Welcome to the latest edition in the 30 Days of Mass Effect series. I thought I'd pay tribute to a segment I never really finished in my first Mass Effect blog series by reviewing the scores on the official Mass Effect 2 soundtrack that I enjoyed. Don't worry; the next installment will feature my favorite tracks from Mass Effect 3. I simply felt that it would be more appropriate to delve into these first. Feel free to list your own favorites in the comments section. Note: Videos sometimes have a problem remaining posted, so I've included a link to each song in the respective title in case they are removed.


10) Suicide Mission

This probably is the primary theme of the game, echoed repeatedly throughout the album. It's basically an elaboration of "The End Run" and encapsulates the dilemma that Shepard is faced with perfectly with a distinctive looping chorus and percussion that hammers the desperation into our ears. It's every bit as loud and grandiose as we could expect any climactic song about triumph could be, and while it does provide a brief departure with chiming synths and very subtle choir about midway, the cue began to lose appeal to me, since it's basically four and a half minutes of the latter part of "The End Run". Nonetheless, memories of my battles against the Collectors in the final mission make this number worth a few listens.


9) Reflections

I really like this cue; it's perfect as a romantic theme for Mass Effect 2, with its masterful piano strokes and evocative cello solo. There's a lot of tension and emotive energy in "Reflections" that makes it a very personal piece for me, but sadly it's also extremely short and doesn't really get developed enough - not unlike the romance scenes it's made for - to leave a lasting mark. However, this cue's progressions flow seamlessly in one continuing performance, meriting an inclusion on my list.


8) Thane

Most of Jack Wall's pieces in this soundtrack tell a story, starting off relatively minimal, and then layer themselves with abrupt changes in tone. There's a lot of suspense and mystery in it - especially with the skillful usage of flat piano keys - that sets the mood perfectly, given the character this motif represents. This track hearkens close, in my opinion, to the atmospheric music of the first. Filled with meandering lulls in pace and frantic segments, listening almost feels like a chase in itself and also evokes the recruitment mission, especially as the cue builds to a frenetic tempo toward the end.


7) Afterlife

If this weren't already a licensed song, it probably would've been featured in the OST. Sadly, it isn't, but this is nonetheless one of my favorite pieces, by Saki Kaskas.  The mid-tempo synth heavy electronic beat - in addition to electro acoustics - is addictive and moody, just like the seedy club on Omega, and the bass used during each reprise never fails to underscore the tone as the song builds; it's easily the most sensual cue in the game, provocative, edgy and ambient at the right moments.  I remember standing in the titular club for hours - or on my ship - listening to this song play.


 6) Grunt

This track is action-packed, suspenseful, and filled with an impressive string of ostinati sequences that really sell the tone at the beginning and later on in a brief reprise; great orchestral music comes in the form of euphoric brass chords and ambient harmonies. In comparison to the unrefined power of the other tracks you'll hear in Mass Effect 2, there's a greater sense of opulence as the track picks up speed and it's a perfect mood-setter for the mission itself; nothing as epic as this could suit my battles against waves of fierce Krogan better. The only thing I don't quite like about "Grunt", in spite of the rich layers of sound and rhythm, is its tendency to use jarring transitions during each segment of it that make the sections feel choppy, as though they were edited over. The first time this happened really ruined my perception of the track, but all the awesomeness in between these moments more than compensated for this minor flaw in composition.


5) The End Run

Listening to this track is a great way of gauging the tone of the music that Wall and the other composers approach: it's a lively mixture of orchestra and synth that lends the ear a sense of desperation, with a choir emphasizing them later on as the climactic song reaches a fever pitch, fitting the conclusion of the game. I especially loved the drama this cue possesses, and can't stop imagining the iconic moment when Shepard leapt toward the Normandy during the escape from the Collector Base and the pace slowed as we watched Shepard in anticipation.


4) Jacob

Jacob's motif is a dark number that blends orchestral sounds with sinister-sounding synth, a stirring string tremolo, powerful percussion, and the recurring cello motif to create a track that's especially grim. The cue is well structured in comparison to the other tracks you'll find, and it reflects Jacob's relatively stable personality. Yet, there's a lot of mystery to it and I found it surprising to hear as a motif for Jacob... until I remembered what happened to him during his Loyalty mission. When that's considered I think it's very successful in conveying that tragedy to the audience.


3) Normandy Reborn

Every time I listen to this motif I get chills. As the first major piece you hear after Shepard's revival, it holds a lot of importance in that it represents both the rebirth of Shepard and the iconic Normandy that was once destroyed by the Collectors; the strong horns used help lend it a triumphant tone, opening the player's mind to new possibilities, especially as it picks up tempo after the cello reprise. Bioware did a great job using this motif again as a bookend to the story, especially with the choir they add to the last notes of the motif for emphasis.


2) Legion

This piece probably utilizes orchestral music the best out of all the other tracks, as well as excellent use of electronic tremolo that hearkens back to memories of the first game. However, the otherwordly quality of the music and the anxiety it conveys through its use of speedy brass quintuplets and choir is one of the highlights that defines it best. What I also like about "Legion" is that it doesn't have to overpower the listener with sound like other tracks tend to; the urgency it conveys through its excellent pacing does the job perfectly.


1) Samara

This is my favorite character motif and track in the game. Filled with a perfect - and much needed - blend of ethnic, orchestral, and electronic tones that provide the listener with a strong departure from the usual themes of the game's music, "Samara" is every bit as alluring and timeless as the Asari it's based on. I also love the climax of this piece, which seamlessly capitalizes on airy solos and choirs with driving synth for a powerful climactic finish that gives this cue more character than any of the others on this soundtrack combined. As the second-longest track up here, it's a dream to listen to and could easily fit outside of the game, unlike a few others that require gaming experience to appreciate.


The Verdict

If there's one thing that can be said about the music in the second game, it's that the composers certainly weren't aiming for the subtlety and restraint of the first game. Very rarely will you find any music that doesn't suddenly shift in tempo with booming brass and percussion and ostinati echoing the major themes of the game, and unlike the first, which was very structured, many of the tracks here wander abruptly into new transitions and assaults the listener with booming notes and sharp melodies. However, there's an undeniably dark sci-fi tone that suits the game and its characters perfectly. With the exception of a few of the tracks I listed up here, the music isn't particularly memorable although it is entertaining, unless one takes their play experience into consideration while listening. I don't think Mass Effect 2's soundtrack is as memorable as the first's, but it's certainly nothing to sneeze at.