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Call of Duty: World at War
by Sean Murray

Call of Duty: World at War

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Call of Duty: World at War (Soundtrack) by Sean Murray  

Call of Duty: World at War
Composed by Sean Murray
Promo (2008)

Rating: 6/10

 

5 Full Tracks.  Used by Permission

 

“CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR, while it may not be the most "authentic" OR "romantic" musical experience for a World War II shooter, it certainly is an effective one. ”

Modern World War Two Fare
Review by Christopher Coleman

Composer Sean Murray

"We knew we were going to have to stay within the expectation of Call of Duty (that we needed to have some big bold, orchestra), but there wasn't anyone telling me that I couldn't throw a big, fat, oberheim synth underneath it!"

Sean Murray


Read the full interview with Sean Murray

There could hardly have been more pressure on the next game of the CALL OF DUTY franchise. CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE boldly took the franchise in a new direction with it's engrossing storytelling and new game features. It garnered the praise of critics and gobbled countless hours of addicts (myself included). As successful as MODERN WARFARE was, initial reaction to the announcement of next CALL OF DUTY game was mixed at best. First, the announcement that TREYARCH would assuming the development responsibilities caused concern in some, as CALL OF DUTY 3 didn't meet their expectations. (I personally sank more hours in COD3 multiplayer than any other multiplayer game on the Xbox 360 to date). Second, there was a dull groan that echoed through cyberspace as it was also announced that this next game would be returning to World War II era.  Third, not only would this be a WWII FPS, but it would encompass the Pacific Theater, which historically has proven to make for far less successful games than their European theatre counterparts. Still, the question that plagued my mind right up until the launch of the demo was, "Who is going to be scoring this thing? Whoever it is, they have one heckofajob ahead them."

Most reading this review will know that it was MICHAEL GIACCHINO who helped to launch the CALL OF DUTY franchise way back in 2003. The franchise went on to have other notable composers like: GRAEME REVELL, JOEL GOLDSMITH and HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS, score subsequent games of the franchise. That's a pretty rich line up - one not so easy to follow either. The key to the musical direction for CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR would be Treyarch's choice of just what type of game they would be putting out. A return to the Call of Duty 2 or 3 style or something new? As it turns out, composer SEAN MURRAY got the scoring gig. SEAN MURRAY has delivered a few games for Activision in the past such titles as TRUE CRIMES: NEW YORK CITY and TRUE CRIMES: STREETS OF L.A.

Despite the fears of so many, CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR is being touted as a success. Interestingly (and wisely), Treyarch decided to build on the many successes of CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE, at least in terms of the style of gameplay, story development, achievements and multiplayer features. In fact, some would say that they actually improved on some of the very things that made MODERN WARFARE such a hit! Rather than roaming the deserts of the Middle East as a US Marine or the much colder environments of Europe and Asia as member of the British SAS, this time you suit up as a private in the US Marines hopping from one, hot, Pacific island to another, fighting off the desperate and lethal Japanese army. In that wonderful contrast that Call of Duty is famous for, you alternatively play another private, but this time in the Red Army - poised to take Berlin. Like its predecessor, CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR is an entrancing experience. Moving from mission to mission is wonderfully addicting; however, the in-your-face-brutality of World War II, guerrilla-warfare is much more sobering than the cold and, many times, distant fighting of our stealthily-evovled modern wars. So WORLD AT WAR combines the best of both worlds: the classic WWII FPS gaming experience and the game play features of Modern Warfare.  And backing all of it is SEAN MURRAY's score.

WORLD AT WAR ranges from the triumphant, heroic sort of fare that we've all come to expect from a WWII game to indigenous sounds of both Japan and Russia. Most surprisingly though, SEAN MURRAY introduces a clear, contemporary edge to this game's score. He certainly delivers the expected heroic patriotism in tracks like "US Campaign" (1) and "Opening" (5). We hear Goldsmith-like brass fanfares and strings help the player to stiffen and straighten their backbone like a flagpole holding the stars and stripes aloft for all to see. Still, your heroic deeds of the battlefield aren't exactly taking place in cornfield of Nebraska and Murray's score reflects this. Fighting through the unforgiving landscapes of Pacific Islands like: Makin, Peleliu and Okinawa, we find two musical staples of Japan: the intimidating taiko drum and also the ghost-like, shakuhachi. The combination of these two, iconic, Japanese instruments juxtaposed against the familiar elements of Americana makes for a visceral musical experience, which mirrors the ebbs and flows of these bloody skirmishes. Early on, Murray establishes a several motifs - the boldest are heard the least often. In "Opening" and "Trenches Long" we find a declamatory, 4-note, brass motif that proves to be the main thematic connection of the entire score. Long after the islands of the Pacific have been won, and into the battle of Berlin, Murray resurrects the 4-note motif in "Bold Men" (26) - musically connecting these two theatres of battle. Another notable, musical segment can be heard in the Peleliu missions and also while flying the PBY Catalina missions which follow. Upon reaching the Peleliu missions, Murray establishes a pulsing, string segment which is mindful of John Powell's recognizable musical-mark from The Bourne series. In tracks like "Peleliu 1A Load Jungle Push" (9), "Air Addicts" (10) or "PBY Wild Card" (16), we hear this idea undergirded with both acoustic and synthesized percussion, which greatly bolsters the amount of tension and urgency of the moment.

