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Cian Hassett
29 Aug, 2011

Sound Test #22 (Part 2)

PALGN Feature | From school to the crime scene, and finally to the open plains.
And so begins the second part of our journey into Rockstar’s world, this time concentrating on Grand Theft Auto’s counterparts. They’re equally special and some would even say that they surpass the quality of the gangster franchise. As much as I’d love to spend time bickering, as I normally would, this is all about Rockstar and the music. Nothing more.

This time around we have Bully, L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption to pluck apart. The latter in particular is going to be featured very heavily, because last.fm is telling me that I’ve listened to the soundtrack almost 1,500 times. Crazy, eh? But it really is that good. Quite unlike the first part of this Sound Test, we’re going to be dealing with a more familiar pattern with more traditional, instrumental music instead of throbbing electronic beats. Hopefully you enjoy it.


Notable Composers

  • Shawn Lee - Bully
  • Andrew Hale and Simon Hale – L.A. Noire
  • Bill Elm and Woody Jackson – Red Dead Redemption



Bully

Second only to Manhunt in terms of controversy, Bully (or Canis Canem Edit depending on where you live) came and went. Even with the widespread critical acclaim, it was constantly overshadowed by nonsense claims by conservative lobbies. I suppose we should be used to that by now; when a Rockstar game is released, those in search of a scape-goat are often following it.

To their credit, Rockstar briefly moved away from Grand Theft Auto and applied the formula to a setting that, to this day, remains unique. All of the humour and gameplay elements were familiar (in a good way), but there was something extra special about Bully. It brought back memories of wandering down school corridors, chasing after the girl that was out of your league, being a smart arse in class, and for the bold students, ditching class in favour of a joyride. We all considered it.

The soundtrack was much simpler in comparison to Grand Theft Auto, but as you’re about to find out, the quality remained of the highest standard.


You’ll recognise this one straight away, it’s magical. Atmosphere is going to play a big part in this Sound Test, and this tune really does set the mood for Bully. It just fits the environment perfectly. The bass isn’t half bad either.



A theme is going to emerge here. Bully’s soundtrack is almost an instrumental rock album, taking its inspiration from both classic and contemporary bands. Can anyone else hear The Cure in this one? It sounds very Robert Smith-y, but that can only be a good thing.



Sneaky sneaky…there was possibly some drugs involved in the recording of this song, but we’ll say no more because musicians never, ever doing anything like that. Imagine if The Beatles were on LSD? Haha…yeah…heh…ahem. And just to point out, this is one of the most beautiful tracks found in any Rockstar game.



Romance blooms. I don’t want to make a big deal of it but c’mon, that bass is pretty damn sexy. In fact, the whole song is. Play it for your partner some time, it might set a good mood. You know…for stuff.



Mixing it up with a sprinkling of electronica and some other funky beats. While Bully’s soundtrack frequently verges on rock and heavier sounds, the word ‘magic’ keeps on coming back. There’s something about it that’s really difficult to pin down, so I suppose you’ll just have to play the full game to understand.



From start to finish; Bully concludes with this brilliant piece. Those haunting, looping vocals in the background give an eerie feel to the conclusion. You know you’re at the end of something special, and even though it finishes a little too abruptly, nothing is stopping you from sticking this track straight on repeat.



L.A. Noire

I suppose this is cheating, because technically Rockstar didn’t make the game; but hey, the more the merrier! Can I start by saying that I hated L.A. Noire in places? Good, because I just did. Honestly, it’s the most disappointing game of the year so far, and it really should have been so much better with all of that time behind it. Although we’re not discussing the mind numbingly repetitive gameplay, are we? No, we’re talking about atmosphere and to its credit, L.A. Noire does atmospheric urban chaos/boredom just as well as Hollywood. Here’s the proof.


Depending on your preference and appreciation for noir, you’re either going to love or hate this stuff. I’m sitting somewhere in the middle because this song nearly always makes me sleepy, and I’m still not certain if that’s in a good way or a bad way. It certainly sets the tone for the rest of the game.



