While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.
Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.
Despite having come out over two decades ago, the original Command & Conquer has still long-been on the mind of many a RTS gamer. It’s a title that pushed gameplay and aesthetic boundaries. While Command & Conquer has all the ingredients to become a pillar of the gaming world, the cherry on top of it all is a hardcore, gritty soundtrack. Featuring industrial themes with heavy ’80s-influenced melodies, C&C’s musical themes gave life to the title. Imagine my surprise when I find out Command & Conquer Remastered went full throttle with a complete re-recording of the first two titles’ soundtrack. Yes, Comrade Frank Klepacki & The Tiberian Sons were back again to deliver their signature sound with remastered tracks. In a remaster, often the hardcore fans may worry about a lost translation from the original. Yes, there are changes made to the tracks — but these changes don’t compromise the integrity of what we love about the series. Instead, the tracks are refined for an updated sound in a new generation. It’s also a more mature sound to compliment the title’s age. And while some tracks do sound different from their original counterparts, the entire remastered OST honors the identity of Command & Conquer.
There are great tracks among these two Command & Conquer titles, but it’s almost necessary for me to start with Red Alert’s opening theme: “Hell March” (1:03:46). To this day, decades later, this specific track is synonymous with the franchise. It is C&C in a sense with its musical storytelling. It’s hard-edged and perfectly matches the opening cutscene in tone and sci-fi war themes. It’s also a theme song that was masterfully composed to embody both sides of the C&C coin. Since the beginning, there’s always been the struggle between the Brotherhood of Kane and the Allies — it’s an alternate universe WWII scenario. Yet as opposite as these two sides are, they truly share a common belief: the industrialization of war as a mean to victory over the other. This industrial theme can be heard throughout all tracks, but especially this one. This track is so C&C that they just kept modifying it for sequel Red Alert titles. To hear this title remastered brings it to a new life. The remastered version naturally sounds clearer, but there’s also a distinct lack of “tinniness” that could be heard in the original. This tweak in sound quality does make a difference in the theme’s tone. Even the marching sound effects in the beginning of the track are more pronounced and deliver better flavor to the intro.
We continue to get a taste of the heavy industrial themes to come in future Command&Conquer installments is in Red Alert. “Grinder 1&2” (two themes put together for the Remastered Collection at 50:21) was one of my ultimate jams back in the day. It was heavy and gritty with a truly industrial feel. I say “was” because it’s heavy and epic — it just lacks grit in its remaster. This is not necessarily a bad thing — instead we are treated to a sound quality that actually allows us to hear the various instrumental levels within the track. We can hear updated voice-over samples with more clarity with updated acoustic sounds. We see some brass instruments opted out for more synth sounds and percussion. It’s a different take on the classic theme, but equally strong in representing the title’s identity.
Okay, I know I’m over here waving the Red Alert flag — can you blame me? It changed the series forever because of its explosive music, campaign and controls. We wouldn’t have seen the evolution of C&C’s OST, however, without these industrial themes coming to fruition in the original title. Command & Conquer’s “No Mercy” (41:54) theme was a staple of the original. The original track was a gritty synth-laden industrial anthem that was very reminiscent of 80s action titles. Sampling voice-overs helped give that arcade feeling to bring the title into the sci-fi fantasy. The remastered track has clearer vocals that give it a fresh sound to bring it into a new generation of gaming. Again, we can hear a replacement of certain synths and vocals that gave the 1995 version closer musical ties with the previous decade. These updates to the sound do give the track a more modern feel without erasing its roots.
It’s natural to long for the familiar nostalgia from favorite pastimes. Command & Conquer Remastered’s OST elevates old-school sounds to stay relevant. While remastering an entire soundtrack may also mean slight changes, this OST stays true to the things we love about Command & Conquer. From industrial themes to electronic samples, this OST was originally composed to push gaming music boundaries. Even with slight changes, it’s a soundtrack that was already ahead of its time. The fresh sound we hear now fits more contemporary standards of gaming music. The entire soundtrack is still worth revisiting outside of playing the game and continues to be a masterwork of video game music.
To delve deeper into the sound of gaming, read our complete Checking the Score series here.