Mass Effect 3 release brings a focus onto video game soundtracks

Today sees the launch of the first big blockbuster release of 2012, but you won’t find it at your local cinema or in the review sections of film magazines.

It isn’t a movie or TV show, but it will be popping up on screens across the country from this afternoon.

We’re talking, of course, about Mass Effect 3; the epic concluding installment to one of the biggest video game franchises around.

Set in a sci-fi near-future of self-aware machines, sentient floating squids and the threat of a galactic-scale Armageddon, the Mass Effect series transplants the grand plots, characters and story telling of so-called ‘space operas’ into the world of video games like never before.

Just as filmmakers rely on composers and soundtrack scores to complete and enhance their vision, the music of modern computer games is just as sophisticated, if not more so.

Renowned film composer, Clint Mansell, whose name can be found on the scoring credits to films such as Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan and Moon, scored the soundtrack to Mass Effect 3, his first for a computer game.

Please note, the trailer below features video game violence which some readers may find distressing.

The score itself has already begun to draw plaudits from players and critics alike thanks to its intensity, depth and a sense of weighty gravitas befitting of this epic series’ climatic finale. Speaking to Kiran Acharya for The Quietus in February, Mansell described the specific challenges involved when scoring a game:

“You’re more like a DJ, with all these elements. You’ve got the holding pattern, then the big explosion where you need the score to kick in. Then you need to take it off on a tangent. You’ve got all these different elements that change depending on what the player does. You have to figure out an overall symphony, but be able to break it down into component parts. You can bring the pain when required.”

Film music has evolved beyond the screen into a rich and varied source of standalone music for both listeners and players. Composers are now referenced alongside directors, actors and producers as crowd drawing star when advertising a movie. Could we soon be listening to game soundtracks just as do with film scores?

Certainly, in terms of music compilations, we’ve already passed that point – games such as the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, Gran Turismo and Grand Theft Auto are remembered just as fondly for their soundtracks of popular hits as their thumb twitching game play. Many of us have taken a spin on obviously music focused titles such as Guitar Hero and Rockband round a friend’s house or party.

As the games industry overtakes film in terms of revenue, will the inevitable maturing of gaming as a medium for story telling and artistic expression bring new opportunities and possibilities for composers, musicians and listeners alike? Only time, save games and reloads will tell.

Do you have any fond memories of video game soundtracks? Have any gaming scores stuck with you? Can you play any of your favorite music from computer games?

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  1. Sam says

    I am actually addicted to the Assassins Creed: Revelations soundtrack. It came as a separate disc with the game and hasn’t left my CD player in weeks!