On May 14, Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake was at last released by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. The eagerly anticipated action thriller video game has been described as the successor to Max Payne and already looks set to top sales charts. The game's score featured a selection of intimate orchestral music composed by newcomer Petri Alanko and recorded in Germany. The music of several indie artists was also carefully licensed for the game, most notably Poets of the Fall, who contributed three pieces. One of the bonuses with the limited edition version of the game was a soundtrack featuring ten of the most substantial original and licensed entries on the score. Is it worth the pricetag?
The first tracks that I would like to point out are a selection of semi-licensed additions. In game music, when licensed music is involved, it's too often they are thrown together to create non-descriptive and disappointing mash-up soundtracks. In Alan Wake, though, you'll find that the contributions from the semi-licensed artists are especially well-selected, and different to what you would expect to hear in any other game. The first featured are a couple of neo-psychedelic tracks from The Black Angels and Anomie Belle. "Young Men Dead" from The Black Angels is a fantastic example of a mind warping track. Dominated by Alex Maas's dry vocals and a bizarre guitar riff, it excels through its simplicity. Less rock-centred, Anomie Belle's politically inspired "How Can I Be Sure" rather takes upon a hypnotic downtempo style, concentrating on a trippy electronica beat and provocative vocals.
With these two tracks setting up a nice taster of what to expect from the rest of the licensed artists, you won't be surprised to hear the similarly hallucinogenic and jazzy "The Beaten Side of Town" from Barry Adamson. With a walking double bass sequence, warm jazz vocals, and steady drum and hi-hat accompaniment, the track is the most prominent easy listening track on the album. The best contribution from the semi-licensed artists though comes in the form of "The Poet and The Muse," from Poets of the Fall. The intricate guitar accompaniment, soaring vocals, and gentle flute accompaniment all combine to create a fantastic image, highlighted by a beautiful, harmonious chorus, first presented at 0:54. In all, the licensed music featured on this album is very impressive and exemplifies how licensed soundtracks should be done.
Although some of the credit can be attributed to the outside contributing artists, the main success of this soundtrack comes down to the touching and inspiring orchestral original score from Petri Alanko. Orchestrated by Tilman Sillescu's Dynamedion and performed by the Staatskapelle Halle alongside a gorgeous piano backdrop, the four tracks from the original score featured on this disc are stunning. The first track, "A Writer's Dream" starts off sweetly and delicately with a clear and crisp piano introduction and yearning strings. The dramatic and explosive transition into a fully orchestrated section at 0:30 brings about so much power in the theme, but only for a short moment, since it soon dies down and turns into an ominous, foreboding section.
The same sense of power touched upon at 0:30 in the first track is revisited in the more elaborate "Welcome to Bright Falls." The orchestra yields a fantastic melody in the opening stages, and soon we are greeted with a rousing flute part and suspense-filled piano segment. What really makes this track is the gracious piano section from 3:26, which leads out to its end; reverberating, resonating, and delicately breaking (and working with) the silence, Alanko creates a remarkable atmosphere here. Similarly, the piano is just as inviting in the similarly melancholy "The Clicker". However, its emotive power is shared among the accompanying string sections which it accompanies, which are beautifully performed by Staatskapelle Halle. Few orchestral pieces in a video game are as intimate as this one and the crystal clear recording quality only enhances the effect.
The two most powerful tracks on the album, however, come in the form of "Tom The Diver," and the collector's edition remix of the theme. Something about these two tracks is just so tragic and mournful. Though the original version features a larger array of instruments, "Tom The Diver (Collector's Edition Exclusive Mix" is the most touching of the two; a spurring affair between piano and violin, it is amongst the most simple yet elegant tracks in game music.
Recently, we have seen the release of a large number of beautiful scores from both the Eastern and Western game music worlds. Amongst these, the music from Alan Wake falls into the realm of soundtracks which I find truly captivating on a stand-alone basis, both because of its licensed tracks and its original orchestrations. In addition, it absolutely complements the game play and takes the whole experience to the next level. While this collector's edition soundtrack is not a complete one, it is nevertheless a fulfilling and cohesive listen that provides a stunning testament to the game's overall score.