Halo 4 Is A Lot Better Than Its Soundtrack

Image: Microsoft / Kotaku
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today, we return to the combat-filled levels of Halo 4 for some...actually, rather forgettable music.


Controversial opinion alert: I like 2012’s Halo 4 (playlist / longplay / VGMdb), originally released back on the Xbox 360 and developed by 343 Industries. It’s good. It’s not a bona fide classic like the previously released Bungie Halo games such as Halo 2 or Reach, but it’s a solid, fun sci-fi shooter with some fantastic-feeling weapons that also sound real good. However, the music in Halo 4 is sadly just totally forgettable and bland.

Let’s take a listen:

Microsoft / Kaidon (YouTube)

Before writing this and listening to the music for the first time in a few years, I decided to try and remember any of the songs from Halo 4. This is a game I’ve beaten at least a few times since 2012. I should be able to remember some of the tunes off the soundtrack. Yet I drew a total blank. I couldn’t even whistle a bit of anything from Halo 4. When I finally played the soundtrack I was shocked by how I truly just forgot almost all of these tracks. The only one that I even slightly recognized was “117” which is probably because it was sort of used as the theme for the game and appeared in menus and ads.

Microsoft / Kaidon (YouTube)

Going back and listening to these songs, the first thing I was struck by was just how loud so many of them are. They feel big and epic, yet also bloated. It’s hard to pick out anything interesting or unique. It’s just big drums and loud noises building and building over and over again. It sounds less like a song from Halo and more like a song from a bad superhero film.

This soundtrack was composed by Neil Davidge, which at the time was a big deal. This was the first Halo game that wasn’t scored by Marty O’Donnell. He was with Halo creators Bungie, who at that point had left Microsoft and were working on a little game called Destiny. (Wonder how that turned out…) So Microsoft and 343 tapped Davidge to step into the big armored boots that O’Donnell left behind.

It was always going to be a hard thing to pull off. A new studio, a new composer, a new style of Halo. There was no way all of this was going to work, and it didn’t. Davidge’s soundtrack sounds fine, I’m sure he worked hard on it, but it’s just loud and cinematic, with little emotion or spark to it. I will applaud Davidge and 343 for being brave enough to ditch the main theme of Halo, which is one of the most iconic songs in video games. But bravery isn’t all it takes to make a good soundtrack. You need great, memorable songs and Halo 4’s OST mostly lacks that key part of a soundtrack.

There are some exceptions, some songs that hark back to the classic sound of Halo and feel like, in a better game, they could have become memorable on their own. The best example of that is the track “Solace.”

Microsoft / Kaidon (YouTube)

It hits a lot of the same beats as previous great Halo songs, though still feels a little too muddled and loud for my taste. But if you had snuck this into Halo 3 via a mod and tricked me into playing that version, I’d probably swear it was a classic Halo song I just didn’t remember. Not the best compliment, but it’s something.


That’s it for today’s Morning Music! While the Chief is always needing weapons, I’m in need of some comments. Did you like Halo 4’s soundtrack? Or what’s your favorite Halo song out of all the games? Or feel free to share about anything else on your mind. See you tomorrow!

Kotaku Weekend Editor | Zack Zwiezen is a writer living in Kansas. He has written for GameCritics, USgamer, Kill Screen & Entertainment Fuse.

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DISCUSSION

Halo 4 is not good. But it’s not insultingly bad either. It’s just soulless mediocre and bland facsimile of a Halo game. It’s biggest problem is that it tries to be a Bungie game, without understanding what made those games work (even Bungie forgot that, it seems). And the music of Halo 4 is quite apt allegory to the whole game at large. Loud, obnoxious and excessive with some weird and unfitting choices in the mix.

Issue lies within 343i, and their dev team. It’s obvious that they have incredible technical talent in their ranks. But in the creative area it’s quite severely lacking. Halo 4 felt like a game which had no real story going for. The story of Halo 4 reads like a work for hire from some sci-fi writer, who had little interest in the extensive lore and world of Halo, and they were roped-in to quickly come up with some story to build the game around (that’ll eventually end up molded to fit the game-play anyways so why bother). I mean, it’s a telltale sign that something is wrong when you are required to read a book to fully understand the story in the game (moreso issue with Halo 5, but that’s a story for different time). The lack of the original Halo team was the issue, which the new team could not fill. And no, unlike the misconception that keeps circulating online, 343i is not and never has composed of bunch of ex-Bungie employees who supposedly left the studio to join 343i at the time of Bungie departure.

Could Halo 4 have been good without Bungie? Sure! But it would have needed some radical new approach to the series that does not involve Master Chief and his adventures after H3. Drop all the baggage of previous games. Have a new spin to things. I don’t want to be Mr. hindsight here, but. Maybe tell the story of first contact with Covenant without all the Spartans and Flood and whatnot? Then you can bring in new people like a new composer to give their new twist to the music to fit the different time and place tool!

But hey, what do I know?