Video game music can be great, but sometimes it’s fun to pair your wine with some different cheese. In Alternate Soundtrack, Derrick Sanskrit matches a video game with an album that enhances the experience.
French electronic duo M83 made a few very risky decisions when they split ways in 2003. After marginal success in Europe from their first two albums, Nicolas Fromageau left to form Team Ghost—a shoegaze outfit heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division— while Anthony Gonzalez kept the M83 name, wanting to make sweeping cinematic scores instead of the humanistic electronic garage rock they’d become known for.
The shift was immediate. As Anthony’s first solo effort, Before The Dawn Heals Us is a tremendously dense package of emotional concepts. From the foreboding crescendos of “In The Cold I’m Standing” and “Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun” to the frantic adrenaline rushes of “Teen Angst” and “Fields, Shorelines and Hunters,” the glacial tranquility of “I Guess I’m Floating” and “Safe” to the carefree jubilation of “Moonchild” and “Can’t Stop.” Most powerful, perhaps, is the heart-pounding intensity of “*” and “Car Chase Terror!,” the latter acting as a sort of radio play that still causes many fans’ hair to stand on end seven years after its release.
EA’s DICE studio took similar risks with 2008’s Mirror’s Edge. Having some success with war shooters in their Battlefield series, the team reached outside their comfort zone to create the first-person free-running adventure. Its squeaky-clean neo-future metropolis was a distant cry from the muddy trenches of combat, and its hero—a realistically-proportioned woman of Asian descent—was as far from the increasingly faceless soldiers of war as one could get while still being human.
More than anything else, Mirror’s Edge is a game about running for your life. Unlike Halo, God of War, and so many other games that make the player feel powerful, Mirror’s Edge cast gamers in a role of vulnerability, where the only way to win was to run away from enemies rather than toward them. It wasn’t much of a commercial success, but it was a welcome content departure from DICE’s other, decidedly more masochistic titles.
The synth-operatics of Before The Dawn Heals Us mesh wonderfully with the glistening histrionics of Mirror’s Edge. Both have their quiet moments of reflection and doubt, but more often than not, both are thrilling chase sequences, the Italian Jobs of electronica and gaming, respectively. Both were extremely risky gambits from their respective creators when they first came along, but they both made all the sense in the world once they found an audience. A change of pace was exactly what M83 needed to go from niche hit to international smash. Changing things up might not have proven quite as successful for DICE, but every good idea deserves a decent chase.