Spy Hunter Original Videogame Soundtrack
Spy Hunter Original Videogame Soundtrack
October 11, 2012
Download at iTunes
Spy Hunter is one of the oldest video game franchises out there, having debuted in 1983 for Arcades. But between shifting consumer demands, dubious design decision, and Midway’s eventual bankruptcy, the franchise has faded into obscurity in recent years. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment attempted to change this in 2012 with a fast-paced reboot of the series for PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. For the game’s score, the company hired Ryan Shore; while he started off as an assistant for his uncle Howard Shore, he has since branched off to create his own film scores for projects such as The Shrine. In his video game debut, Shore combines a cutting-edge sound with references to the original — sometimes going overboard with the latter.
As any series’ follower would expect, the soundtrack for Spy Hunter is dominated by arrangements of Henry Mancini’s theme for Peter Gunn (also popularised in Blues Brothers). The theme is mainly used in homage to the original version of Spy Hunter, released in 1983, which featured simple chiptune renditions of Peter Gunn. But just like the themes for fellow espionage classics James Bond and Mission: Impossible, it’s also a decent tune to hook listeners into a soundtrack. Combining an unforgettable boogie bass with a raucous horn melody, it is filled with tension, sleaze, and heroism. Perfect for an action-packed racing title.
With “Spy Hunter Intro” and “Training”, Ryan Shore attempts to offer a modern twist on Peter Gunn. The rolling bass ostinato is back and the horns are as dominant as ever. But this time, these elements are mixed in with dabs of action-packed orchestration, electronic beats, and the occasional vocal sample. There are even some dubstep influences! The result is a striking fusion of sounds that pushes handhelds to their limits and helps to immerse players into the experience. But the individual components of compositions such as these aren’t as great as the collective whole; while the big band performance is spot-on, the orchestration is somewhat generic and the vocal samples tend to be trashy. Some poorly considered samples occasionally let the side down.
Production niggles aside, the soundtrack for Spy Hunter falls down largely due to its repetitive quality. The expository “Sewer Rats”, free-spirited “Rogue”, and exciting “Flight or Fight” all serve their purposes in the game fine, but grow tedious on a collective basis due to their reliance on the main theme or similar horn-based variations. The references to Peter Gunn become so frequent that the track descends from being a welcome novelty to an irritating bore. Even the tracks that don’t direct quote the melody, for example “Deforestation”, “Gun Shy”, and “Land, Sea, and Air”, are still driven by variants of the eight-note ostinato. It doesn’t help that most tracks feature similar elements extending way beyond their melodies: fast tempos, hybridised timbres, and a somewhat aseptic mood.
Spy Hunter is at its best when Ryan Shore breaks free of the constraints of the Peter Gunn. Whether the awesome bebop-influenced trumpet solos of “Second Chance”, the jagged guitar lines and frantic sirens of “Carnage”, or the funky bari sax licks of “Nuclear Fallout”, the soundtrack has plenty of compelling moments. The two bonus boss themes are also major highlights, the first having much more grit and substance than the other electronically-oriented tracks on the album, the second experimenting with the more abstract, horrifying orchestral jazz sound only hinted at elsewhere. If the soundtrack featured more additions like these, it would have been a clear winner.
Spy Hunter had all the ingredients for success: a competent composer, a classic theme, modern stylings, and an action-packed backdrop. However, it simply does not offer enough variety or substance to be worth stand-alone listening. The final result is reminiscent of the video game score for Tomorrow Never Dies — fantastic moments being dwarved by a classic theme being quoted to death.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.