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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Halo: The Soundtrack

by Ken Newquist / September 9, 2004
Cover art for the Halo Original Sountrack.

I'd never bought a game soundtrack before. Hell, I've never even really noticed an original game soundtrack before. Oh, I've commented in reviews about the ones that have sucked, and I may have offered the occasional note on how well the music fit the game, but that's just an obligatory part of a review. Listen, finish, move on to the next please.

And then I played Halo. From the first time I hit the start button I was struck by the game's ethereal opening notes, and as I fought through the opening battles with the Covenant, I was impressed by how cinematic the music was. It wasn't just a question of fitting the game, it was about actually improving and empowering the game. Halo just simply wouldn't be Halo without its soundtrack.

But still, it was just a game. And then I found myself battling my way out of one of Halo's deep subterranean structures, and the bombastic, exhilarating track "Rock Anthem for Saving the World" came on.

Holy crap. That was the thought that raced through my mind as my pulse quickened, and I began practically bouncing up and down on the sofa. Up until that moment, it had been a good game. A damn good one to be sure, but not, say, quite GoldenEye status. With that track, combined with the furious blasts of automatic weapon fire and the occasional rocking explosion of a grenade blasting apart some Covenant, it all came together.

I played the game through, betting it on "regular" and "heroic" levels, and then returning once again for "legendary". And then I did something unprecedented. I bought the soundtrack.

Rock Anthem for Saving the World

Listening to the album outside of the game -- I typically listen while coding at work -- reveals several stand-out tracks. The first track, "Opening Suite", is anticipatory, with a synthesized, celestial sound that brings to mind objects falling through space, and the dream state of an astronaut in cryo. That's unsurprising, given that it's also the track that plays when Halo first loads, but its imagery that would be evoked even without the computer game bias.

The soundtrack really starts thundering along with the second track, "Truth and Reconciliation Suite". It calls to mind a battle between the sky and the ground, as the strings keep soaring higher and higher and the occasional heavy bass drum beat erupts to tear them back to earth. Near the end of the track, the music turns ominous, with discordant notes breaking through the battle and leading to a subdued tone. This eerie turn is shattered by Halo's triumphant, rock'n'roll inspired anthem, which itself gives way to ethereal, choral voices. It's an excellent summation of the entire soundtrack.

"Rock Anthem for Saving the World" causes adrenaline to surge through your bloodstream, grabbing you by the back of the neck and hurling you forward with glorious enthusiasm. It's too short -- only 1:18 minutes -- but well suited for looping. This is the track that inspired me to buy the Halo soundtrack. I wish there were more like it on the album -- and that this particular track was longer.

Other standouts include the rhythmic "Covenant Dance" and the final "Halo" closing track, which reprises many of the tracks themes and ends with a bittersweet acoustic piano solo.

The album has several disturbingly horrific tracks that I typically don't listen to for enjoyment, which could be useful as background music in a deep space horror game. Those tracks -- including "Library Suite" and "The Long Run" -- are discordant and edging, expertly complementing the arrival of mindless, all-devouring horror that is "The Flood" on Halo. Without a doubt, they're good tracks, and well-suited for their role in the game, but they're not something you'd want to listen to regularly.

Final Analysis

For those who have played through Halo, the soundtrack is a welcome and invigorating reminder of good times had blasting unstoppable alien hordes. It is for these people that I've rated the soundtrack 9/10. It would have been a perfect 10 if some there'd been some extended tracks that built further on the themes of the originals, but I suppose we'll have to wait for Halo 2 for them.

Those who have not played Halo may still find it useful as a source of background music for sci-fi games, but I don't think it'll pack the same emotional punch. For them, the soundtrack's probably more of 7/10 or 8/10.

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