Mass Effect 2 – OST: Some Impressions (mini-review)

Disclaimer: the following review is solely based on my own experience with this soundtrack. You do not have to agree with me, and you are entitled to a different opinion.

So I downloaded the full soundtrack of Mass Effect 2 (all 27 tracks) and I must say that I have some mixed feelings about it. It is apparent that the whole 'emotionally engaging' stuff that BioWare has been going on about has had a profound influence on this soundtrack. There are very few atmospheric tracks and the majority of the soundtrack consists of percussion heavy or otherwise uptempo and dramatic tracks that sound like you are constantly in battle or that things are perpetually on edge.


There are some familiar sounds here and there--for example during 'Normandy reborn'. 'New Worlds' tries to capture the atmosphere of its predecessor 'Uncharted Worlds' by using its leitmotif and elaborating on it. While this is mostly a successful attempt, the added complexity to this track make it less suitable to prolonged exposure (for example, when you're looking at the galaxy map for extended periods of time). The new love theme 'reflections'--or what I assume to be the love theme because it uses a similar sounding theme and is equally very short--deserves some mention here as well. While only one minute and nineteen seconds long, it is really atmospheric and the reverberating percussions recall the mood of Mass Effect 1's 'Love Theme' and is easily one of my most favorite tracks on this soundtrack.


Instead of tracks that reference specific worlds there are a lot of character specific themes this time around. My guess would be that those tracks are used on the planet or location where you are to recruit this specific character, so in a way they could still be world specific tracks. The character themes themselves are all very elaborate and progress through different phases. For example, Tali's theme starts out as a really moody and slow moving piece with some ethnic sounds in there but then transits into something that sounds like an uptempo combat track with lots of electro influences only to finish with some epic sounding strings.


I liked all individual tracks on this soundtrack. They are all very well crafted and often have some interesting progression that really convey some sort of movement in the game--perhaps a transition to a different scene or maybe things get really tense because you are under siege. It is also nice to hear some old themes reworked into new arrangements; it makes it feel like this is truly an extension of the Mass Effect universe.


And yet, I think this soundtrack stands in the shadow of its predecessor. The first soundtrack was a lot more synth-heavy while this soundtrack opts to incorporate some more orchestral work--it does retain a lot of synth, though, so don't worry. While this certainly makes it sound more grand and epic, it takes away some of the uniqueness that the first soundtrack had. Whereas Mass Effect 1's score sounded more like late 70s and 80s sci-fi, this is certainly more reminiscent of what we remember from 90s science fiction classics like Star Trek TNG and Babylon 5.


While, like I wrote above, the individual tracks unto themselves are all fine pieces of work, as a full soundtrack it comes across as really unbalanced. About 80 or 90 percent of the tracks try to capture this really epic, combat-heavy feel and there is little room for some more slow moving, melodic, or otherwise atmospheric tracks--something that the first Mass Effect soundtrack succeeded in very much. This makes listening to this soundtrack in its entirety very exhausting because it tries to be tense and epic most of the time. While in the end it is not as balanced and enjoyable as a stand-alone soundtrack when compared to its predecessor, I am convinced that it will mesh really well with the game itself. This is mostly due to the fact that every individual track is more capable of standing by itself due to the more elaborate composition and arrangement (oh, and the tracks are mostly a lot longer this time around).


As a score for a game it is very well done, as a stand-alone soundtrack I'll pick the first soundtrack over this any time. Are you ready for your more emotionally engaging, dark and epic middle part of what is to be a soundtrack trilogy?


Note worthy tracks: 'The End Run', 'Horizon', 'Tali', 'Reflections', 'The Collector Base'    

27 Comments
28 Comments
Posted by RVonE

Disclaimer: the following review is solely based on my own experience with this soundtrack. You do not have to agree with me, and you are entitled to a different opinion.

So I downloaded the full soundtrack of Mass Effect 2 (all 27 tracks) and I must say that I have some mixed feelings about it. It is apparent that the whole 'emotionally engaging' stuff that BioWare has been going on about has had a profound influence on this soundtrack. There are very few atmospheric tracks and the majority of the soundtrack consists of percussion heavy or otherwise uptempo and dramatic tracks that sound like you are constantly in battle or that things are perpetually on edge.


