In an interview with G4TV, Mass Effect 2 lead composer Jack Wall stated the following in regards to how much of the game's music would end up on the soundtrack release: "We didn't want to throw everything in as motifs repeat and the edits I did for each theme represent my take on the essence of those themes. There is actually a LOT more music in the game, but I'm not sure how interesting they are outside the game itself." Despite Wall's efforts, Mass Effect 2's two-hour soundtrack release suffered from an over abundance of repetitive action material and anonymous underscore that tended to bury the truly engaging portions of the compositions.
Eight months after the release of Mass Effect 2, Electronic Arts went ahead and released Mass Effect 2 Atmospheric Additional Videogame Score in September 2010. However, instead of including material from the game's DLC, or releasing the whole hour's worth of Mass Effect 2 material that didn't make it on the initial score album, EA only packed a slim twenty minutes of atmospheric underscore on the digital release. Considering this and Wall's above statement about how interesting or not the previously unreleased Mass Effect 2 music might be, one might suspect this new release to be a mere cash-in. Does the release do enough to dissolve this initial impression?
How necessary is the Mass Effect 2 Atmospheric Additional Videogame Score? Well, to put it bluntly: the last adjective that comes to mind when listening to this soundtrack is 'essential'. Not surprisingly, most of the time the score eschews Mass Effect 2's propulsive action elements and instead focuses on layers of synth washes, which are occasionally complemented by orchestral elements. As on Mass Effect 2, both electronic and orchestral sounds are brought together in a very wet, sometimes almost muddy mix. Another hallmark of Mass Effect 2's score makes its return: the solo cello, although it doesn't get to perform any of the thematic material that it presented on the original album. However, more disappointing than this missed opportunity to create thematic coherency is the fact that the solo cello hardly get to add anything to the compositions that include it. "Facial Reconstruction" resurrects elements already prominent on the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack: Philip Glass-like string ostinati, swelling brass chords and simple synth motifs that are repeated ad nauseatum. And when the solo cello is added, it's in no way integrated into the cue's structure, but simply plays single, sustained notes in its lowest register. During its brief appearance on "Charges Of Treason", the cello's contributions blur into the overall soundscape, due to the aforementioned wet acoustics. The effect is that the instrument becomes a mere textural addition. At least, the relatively harmonious and soothing synths of "Charge of Treason", laid over a pulsating electronic beat, make the composition pleasing easy listening music.
The majority of tracks on the additional score are plagued by somewhat predictable problems: an utter lack of development, and an over reliance on a wall of spacious synth layers that are supposed to be atmospheric, but end up being mostly bland. "What the Future Holds" and "Negotiating With Miranda" evoke a sense of the expansiveness of outer space through their echoing, resonant synth pads. But once this initial atmosphere is established, both compositions fail to do anything with it and remain disappointingly static. "What The Future Holds" at least changes its textures to a degree during its running time to take on a more ominous mood, but still fails to conjure a compelling mood. "Shuttle Ride" falls into the same trap when after its opening, standard sci-fi brass figures, the track lazily and almost exclusively relies on a bed of harmonious deep strings, over which single synth elements appear and disappear without making any impact. "Finding Archangel" and "Chatting With Mordin" slightly improve on this with more successful attempts at evoking a particular atmosphere. "Chatting With Mordin" simply regurgitates the chilly, forlorn Blade Runner-esque mood that had dominated the first half of "Mordin" on Mass Effect 2, but while hardly original, the cue is certainly less humdrum than "Shuttle Ride" and "Negotiating With Miranda". "Finding Archangel" initially puts greater focus on orchestral elements through some minor key string melodies. Once the strings subside though, the track goes back to the familiar mix of layered electronic textures with the occasional synth noise or sound effect on top. The synth pads nicely hold the balance between subdued sadness and menace, but nevertheless don't generate much interest.
Fortunately, the two longest tracks are also the best cues and the only reason to get this release (of course, you might also just download these two single tracks alone). As on Mass Effect 2's soundtrack, the character of Samara seems to have inspired the composers the most. "Samara" was Mass Effect 2's stand out track, and "Finding Samara" does the same for this album. Its opening synth backdrop is denser and more colourful than almost any of the musical textures dished up by other tracks. The resulting brooding atmosphere still hints at powers waiting to be unleashed, and at 1:45, an energising electronic beat kicks in, adorned with a gritty, yet spacious synth accompaniment. The sudden breakdown at 2:50 is momentarily irritating and reminiscent of those less than subtle segues within tracks on Mass Effect 2. But the pulse-pumping section that builds from there compensates for this shortcoming. "Pure Krogan" offers an even greater degree of satisfying development. The track organically develops from an oppressive beginning full of bulky synth pads at 1:00 into a lighter section. During this stretch, the spacy, intricately layered synths are imaginatively complemented with an insisting deep string pulse that adds both a welcome sense of forward motion and slightly out-of-the-norm musical colours. The track finishes with a more relaxed section that suggests grandeur when its ethereal synths build towards the composition's finish.
Despite two tracks that are engaging and offer a range of atmospheric textures and even some rousing action material, the Mass Effect 2 Atmospheric Additional Videogame Score comes across as an exercise in franchise-milking. Most of the material on this release qualifies as bland underscore which ranges in quality from uninspired to merely passable. "Finding Samara" and "Pure Krogan" would have been worthy additions to the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack album, but the other tracks never warrant being collected and released on a commercial album. Electronic Arts' tendency to squeeze as much money out of its titles as humanly possible is well known, but in the case of Mass Effect 2's music, the result is particularly tragic. A single, one-hour score release would have resulted in a strong musical representation of what Mass Effect 2 has to offer, but instead, what we get is an overblown initial release, followed by a needless additional album. And I doubt anybody would be surprised if more EP length releases with previously unreleased Mass Effect 2 material were to follow. In short, the Mass Effect 2 Atmospheric Additional Videogame Score is not a complete musical failure, but the release politics behind it warrant a downgrade in the final verdict. Strictly for completionists.