Number 3: Halo Reach
Martin O' Donnell is one of those composers who has managed to get exactly what he wants, which is anything that he wants, for his music. Call it the happy side effect of creating the sound of one of the biggest franchises in gaming history, but O' Donnell could probably put in a request for three-hundred world-class Kazoo players for whatever soundtrack he's working on now and have them all assembled and playing in a few weeks. More surprisingly whatever they created would probably sound pretty good as well.
Martin O' Donnell has actually done a lot of sound work over the years for his employer Bungie, creating the soundtracks for titles such as Myth and Oni, but it wasn't until the Halo series that he got his big break. Halo was a much larger (and more successful) project than his previous works, and the success that it brought with it allowed him to finally move away from synthetic reproductions and into full scale orchestras. Which is why when it came time for Bungie to release their final title in the Halo series titled Reach, it needed to go out with a bang and to do that it needed a heavy hitter of a soundtrack. A challenge to which Martin O' Donnell answered perfectly.
Reach shares many similarities with O' Donnell's other works. The focus on heavy, deep instruments is still in force. There is still a very epic sound. There is also, just like the prior works, a 'story' to the soundtrack. Where it differs is the subject. Most of the prior Halo-centric works tend to be pretty epic, working to capture the feel of a super soldier succeeding against impossible odds. Reach on the other hand has a bit more in common in its sound with ODST, the black sheep of the Halo series. Again Reach is a very 'story' driven soundtrack, with a story that tells of loss, sacrifice and hope. The end result is a soundtrack that is both powerful and poignant, a selection of pieces that carry a very heavy emotional weight.
The heavy sense of emotion is one of things that will make or break this soundtrack for many people. A lot of music can simply be listened to, but Reach demands your attention and claws at your consciousness until you give it. Then when you do give it, there's a chance it may yank your heartstrings around. While it gives the soundtrack real weight and staying power, it can make it difficult to listen to and limits the amount of scenarios that you would want to be hearing it in.
Emotional power aside, Reach is a powerful soundtrack with a rich sound. No bad marks for composition here, Reach has a quality of sound and arrangement that does gaming soundtracks proud. The breadth of compositions is also impressive, with many different melodies and themes weaving in and out of each composition, something for which O' Donnell has been well known for in his other works.
Despite it's high scores, Reach isn't a soundtrack you'll want to listen to everyday, and it's certainly not a sugar filled joyride like some other soundtracks on this list. While it scores perfectly in Composition, Emotional Reaction and Enjoyment, it still isn't the same as some other soundtracks scoring perfectly in those areas. Reach carries a lot of emotional weight behind it, and that makes it more of a 'once and a while' sort of soundtrack rather then one for everyday listening.
Stand Alone Quality: 4.75
Emotional Reaction: 5
Game Representation: 4.75
Non-Gamer Enjoyment: 1
That said, Halo Reach is an incredible soundtrack with powerful emotive ability. Until Martin O' Donnell's next work hits, Reach will likely sit high on this list as the third best gaming soundtrack ever composed. Halo Reach, number 3.
Number 3---Halo Reach by Martin O' Donnell