Wakey wakey, that’s a bit more like it. Claudia Brucken’s vocals are smoother than milk chocolate. Her talent is extraordinary, never missing a key, and always singing in a very alluring way. Drool should be dripping onto your pants round about...now…



If you want to hear one song that captures Los Angeles in the 1940s, you’ve found it. Yet again, Brucken is intoxicating with her sweet voice, and everything else is chilled to perfection in the sexiest way possible.



Clues! There’s something not quite right here. The music is exquisite but I’m still dozing, why isn’t the gameplay keeping me awake? Oh yeah that’s right, it’s the same thing over and over again for fifteen hours. As you were.




Ok, I take back that sly remark, because this two-part track is amazing. Really, I mean it. As an eternal fan of the violin, it’s impossible not to appreciate the beauty. It’s dark, gloomy, brooding and gripping – sums up L.A. Noire to a tee.



Red Dead Redemption

Alright, now for the crown jewel of it all. The pinnacle of Rockstar’s career in terms of all things music. I genuinely believe that. From the moment you wake up as John Marston and step outside into the sunlight, you’re there in ‘Wild West’ and it’s so different and so brilliant when compared with every other attempt preceding it.

The core of the soundtrack is extraordinary and it’s the main reason why I signed up to handle this Sound Test. I really can’t speak highly enough about each and every chord, but it’s beautiful and that’s the main thing. Especially when you’re riding into Mexico, remember? Keep listening until the very end.


You’re taken straight into a new world. I’ve listened to this song on numerous occasions, and each time I find myself whistling along with the tune. It’s perfection and if you love good Westerns, then this is right up your alley. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more whistling to do.



‘Born Unto Trouble’ leads directly into ‘The Shootist’. Most of the elements are still the same (yes I’m still whistling), but the tempo increases. You’re riding on your trusty steed, looking out at the land and gazing at how incredible everything is. Say no more.



Speaking of steeds, next up is ‘Horseplay’. The bass line is brilliant, but you already knew that I was going to say that because I’ve been a sucker for the instrument since witnessing the talent of Les Claypool in person. The simple vocals work well here too, capturing the scale of Red Dead Redemption’s gorgeous world.



A soaring, melodic theme to what some folks boldly claim to be Rockstar’s finest work to date. Agree to disagree, but agree in saying that this is just as good as everything before it. You’re probably bored of my constant praise so I’ll say something random to break it up. I burned my finger last week and it still hurts, ouch.



I couldn’t possibly leave this one out. Red Dead Redemption doesn’t have radio stations to keep you entertained on the long treks in the countryside, but personally (call me crazy if you like), I think this more than compensates.



The most dramatic of the bunch; and a friendly reminder that the Wild West was a violent, often gruesome period. Behind the aftermath of bloodshed, there’s still beauty which may sound silly, but it’s true.



Keep listening until around the three minute mark. ‘The Outlaw’s Return’ captures the story and the atmosphere in a single, seven minute track. I usually get lost in the middle, and not because I’m falling asleep. It’s because I’m hooked.



Wipe those tears away, it’s almost over. Featuring a more prominent piano during the introduction, ‘Exodus In America’ is as beautiful as it is tragic. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you in case you haven’t played through Red Dead Redemption (you should be ashamed of yourself), but needless to say you won’t be forgetting this song anytime soon.



I waited a long time for this moment. And that’s the great thing about Red Dead Redemption, it’s full of ‘moments’, but none of them are quite as unforgettable as the journey into Mexico. The track is from Jose Gonzalez, you might remember him from his ‘Heartbeats’ fame, but I think ‘Far Away’ is the best thing he has ever released. The video is an example of everything fitting together in harmony, there’s no other way to explain it. Just…wow.



That's it folks, your second and final Sound Test from the not-quite-sober Irishman. It's been a pleasure, and fingers crossed a couple of those tunes brought back pleasant memories. Adios amigos!

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