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Need For Speed Undercover Original Videogame Score :: Review by Chris

Need For Speed Undercover Original Videogame Score Album Title: Need For Speed Undercover Original Videogame Score
Record Label: Electronic Arts
Catalog No.: iTunes
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Purchase: Download at iTunes


After a few disastrous soundtrack releases for the Need For Speed series, EA decided to attempt to revive the series' former glory with Need For Speed: Undercover. While a lot of the music for the game was licensed, they nevertheless hired former Tangerine Dream member and soundtrack supremo Paul Haslinger to create a 40 minute original score to the title. Haslinger decided to make the soundtrack his own, rejecting the techno and hip-hop influences of previous soundtracks in favour of dense orchestral and electronic hybrids. The resulting tracks range from the soothing to the furious, yet almost always have a strong effect in context. Are they as suitable for stand-alone listening?


The soundtrack makes its biggest impact with its aggressive pieces. The opener "A Manner of Speed" is a spectacular example of Haslinger's 'no mercy' approach. The hard and racing electronic beats would be enough to induce panic, but the composer goes one step further with his crisis strings and thunderous percussion. The result is simply explosive and the intensity never relents as Haslinger throws listeners from one novel yet horrifying section to the next. Many of the subsequent themes are also high on volume and pacing too, but Haslinger keeps them interesting. "Man & Machine" is even bolder with its dense brassy orchestration and its eventual breakbeats have a blistering effect like an overheating engine. What could be more effective for alerting gamers to illegal street racers and getting the adrenaline pumping?

There is nevertheless a lot of diversity in the soundtrack. Haslinger is keen to experiment with interesting timbres throughout the soundtrack and treats this soundtrack as the perfect opportunity. There are a lot of daring novelties, whether the long-drawn string glissandi of "Friction", the experimental warped electronic samples of "No Line of Sight", or the more subtle features of "Treachorous Terrain". While most tracks leave listeners in awe, many will want to approach this soundtrack in moderation of avoid it altogether. No matter how effective these tracks are in the game, anyone who is intolerant to hard or dissonant sounds will find them simply overbearing. These tracks are among the most aggressive and ear-blowing music out there, so many will find them completely ugly. Others will find Haslinger's approach fascinating or even find them a good outlet for stress.

There are also a lot of very tense pieces on the soundtrack that prepare gamers for the action, but don't quite put them straight into panic mode. Pieces like "The Miami Drift" and "Endemic Speed" create an incredible atmosphere with their experimental electro-orchestral soundscaping, unresolved orchestral progressions, and the harsh unrelenting rhythms. "Zero Sum" even brings in some exotic vocal samples before erupting into clamour. It's a fantastic example of a cue that evolves and transforms beyond its moderately modest introduction towards bold sounds that few would anticipate, and even then it remains utterly unpredictable. Meanwhile "No Line of Sight" is treated much like an cinematic action theme just before the climax and, at least for the first half, the electronic elements largely take the backseat for rousing orchestration.

There are nevertheless some moments of solitude on the soundtrack. The earliest example, "The Miami Drift", creates a meditative sound through the repetition of several soulful steel-stringed guitar figures. However, listeners are still kept on edge with the gritty rhythm guitar and distorted electronic overtones. "Slow Burn" is even more soothing thanks to Haslinger's minimalistic yet beautiful soundscaping. It's surprising that merely acoustic guitar arpeggios, slow backing strings, faint piano work, and electronic bubbles can combine into something so refreshing. At the end of the soundtrack, Haslinger also refers back to the acoustic sound with quietly liberated "A Winner's Game". "Black Sun Memories" ends the soundtrack on a surprisingly deep note with an almost elegaic acoustic guitar solo.


As an in-game accompaniment, the Need For Speed: Undercover soundtrack is nothing short of spectacular. It is fundamental for portraying comfort, tension, and panic in the game and also works convincingly for transitions between these feelings. Paul Haslinger really makes the soundtrack his own through his unique blends of electronic and orchestral elements. It's so refreshing after some of the more formulaic entries recently in the series. Yet this soundtrack is not for everyone. It's edgy and nerve-racking throughout and, for a large portion of the time, utterly explosive. Still, if dense breakbeats or action-packed orchestrations aren't too intense for you, then why not give Need For Speed: Undercover a try and see what happens when the elements are combined. The result is crippling and merciless, but no doubt awe-inspiring too.

Overall Score: 8/10