Kotaku's "Best Game Music of 2011" is a multi-part series in which we'll be discussing the best video game soundtracks of the year. Today, we'll take a look at the New Orleans-tinged superhero music of Sucker Punch's inFamous 2.
Sucker Punch made a very interesting, very good choice in choosing to set their follow up to inFamous in a fictional recreation of post-disaster New Orleans. The first game had a lot going for it — I've always thought it was underrated — but, its setting was not one of them. Our own Evan Narcisse has described inFamous as the "first post-Katrina video game," and I think he's right — so it made sense that Sucker Punch would take the logical leap and set the sequel down in their version of The Big Easy, a town called New Marais.
But if you're gonna do New Orleans, you gotta do New Orleans music. It's a whole other can of worms than the sort of jazz we heard in L.A. Noire, and a simple soundtrack of N'awlins R&B wouldn't cut it for an epic, cinematic superhero game.
So, Sucker Punch brought on both Stanton Moore and Brian "Brain" Mantia, drummers from the New Orleans funk band Galactic, to infuse the soundtrack with some soul and authenticity. Back when I was at Paste, I spent a lot of time talking with the folks at Sucker Punch, both about their choice of setting and running a big interview with Moore about the soundtrack.
But even after all that, I wasn't quite sold — New Orleans authenticity is a damned hard thing to recreate (just ask David Simon, who has put an insane amount of work into keeping his excellent HBO show Treme true to life). Fortunately, once I played the game I was immediately won over — Moore's score is an amazing blend of New Orleans funk, second-line, and epic Batman-esque hero music. Any way you slice it, it's a remarkable soundtrack, and I personally think that it's much more creative and interesting that the more bombastic (and still very good) score for Batman: Arkham City.
Here are three of my favourite tracks:
This track captures the similar sort of driving, heroic chords we'd expect from a superhero game, but mixes with it a ton of surprising choices. Particularly in how the strings begin to bend and twist the triumphant melody towards the end, signifying the chaos and ugliness of the conflicts to come. This kind of intense string arrangement, odd percussion, and driving beat has become emblematic of the inFamous sound, which is no small feat for a game that could have very easily had a generic soundtrack.
"7th Ward" uses Stanton Moore's second-line chops to full effect. Second line is the groove that comes in at 0:25, and while I don't claim to be an expert in New Orleans music, I am an expert in "things that make me want to get up and dance." And for all the darkness in the strings and melody, this tune makes me want to do a wicked jig. The instrumentation, again, is creative as hell — muted trumpets, weird-ass string sound effects, hand drums, sampled/distorted drums, and electronic effects all merge together to create an unsettlingly groovy track.
It's easy to forget that in addition to being a superhero game, inFamous 2 is a bit of a horror game — it's got creepy bayous full of bloodthirsty mutants, huge, building-crushing beasts, and a general air of southern-fried monster mash. This track shows the composers' flexibility once more, as they immediately grab the string-stingers of the best horror movies and repurpose them into a driving chase anthem. It's equal parts Arkham City and Dead Space 2, and all the more remarkable that its cohesive. A terrific piece of superhero music, here, and a fine example of everything that made the inFamous 2 soundtrack so remarkable.
And that's inFamous 2! Outstanding soundtrack for a fun, somewhat overlooked gem of a game. The soundtrack can be purchased through Amazon and comes in two versions: Blue for and Red, depending on the alignment of the music. We'll return tomorrow with yet another of the best video game soundtracks of 2011.