Uncharted 2 took almost everything from the original game: the idea, the visual style, gameplay elements and even the leading musical motive. Compared to the first Uncharted Among Thieves is set in the Himalayas, where the protagonist has to find the lost city of Shambhala. This change of scenery is reflected in music as well: now there’re more ethnic features in it like national instruments, for example. All these tricks add some local color and mysteriousness to the music. But there’s a time for everything.
The story of the soundtrack begins with the cover where one can find a lot of interesting things. For instance, we learn that the orchestral pieces were performed live and not by using samples as it often happens. A long list of persons responsible for creating the sound of the game keeps alive hope of high quality work. But this is the moment when doubts creep in, cause the composer (Greg Edmonson) hasn’t participated in a process of working on the orchestral score (sic!). No doubts it’s a drawback as an original idea of the composer can be reproduced only via the composer’s orchestral score itself. And as it’ll become clear soon the orchestration in Uncharted 2 has some weak points.
The title theme (Nate's Theme 2.0 ) is the first track in the album. Despite having version 2.0 in its name it’s still the same track from the first part without any changes at all. This theme is likely to become a hallmark of the franchise, though it’s difficult to memorize it on the first listen. Since the first bars drums are brought to the foreground, whilst the main theme is played by the brass. Then the first violins enter with the theme which quickly fades away failing to obtain a slight development. There’s no point in further description cause after a brief middle part the whole story repeats (variations are non-significant). So we have a typical three-part form, quite unpretentious and squeezed into a 2-minute track. It’s particularly remarkable that no windwood instruments and emphatic bass were used and the middle register was nearly inaudible. The brass sound was forced and on the one hand it added sharpness, pressure, dynamics, but on the other hand the music starts to lack in depth and lose a good deal of fullness in the sound. When it comes to a certain track it may be due to an original idea (maybe, this was the point) but when one and the same orchestral techniques are applied throughout the whole soundtrack it makes the music monotonous and dull.
These drawbacks of the arrangement may be eliminated by an intelligent performance which is no less significant for the music than the basic melody, change of a harmony or the orchestration. No matter what the music goal is – call to action as in the main theme or to catch the spirit of an ancient city as in the tracks called The City's Secret and The Gates of Shambala – all the compositions are performed in the same vein, unthoughtfully and blankly. The sound of strings in a bunch of tracks remind of skillful work with samples rather than live performance conveying different types of emotion. As a result when velocity and pressure are needed the orchestra sounds monotonous and dull but when you need to express just the opposite emotions (as in Desperate Times, for example) it sounds harsh. This manner of performance and such arrangements are very typical for foreign cinema music, which the composer had written before he was invited to work on Uncharted.
After listening to half of the album you completely forget what was in the beginning. Tracks copy each other; they have similar tonal plans, tedious pace and with a few exceptions nearly the same orchestra setup. The only one thing that stands out against this depressing backdrop is a final electronic composition. The reason is simple – it’s written by another author. Unfortunately, one track is not enough to recover the interest or somehow to make you change the opinion about what you’ve listened to already. Dullness and boredom will follow you from the first to the last minute. You’ll have to make an effort so as to listen to the soundtrack to the end.
Conclusion: in numerous interviews developers and project managers have repeatedly drawn our attention to the various innovations whether it be technical improvements (as for example the further optimization for Cell), adding multiplayer gameplay or visual overhaul. Enumerating all the new features would require a separate article. But as for the sound it was told almost nothing. Big guys at Naughty Dog must have decided that music in Uncharted didn’t require further elaboration. Unfortunately, the use of the old material wasn’t of benefit to the game: the music quotes the first part and can’t enhance the atmosphere of the game with new colors. And this should be the point when creating the music for video games, as many believe. The music should have practical significance, i.e. not to distract the player’s attention and help to feel deeply the certain moments of the game as possible. Whether you agree with this statement or not is up to you, however, from this viewpoint on a scale of 1-10 the work on this very soundtrack deserves a 10.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the latest adventure outing for this exciting franchise for PlayStation 3. It is already garnering many accolades for its design and gameplay. The music, by returning series composer Greg Edmonson, had many heading to iTunes for downloads on its initial release. Since then, Sumthing Else Music Works made a full physical release featuring three bonus tracks and elaborate packaging. This enhanced release is reviewed here.
It's been a while since Greg Edmonson crafted such perfect scores for the short-lived Firefly series. So it was good to hear the opening strains of "Nate's Theme 2.0" and see that the composer's penchant for strong melodic content and great action music is still so engaging. There are some intriguing electric violin melodic ideas that are somehow blended with a vocalist to create almost a totally new instrumental sound. This time he is even able to offer a fuller orchestral backdrop to his writing.
Ethnic instrumental combinations, reminiscent of the blends the composer used in the aforementioned score, are also a highlight of this score as well. "Breaking and Entering" is an especially great example of this and stands among the finest of the Uncharted series' cues. "Desperate Times" meanwhile features one of the more heartbreakingly beautiful melodic settings and shifts into an intriguing semi-Middle Eastern sound towards its final bars.
But it is the superb action music support that Edmonson provides that will make listening to, and playing, Uncharted 2 an exhilarating experience. The variety of how the various thematic threads appear help keep the music itself from losing steam and there is less electronic and design elements in the music also allowing specific instrumental colors to show through. "Bustlin' Chops" and "Warzone" are among the finest examples of such orchestral action cues with their brassy leads and percussive drive.
Fans of the Firefly scores will hear plenty of close musical cousins in this music that can be big and ballsy and instantly shift into intimate folk-like musical sounds. The soulful erhu solos add a haunting quality that plays well against the unsettling minor mode melodic ideas that often feel bittersweet. Some intriguing percussion and other effects in "Broken Paradise" create just enough of an unsettled feeling and begin several minutes of music that continues to grow in intensity. The main musical experience is concludes with an urban mix of musical ideas, "The Road to Shambhala" by Carmen Rizzo.
However, the Sumthing Else release also features three bonus tracks, all of which continue to impress. "Take That!" and "Tunnel Vision" offer some of the most impacting action cues on the score with their formidable brass and racing percussion. "The Heist" also offers a unique experience with its blend of soaring strings and ambient ethnic elements. Although detached from the full soundtrack experience, all three offer something remarkable to the soundtrack and excel on both a contextual and stand-alone level.
It still boggles the mind that some of our best action scores are being written for video games, but as long as the music is available to track down lovers of this sort of music will have plenty to enjoy. This superb release is easily one of the better game scores of the year and certainly deserves its recent award accolades. It's well worth purchasing and the Sumthing Else release is the one to go for — both for the excellent bonus tracks and the experience of being able to hold a physical copy in one's hands.