There are some familiar sounds here and there--for example during 'Normandy reborn'. 'New Worlds' tries to capture the atmosphere of its predecessor 'Uncharted Worlds' by using its leitmotif and elaborating on it. While this is mostly a successful attempt, the added complexity to this track make it less suitable to prolonged exposure (for example, when you're looking at the galaxy map for extended periods of time). The new love theme 'reflections'--or what I assume to be the love theme because it uses a similar sounding theme and is equally very short--deserves some mention here as well. While only one minute and nineteen seconds long, it is really atmospheric and the reverberating percussions recall the mood of Mass Effect 1's 'Love Theme' and is easily one of my most favorite tracks on this soundtrack.


Instead of tracks that reference specific worlds there are a lot of character specific themes this time around. My guess would be that those tracks are used on the planet or location where you are to recruit this specific character, so in a way they could still be world specific tracks. The character themes themselves are all very elaborate and progress through different phases. For example, Tali's theme starts out as a really moody and slow moving piece with some ethnic sounds in there but then transits into something that sounds like an uptempo combat track with lots of electro influences only to finish with some epic sounding strings.


I liked all individual tracks on this soundtrack. They are all very well crafted and often have some interesting progression that really convey some sort of movement in the game--perhaps a transition to a different scene or maybe things get really tense because you are under siege. It is also nice to hear some old themes reworked into new arrangements; it makes it feel like this is truly an extension of the Mass Effect universe.


And yet, I think this soundtrack stands in the shadow of its predecessor. The first soundtrack was a lot more synth-heavy while this soundtrack opts to incorporate some more orchestral work--it does retain a lot of synth, though, so don't worry. While this certainly makes it sound more grand and epic, it takes away some of the uniqueness that the first soundtrack had. Whereas Mass Effect 1's score sounded more like late 70s and 80s sci-fi, this is certainly more reminiscent of what we remember from 90s science fiction classics like Star Trek TNG and Babylon 5.


While, like I wrote above, the individual tracks unto themselves are all fine pieces of work, as a full soundtrack it comes across as really unbalanced. About 80 or 90 percent of the tracks try to capture this really epic, combat-heavy feel and there is little room for some more slow moving, melodic, or otherwise atmospheric tracks--something that the first Mass Effect soundtrack succeeded in very much. This makes listening to this soundtrack in its entirety very exhausting because it tries to be tense and epic most of the time. While in the end it is not as balanced and enjoyable as a stand-alone soundtrack when compared to its predecessor, I am convinced that it will mesh really well with the game itself. This is mostly due to the fact that every individual track is more capable of standing by itself due to the more elaborate composition and arrangement (oh, and the tracks are mostly a lot longer this time around).


As a score for a game it is very well done, as a stand-alone soundtrack I'll pick the first soundtrack over this any time. Are you ready for your more emotionally engaging, dark and epic middle part of what is to be a soundtrack trilogy?


Note worthy tracks: 'The End Run', 'Horizon', 'Tali', 'Reflections', 'The Collector Base'    

Posted by GamingReligion

Listened to the samples earlier, still considering getting them all.
 
While I don't have a fully formed opinion yet, "The End Run" and "Tali" stuck out to me. Left me wanting more.
 
Very well written review, made me go back and listen to the samples again :P

Posted by Cornman89

I like "Suicide Mission". Haven't listened to the rest yet.

Posted by Venatio

Where can I get this? Also, are they posted on Youtube yet?

Posted by vidiot

Okay, I'm totally torn.
 
I love orchestral music, listening to some of this soundtrack there seems to be a lot of mix between the synth style of the first game and real instruments. At the same time, I appreciate the original score's style for exactly the reasons you gave. It felt like a soundtrack to sci-fi or series from the 80's, it also accomplished the same style of "epic-ness" that I appreciate: The build up in Specture Induction gives you goosebumps.
 
