March 4, 2013
Gaming in Stereo: Varying Degrees of Unreal
As we get closer to the closing of this console generation, there is one prominent engine that has dominated the landscape Unreal 3. Unreal 3 has done everything from Gears of War, to the Batman Arkham series, to the Borderlands franchise, to Mirror’s Edge, to the Mass Effect series, Tom Clancy titles including End War, and even fighting games like Mortal Kombat (2011). The engine is widely universal and has made for some astonishing games and vistas. Today we look at two tracks that come from two games that are powered by the Unreal 3 Engine and that are different in almost aspect. One was the Unreal 3’s powerhouse. Any time Epic Games showed off something new they added to the engine it was displayed in Gears of War. I chose Gears of War 2’s soundtrack, it was when the series really came into its own, and has the best soundtrack of the series. The other game is a far cry from the world of Sera. There is no destruction, there are no giant monsters, and there are no large men in massive armor. The second game features a beautiful white, clean city. It features a strong, not over sexualized female protagonist. The game implores you to run and not get into fire fights. The world of Mirror’s Edge is a beautiful, serene cityscape; but below the white beauty lies corruption. I was trying to find games using the engine that were black and white, pros and cons of violence; and yet, despite those traits show the versatility of the engine and what it has accomplished of this past cycle.
Gears of War 2 – Hope Runs Deep – Steve Jablonsky
Gears of War 2 is by and far, the best of the Epic Games series. I thought, out of the trilogy, 2 had the best story; Gears 3 became a little wonky and tried being Halo. Technically, it wasn’t the most sound, Gears 3 was. It wasn’t the most innovative for the genre, Gears 1 was. Though Gears 2 was the game I put in, by far, the most amount of time. Gears of War 2 also did something a little different with the soundtrack. The first game in the series was composed by Kevin Riepl, who had previously done Unreal Championship and Unreal Tournament 2003. Gears of War 2 saw a Hollywood composer take the reigns, Steve Jablonsky. Jablonsky’s style was immediately noticeable. The big, deep brass, the large chorus, the little technical sounds here and there, it felt like a Hollywood production. There is something else noticeable about the soundtrack, it sounds very similar to his other work on the Transformer movies, but it works in both places. One has large men in mechanical armor doing battle with huge evil creatures, and the other has huge mechanical robots beating the snot out of one another. Hope Runs Deep was the title track for the second entry and while it keeps the noticeable ambiance and familiar harmonies from the first title, it is cranked up to 11. It feels like the first game was an experiment and since it worked it got all the funding Microsoft could throw at it in terms of production. The same could be said about the latest Halo title. Enjoy!
Mirror’s Edge – Introduction – Solar Fields (AKA Magnus Birgerrson)
My love for this series in no kept secret here. I play though the game yearly since 2008 as a reminder that when the reigns are let go, there are new and creative ideas to be had in this industry. Everything about the game captivated me; the setting, the very different protagonist, the parkour, and the emphasis on the character not the fights. The game ran on the Unreal 3 engine despite DICE having their own engine, Frostbite. Mirror’s Edge was in development before Frostbite was finished, explaining the use of the out of house engine. To obtain the very bright white city with bold color contrast, a new lighting solution was developed for the game by Illuminate Labs and DICE. This was something new and out of the blue from the Battlefield developer. From 2008-2010 was the experimental years of EA, were we saw titles like Brutal Legend, Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Dragon Age: Origins, Need for Speed: Shift, and The Saboteur. Though most were not commercially successful, they were as different as this title track from Mirror’s Edge. There is hints of Lisa Miskovsky’s “Still Alive” amongst the electronic elements. Parts of this track played during the menus and gave the same serene sense of beautiful white surroundings. Even if DICE and EA never produce another Mirror’s Edge, we still have the experiment that gave this writer hope that not everything the gaming industry produces as of late can be copy and pasted year after year on the same brown backdrop. It’s is my breath of fresh air I breath in once a year and let my mind envelope the fantastic soundtrack. Enjoy.