Their is an astounding sense of authenticity in Rockstar’s RDR2. The game opens up in front us a world that feels concentrated, real and believable, creating a landscape that’s lived in by its people, history and politics.
It’s ambitious, diverse and grounded, matching RDR2’s ever somber atmosphere.
It’s quite an achievement for the overwhelming length of this game, and even more so by marrying (anti-)western tropes with grounded tone of the story and setting. Quite a change for tone, especially noticeable in the game’s score, composed by Woody Jackson and other gifted musicians from all over the world (Senyawa, Stetson, Batkovic, Arca and others).
RDR2’s music, despite a 70-minute score album, takes up much more running time than a LP. Even though the album contains some of the most memorable pieces from the game, way more music was done for the game, including in-game songs or background music which play out in random moments. Adding this to quite a vast array of styles featured in the score, we have ourselves a soundtrack that’s really tough to close up in a sentence or two. And even though most of the score is grounded in the time period and genre, it changes throughout the game when story twists and turns, especially in the epilogue.
The spaghetti western bravado and romanticized Wild West are non-existent on the score for the most part, similarly to the main narrative. The moments you’d expect in RDR game are still there and you can hear Ennio Morricone electric guitars or whistles in some tracks (Outlaws from the West, Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern, The Fine Art of Conversation, Mrs. Sadie Adler, Widow), but they are reserved for the most prominent story (shootout) sequences at the end of chapters (when RDR2 treats its characters as actual fabled outlaws working as a gang against the unjust).
Such pieces play out to our joy, but when the dust falls down, the music comes back to atmospherics and creating a foreboding atmosphere of sadness and struggle in the American frontier. Icarus and Friends, The Wheel, Fleeting Joy present reality way more demanding, harrowing and hopeless using hauntingly sad and dramatic string melodies. Some of them go a step further, creating a very local, folk-like mood with vocal work (Welcome to the New World), further submerging us in the frontier reality.
Well-designed musical experience deeply rooted in the game’s ideas.
Among guitars, cellos, whistling, trumpets or accordion played with craft and talent, the game uses electronics and ambient sparingly, either to disturb the peace in Doctor’s Opinion or set the mood for the story in By 1899, The Age of Outlaws and Gunslingers Was at an End, occasionally appearing in other moments. Background music, which plays out occasionally during rides through the wilderness, consists mainly of solo instruments plucking and humming behind other sounds, realising its purpose in remarkable way, subtly accentuating the mood without throwing itself at the player.
With that said, the music implementation is superb as well and the pacing of the tracks throughout each segment of each mission is notable. The music builds tension with solo instruments and/or a very simple tune looping slowly, to later build upon it as the mission goes on. It gave some of them a very distinct feel without repeating the same track over and over.
The finale of the score and game features easily recognizable tunes from the first game, hinting at RDR1 famous theme in the epilogue numerous times and fully realizing it in the last mission of the game, blasting the guitars and trumpets with sheer tenacity. With the narrative context behind it, American Venom is among the best musical moments in videogames of recent memory, closing the story and setting up RDR1 in the best possible way.
Some could also add to those by pointing out songs produced especially for the game. Some are joyful as they can get, some really sad, but I don’t think I will be alone in favouring That’s the Way It Is by Daniel Lanois, an end-time, sentimental piece that completely shifts the tone in the game, allowing to contemplate on the massive journey that RDR2 is. Lanois produced the album and composed a half of the songs on the album with the rest being done by other prominent artists.
It’s quite astonishing to think that way over a hundred musicians, soloists, producers, composers and others took a part in making RDR2 music. They all created a soundscape musically and stylistically so diverse, that it matches the scope of the game, which in terms RDR2 is an achievement worthy of all praise. The score album is ambitious, diverse and grounded, living up to all opinions noticing RDR2’s art and story it tells, while matching its ever somber atmosphere.
The score album is ambitious, diverse and grounded, living up to all opinions noticing RDR2’s art and story.
The song album is going along the same path and allows some respite in the presence of more light-hearted pieces, which are not devoid of RDR2’s grim undertones, ultimately making the entirety of RDR2’s music a mature and well-crafted experience deeply rooted in the game’s tone and ideas.