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 game music composers seem to be able to take chances that the folks in feature films can’t. IL-2 STURMOVIK – BIRDS OF PREY, the latest in the successful IL-2 Sturmovik series, is one of the most rousing scores I’ve heard in quite some time.
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.
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.
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.