Game Score Review: IL-2 Sturmovik – Birds of Prey

In my review for Wataru Hokoyama’s fantastic game score for AFRIKA, I confessed to my admittedly limited knowledge of video game music, much less video games. Well, I’m still just as clueless about the games. But after a stroll through Jorn Tilnes’ SoundtrackGeek site, I came across a Game Music section and decided to go window shopping and start to educate myself further about video game scores. What I found was one of the most rousing scores I’ve heard in quite some time.

IL-2 STURMOVIK – BIRDS OF PREY is the latest in the successful IL-2 Sturmovik series. In this flight simulation game, players take to the skies and engage in battles based around large-scale aerial combat and ground military operations of World War II. You pilot fighters, battle planes, and heavy bombers across a range of missions, including the Battle of Britain, Stalingrad, Berlin, Sicily, and the Battle of the Bulge and Korsun.

Jeremy Soule‘s thrilling, dramatic score could easily compete with–and surpass–many big-budget Hollywood action scores of today. Soule has written for film, television, and theater, but it’s in the field of video game scoring where he has made a name for himself. With nearly 40 video game scores to his credit, Soule has won awards for his music from Gamespot, IGN, XBox Magazine, MTV, and a BAFTA.

Soule’s score begins with the rousing, heroic “IL-2 Sturmovik March.” On a churning bed of snare drums and rhythmic eighth notes in the strings, the trumpets and French horns call us to action against the Axis aerial forces. This is heroic music on an epic scale, the kind of music that Hollywood should be using for their superhero pictures.

[audio:il2a.mp3]
Click Track: IL-2 Sturmovik March

The music moves into a minor key as the battle begins in “The Engagement.” The snare drum and lower strings churn out a rhythmic pulse while the brass call out another memorable theme. Then  long, flowing string lines fly you through the air as destruction rains all around you.

“The Hunt” has a lively triplet undercurrent, with the woodwinds finally getting a chance to trade staccato barbs before the brass take over once again. In “Theatre of the Delusionary,” Soule employs a Brucknerian technique of layering on sustained brass chords one on top of the other over a string ostinato.

Probably the bravest cue is “The Great Death Mistress.” And I mean “brave” as in few Hollywood composers would be able to get away with a cue like this. Using only strings, Soule creates a 3-minute tone poem featuring a dramatic dialog between the upper and lower instruments that is far more exciting and menacing than if he’d ushered in the full orchestral forces.

[audio:il2b.mp3]
Click Track: The Great Death Mistress

Due to the nature of the game, the music is definitely action-oriented. But Soule takes moments here and there to allow the music to breathe and give us (and the brass players) a chance to catch our breaths. The piano-driven “Lament for a Pilot” gives a haunting poignancy to a game that in real life was no game. Chorus is used sparingly to give the score a further layer of depth and drama.

There are glimpses of Elgar, Walton and even Mahler in the music, but this is no Horner patch job. This is a singularly original score and one of the best of 2009. I wish I had heard it in time for inclusion in my Top 10 list.

IL-2 STURMOVIK – BIRDS OF PREY has started off my year with a rousing bang. This music literally gave me goosebumps when I first heard it, and that was coming from my crappy laptop speakers. Throw on some headphones and crank up the sound to get the full dramatic effect. To listen to more audio clips and to purchase the download release, go to Direct Song.

Coming from someone who grew up hearing the midi bloops and bleeps of early game music, it’s astounding how rich the scoring field has become in this genre. If video game scores are where I have to go to hear full-bodied orchestral film music, then I want to play too. And I want Soule along as my playmate.

Film Score Click Track [rating:4.5/5]

6 comments

  1. Wow you really enjoyed this. So happy that you have found game music. The world of game music is as rich and colorful as it’s sibling, film music.

    Here’s the proper link for the game music section on Soundtrack Fans: http://soundtrackfans.ning.com/video/video/listTagged?tag=videogame

    In your honor I will upload all I have of Jeremy Soule. Link will follow. I’m sure you’ll enjoy his great Guild Wars series and many more :)
    .-= Jorn´s last blog ..More Sherlock Holmes Soundtrack: Here Are Some Videos! =-.

    1. Thanks for the other link as well, Jorn. I put the main site link instead of the one strictly for Game Music so that everybody would be tempted to visit other parts of the site as well (not that they won’t by going to the GM link).

      Looking forward to hearing more Soule.

  2. This is fantastic music, Jim! Who would have thought old fuddy-duddies like us could be dragged into the presence of video game music? And who would have thought we would actually like it!

    I’ve never been so inspired to buy a game score as I have after hearing just these two clips. My anti-game prejudices might be starting to break down!

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’m the old fuddy duddy. You’re a young one. At least I have age as an excuse. :) Fantastic music, isn’t it? Now go back to the AFRIKA link at the top of the post and revisit those clips too. Can’t recommend both of these scores highly enough.

  3. I stumbled upon Jeremy Soule’s music recently – and have been amazed & very pleasantly surprised by his compositions for games. Amazing. I represent the Boomers generation – but remain open -electically – to music.

    Have found it useful to explore Grooveshark, Liveplasma.com &Music Plasma – to quickly get a handle on music – * to discover/ encounter similar artists within a genre -before starting a detailed exploration/ experience of a composer’s / artist’s music to see what I like. Web discussions & commentary / critiques / opinions – such as yours – do help one to anchor oneself within the music – whether one agrees with the comment or not.

    Thank you very much ! Keep up the good work.

    PS I referred to content on Jeremy Soule and Thomas Newman – another admirable talent discovered serendipitously – after reviewing music credits in films I have watched & whose music I have liked. It a rich new world for me.. !!

    1. Hi Ranjit. Thanks for commenting. I’ve gone back to this score often. Gotta love these music programs that allow us the chance to explore unfamiliar artists. Since there are basically no record stores left, these sites are essential.

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