In this preposterously profitable niche there also exists the Battlefield series. Perhaps less well-established than the Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, and Halo series, the award-winning Battlefield has nevertheless had a prolific history on numerous consoles, starting with 2002's Battlefield 1942 and working its way through (more or less) thirteen entries to this year's Battlefield 4. Powered by the Frostbite 3 engine, the game from DICE and EA is being marketed as a leap into the "next generation of gaming". Universally acclaimed for its stunning visual playground and technical showcase, the game has, however, received less significant praise for its uninspired campaigns, often a weakness of first-person shooters. This may yet be another indicator that people should really be looking for sheer, multiplayer mayhem in these games and, in that respect, Battlefield 4 delivers.
Its score, by returning composers Johan Skugge and Jukka Rintamaki, is unfortunately not one of the game's high points. Taking their work in Battlefield 3 to a new extreme, Skugge and Rintamaki have created a grungy, industrial, and downright punishing soundscape for Battlefield 4. In a sense, I understand where they're coming from and even why they chose such an approach. Indeed, gameplay reveals the composing duo's beats, rhythms, and electronic effects to be somewhat serviceable in context, lending a rhythm to certain situations, yet on album the score is so sparse, grating, and underdeveloped that it fails to engage on its own.
This is not to say, though, that the score is entirely absent of satisfying material. "Warsaw Theme" marks the return of the main theme in an incarnation similar to that found in Battlefield 3. It was the highlight of that score and, unsurprisingly, continues to be so for this one as well. Over repeating, Terminator-esque beats and a flurry of electronic effects, "Warsaw Theme" sports this fun tune for the franchise that reminds of classic beta videogame themes. After a dubstep-like drop at 1:15, the Battlefield theme bursts through in full force, one of the few attempts at coherent thematic writing in the score (though not, of course, belonging to these composers). If the rest of Skugge and Rintamaki's material had been in this vein, Battlefield 4 would have admittedly been a much more engaging, entertaining experience. However, even this game's main theme, entitled "Stutter (Theme from Battlefield 4)", is utterly lacking. Simply the stripped down beat of "Warsaw Theme" overlaid with abrasive feedback and static effects, "Stutter (Theme from Battlefield 4)" is entirely unmemorable and borderline aggravating. Only the beta version of this "theme", included in the novelty track "Battlefield 4 (Beta Theme)", succeeds in being more obnoxious.
The rest of the score, unsurprisingly, continues in such a muddled, unpleasant fashion. The repetitive, lumbering feedback notes of the aptly named "Oppression" are slapped atop the track's oscillating percussive effects, while "Rough Journey", "Silk Vista", "Fishing in Baku", "If Wishes Were Horses", "High Tide", "Being Irish", and "When the Dam Breaks" all employ electronic percussion to create varied rhythmic soundscapes. These tracks together amount to little more than challenging experiments in inaccessibly brutal electronics. "Alone and Abandoned" sticks out as being the more interesting apex of these experiments, a suitable piece of background music for exploring any battle-ridden environment. The more driving "Cyclone 2" also follows this example, rising slightly above the abrasive drone of the other pieces towards more standard, electronic action fare.
Tracks like "Jin Jie's Revolution" and "A Theme for Kjell" help alleviate the headache of these electronic, percussive experiments, as they explore more thematic territory. "Jin Jie's Revolution", which relies on repeating high-octave synth notes and later a heavy synth beat, still retains the harsh quality of much of the other material, while "A Theme for Kjell" sticks out much more. You've certainly heard pieces like it before, namely the adagio theme from John Murphy's Sunshine, yet it's the kind of track that always manages to please, albeit here in somewhat diminished form. Still, it is a welcome change to hear something accessible coming from this score.
I don't pretend to be ignorant of what this score is trying to accomplish. Skugge and Rintamaki are clearly attempting to usher the Battlefield series into the "next gen", delivering a work of harsh, industrial electronics unlike the typical first-person shooter. As such, this largely atonal, brutal, and downbeat, electronic score is undoubtedly not your granddad's Medal of Honor or Call of Duty. If you can stomach the heavily-processed Transformer flatulence of "Dunn's Down", then this score may be of some interest to you, yet even my Dubstep-loving compatriot winced when I played selections from Battlefield 4 aloud. While I love some of the music that has come out of this medium over the past few years, this is definitely a score best left in the game. Fans of Battlefield would likely be best off downloading the updated theme in "Warsaw Theme", the track "A Theme for Kjell", and skipping the rest.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Warsaw Theme", "A Theme for Kjell"
Label: E.A.R.S (EA TM Recordings)
Availability: 17 tracks