Feature

Outside the Game – Shank Wake: Shadow Story

With two great bundles from those utter bastards at the Humble Co. in the past week, my soundtrack collection has swelled like the crotch of a [gratuitous and explicit imagery redacted]. I could give up this fool’s errand and get back to listening to post-hardcore bands that you’ve never heard of, but I’m a wastrel, not a quitter.

Here comes that intro spiel for the people joining us for the first time… Think of it like the intro to a TV show that is fine once a week, but when you’re binging on multiple episodes you wish they’d just FUCKING CUT IT FROM THE DVDS ALREADY.

If you’re a PC gamer there is a very good chance you’re also a PC game soundtrack collector, you just might not realise it. When you buy bundles, whether humble, regal or otherwise, old games, non-existent ones, or even when you put down for a preorder, chances are they’ve sweetened the deal with a game soundtrack, you’ve just never bothered to sit down and listen to it. That’s where I come in; I’ve done the earwork for you and I’m hear to tell you what’s worth listening to outside the game.

 

Alan Wake
Soundtrack by Petri Alanko

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://weekendwarrio.rs/audio/alan-wake-hunters.mp3″%5DSample Track – Hunters
Buy the soundtrack here.

Alan Wake is about a writer, which is all I need to know. I haven’t gotten around to playing it, but I’m sure it’s about an unknown writer getting a book deal and living happily ever after.

If that’s the case, I don’t know why the soundtrack is so dark and brooding. It’s almost as if Alan Wake actually some sort of psychological horror game.

Bullshitting aside, Petri Alan(Wake)ko has done a phenomenal job with this soundtrack. It’s hard to say what it sounds like – apart from a soundtrack of some description – because it’s quite varied. It’s orchestral, but I wouldn’t say it falls into the “Epic” trap that many soundtracks do, and while it isn’t as prog-fuelled as the Dark Souls soundtrack it still fluctuates brilliantly between loud energy and menacing quiet.

Though, I have to say Alanko’s work is nearly soiled by the inclusion of by a couple of songs from Old Gods of Asgard. Maybe the presence of these songs makes sense in the context of the game, but they stick out badly as part of the soundtrack. Frankly I have to say I’m not a fan – they sound like Nickelback’s manager got told by his label bosses to find the next Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, but this flashy travesty is the closest thing his lame-addled mind could comprehend. There’s also a track by Poets of the Fall. Repeat the above comment, but replace “Nickelback’s manager” with “Staind’s manager”.

I’d recommend deleting those three tracks and just keeping the rest. Listen to them first if you have to, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Alanko’s work deserves better than that juxtaposition…

 

Shank
Soundtrack by Jason Garner & Vince de Vera

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://weekendwarrio.rs/audio/shank-other-side-of-the-tracks.mp3″%5DSample Track – Other Side of the Tracks
Buy the soundtrack (now)here.

I wanted to like Shank, but it never clicked with me. Still, I’m willing to give the soundtrack a chance as long as it means I don’t have to sit through any overwrought and unnecessary cutscenes.

The first thing I realise at hearing the opening track is that this could possibly be the first genuinely guitar-driven soundtrack I’ve featured here. The two main game soundtrack styles tend to be electro or orchestral, with very little in the vein of rock. The Shank soundtrack is still orchestral, but the guitars are front-and-centre, in both rhythm and lead flavours.
It makes sense I guess – the game wants to be a trashy action movie, so the soundtrack has the wailing guitars and solo pick-work of an action movie soundtrack. It works best when the rest of the instrumentation is full and interesting and the guitar is just another layer; for example, the fairly minimalist Red Lights is quite boring in comparison to the fuller Other Side of the Tracks.

It’s worth a listen as it’s of a high production quality, but that said, I don’t think a bit of guitar can save this from your hard drive’s inevitable Game Soundtrack Massacre. The music isn’t consistent enough in terms of either volume or quality for it to make good background working music, and none of it is particularly interesting or upbeat enough to bother putting it on a playlist.

 

Cave Story+
Soundtrack by Daisuke Amaya

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://weekendwarrio.rs/audio/cave-story+-ironh.mp3″%5DSample track: IronH
Buy the soundtrack (now)here.

And now for something completely different. The Cave Story+ soundtrack is about as far as you can get from Alan Wake; it’s electro chiptunes steeped in nostalgia for the 8- and 16-bit era – much like the game itself.

As soon as I mention chiptunes or 8-bit nostalgia many of you are going to scroll down to the next soundtrack, and that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. Hell, I’m not even sure where I stand on chiptunes.

Still here? Ok.

It’s a hard soundtrack to talk about on its own terms because it is literally just the music files from the game outputted to mp3. They must be looped within the game because they range in length from 4 seconds to a Mars Volta-esque 2 minutes and 8 seconds. The good thing is that there’s no arbitrary silence in the tracks, so they flow on from one to the other without pause; it doesn’t sound as fragmented as it might have, but it’s still quite different to most of the other soundtracks you’ve been accruing over the years.

If you like chiptunes and don’t mind a slightly disjointed listening experience, then I think you’ll appreciate the Cave Story+ soundtrack. It’s interesting, varied and more aurally subtle than a lot of chiptunes I’ve heard elsewhere.

 

Shadowgrounds
Soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://weekendwarrio.rs/audio/shadowgrounds-theyre-after-me.mp3″%5DSample track: They’re After Me
Buy the soundtrack here.

I can say without a doubt that the Shadowgrounds soundtrack is more interesting than the game itself. I’m willing to cut a fair amount of slack for science fiction games – or really, just anything that isn’t fantasy – but I found Shadowgrounds to be unforgivably dull. If there is any one thing a game should not be, it is dull.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is an interesting and varied mix of music. There are quiet, brooding moments that suggest the horror game Shadowgrounds seems to start off as, and at the other end of the spectrum there are heavy, thumping industrial tracks that suggest the exciting action game that Shadowgrounds never managed to become.

I use the word ‘interesting’ deliberately, because whilst it certainly can’t be labeled as boring, I’m not convinced that the soundtrack is actually any good. The main theme of a soundtrack should be unique and distinctive, but it’s easily the worst track on display here, and the aforementioned high-energy tracks tend to sound quite dated. Shadowgrounds came out in 2005, but a lot of the soundtrack would sound right at home in the late 90s. For some people this would be considered a good thing, but derivative industrial beats and chunky nuMetal guitars just make me think of cheap booze, bad decisions and teen angst.

It’s one you’ll have to judge for yourself, because whilst it’s not for me, I can imagine it appealing to some.

 

Next time: I feature tracks created by friends of mine and tell you all about the non-existent games that they didn’t actually come from. The screenshots are made in MSPaint, and soon enough I’m pestered to create a Kickstarter campaign to turn them into a reality.

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