By RVonE 27 Comments
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'