfighter, as its introspective compositions are based on trite, dull melodies that want to communicate heroism while avoiding big gestures, but lack any substance. Running at 65 minutes, Medal of Honor -Warfighter- Original Videogame Soundtrack is a tiresome slog and one of the 2012’s biggest disappointments so far.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on January 16, 2016.