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inFAMOUS Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

inFAMOUS Original Soundtrack Album Title: inFAMOUS Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Sony Computer Entertainment
Catalog No.: iTunes
Release Date: May 21, 2009
Purchase: Download at iTunes


Amon Tobin's first attempt at a game soundtrack, Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory, was impressive both as an in-game accompaniment and stand-alone album. Some years later, he was asked to lead another game score, Sony's inFAMOUS, to depict the desolate environments and high-octane action. The breakbeat extraordinaire was nevertheless assisted by several other composers, including Jim Dooley, Mel Wesson, and Johnathan Mayer, who produce additional in-game music and cinematic underscoring. Dooley and Wesson are actually members of Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions — the company often blamed for the saminess and homogeneity of a lot of film and game music today — and hence almost represent the antithesis of Tobin's cutting-edge style. Nevertheless, this is not the first time that Tobin's music has been paired side-by-side with cinematic underscore with Jesper Kyd taking these duties on Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory. The difference is that the inFAMOUS digital album release features a selection of music from both Tobin and assistants, so doesn't really stand like an original album would anymore. Could these pairings possibly pay off?


The opener "Rabble Rouser" demonstrates Tobin is back on characteristically edgy form. Tobin uses a wide spectrum of percussion instruments, some completely bizarre, to create all sorts of rhythms and punctuations. The percussion is definitely focus, but his prepared use of Eastern strings also makes a welcome return. A rousing rabble indeed. Subsequently "Stampton Bridge" reflects the more personal side of Tobin's compositions with its especially evocative interlude featuring melancholic ethnic wind instruments and minimalistic, warped electronic backing. Electronic manipulation is also a major focus of "Stranded", filled with all sorts of percussion and electronic noise to reflect the abstract game context. But fear not, as Tobin's more lyrical and groovy side is reflected in pieces such as "The Courier" or even "Hunt for the Raysphere". These tracks maintain attention with their simple bass hooks and compelling rhythms while subtly immersing listeners into the gameplay. Perhaps his highlight solo contribution, however, is "Anything for Trish" with its surprisingly rocking mixture of electronic breakbeats, drum kit rolls, and electronic cello motifs. It's well worth revisiting for its sheer attitude alone.

Tobin's co-composers attempt to adapt the edgy and atmospheric sound to mixed results. Jim Dooley's "The First Sons" and "Rampage" suffice as cinematic ambience in the game, but like so much of Remote Control Productions' music, they are little more than suspended string notes and electronic beats when stripped down. They're better than much of the company's game works, but hardly artistic or fascinating. "Dinner With Sasha" is much more interesting, both for the industrial electronic work and the gritty performance by electronic cellist Martin Tillman. His pairing with Mel Wesson sometimes brings a bit more substance to the soundtrack too. "The Truth" has a stunning effect in context, undergoing spectacular transitions between sections portraying uncertainty, expectation, revelation, and ultimately reaction. It's certainly a rollercoaster of a ride. "The Escape" isn't quite as striking, but it has a dramatic effect too; in particular, the composition sometimes builds into something momentous only to tease by fading into nothing. While there are still formulaic approaches, it's clear that even Remote Control's team aimed to produce something cutting-edge with inFAMOUS.

Fortunately, some contributions help to bridge the gap between the Tobin and Zimmer sound. In particular, Dooley's "End of the Road" has the sound of a climactic cinematic epic, yet also integrates some of Tobin's distorted features. Meanwhile "Alden Strikes" and "Genesis" are collaborative contributions by the two composers. The former is an ever-building tension theme, combining furious percussion and deep brass, while the latter is perhaps the highlight of the entire soundtrack with its breathtaking electro-acoustic soundscapes and expansive emotional development. Furthermore, sound director Jonathan Mayer produces some convincing emulations of Amon Tobin's work that help bridge together the soundtrack. They're very minimalistic compositions, mainly blending driving beats, hard percussion, and electronic cello work, but create a lot of atmosphere nevertheless. Dooley's "Pleasant Empire" rounds off the dramatic arch with a simple but soothing composition for piano and strings. Finally, "A Nuclear Free City" provides a surprisingly good instrumental band performance that nicely blends the percussive and distorted sound of the soundtrack with liberating chord progressions and reflective manipulated vocals.


Unlike Chaos Theory, the album release for inFAMOUS is best treated as an in-game soundtrack rather than an original album, since Tobin only contributes about half and a lot of material is contextual. Tobin's work isn't as impressive as that album, given he mainly rehashes his previous approaches and produces few expansive compositions, though his work is still fascinating, atmospheric, and enjoyable. There are also several major highlights among them, such as "Anything for Trish" and "Genesis". Despite being part of an infamous company, Jim Dooley succeeds more than contemporaries like Steve Jablonsky to offer some cutting-edge sounds for the cinematic sequences, while still helping to bridge the gap with the Tobin style. In context, the soundtrack really enhances the experience, whether creating ambience or portraying action, both in the cinematic sequences and actual gameplay. Out of context, the soundtrack is a appealing, if occasionally formulaic, ride. However, it will generally appeal more to fans of atmospheric soundtracks than Tobin's wider following. I'd recommend the physical release above the digital one, since it features three bonus tracks.

Overall Score: 8/10