As the Call of Duty series is known for, the player proceeds through the game in a non-linear fashion - jumping back and forth between at least two main characters who are active in very different environments. Players of the game are aided in the transition from the Pacific theatre to the Russian/German campaign and back again via Murray's score. Waking up in the cold defeat of Stalingrad, the hot, tropical jungles of the Pacific are quickly made a memory and musically we are moved away from the pounding taikos and shakuhachis and to Russian musical standards instead. The full orchestra is back in full-force, but now accompanied by a bold choir. In "Russians" (31) we get one of our strongest tastes of Murray's Soviet flavor. Listening to this dance between brass, snare drums, low, male chorus and slightly brighter female chorus, it's almost impossible not to have thoughts of the famous, Polyushko Pole (Meadowlands). As you battle your way from the frozen lands of south-western Russia into the heart of the German empire, Murray recalls the male and female choruses and layers in the occasional balalaika and bell toll; making sure your locale is not completely forgotten.

The final ingredient of the CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR original score is what truly sets it apart from all other games of the sub-genre. With the standard, heroic elements and cultural elements well established, there is one more layer that takes the score in a unique direction. While the 100 piece orchestra and choir in Prague provide a solid performance, there is an important element of this score that couldn't be provided by them. SEAN MURRAY mentions in our interview with him that the decision was made to take the music from being tonal and thematic at the onset of missions, down to atonal and dissonance towards the completion of those missions. This is more than just an interesting choice. It's an effective one. Murray has the music reflect the inner or psychological turmoil the player would likely be experiencing in such harrowing situations. This opens the door for him to employ his modern, electronic toolset. Numerous synthesized elements creep along side (or sometimes blast there way over the top of) variations of ideas established earlier. During these frenetic moments of gameplay, it's unlikely this unconventional mix will even be perceived. One of the most poignant examples of this can be heard in the track "Hell's Gate GTR" (28), where they player has descended into the dark-heart of battle. Sonically, the player is aptly surrounded by a dark ambient mixture of strings, low frequency bass, harmonics and textures that are ghost-like shrieks and moans -certainly something that was never heard over the 1940's airwaves. This was an inventive and brave move to have the music reflect the "world at war" WITHIN the soldier/player, over the large-scale, outter war in which he is taking part.

CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR, while it may not be the most "authentic" or "romantic" musical experience for a World War II shooter, it certainly is an effective one. Within the context of the gameplay, we are allowed to feel the "duty to country," loyalty to fellow soldiers (or comrades as it were), the threat of an unseen, determined enemy or the psychological breakdown of a soldier in swimming in the midst of war's great horrors. Not surprisingly, this is wear SEAN MURRAY's score operates best.  In its native context, the score could easily earn an 8/10.  As a stand-alone listening experience, the music suffers.  Without the frenetic or atmospheric gameplay, the music is simply harder to connect to than music written for some of the competing franchises or even its own forerunners in the genre.  Still, it must be said, that the music of WORLD AT WAR is an evolutionary step that was almost a must for the survival of the WWII shooter.  Adding this contemporary edge via the example of MODERN WARFARE and by SEAN MURRAY's eclectic score, WORLD AT WAR has shown that this sub-genre of game still has much life left in it. 


Brotherhood of Duty:  The Music of Brothers in Arms and Call of Duty: World at WarRating: 6/10

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Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 US Campaign 1:30  ***
2 Making Load Wasabe 0:44  ***
3 Torture 1:32  **
4 Peleliu 1 Load Fly High 0:34  ***
5 Opening 1:53  ***
6 Trenches Long 4:27  ***
7 Rocket 1:12  **
8 Peleliu 1A Load Jungle Push 0:31  ***
9 Peleliu 1B Load Wild Card 0:38  ***
10 Air Addicts 4:20  ***
11 Peleliu 2 Load Clouds 0:39  ***
12 PBY Load Fubar 0:31  ***
13 Fubar 2:40  ***
14 Go Low 3:32  ****
15 Fly High 2:24  ***
16 PBY Wild Card 1:20  ***
17 Okinawa 2 Load Ambient Stress 0:31  **
18 Okinawa 3 Load Ambient Stress 0:38  ***
19 Roebuck's Theme 1:52  ****
20 Guerilla 2:47  ***
21 Berlin 1 Load Battle Pulse V2 0:37  ***
22 Berlin 1 Load Bold Men 0:38  ***
23 Berlin 1 Load Stag Push 0:37  ***
24 Bold Men 3:37  ***
25 Seelow Load Reich Kill 0:41  ***
26 Seelow Load Burst 0:40  **
27 Berlin 2 Load Stag Push 0:37  ***
28 Hell's Gate GTR 4:12  ***
29 Berlin 3 Load Pulse 0:56  ***
30 Berlin 3b Bold Men 0:44  ***
31 Russians 3:27  ***
32 Stag Push 4:00  ***
33 Sniper Load Hell's Gate 0:44  ***
34 Fountain 1:04  ***
35 Brave Soldat 2:47  ***
36 Dog Fire 3:23  ***
  Total Running Time (approx) 63 minutes  

 

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