It is no surprise that the Remote Control-ed film music landscape of feature films is also the primary music palette of video games. With so many dark chords, synth drum pads, and electronics, how does a score set itself apart from the prevalent wall of sound? By virtue of its themes. And Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan‘s muscular video game score for WARHAMMER 40,000: SPACE MARINE, the latest installment in the WARHAMMER franchise, excels in its thematic material.
In this third-person action game, users follow the adventures of Sergeant Sidonus, Leandros, and Captain Titus, the 2nd Company Commander of the Ultramarines, as they fight the alien Orks and the Forces of Chaos on the Forge World Graia, a planet devoted to the mass production of military ordnance, vehicles, and weapons.
For such an epic world, the music “could in no way sound thin,” said Velasco and Dikiciyan in an interview with Bloody-Disgusting.com. The composers incorporate the full orchestral complement, with rousing trumpet fanfares, belching lower brass, and epic French horn rips. Though there are plenty of electronics in the score, they are used judiciously, giving the score a “larger-than-life sound.”
The main bulk of the thematic material is reserved for the Space Marines, with music characterized by Velasco and Dikiciyan as “bold and brassy.” The memorable main theme is a “simple yet strong motif” (‘Titus’ Theme’) that is not only “epic but also give(s) you a sense of honor and pride.” The long notes of the theme add to heroic grandeur of the character.
Game scores like this generally succeed or fail based on the level of their action cues, and SPACE MARINE doesn’t disappoint in that arena either. Tracks such as “Valkyrie Run” are characterized by frenetic, rhythmic ostinatos; long, heroic brass themes; and heart-pounding percussion.
In addition to the requisite militaristic snare drums, the extensive percussion forces utilize taikos, mondo toms, frame drum, shakers, and more to represent the Orks, who “are never happy unless they’re beating on something.” The Chaos demons are musicalized with dissonance and industrial sounds.
Acoustic instruments, percussion and electronic elements alike get a thorough workout. The chorus, which tends to be overused in big epic scores (video game or not) these days, is used sparingly, reserved only for the final track, “A Hero’s Legacy”. But the score isn’t all testosterone-fueled masculinity. In cues like “Against All Odds,” the rich string sonorities get a chance to shine.
Velasco and Dikiciyan seem to have taken the best aspects of contemporary masters like Zimmer and Horner and crafted a bold, rousing score that can stand right alongside with (and in many ways surpasses) today’s epic feature film scores. The score may not offer anything musically groundbreaking, but those themes and ostinati are addictive.
I’ve yet to explore the video world of the WARHAMMER franchise, which has been around for three decades. But if the visual craftsmanship is on the level of Velasco and Dikiciyan’s sonic world, it’s hammer time.