Red Faction: Guerrilla is the third instalment of the Red Faction series of third-person shooters, set in Mars during 2120. Its score aimed to be even more atmospheric and interactive than previous instalments of the series, combining orchestral, electronic, and percussive elements into a range of ambient, action, and cinematic themes. It features three musical heavyweights, action man Jake Kaufman (Contra 4), ambient returnee Dan Wentz (Red Faction), and cinematic composer Tim Wynn (Red Alert 3), as well as assistant composers Raison Varner and George Oldzley. Although quite a few compositions were collaborative, they each made their voice heard and worked together to create a top quality production. A digital soundtrack for the game was recently released through Amazon for a very reasonable price. While it features 32 pieces, it manages to span over three hours given some tracks are presented as extremely expansive suites. Can such a long release possible sustain the interest of its listeners?
The album opens with the eight contributions by cinematic composer Tim Wynn. As requested, Wynn largely adhered to a stereotypical futuristic sci-fi sound, but nevertheless took considerable care with his compositions and had the exuberance of recording them with the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. The main theme "Defiance" is the most significant of his contributions. The melody is particularly strong, capturing a sense of militarism, desperation, and uncertainty on solo trumpet, while the edgy string motifs and electronic beats embellish the atmosphere. The theme also helps to unify the score by blending ambient and action tones, orchestral and electronic timbres into a single representative work. Wynn's other contributions are short yet significant. For example, it is refreshing how "Prelude" follows on directly from the main theme to achieve just the right ambience at the start of the journey or how "Uprising" provides a preparation of the action to come with its Williams-esque phrasing. The orchestra is also put to good use to offer the soft human touches at the end of "Children of Stars" or a captivating series of buildups in "Genesis". The references to Holst's "Mars" in "End of the Beginning" are arguably shameless, as are sweeping chord changes inspired by The Dark Knight, but they're so appropriate given the setting and work flawlessly in combination with the main theme.
While Wynn's contribution is good, the centrepieces of the score are actually the six ambience and combat suites by Jake Kaufman, Raison Varner, and Dan Wentz. Unlike other game music out there, these tracks are presented as uninterrupted symphonic movements varying in length from a jaw-dropping 13 to 19 minutes. The ambient themes are amazing mood-setters, each using a distinct set of instrumentation to explore several core motifs and undergo subtle yet stunning metamorphoses of mood during their extended playtimes. They're each subtly different with "Uprising Ambience" focusing on dense Zimmer-esque strings against moody electronic ambience, "Oppression Ambience" featuring much more romantic orchestration and haunting chorus use, and "Vindication Ambience" taking a much more epic approach with brass fanfares and complex military percussion work. The action themes meanwhile keep listeners on the edge throughout their giant track times with their compelling rhythmical elements and increasingly thicker timbres. Each track grows from relatively tense opening sections towards epic climaxes featuring anthemic melodies and belting accompaniment. The team demonstrate their prowess blending orchestral, electronic, and percussive work in each of these tracks while carefully contrasting each one in terms of the characteristics they're supposed to portray, in accord with the 'uprising', 'oppression', and 'vindication' concepts.
Jake Kaufman maintained the expansive approach to the in-game tracks with his solo contributions. He demonstrates a real flair for blending orchestral and electronic elements in a rhythmically driven way. "Subvert" and "Mission Evade", for example, are right on par with the best Metal Gear Solid themes in terms of how they inspire so much suspense during infiltration. Meanwhile "Mission Destroy" and "Mission Final" blend similar edgy elements with anthemic string melodies to reflect the change of objectives. Once again, Kaufman has no problem maintaining interest during their sizeable playtimes and seems to compel listeners to hammer away with the rhythms instead. The contributions by George Oldzley and Dan Wentz still feature blends of acoustic and electronic forces, yet are generally much more focused towards the electronic side. Contributions such as "Faction", "Calm", and "Synergy" create a more scenic ambience compared to Kaufman's instantaneous tracks and the resultant soundscapes are often very beautiful. However, they certainly don't lose their edge either, which just adds to their perplexing beauty. They have a tendency to really develop over their five minute durations too, for example surprising listeners with the bold distorted 'melody' "Two Ton Heavy Thing". The album ends in a strange way with a series of short unrelated sketches featuring everything from J-Rap to porno grooves to cantina homages. It's a fun bonus and a testament to Kaufman's versatility.
Red Faction Guerrilla: Official Soundtrack is certainly quite a journey. The cinematic tracks are the least impressive offerings of the soundtrack, given their short length and derivative tendencies, but the main theme is a major highlight and the other themes feature Wynn's elegant and effective use of orchestra. The central suites are not something that people should listen to if they're in a hurry, but they're truly unique and impressive listens both for what they convey at a particular time and how they go on to develop later. The remaining gameplay tracks offer some of the best edgy military tracks and electronic ambience available in game music and are so well-constructed that they work wonderfully on a stand-alone basis too. Note that the soundtrack is compartmentalised into different sections, so it doesn't feature a well-defined dramatic arch or obvious conclusion, but this sort of structure also really helps to allow listeners to select what style they want to hear at a particular time. Amazingly, it is possible to buy all this from the Amazon store for just eight dollars. Fans of Kaufman, Wynn, and Wentz should feel more than satisfied with the offerings and anyone else who enjoys mature ambient and action themes shouldn't hesitate to try the soundtrack either.