We’ve written a little about Quantic Dream before here on The Arcade. As studios go, they’re somewhat of a maverick. Headed by the infamously ambitious David Cage, they’ve spent the better part of the last eight years pushing the boundaries of video game storytelling, mostly, for better or worse, by taking cues from the world of film. Not everyone’s a fan and Cage himself is no stranger to criticism but one area where Quantic Dream always seem to excel is in the presentation. From the box art to the menu screens, interface and general visuals, Cage and co. always know how to make their games look incredible, even if the game itself doesn’t blow people away.
A hugely important part of the phenomenal presentation for these games is the music. Their scores are, more often than not, outstanding and one area where taking cues from the silver screen usually works out in their favor. Their last title, 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls featured an incredible score by film composer Lorne Balfe (whose work has previously been featured on High Score) whose selection was the result of a pretty tragic loss. Canadian composer Normand Corbeil sadly passed away while writing his own score for Beyond and while Balfe knocked it out of the park (while utilizing some of Corbeil’s work), it’s a real shame that we’ll never get to hear how Corbeil himself would have interpreted that story. Today on High Score, we’ll be looking at his work for 2010’s Heavy Rain and reminding ourselves just what a fantastic composer he was.
Let’s start off with this, simply titled Trailer Theme. It is what it says on the tin, the music used in the various trailers used to launch and promote the game. It’s a beautifully orchestrated piece of filmic composition; starting ominously and building so painfully slowly that you can’t help but tense up in anticipation of the inevitable, but seemingly unreachable, pay off. When the percussion drops at 1.30 and the main melodic theme reveals itself, it’s more than worth the wait. Aggressive strings undercut an elegant legato melody while the choir add their own sense of genuinely epic urgency. I can’t think of a better way to sell the game than this.
Ethan Mars’ Theme
The music most commonly associated with Heavy Rain is this piece, the central theme for one of the four main characters, Ethan Mars. Much of Heavy Rain‘s score is based around variations on this theme so it’s a good thing it’s handy on the ears. A simple, haunting motif is presented early on, tragic and morose; eerily representative of the sadness of Ethan’s storyline. When it’s repeated around the half way mark, the notes are elongated, most likely to signify the hopelessness Ethan feels as he watches his life continue to deteriorate. Bleak and beautiful, it’s a melody you’ll be hearing a lot of as you play, and it’s not even the last time you’ll hear it today.
In addition to moments of relentless depressive wallowing, Heavy Rain also delights in giving you frequent heart palpitations by throwing you into some genuinely terrifying do-or-die situations. One instance involves having to drive the wrong way down a busy highway, another throws you into an apartment that’s about to blow up and asks you to find an escape route before you explode with it (which can happen, any of the four characters in Heavy Rain can die at almost any time and the story carries on without them). For sequences like these, Corbeil ramps up the tension with tracks like The Bulldozer. Ominous, plodding percussion and bellowing brass establish a sense of unease while the strings hammer out some seriously unnerving dissonant melodies. Put this on as you run for the bus, your morning commute will never be as exciting again.
If there’s one area where Corbeil’s (and Quantic Dream’s) filmic aspirations are positively blatant, it’s in pieces like The Chase where Corbeil recalls the rapid, percussive bursts most commonly found in noir detective films. Thankfully, they still work just as well as they did way back when at instilling a sense of frantic urgency to proceedings. When coupled with Corbeil’s majestic orchestration, they sound positively refreshing.
I mentioned earlier that Ethan Mars’ Theme pops up quite a lot in Heavy Rain and would also pop up again before the end of this post. Well here it is, this time in the form of a melancholic lament, once again slowed down but this time presented with the faintest hint of optimism in its opening chord progression. Not that that lasts mind, by the time the theme has done its work that faint glimmer of hope has died in a gushing sequence of sweeping strings, topped off with an ending in the minor. Redemption? Not likely. Not in Heavy Rain.
Whatever your opinion on Heavy Rain as a game, Corbeil’s score was breathtaking. Haunting and reflective of the emotionally driven narrative that powered the game, his melodies and arrangements were a vital part of what made Heavy Rain so special. He was a tremendous talent that will be sorely missed. At least we have his work to remember him by, and based on that, how could we ever forget him?