Napoleon: Total War Composed by Richard Beddow
Sega Corp (2011)
More soundclips below provided by AmazonMp3
sensitive underscoring, and a solid live performance come together
to produce one of the best game scores we’ve heard yet this year.”
A Dealer in Hope
Review by Marius Masalar
I don’t know what it is about real-time strategy games, but it’s often the
case that they inspire some of the finest game music across any genre. The
TOTAL WAR series has always been an example of this correlation, and
NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR continues the trend with a glorious and organic score
by RICHARD BEDDOW and his team of co-composers, RICHARD BIRDSALL, IAN
LIVINGSTONE, and SIMON RAVN.
It begins with a strong theme. “Napoleon Bonaparte” (1) serves as a
stirring and noble calling card for the emperor, with stately strings
giving way to a mighty choral outburst before fading to a gentle outro.
This is a magnificent opening, and “Corsica, Humble Beginnings” (2) and
“Napoleon’s Promise” develop the theme in a darker form. The second
quickens the pace briefly and comes to another dramatic peak, signaling
the end of the introductory tracks.
“Preparing the Arcole Charge” (4) is the first of the ‘preparation’
tracks, played while players make plans for their next mission. The first
of them is a gentle but tense militaristic underscore, with poignant brass
escalations near the end that help set the scene for the album’s first
battle sequence. Unfortunately, “The Battle at Arcole” (5) is short and
quite forgettable. It gets the blood pumping well enough, but it’s
certainly paced according to the slower action of RTS games. This is true
of “Naval Battle at St. Vincent” (6) even more, though this cue features
some interesting low woodwind flourishes and percussion interjections.
Perhaps the most unusual portion of the NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR score is the
inclusion of three faux ‘classical’ pieces composed for the game, each in
several movements. Classical purists will of course be very amused by the
so-called string quartets, which barely manage to poke above the 4-minute
mark in total, and thus seem quite hollow and unsatisfying despite the
‘authentic’ feel of the small ensemble. Accordingly, while “String Quintet
I. Chamber Music I-IV” (7-10) is undoubtedly pretty, the entire suite
feels like little more than a set of short exercises for the musicians —
the gravitas is a testament to the emotive talents of the musicians more
than the emotional content of the music itself. Of the four movements, the
final one is the most beautiful.
The full ensemble returns in force, with strong rhythms and whirlwinds of
string and woodwind runs dancing throughout “Napoleon Heads to the East”
(11). The east is immediately acknowledged with a pleasingly oriental
bassoon melody at the onset of “Planning the Alexandria Invasion” (12).
This motif is explored in more detail as the track progresses, but the
mood remains mellow. At least, until “The Mamluks Attack” (13), of course!
This is the best battle track up to this point, and everything from strong
rhythms to swirling xylophone runs help accompany the strongly
eastern-scale melodies in the strings and brass. It’s a lot of fun to
listen to and feels similar in spirit to music from the Mummy films,
especially the first.
The eastern feel remains intact throughout “Desert Preparations” (14) and
“The Battle of the Pyramids” (15), but only the latter is worth revisiting
since it carries on the energy of the previous battle cue, albeit less
frantically. The similarity to The Mummy is even stronger in this one.
With his business done in Egypt, Bonaparte moves “From Egypt to France”
(16) with a stunning (if annoyingly short) transition cue that brings the
choir back into the picture. The string quintet also returns, also
briefly, for “The Art of War” (17). This time around, the cue is at least
long enough to have a noticeable musical arc, which immediately makes it
feel more interesting to listen to, and the performances are as precise
and engaged as before.
Which brings us to the second set of classical pastiches on the score: the
“Choral Music I-IV. a capella” (19-21) set. Like the first string quartet,
these suffer from cripplingly short track lengths, making them breeze
past. The magical quality of human voices saves them though, as even the
most banal of musical phrases sung by a talented choir captures our
attention and stirs our hearts. Altogether, they are beautiful to listen
to, but one wishes that the in-game context had allowed them more room to
develop and really flesh out these segments into more meaningful cues.
As it is, we’re quickly thrust back into the fray with “Threat of Naval
Conflict” (22), another tension cue. Muted brass and uneasy string lines
brood away sullenly and set the stage for “HMS Victory” (23). The vessel’s
theme is dramatic and threatening, and the churning strings return less
menacingly in the next cue. “The Napoleonic Code” (24) is one of the
livelier pieces on the album, and is also one of the few straight reprises
of the main theme. This is an extremely attractive variation, once more
hindered by a short length. The ensuing battle cues, “The Battle at
Austerlitz” (25) and “Naval Strike at Aix Roads” (26) are both satisfying,
but the first is the more interesting of the two, with exciting flashes of
Entering the album’s closing stretch, “Napoleon’s Ambition” (27) is an
amazingly powerful cue that delivers a huge climax very quickly before
being snapped short at under 40 seconds. Shame. What follows is the last
of the classical pieces; the second string quintet. “String Quintet II.
Chamber Music I-IV” (28-31) is an even less interesting collection than
the first. The third movement, for instance, is literally nothing but a
sequence of completely unembellished chords, separated by dead silence.
Whatever beauty lies in these prosaic exercises is owed to the
musicianship of the string players, who have done their best to make it
“Napoleon Plans Waterloo” (32) opens with a haunting muted string
statement of one of the themes presented in the choral music. It unfolds
into a very dynamic track that is at times moving and at others edgy and
rhythmic. The sombre underscore in “The Fields of War” (33) seems dull by
comparison, even though it’s a completely successful cue. It isn’t until
“Waterloo” (34) — the final battle cue — that some energy is regained.
Interestingly enough, the battle cue doesn’t seem to be as compelling as
the preparation cue in this instance, which is unfortunate since it’s the
climatic final battle at stake. Luckily, the heavy choir-supported
mourning of “The Defeat at Waterloo” (35) redeems with its heart-wrenching
sadness. NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR ends with “The End” (34), a respectful and
utterly gorgeous rendition of the main theme, coloured by some of the
subthemes that cropped up over the course of the album. From the plaintive
oboe to the choir’s beautiful accompaniment, this cue is stunning from
beginning to end. The climax is superb and serves as a perfect closing
Despite some qualms about short track lengths and mediocre classical
pastiches, RICHARD BEDDOW, RICHARD BIRDSALL, IAN LIVINGSTONE, and SIMON RAVN are all
extremely accomplished composers, and the fusion of their talents is
brought to life vividly by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and
Choir — a sizeable and proficient ensemble. NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR is perhaps
the strongest score in the series, and unquestioningly deserves the Ivor
Novello for Best Video Game Score that it recently won. Soaring melodies,
sensitive underscoring, and a solid live performance come together to
produce one of the best game scores we’ve heard yet this year.