Selene – the most lonely astronaut in the universe. Her spaceship – crashed. There’s Atropos behind the window. The alien planet that overgrows old civilisation’s buildings. It embraces everything with the wild nature’s arms. How to escape from here?

Which cycle is this one?

Selene runs into this world’s throat and it swallows her. She finds the body of another astronaut, but… it’s her own body. She’s already died here. A few minutes later she dies, indeed. She wakes up. Selene – the most lonely astronaut in the universe. Her spaceship – crashed. Which cycle is this one? Atropos, in Greek mythology, was also a name of one of the Three Fates. Her task was to end the lives of mortals.

In Returnal we only take a deep breath at the beginning. The farther into Atropos, the thicker and tighter there is. It’s more difficult to catch a breath. The best option is to hold it. Then we die. And wake up again – we take a deep breath. And again – thicker and tighter. It’s a subcutaneous feeling of constant disorientation that we may know from horror films.

Drones and ambient music in horror games

That’s why Bobby Krlic is here with us. The author of the soundtrack to Ari Aster’s Midsommar. In 2020 it brought him the Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Score. When it comes to video games – he collaborated with Swans for Red Dead Redemption 2. Impressive selection. So here we are – in the Returnal’s time loop. Dying and awakening. What can one expect from music for a roguelike game? Well, being in a loop. Holding on to a leitmotif that weaves in and out and is dressed differently each time, like in Arkan Lyon’s game Deathloop. Which is not bad, but this is not what Bobby did. He did something unexpected and more lovecraftian.

Returnal shakes like a gamepad held in hands. Massive vibrating tones and bended electronic sounds. The synths flow through space and time. And then – all of a sudden – white noise explodes. And a voice clings on to raging radio waves that we try to catch for a moment (Citadel). The other time there are layers of sound. And suddenly a rhythmic pulse, like an echocardiogram, cuts into them (A Mysterious Device). Krlic doesn’t separate melodies and textures from static sounds and monologues.  Everything is music. Because music is emotions. Emotions are vibrations. And a vibration is each and every singular sound – melodic or not.

What does it do to the soundtrack? It’s more… authentic with it. With each loop Selene not only repeats things. She’s more and more lost – both on the planet and in her mind. Is she getting insane? Or is she insane already? Is it even real or is it her mind filling the gaps? At the same time she’s more and more desperate to break the loop. Like Bobby said in one of his interviews – there’s a constant fight between Selene and the planet. Two living organisms. Enemies depended on each other. They both push and pull, push and pull. The more dare Selene is, the more frantic the world around her becomes.

Lovecraft’s atmosphere? So much. 

Krlic captures it like he was there. His music fills gaps and digs holes. Flows gently and then furiously. Sci-fi sounds? Yes. Horror vibes? Hell yeah. Lovecraft’s atmosphere? So much. The soundtrack has many fans around the world already. The original album had only 9 tracks, but worry not – there’s vol 2 with most of the songs we can hear in Returnal.

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Maciej Baska

In the games he happens to stand around at a random location only because there is a great music. For over a decade he's composed, written, recorded and mixed.