Risk of Rain
Risk of Rain
Bandcamp (Digital Edition); Chucklefish (CD Edition); Black Screen Records (Vinyl Edition)
September 4, 2013; February 1, 2015; October 1, 2016
Download at Bandcamp
A futuristic alien landscape platformer, Risk of Rain works on the premise that the longer a player spends in the game, the harder it gets, as they fight off ever increasing spawns of enemies and collect stacking power-ups. The player crash lands on a world sparse but colourful, the enemies are relentless and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. A rhythm of kiting, switching up attacks and constant movement are carried along by Chris Christodoulou’s well suited, if tame, soundtrack.
Sound design throughout the soundtrack is textural and fitting. For example, the title track “Risk of Rain” bristles with foreboding and uneasy exploration. Synthetic wooden rises set off with noise washes and plucked melodies set the tone for the game and soundtrack as a whole. However, it never leaves a memorable impact to keep you hooked outside the game.
The continually rising action of each game level seems to inform the music. Most tracks open with sparse features and, what I find personally, to be forgettable melodies. However, they soon rise to manic bursts of life towards the ends. “Monsoon” opens with an uneasy yet run of the mill synth arpeggiator with a slightly beige rhythm section. After the piece trundles on for a bit, then, out of nowhere, bursts theremin style synth work with hints of 60’s b-movie sci-fi and 80’s power ballads. The progression matches the ever increasing frenetic action on screen with cresting waves of enemies. However, save for this explosion of character, the track still leaves me cold. In game, the action really comes alive once your character starts stacking them power ups high, rockets start flinging out at every trigger pull and quadruple jumps throw you out of danger. Equally, the soundtrack pieces don’t really start pumping until all the elements of each track start getting thrown in together and there’s too much time spent in the sedate build up.
Christodoulou nevertheless has undeniable ability to write pieces that suit game environments, showcasing his talent in writing natural yet odd time signatures with bright, emotionally packed melodies. Perfectly enhancing the humid and sticky feeling of the Damp Caverns, “Moisture Deficit” is perhaps the most notable work on the whole soundtrack. Wah-wah guitar licks, power ballad electric synth leads, and military percussion all come together for epic results. Even listening to the track now instantly carts me back to that level, dodging Black I.mps and Mushrums. “Surface Tension” drives one of the final levels to fever pitch, enhancing the game’s (by this point) utterly manic gameplay, opening with perhaps the one truly memorable melody of the game. With pianos, synthetic flutes, oscillating synth growls, bit crushing, and staccato bleeps, Christdoulou cracks out the whole arsenal for this ever-crescendoing piece.
The track I find myself most often listening to outside of the game, despite my whinging of not enough action or dynamic character, is actually on of the most laid back tracks: “Chanson d’Automne”. With its layered and plush pads, emphatic oboe, and soothing sub work, it amounts to a relaxing wander through ’Sky Meadow’. As for the rest, the construction is there in spades and there’s a variety of arrangement to keep things interesting. However, I can’t help but thinking there’s not enough action, a lot of the percussion feels flat, and that many of the sounds just sound dated. You could argue that the game itself, with it’s leather browns, aubergine purples and pixel art, engenders a 60’s/70’s b-movie sci-fi vibe, and Christodoulou’s hints of psychedelia and obvious rock leanings compliment that, but I feel it doesn’t go far enough.
It’s hard to put my finger on what it is I find lacking from the soundtrack, and certainly, I’m relatively alone in this opinion. The soundtrack has received both critical and commercial acclaim, and many comments throughout Youtube and Bandcamp state how it’s the soundtrack that drew players back into the game. But for me, while it’s a soundtrack that works while playing the game, as a stand-alone experience, it left me wanting something more memorable.
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Posted on April 23, 2017 by Pete Thomas. Last modified on April 26, 2017.