Review Summary: By tastefully and subtly blending traditional classical / symphonic composition with modern electronic music, Kyd has created some of the most memorable tracks for a video game.
In recent years, as video games become increasingly more cinematic, it seems natural that the approach to music composition follows the same direction. I personally don’t listen to much soundtracks music at all, let alone video game soundtracks so I’m treading in new water here when reviewing this kind of stuff. But what I am experienced with is Jesper Kyd’s work on the Hitman franchise. I have played all the games in the series and even begrudgingly sat through the godawful film adaptation in despair that they didn’t even implement Kyd’s work into it. Perhaps there were contractual issues or Kyd (probably rightfully so) didn’t want to take any part in the film, but one of the main things that elevates the Hitman series from the generic action shooter is the atmosphere created through Kyd’s hybrid of electronic and symphonic music. It couples the visuals and narrative to heighten gameplay and these days high anticipated games that strive to push the boundaries of gameplay cannot be successful without the cinematic touch which has become integral since the gaming consoles have become more adapted to home theatre entertainment technology. Gamers these days take for granted the cinematic quality of their games for their home entertainment systems. For me Kyd’s work on the Hitman franchise has pioneered this cinematic movement and I think his most defining work is in two of the games: Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman: Blood Money.
Now I’m not going to delve into Silent Assassin, I think it was the soundtrack that helped elevate his status as not only as a reputable composer for games, but a reputable composer for the wider community outside of gaming. Hitman: Blood Money, however, is his greatest work by far. His sense of the character of 47 and his story and the feel of the game has been progressively refined over the course of previous instalments, and now with a bigger budget (yes Silent Assassin did have the biggest budget for a game soundtrack for its time but regardless had access to more resources) enabled him to flesh out, in what I think is one the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time.
Kyd’s main strength and appeal is his tasteful blend of electronic music, full with drum ‘n bass, trip hop, and synth backgrounds, with classical and symphonic elements. In the official soundtrack to Blood Money, the compositions vary from being exclusively symphonic / classical to being fully electronic. But the ones that I find the most interesting are the hybrids, in particular tracks like ‘Hunter’, ‘Rocky Mountains’ and the ‘Main Title’. They are not only great atmospheric tracks, but also very experimental and forward thinking and both the electronic and classical elements blend seamlessly, flawlessly. Kyd’s knack for being able to elicit emotion from the gamer to the story in the game is unquestionable, as his detail is meticulous and never does the soundtrack fall into classical soundtrack cliché or becomes overburdened with techno rabble.
Probably the most well known composition after Kyd’s rendition of ‘Ave Maria’ is ‘Apocalypse’. This track is the perfect example of Kyd’s talent as a traditional composer. It gives chills and creates the perfect image of the protagonist, a character bereft of moral obligation, soulless and dangerous in world that gives him the best opportunities to carry out his living as an assassin. Each composition is rendered appropriate to each stage or level of the game; from dark ambient undercurrents when the player is snooping around undetected searching out the target to charged bolts of urgency when the player has been detected or attempting to escape after carrying out the mission.
Overall this is an amazing soundtrack, not only to listen to while playing but also as stand alone. Notable tracks are ‘Apocalypse’, ‘Hunter’, ‘Vegas’, ‘Rocky Mountains’, ‘Daylight in New Orleans’, ‘Trouble in Vegas’, ‘Main Title’.