The Top 25 Soundtracks 2012: Number 5

Number 5: Halo 3: ODST

If one were to go through and read over every soundtrack that has made the list up to this point, they may notice a few common threads that more often than not tip the scale one way or the other. One of the most common elements of the higher placing soundtracks is often whether or not it is somewhat unique. If a soundtrack experiments with a often unheard of style, genre, or other such identifier and remains well composed, it generally earns a higher place than any equally composed comrades that opt for more "tried and tested" waters of sound. Its not that lesser heard genres are better, but that composers that devote themselves to them usually end up producing an utterly distinct soundtrack that stands apart.

Which brings us to our number five in this final week of the Top 25 Best Video Game Soundtracks. ODST. ODST is, to use a phrase I've used before with other soundtracks, the black sheep of the Halo series (as opposed to the dead rotting carcass of a sheep spin-off Halo: Wars). Of the series name brand heroes, the Spartans, there isn't a single one to be seen or heard. Of the series large, but effectively linear levels, there are only a few, while the rest of the action takes place in a Metroid styled open world of an occupied city. Of the series recognizable musical Gregorian chant, there is a single thirty second clip at the end of the game, and only for those who beat it on the hardest difficulty. 

You get the idea. Halo 3: ODST was the title that stood wholly unique from the rest of the series in almost every way. In the process, it created a soundtrack that not only is a powerfully evocative soundtrack in its own right, but also revisits a musical genre untapped for decades. Which has in turn, made it one of greatest soundtracks you'll ever hear.

One of the reasons that ODST's music is unlike the rest that O' Donnell composed for the series was the style of gameplay that was being put on display. The core Halo games have always been about a super soldier facing down impossible odds to win the day, which the music reflects. ODST on the other hand was much slower paced. Since the player was taking the role of a soldier (the titles ODST, or Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) trapped in an enemy occupied city searching for clues to his squad, the music had to change to reflect that shift in gameplay. So O' Donnell stepped away from the classic Halo sound and instead found inspiration from Hollywood. Old Hollywood in fact, a style long since dead: Film Noir. The 40s and 50s era of hardboiled detective movies had always carried a unique, low key jazz style with them, but when the films popularity had dwindled, so had the musical style. Its reappeared from time to time (Grim Fandango in particular wasn't afraid to make use of it) but for the most part, it's as devoid in game soundtracks as Celtic music is.

ODST however, in the hands of O' Donnell, creates one of the most ambient, moody, and yet thrillingly composed soundtracks in games. While it still carries O' Donnell's signature style (heavy bass drums and deep sound instruments), ODST is at it's core a very different beast in the modern soundtrack world. The slow, moody jazz sounds fluidly move from one melody to the next, blending so fluidly that you have listen for the exact moment the switch occurs to catch it. O' Donnell makes good use of counter melodies, often having several different instruments switch melodies at different moments to further blend the music together. He also makes great use of modern style, blending the Film Noir sound with modern instruments.

ODST isn't afraid to get emotional either. There's a definite moment of sadness and loneliness that reoccurs as the soundtrack moves from start to finish, although as always, the soundtrack finishes on an incredibly inspiring high note that, impressively enough, still references the Film Noir jazz of its core among all the impressive sound work you would normally expect in a finale.

Halo 3: ODST earns the honor of being the first soundtrack on this list to get perfect scores in three categories (Enjoyment, Emotional Reaction, and Game Representation), and additionally scores very high in each other category. While it is far too recent to even think of qualifying for the Nostalgia bonus, it does grab the Non-Gamer Enjoyment bonus, which all Halo soundtracks seem to do quite easily.

Halo 3: ODST
Enjoyment: 5
Stand Alone Quality: 4.75
Composition: 4.5
Emotional Reaction: 5
Game Representation: 5
Non-Gamer Enjoyment:  1
Nostalgia: 0
TOTAL: 5.05

Halo 3: ODST is a great example of why people should pay a bit more attention to games then they do. ODST resurrects a forgotten style, blends it with modern instruments and ideas to create a unique sound that no other soundtrack out there can pretend to match. Halo 3: ODST, the 5th best soundtrack of all time.

Number 5---Halo 3: ODST by Martin O'Donnell

No comments: