Two years in the making, the suitably cinematic score to the smash Tomb Raider game reboot became an anticipated release in itself, after award-winning composer Jason Graves (Dead Space 3), debuted the suite “Survivor” at last year's Spike Video Game Awards during the unveiling of game footage. You can watch the performance of that piece at the end of this article, but first let's get to the score itself, which is actually kind of revolutionary in the world of game music – and a surprise treat for horror fans as well, which even non-gamers will appreciate.
Graves has cited classical composers Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky as his greatest influences, but he also revealed in a behind-the-scenes interview that the game's scariest cues were inspired by modern composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose most frightening works have been used in legendary horror films like The Shining and The Exorcist. The cues most reminiscent of Penderecki's unsettling, dissonant style include “Reaching Roth” and “The Scavenger's Camp,” and the creepy motifs blend well with the action cues, even giving them an extra kick. Another of the score's otherworldly aspects comes not from a traditional orchestra, but from a strange and beautiful contraption Graves co-designed with sculptor Matt McConnell. Named simply “The Instrument,” this object (shown below) is part music-making device, part modern art piece, and the first fifteen minutes of audio for the game were played on it; you can hear it in action on tracks like “The Scavenger's Den” and “The Oni,” recognizable by a blend of metallic and organic tones that often sound like the call of an alien creature.
Avant-garde and horror-infused tracks aside, fans of epic adventure games have come to expect sweeping action cues and themes that match the scale of game play, and Tomb Raider fans will be expecting Lara Croft's theme to make an appearance. All those needs are met here; the main theme is built up to grand proportions, and that big-screen feeling comes across in the dramatic prologue “Adventure Found Me,” the dark brooding strings of “First Blood,” the Indiana Jones-ish riff “Entering Himiko's Tomb” and the storm of percussion in “Scaling The Ziggurat.”
As with so many big-budget games recently, original music has been given the platform normally befitting major studio film productions... and sometimes they go even bigger. Tomb Raider is a very ambitious reboot, and Graves has been given the means to rise to the occasion with an equally ambitious score. This album runs the full spectrum from drama to high adventure to horror while keeping all those elements in balance, making this album a worthy addition to any soundtrack collector's playlist.
In addition to the content I've covered here, Graves has posted several unreleased tracks to his own SoundCloud page, including cues not heard in the final version and music used in the game trailers. The most epic of those cues is “Survivor,” which you may recall me mentioning earlier... and you can see a live performance of that piece conducted by Graves at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards (it begins just before the 2:30 mark):