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Score Review: ‘Forza Motorsport 6’ by Michael Nielsen and Kaveh Cohen

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Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen, the superstar duo behind Splinter Cell Blacklist‘s stunning soundtrack, have delivered once again. Stylistically, Forza Motorsport 6‘s score is a continuation of what had been started in the previous installment. But how good is it exactly, and what’s new?

When it comes to creating a racing game, one fundamental decision is whether or not its music should include licensed tracks. Forza Motorsport 6 opted for a pure original score, continuing what it started in Forza 5, where orchestral music had been brought into play and licensed music was thrown out entirely. At first glance, the soundtracks of Forza 5 and 6 are fairly similar in terms of instrumentation and general style. Very fast tracks are once again contrasted by very calm ones, mixing orchestral instruments with synths and electronic beats as well as some distorted guitars. Choir and singers have been dropped entirely, so have lead guitar melodies. But enough of the comparing – let’s have a closer look at the latest Forza soundtrack.

Orchestral and electronic excellence

After a first listening session, I was delighted at how well the real-life 90-piece orchestra and the electronic elements mixed. The whole soundtrack is extremely cohesive despite the fact that it ranges from Hollywood-like orchestral action music and calm piano-heavy pieces to purely electronic tracks. Some of the slow tracks manage to pluck your heartstrings, and the faster ones get you seriously pumped.

Most of the orchestral parts are pretty much what you would expect to hear in a Hollywood movie, and I mean that in a good way: fast ostinato strings, deep brass swells and hits and lots of orchestral percussion. The violin melodies are beautiful and simple, yet somehow none of them got stuck in my head. The orchestra, however, hardly plays anything by itself. Some tight electronic beats are added to the mix, alongside with synthesizers and, occasionally, rhythm guitars. While the electronic instruments mostly focus on providing a fast pulse, harmonic and melodic developments are mostly left to the orchestra.

The negative counterpart to cohesiveness would be repetitiveness, and some of the tracks do sound pretty similar to each other. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt bored by the soundtrack, because it switches from mostly-orchestral to all-electronic and from very fast to very slow tracks at a pleasant pace. There are some little experiments that keep it fresh, like the heavily riff-based, rock-ish track The Pits or the unprecedented switch to a ternary meter in Jump Start.

The struggles of scoring a racing game

However, a video game soundtrack primarily aims to function well during game play. While researching the topic of racing games’ music and Forza 6‘s soundtrack in particular, I realized that the genre is a particularly tough one to create a soundtrack for. For instance, people seem to be very divided on the topic of licensed music versus an original score, so part of the fanbase is bound to complain about the soundtrack. Plus, in a more sim-like experience like Forza Motorsport 6 – as opposed to more action-packed, arcade-style racing games –, most players look for as much realism as possible. There is no music playing in a real cockpit, and on top of that, it gets in the way of the car’s sacred engine sound. I personally feel like it’s the other way around, and the beautiful score is almost entirely swallowed by those aggressively roaring engines most of the time during gameplay.

Epicness vs. immersion

While the more action-packed tracks really demonstrate that Cohen and Nielsen know their craft, it is the softer ones that make the soundtrack such an emotional and memorable one. They mostly play during cutscenes or menus and, while they are beautiful in their own right, they also do a great job of contrasting those adrenaline-filled race tracks (pun intended) to make them appear all the more epic. Speaking of epicness, I felt like some of the gameplay tracks were over-the-top. The Grid is one of my favorite pieces when listened to independently, but it didn’t fit the gameplay too well. I don’t feel like it should be playing during a car race on a sunny day, but rather during an epic fate-of-the-world mission in a fantasy or outer space setting. Come to think of it, some parts of the soundtrack reminded me of ‘Halo’ quite a bit, which is an awesome franchise, but not at all a racing game. The Grid plays during the very first race. I get that the music tries to get the player into “the zone” and to make them feel empowered, but I personally felt like it was doing too much. Purely electronic tracks like Traction, Hit the Apex or the three minutes of pure energy entitled Blow the Lid Off do the same without being too distracting or over-the-top.

Check out the Final Rating below and let us know your Rating for Forza Motorsport 6 by Michael Nielsen and Kaveh Cohen! You can purchase the score via iTunes and read more about the creation of the score later this week.

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  • Ingame Usage 7
  • Score itself 8
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Summary

Overall, I'd still say the soundtrack fits the game very well. It underlines the more serious tone of Forza Motorsport 6, a game that emphasizes realism over exaggerated action. It's cohesive, yet varied, and manages to find its place in a rather “ungrateful” game genre. My only criticism is that I personally found it too epic at times, which threw me off rather than immersing me. Unfortunately, I don't have an XBox at home (yet), but that won't stop me from listening to Forza 6's soundtrack on its own now and then.

7.5 Total

Freelance composer, producer and sound designer at Mediacracy Music.

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