Halo Soundtrack Feature

Gamestyle Archive intro: a great game helped along the way by a perfectly matched soundtrack. Gamestyle took a moment to look more closely at the soundtrack itself. Currently in the archive we do have a Halo preview but not the review itself which was written by Garnett originally.

Writer: JJ

Published: July 2002

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What used to be true of films now seems to be the done thing in games as well.  You’ve played the game, so why not now buy the official merchandise or join the online fan club?   Soundtracks are a product of this development and are growing in popularity and appeal with every release.   More emphasis is being put on sound accompaniment than ever before, lavish soundtracks and film composers are frequenting games with ever-increasing regularity.   Take a soundtrack out of the game and the majority will struggle to maintain the listeners’ interest.   Phantasy Star Online, Grandia II and Metal Gear Solid 2 on their own, suffer, but Sonic Adventure and Silent Hill 1 & 2 thrive, and manage to transmit the feelings of the game.   Another game soundtrack has been overlooked by many, but now Bungie have seen fit to release the Halo soundtrack, which we can now look at more closely.

The first memory of Halo, which I have, and no doubt many others share as well, is the haunting opening chords.   It immediately set the tone – adding to the mystery and religious nature of the planet that you were about to visit.   Luckily enough, the twenty-six songs on the CD are arranged in game order, with the first track being the Opening Suite complete with monk chants.   It’s worth mentioning that the composer, Martin O’Donnell with help from Michael Salvatori, has taken the liberty to remix the soundtrack because the original was designed to use the game’s dynamic audio playback engine.   The composer has gone back and rearranged and remixed his work, to make the CD release more enjoyable for the listener.   Because of the game engine, which matched the player’s experiences with themes and moods from soundtrack, not everything you heard on Halo will be here.  Not only that, but also the song compositions will alter as well, so a song you heard may not appear on the CD simply because as O’Donnell explained “you played Halo in a way I never anticipated.”

The overriding sense of listening to the soundtrack, even in this new form, is the sense of dread, anxiety and mystery that it manages to convey.   There are no uplifting songs in Halo, just like there are no happy moments in the game.   O’Donnell did compose a track entitled “Halo Love Theme” but this did not make the final version of the game, yet has finally been released elsewhere.   One of the main reasons to go back and complete Halo once again, is to take in the environments and sounds that you overlooked previously.   When you are fighting for the very survival of mankind, you have little opportunity to judge the soundtrack or those little touches, of which Bungie are so proud of.

The second track “Truth and reconciliation suite” apart from being the longest (clocking in at over eight minutes) is one you will have heard on countless occasions.   This epic conveys the feeling of a hero about to go into battle, unafraid, but this version suffers because of its length. As it was prepared for Microsoft’s Gamestock exhibition in 2001, using material from E3 2000, the piece is bloated and lacks focus in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack. The last song is fittingly titled “Halo” and is the original composition from one of the earliest showings of Halo, back in 1999 at the Mac World exhibition.  The track is a more focused version of “Truth and reconciliation” and far better because of this.   It is a fitting end to an excellent soundtrack and just shows how much work went into, not only creating the game, but the music to accompany it.

“Brothers in Arms” isn’t a Dire Straits song, but both names are quite apt, as this military march pumps the blood in preparation for battle.   One of most enjoying aspects of the Halo soundtrack is that O’Donnell hasn’t gone for a full orchestral or futuristic new wave jazz approach, as many would have.   Instead he’s combined various sounds, ethnic chants, influences and the power of silence to create something unique.   The closest companion to Halo in places, would be the Dust Brothers Fight Club soundtrack, praise indeed, but listen to “The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe” sit back, and think of Tyler Durden.   Many of the tracks such as “Dust and Echoes” feel empty, deliberately so, with gaps of silence proving far more effective than any scary monster.

Few of the tracks deserve to be skipped and one of my favourites is “Library suite” which brought back memories of the dreaded library level where you are faced with the Flood.  “Alien Corridors” and “Devils…Monsters…” are also from the Library and the churning and pulsing sounds contained within would not be out of place in Silent Hill; just what are you facing and do they ever stop coming?

It has to be said that many tracks are just variations on another, undoubtedly O’Donnell was experimenting and trying to push tracks in new directions.   Some do manage to pull it off; others fail badly.   “Rock Anthem for Saving the World” is a variation of the “Opening Suite” but with its cheesy guitar sound and accompanying solo; its badly conceived and without the game, sounds awful.   This nasty guitar sound crops up on a few other tracks such as “Shadows” and overall, tarnishes Halo.          Yet I would recommend the Halo soundtrack to anyone who enjoyed the game and has an interest in music.   To view more details about the soundtrack at the Bungie Store

Earlier I mentioned the “Halo Love Theme” and this is one of ten tracks, which have been made available on the Bungie site for your listening pleasure.   Each one didn’t make the game for a variety of reasons, but you can judge for yourself by clicking one of links below.   O’Donnell lists his reasons for cutting out the songs, and you can decide if he was correct.  I would argue that tracks such as “Tron” would have fitted nicely into the game, but I’m more than pleased with the final product.

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