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Unreal Original Soundtrack :: Review by Joe Hammond

Unreal Original Soundtrack Album Title: Unreal Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Epic Games
Catalog No.: 04-15949
Release Date: May 22, 1998
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Unreal set the precedent for many first-person shooters with its excellent story-led presentation and ground-breaking engine. Among the many impressive features of the game was its soundtrack by Alexander Brandon and Michiel van den Bos. The electronic music for the game set the atmosphere for the title wonderfully while being enjoyable on a stand-alone level too. The soundtrack was so popular that it received a commercial release — rare for American-composed soundtracks of the day.


The main title theme for Unreal sets the tone for the game beautifully. The deep synthpads and string passages during the introduction provide a suitable depiction of an alien world. While this soundscaping is quite serious and cinematic, the melody that enters thereafter is much more reminiscent of classic game music with its rich shape and synthy feel. Setting the precedent for future sci-fi shooter scores like Perfect Dark, Alexander Brandon did a great job of creating a fitting mood while keeping things fun and appealing.

Among Brandon's other contributions, "Dig" wouldn't be out of place in a stealth section of a game, with its slow beat and thin textures. The way the melody comes in actually reminds me of some of the gold produced during the Amiga days, although the sampling is considerably more mature. Another surprisingly emotional track is "Skytown", which evolves through a considerable dramatic arch during its playtime through an ambient and combat section. It's a vivid complement to the setting that works well on a stand-alone basis too. I was also impressed by Brandon's "Vortex Rikers" and "Ruins", which provide a somewhat darker perspective on the Unreal universe.

The other contributors to the Unreal soundtrack embellish the soundtrack with some diverse contributions. Michiel van den Bos' "Chizra" is quite a bit more abstract than Brandon's tracks, with its mixture of industrial and ethnic percussion. Less impressive is "Bluff Eversmoking", which features a cool bass synth underneath some synth pad chords, though doesn't develop much beyond that. Andrew Sega makes an impact with "Isotoxin", an edgy and experimental techno track, while Dan Gardopée's "Erosion" is an immersive piece of ambient electronic soundscapes that takes listeners to some bizarre places. I can't get enough of the latter to this day.

Towards the climax of the score, Brandon offers one of the moody electronic pieces I've heard in a game: "Wargate". The soundscaping is fantastic here, with the soundtrack's characteristic synthpads blending with some beautiful vocal parts. Actually three tracks combined into one, the shift in intensity towards the end of the track gives a sense of the impending climax. The track is highly impressive from a technological perspective, due to its elegant sampling and extensive development. Furthermore, it is a fine example of how game music can be abstract and dark without becoming boring or oppressive like so much other music today.

The release ends with a bonus remix interpreting the music from Unreal in a Euro dance style. It's an enjoyable track with plenty of melodic emphasis and upbeat stylings, though hasn't stood the test of time particularly well unlike the rest of the music here. It is stylistically quite superficial and doesn't have much mainstream appeal either, given it is a bit dated compared to today's club beats. Still, it reflects that the Unreal team put considerable time into making the music for the game both good in the game and suitable for stand-alone listening.


Overall, the soundtrack for Unreal was an impressive achievement in game music. It succeeds in being melodically compelling, functionally effective, and technologically commanded, and remains an enjoyable stand-alone listen to this day. The commercial release of the soundtrack is certainly the definitive one, with its polished presentation and extensive length. However, note that it lacks some tracks from the game and a couple of exclusives on the strategy guide soundtrack.

Overall Score: 9/10