Review Summary: Score music rarely has the huge amount of personality found here, and even when it does, it’s never been quite as fun as this.Portal 2: Songs to Test By
, Mike Morasky’s debut original soundtrack as head composer for Valve, hit the web last year in the form of very generous free download of its three volumes worth of content. The success, awards, and acclaim from critics and fans alike that met Portal 2 and its score signified the inevitable release of that very soundtrack in physical form, the bonus of choosing to buy the soundtrack as opposed to downloading it for free being, of course, fan merchandise along the lines of mugs and T-shirts, but most notably the inclusion of a bonus disc which contains the score of the first Portal game composed by original head Valve composer Kelly Bailey before his departure from the company.
Interestingly enough, the two separate scores end up contrasting each other in many regards. Both soundtracks thoroughly embody the games they are apart of, and much like the game, Morasky’s score for Portal 2 is sprawling to say the least at three volumes of material, while Bailey’s score for the original Portal on the other hand is very short at compact at only one disc, much like how the original Portal was considerably shorter than the average full-blown video game.
Portal 2‘s score precisely captures the fun and humorous essence of the video game through electronic music bursting with textures and sonics that perfectly convey the quirky charm of Portal 2's characters and the game’s world in general. If the titles of the songs are any indication, the soundtrack is not hesitant to reference its own inside-jokes to add its own quirk factor, but the music itself is strong enough to stand on its own while still being reminiscent of particular in-game moments, displaying a wide variety of tones that range funny to dark, and vast to confined.
Bailey’s score for the original Portal provides a distinct contrast to Portal 2‘s score in terms of mood especially. While the score for Portal 2 embraces and embodies the traits that the original Portal established the foundation for in a full-blown sequel that greatly expands upon its own universe, Portal’s soundtrack is much like the game in that it possesses the unknowing and uneasy vibes of the original that are quite the opposite of the bombastic and over-the-top thrills of its sequel. This is very subdued and calm music in an ominously unsettling way, with a sterile and bleak atmosphere where hauntingly lonely ambiance and its mysterious foreboding is scarcely interrupted by panicked and tense instances of violently climactic industrial music.
This mood is common throughout Bailey’s typical work, but Portal’s score is without a doubt his work at its darkest, and its ever-lingering sense claustrophobic sadness makes for an incredible contrast to Morasky’s zany Portal 2 score that pays homage to the retro feel of the playful cyberspace themes of classic 80‘s science fiction.
Morasky is without a doubt the star of the show here, producing an overly impressive soundtrack that goes above and beyond all expectations for a debut solo score as the head composer for the Valve corporation. As if there wasn’t enough content to begin with at three discs, the collectors edition of Portal 2: Songs to Test By
is a rewarding purchase for fans, and still a ridiculously generous package that Valve has definitely made worth buying as opposed to downloading for free.