The Top 25 Soundtracks 2012: Number 25

Number 25: Halo 2

Love it (as many do) or hate it (as others do) the Halo series has a reputation for itself, one partially built on the shoulders of Composer Martin O' Donnell, whose bass drum heavy beats and Gregorian chanting have become an icon of the series itself. This iconic sound is so well known that even most non-gamers can positively identify the games soundtrack. In fact, one of the most common questions I've received when talking about the Top 25 list with non-gamers is "will Halo be on it?" With such an iconic sound, Halo's presence on the list should be no surprise to many of you.

The Halo 2 soundtrack is an interesting case in and of itself. Flush on the heels of the original Halo, Halo 2 was designed to be a bigger, grander spectacle. Much more money was available for the development of the sequel then the original title. While that actually negatively impacted a few areas, one area that had nothing but gain out of an increased budget was the sound department.

The original Halo soundtrack was a fun affair, but limited in achieving the vision it set for itself by the standards of the material available. With the sequel however, those limitations vanished, and instead of midi sound a fifty piece orchestra was hired giving the new soundtrack depth that O' Donnel hadn't been able to capture adequately the first time around. Access to live instruments allowed the music to more accurately capture the subtle ranges that the series needed in order to pull of its grand sounding scope, and the series popularity meant that Bungie was able to attract the interest of other musicians as well for special compositions.

The soundtrack to Halo 2 is quite solid with few weak points. Character themes carefully intermingle with environment motifs to create stirring movements that draw the listener, often to a story that each of the larger pieces, the suites, seek to create. Indeed, the entire second disc of the second soundtrack is composed of almost nothing but these suites, forming a story with success and failure, rises and falls that all play out inside your mind. You don't have to have played to game to listen to these pieces and feel the journey of a hero, listening to the suites of the second soundtrack, it's hard for the music not to bring such pictures to your head, from the opening chants to the stirring end.

The first part of the soundtrack, while not being composed of suites like the second half, still carries with it much of the same talent and feel, albeit in smaller two-minute portions used for smaller scenes within the game. Some of these hail back to themes from the original soundtrack, pulling in small parts of their melodies to tie the series together. This first part of the soundtrack also emphasizes what is both a success and moment of weakness for the soundtrack as a whole: widescale inclusion of music not composed by O' Donnell, but still used within the game.

Specifically, a few specific tracks by Breaking Benjamin and Incubus. Although their contributions managed to fit the game rather well, their style is radically different from the rest of the soundtracks makeup, and jumping from a standard Halo piece to a Pink Floyd-esque rock song is a little jarring to say the least. It isn't to say that these songs aren't bad, they're incredibly good when listened to on their own (in fact that last link is one of my favorites from the whole soundtrack) but that they don't quite mesh when heard back to back. In game this is alleviated by pauses in the sound and scenery that successfully "set-up" your brain for the next track. On the soundtrack, such an effect isn't present.

The Halo 2 soundtrack also has a few weak songs, all of which only appear on the Soundtrack. For example, one of the weakest songs of the soundtrack by far, "Never Surrender" appears only because the songs mixer, Nile Rogers, was the producer in charge of getting the soundtrack released. Not only is it the weakest piece overall, but it's aspirations of being a cheap low budget techno remix succeed, unarguably hurting the soundtrack overall.

Nevertheless, that weak point aside, Halo 2's soundtrack scored quite well when scored. Halo 2 scored highest on it's Representation of the game world, its Stand Alone Ability, and its Composition. It scored lowest on Enjoyment and Emotional Reaction,  largely due to its jarring compositional switches on the first disc and the inclusion of a lackluster techno mix. It did however, pick up a bonus point for its appeal with non gamers, leading it to beat out several other soundtracks vying for the position of  number 25

Halo 2
Enjoyment: 4
Stand Alone Quality: 4.25
Composition: 4.25
Emotional Reaction: 4
Game Representation: 4.25
Non-Gamer Enjoyment:  1
Nostalgia: 0
TOTAL: 4.35

Overall, Halo 2 does quite well for itself, a few weaker songs not being enough to keep it from its new place as the 25th best soundtrack of all time in 2012.

Number 25--Halo 2 by Martin O' Donnell

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