Few developers in the gaming industry know how to portray an era like Rockstar. Looking back through their catalog of games, their consistent ability to put players in a given time period is undeniable, thanks largely to the outstanding and well-produced soundtracks.
Given the high expectations fans have for their soundtracks, Rockstar took it to the next level when developing Red Dead Redemption. This meant creating an authentic wild west-style score that still fit in a video game world. The result is a game whose stunning images and powerful emotions were conveyed by an outstanding soundtrack that will likely be remembered for years to come.
Before we get into some of the highlights of the soundtrack, take a look at this rare, in-depth look at the care and attention to detail that went into RDR‘s soundtrack. It really gives people an idea of how serious Rockstar is about their game scores.
As the video explains, by recording all of the music at 130 BPM in A minor, the game is able to loop and layer music on the fly depending on what the player is doing. This technique quietly creates some of the best, immersive and dynamic music in a video game. It also manages to avoid something that many modern video game scores fall trap to – boring, mundane ambient music.
Since most game music has to be written in consideration that players will be spending a long time in any given area, it can’t be too catchy or repetitive. Instead, a lot of games rely on atmospheric melodies and tones to convey a feeling or emotion rather than looping a musical track so it doesn’t become annoying to the people playing the game. However, RDR fixes this problem and features different types of ambient music throughout the game depending on the area, time of day and what the player is doing. The music played in the Tall Trees areas in a great example of this.
“Far Away” by Jose Gonzalez is a great song in its own right, and starts playing at a pivotal moment in the game’s storyline. It’s also one of the few songs on the soundtrack that has lyrics and features a recording artist. The dusty, mysterious guitar compliments Gonzalez’s great voice and lyrics to form one fantastic Western song, and another perfect example how RDR‘s music comes together to compliment the themes of the game.
“The Shootist” touches upon many different musical styles and influences, and also comes pretty close anything related to a “main theme” for RDR. From the very beginning with that icon Western whistle, the loud guitar “twaaaannng” noise followed by a rolling harmonica, it’s clear this is a quintessential Western-themed song. At 2:50 the brass fanfare kicks in, sounding more like a rally song for the Mexican Army rather than a video game score. It’s great stuff that shows sincere passion and attention to detail for the material. Then again, this is Rockstar’s pedigree.
This final track, titled “Dead End Alley”, is perfect summation of RDR‘s characters and story. The are plenty of other songs about love, heroism and victory, but none hit with same impact as this one. It’s a sad song, but RDR is ultimately a sad game. Like the era it portrays, life in RDR is often short and brutal, and death comes without pity. “Dead End Ally” seems to fit this theme perfectly, and rounds out a stunning soundtrack to a memorable game.