Music to My Ears: Tomb Raider

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Hey everyone! I figured I’d follow-up my previous Tomb Raider post with something a little bit different from my usual. Sure this might be a gaming and sports website, but that doesn’t mean we’re all a bunch of uneducated slobs! In fact, some of us like to stay classy and appreciate some of the finer things in life; like some damn good music! Which brings us to today’s post… the musical score of Crystal Dynamic’s new Tomb Raider game. “Music to My Ears” is usually Chris’s thing, but I decided to steal it for this week. I’ll give it back, no worries.

While the games Chris has covered so far have all had fantastic music, the one thing he’s missing from his list is a game that uses more “traditional” orchestrated movements. Lost Odyssey and Kingdom Hearts are close, but (at least to me) they both still sounds rather “video-gamey”. That isn’t a bad thing, oh no, I myself love me some Zelda and Mario music (Luigi’s Mansion, in particular); but I believe in giving credit where it’s due! It takes just as much work and talent to create a memorable 12 second tune that people will remember forever as it does to compose a layered and fluid musical score that provides atmosphere without overshadowing the actions of the player/main character. Some might even say more.

In this particular case the man with the talent is one Jason Graves. You probably don’t recognize him by name, but he’s been behind the music of quite a few games; including the Dead Space series. So he knows his way around an atmospheric and emotionally compelling track. His inspiration? Classical composers, as well as opera and ballet; two mediums that often tell a whole story through nothing but music or song. He’s also a big fan of what I like to call the “theme” approach. Which is to say, he believes in developing a theme and using it to add a central element to the score. It’s a trick John Williams like to use, which is why the Darth Vader gets his own march and Indiana Jones can ride into the sunset in style. And while Lara Croft has had many theme’s over the years, with the new game and direction the studio was taking the franchise they wanted a new theme as well. One that drives and flows through the soundtrack of Tomb Raider at every layer; and shows considerable flexibility as a theme capable of conveying both intense, heroic action and tension as it does soft and emotional calm.

It should also be noted that Jason had a neighbor (who makes metal artwork) craft him a unique instrument for the game. No, seriously. A guy made an instrument for the Tomb Raider soundtrack! Don’t believe me? Well maybe you’ll believe Zachery Levi…

See? Told ya. Now… on to the music! This is by no means all of it, but it’s certainly some of the best!

[WARNING: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for some of the locations in the game, as well as the context surrounding them. Some of the links contain HEAVY SPOILERS, so don’t go clicking willy-nilly on the hyper-links like an animal!]

The Scavenger’s Den

That “first part of the game” Jason mentions in the above video? That’s this track, The Scavenger’s Den. And in the course of 3 minutes and 46 seconds it completely sums up not only what’s unique about the Tomb Raider soundtrack, but what’s important as well. There’s mood, atmosphere… a dark and brooding tension that grows and grows until finally, and thankfully, we are treated to Lara’s theme. Beautifully played out for us on a piano.  It’s haunting, it’s unique, it’s beautiful… it’s Tomb Raider.

Reaching Roth

Next up is Reaching Roth. This track is important because it not only demonstrates the range of Lara’s theme, but also because it represents one of the more common and serene parts of the game; sitting at your base camp. The 2:00 – 2:35 is what players are greeted to when Lara finally gets a chance to sit down and catch her breath. It perfectly blends Lara’s theme into a moving and calming moment that manages to capture the quiet beauty of sitting around a campfire on a mysterious island and finally having a chance to put your thoughts together.

A Call For Help

This track is perhaps my personal favorite. Once again, listen for that theme! We go from pulse pounding drums and action to a another serene melody, and then into the slowly building heroic theme that (by this point I hope) you’ve come to love. To give you some context for this particular track, Lara is battling her way to a radio tower and has a run in with the games first “boss” before scaling the tower and attempting to call for help. This is no meager climb BTW, as the radio tower is not only quite tall, but located on the top of a mountain. It’s this mix of thematic tones: action, exploration and scenery; that all blend together perfectly to create what I would argue is the best song on the soundtrack.

Entering Himiko’s Tomb

This track is, in essence  the “raiding a tomb” track. And I say that not just because of the slower and mysterious nature of the melody used in the track, but because that opening musical que (7 seconds in) is what plays when you enter a Tomb. It’s the Tomb Raider equivalent of the “discovery” sound effect that plays in Zelda when you open in a new passage in a dungeon. If you had to describe, in music, what exploring a tomb and the potential mysteries/dangerous of that entails; this is the song you’d use.

Paying Respects

Now this here is what I like to consider a “super” track, much like A Call For Help. From drum pounding action and low swinging tension to quiet reverence, Paying Respects is (in essence)  the song that defines the growth that Lara’s character goes through during the course of the game. Any truly great hero’s journey comes with some form of tragedy, nothing can grow in a vacuum after all; and Paying Respects is the song that helps define that tragedy. It (along with Reaching Roth) is also used during Lara’s downtime while writing in her journal at camp.

Scaling The Ziggurat

Now with this last track we’ll diving into Tomb Raider’s finale. So consider it a musical spoiler. Being part of the finale and all, this track is, obviously, going to build and build. Tension, adventure, and epic-ness more or less define Scaling The Ziggurat. This particular track is the “movement” section of the game’s finale; where players find Lara using just about every trick she’s learned so far to reach the “final level”. The transition from pounding drums and tension to heroic theme at 2:47 is perhaps my favorite part, and audibly stood out to me while playing the game; making me feel sufficiently awesome.

A Survivor Is Born

For those of you who didn’t see the promos for Tomb Raider, the game’s tag line is “A Survivor is Born”. It’s what’s written on the Tomb Raider t-shirts at Hot Topic. We’ve heard Lara’s theme throughout the game, but this is pretty much just 3 minutes and 11 seconds of proof for just how beautiful Lara’s theme really is. If you’re not careful, you might even shed a tear… You gotta love that piano.

Music to My Ears covers soundtracks or individual songs from video games on a recurring basis, which is basically whenever Chris (or Jason!) gets around to writing it. You can view all posts in the series by clicking here.

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