I like what I hear. Jack Wall is on this soundtrack again right? I've been a fan of his work for years. While there might be a shake up in terms of it's instrumentation, I'm glad to say that after hearing a few tracks it still sounds like "Mass Effect". I'm going to try and be careful to what I listen too before the game is released though.

Posted by Grilledcheez
@Venatio: I just went on Zune, it's on there...but unlike they're saying, there are 40 tracks on the Zune version
Posted by RVonE

@vidiot:

Yeah, it's Jack Wall and indeed 'Spectre Induction' was pure awesome.  

@Venatio:
You can get the soundtrack on Amazon and I've heard it is also out on iTunes. All songs are availabla on YouTube as well. Just search for 'Mass Effect 2 OST' and you'll find them. 
 
@GamingReligion: 
Thanks for the compliment!
Posted by Dany

I'm curious of some of hte songs from ME1 are in this game, like uncharted worlds and when you at a noveria or feros

Posted by RVonE
@Dany said:
"I'm curious of some of hte songs from ME1 are in this game, like uncharted worlds and when you at a noveria or feros "

'Uncharted Worlds' now has a new incarnation 'New Worlds' (it is not as good as 'Uncharted Worlds'). Or maybe you meant just the music that played during random planet exploration, it is conceivable that BioWare just uses music from the previous game.
Posted by Afroman269

The soundtrack is quite enjoyable. On a side note, the one song that stuck with me the most has been the ending song for ME1.

Posted by jmood88

I didn't like the first soundtrack all that much(they sounded fine in game but I can't listen to the music outside of the game) but I love the new one. I'll actually be putting some of the songs on my ipod, which I didn't do with any song from the first soundtrack.

Edited by General_D23

I absolutely love The Lazarus Project, The End Run, and Suicide Mission. I thought the rest of the soundtrack was pretty good, too.
Posted by JeanLuc
@GrilledCheez01 said:
" @Venatio: I just went on Zune, it's on there...but unlike they're saying, there are 40 tracks on the Zune version "
if you look you see they jump from 13 to 27
Posted by Crixaliz

I was looking them up, any idea which one is the one that plays near the end of the cinematic trailer? The bit where they are running up that ramp or bridge.

Posted by RVonE
@Crixaliz said:
"I was looking them up, any idea which one is the one that plays near the end of the cinematic trailer? The bit where they are running up that ramp or bridge. "

Unfortunately, that song isn't on the soundtrack. Weird, right? The only two tracks that incorporate a choir are 'The End Run' and 'Suicide Mission'. I think you'll like those but they aren't as interesting as the one in the trailer.
Edited by PenguinDust

The thing about the original (ME1) soundtrack is that it fit the game well, but had no impact for me outside of the game.  Unlike Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or similar thematic scores, the Mass Effect soundtrack was completely forgettable.  I remember listening to some podcast where the score was mentioned and myself and several of the podcast's speakers couldn't recall anything about it other than it was very "Blade Runner".   Now, and your review seems to support this, I've heard that the sequel's soundtrack is much more traditional.  Perhaps that means it will be more memorable when I am done playing the game.  I know that I can "hear" the orchestral theme to Dragon Age in my head, so that might be the idea for a more epic feel to this soundtrack.

Online
Posted by RVonE
@PenguinDust said:
"The thing about the original (ME1) soundtrack is that it fit the game well, but had no impact for me outside of the game.  Unlike Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or similar thematic scores, the Mass Effect soundtrack was completely forgettable.  I remember listening to some podcast where the score was mentioned and myself and several of the podcast's speakers couldn't recall anything about it other than it was very "Blade Runner".   Now, and your review seems to support this, I've heard that the sequel's soundtrack is much more traditional.  Perhaps that means it will be more memorable when I am done playing the game.  I know that I can "hear" the orchestral theme to Dragon Age in my head, so that might be the idea for a more epic feel to this soundtrack. "

I guess we have a different concept of what is memorable. ME1's soundtrack is totally memorable for me. Themes like 'Spectre Induction', 'Ilos', and 'Uncharted Worlds' have sticked with me for the past couple of years. Also, being very 'Blade Runner' is one of the highest praises you can give any soundtrack, I think. The last couple of years we've seen a lot of games move into the whole orchestral music thing. While that is perfectly fine, it seems to me that they all try to capture a certain 'O Fortuna'-esque epicness that makes a lot of soundtrack sound generic and similar. ME1's soundtrack stands out to me because it is different from most of its contemporaries and also successfully takes its cues from some of the greatest soundtracks that have come out of film. 
 
