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Album cover copyright (c) 2005 Electronic Arts; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall



Excellent, exciting orchestral music - like film music used to sound! 


As anyone who knows me will quickly attest, I'm an old-fashioned grumpy old snob, twenty years before most people my age reach quite the same level.  Sometimes this results in me holding irrational prejudices against things - for example, men with ponytails (though this rule was subject to be discarded if the person in question had written film scores for five or more Franklin J Schaffner films), microwaves and Tony Blair.  OK, so perhaps the latter prejudice isn't that irrational.  Sometimes, of course, even a grouch like me comes to accept new-fangled things.  One of these is computer game music.  Being as oh-so-smart as I so clearly am, for several years you may have spotted me cropping up on Internet messageboards suggesting that - with the obvious exception of Bruce Broughton's Heart of Darkness, for no particularly worthwile reason - the music couldn't possibly be of as much value as proper film music.  I didn't let the obvious quality of the music of Michael Giacchino, Christopher Lennertz and others get in the way of my prejudice.  Oh no - that would be giving in to the young fools who like the stuff so much.

Well, guess what, I was wrong.  I have to finally admit it.  I still think that the actual argument I used to convince myself - and tried to use to convince others - that by definition the music had to be generic because there was no clear mapping of where the gameplay was going to pan out - was a worthy one.  However, I have since come to realise that there is another argument which counterbalances - and probably exceeds - this one - and that is that computer games actually remove composers from the shackles of having to hit precise dramatic points, and allow them instead a far greater degree of freedom to write "proper" music of real form and structure.  A check back through the archives will reveal that I've virtually always given positive reviews to these things, but probably always with too many reservations attached.  So it's time for me to remove those reservations, set my shackles free and admit I was wrong.  Some of this computer game music is really very good indeed.

Perhaps my general lack of knowledge about the current gaming scene (I could quite happily tell you about platform and strategy games on the Atari ST 15 years ago, but little else) leads me to the false conclusion that it was Giacchino who really pushed the boundaries out and allowed the genre to become what it is.  If it wasn't him, and somebody was doing it beforehand, then I apologise - but it certainly seemed that it was his music for Medal of Honour and its sequels that raised the bar and set the standards to which others have since been attempting to reach.  Of course, Giacchino has since moved on in a big way, and has scored one of the most successful films of all time (The Incredibles) and is still scoring one of the most popular tv shows of the moment (Lost) - not bad!  He still finds time to contribute to the occasional computer game score - remembering his roots, and all, I guess! - but these days it seems to be in the role of "overseer" or similar, rather than being the main composer.

Giacchino's associate Chris Tilton is now starting to come to the fore, and his latest effort - with the main theme co-credited to Giacchino - is Black, a new game from Electronic Arts.  Most of the previously-notable game scores (well, at least the ones that have been released on CD) have been from games set during various conflicts, usually the second world war; this one isn't directly, but the description of the game I found online suggests it's along similar lines.  ("Reduce cities to rubble in a world where virtually nothing is impervious to your bullets -- if you can see it, you can shoot it!" - hmm.)  Ironically, a score for a film about special forces operating deep-cover missions around the world would probably get a score by Graeme Revell or someone like that and consist of drum loops and sampled percussion, but a computer game about the same gets a fully-orchestral score recorded in Los Angeles.  As I seem to find myself saying in every new review I write - these are strange times indeed.

The music is vivid, colourful and exciting.  Energetic almost from start to end, Tilton employs intricate orchestrations on large-scale music, which is always great to hear.  This is the sort of music most film music fans just love to hear, and usually have to wait for John Williams to find the write film before they get.  Indeed, there are certainly echoes of Williams's latter-day action music style (Attack of the Clones, Minority Report etc) through some of the sequences here, but there's plenty else besides.  It's all bolstered by an epic, sweeping main theme - and yet again I find myself thinking that it's the sort of thing that you just don't get very much of in modern-day film scores, where producers seem to be scared for the music to have any real personality at all, more often than not.  How wonderful it is to hear an obviously-talented composer seemingly let loose to "do his stuff" without the creativity-sapping constraints a multi-million dollar film production inevitably imposes these days.

The music is only available as a download from the internet - which remains one of the pet hates which I haven't yet discarded!  Still, it goes without saying that if it's a choice between being available as a download only, and not being available at all, then there's only one option.  And Black is an excellent piece of music, which is bound to be appreciated by fans not only of the previous game scores by Tilton and Giacchino, but by all fans of full-bodied orchestral action music.


  1. Main Theme (2:21)
  2. Treneska Border Crossing (2:12)
  3. Tunnel Trouble (3:00)
  4. A Bridge Too Close (1:41)
  5. Walking Tour of Treneska (1:33)
  6. Minefield (1:27)
  7. Tivliz Asylum (2:39)
  8. Madhouse Mayhem (1:40)
  9. Sniper Alley (2:03)
  10. Drydock (2:22)
  11. Black and Boom (2:23)
  12. Ambush (2:27)
  13. Gulag Gauntlet (4:20)
  14. Bunker Buster (2:23)
  15. Main Theme (reprise) (3:59)