This sequel is at times more in line with contemporary video game music but it has some really interesting things going on that really mixes it up. The transition to electro in the early part of 'Jack' is a good example of this. One of my main critiques of this soundtrack is not so much the move away from the synth-heavy old school sci-fi vibe--although I must say that it is a shame that they decided to go a somewhat different route--it is mostly about how the soundtrack tries to be very bombastic and epic all the time. This makes for a very unbalanced soundtrack (by which I mean an album that can stand on its own outside of the game) and makes listening to the whole thing somewhat taxing. That said, when you listen to each track separately, they're all very well crafted.
Edited by rogue1982

Good review. But like with all of them, it is subject to personal preferences.  
 
For me, the transition towards a bit more orchestral sound from electronic is TO GREAT BENEFIT. The ME2 soundtrack is much more emotional and heroic. Imagine the last scenes without the music. It would be like Star Wars without John Williams. 
 
So thumbs up for Jack Wall. Keep it up in Mass Effect 3 (thought I find it hard to imagine pieces more epic than the final tracks from ME2... I hope I'm proven wrong here).

Posted by Jost1

I really like it and now that I finished the game I like it even more.  Really enjoy all the synths and samples, reminds me of Jerry Goldsmith or John Carpenter

Posted by Spacetrucking

I miss Virmire Ride. Good thing I can listen to it sometimes while feeding the fish :) 
 
My favorite tunes from the new games are The Illusive Man and Normandy Reborn, the ingame cutscene for the latter gave me goose bumps and it was all in the music. I know they use the Illusive Man theme a lot (seriously...way too much) but I still dig the string arrangement they have going here. The basic tune is very catchy and I'm going to try and play that myself someday.

Posted by Jost1
@Killjoi: The Illusive Man tune is actually a reworking of the motif you hear at the very start of Mass Effect 1, at the opening title
Posted by Spacetrucking

 
 @josty81: Good observation. That intro to ME1 was great as well, no wonder a reworking sounds just as good.

I gave the Suicide Mission another listen over the last week and damn, that track is just epic (with the truest meaning of the word). I didn't notice it initially but it just combines the best parts of The End Run and the Illusive Man with a crescendo that just doesn't let up. I'm not sure if it's my in-game memories related to this track that's playing a trick on me but I really really dig it and can't stop playing it on a constant loop.

Posted by S0ndor

27 tracks...what the? I bought the DDE from steam and only got 12. Damn, now I regret wasting my money on it even more.
 
PS: I really liked the two tracks from Afterlife, much better than the stuff from Flux and Chora's Den.
PPS: I didn't get those tracks either...

Posted by RVonE
@S0ndor said:
"27 tracks...what the? I bought the DDE from steam and only got 12. Damn, now I regret wasting my money on it even more.  PS: I really liked the two tracks from Afterlife, much better than the stuff from Flux and Chora's Den. PPS: I didn't get those tracks either... "

Yeah, the Afterlife tracks are great, which is amplified by the way they manipulated the sound to make it more like you're actually in a nightclub. Unfortunately, those tracks aren't on the soundtrack.
Posted by kidko

Nice review. After completing the game I decided not to pick up the soundtrack this time. I agree that the music feels very intense/combat styled this time and figured that listening to it on its own would be uncomfortable. 
 
I also lament the departure from the 80's sci-fi feel, which I thought was a perfect target for the series. I feel they're straying into "generic action adventure score" now

Posted by Moridin

"Suicide Mission" gets me amped every time I hear it.

Posted by natetodamax

If the Club Afterlife song was on the soundtrack, I would definitely get it.

Posted by RVonE

Guys, I've found out that the Afterlife upper floor music (the floor where Aria can also be found) is actually from Need for Speed High Stakes. The song is called Callista and the artist is Saki Kaskas. Just a heads up.