Frostpunk

Piotr Musial

 
" In Frostpunk, numerous of processed sounds, from instruments to natural sounds (ice breaking, the wind) create such a convincing and relevant musical design. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the regular release

Polish video game developers like CD Project studios emerged in the new millennium with The Witcher game series. By now, the Polish game industry is a serious player on the market. Another studio, 11 Bit Studios, made games such as Anamoly, Warzone Earth, but also the fairly recently developed Frostpunk.

Frostpunk is a city-building and survival game, set in a dystopian/late 19th century England that has been overtaken by the frost, and the player is tasked with managing humanity's last city. For the game Piotr Musiał composed the music. Within the game industry, he has worked for different Polish developers producing orchestral, hybrid and synthesizer scores, including The Witcher series and Deadfall Adventures. I am not terribly familiar with Musiał' scores, but Frostpunk is a work of highs and lows.

It is a game in which every building decision has effects on its inhabitants, and makes you care about them, wanting them to survive. Therefore, the composer chose to focus on the human element by the intimate use of the Atom String Quartet (a group of Polish musicians) for its main theme and the overall use of their strings throughout the score, assisted by the Sofia Session Orchestra. It is very emotional at times, but there is a drawback that I will discuss later.

In a game with an ice-cold environment, it isn't just a graphical imagination, but a key ingredient to the gameplay. One usually can imagine what that should sound like. In Frostpunk, numerous of processed sounds, from instruments to natural sounds (ice breaking, the wind) create such a convincing and relevant musical design.

However, there is a serious lack of originality, in which the processed sounds for the cold evironment remain unequivocally strong, regardless of the fact that I feel they are not unique. Before addressing the inferior qualities, I feel I should explain my standards for game music more specifically. In any thinkable medium, scores can be critically and personally judged and perceived with different nuances. Growing up with game scores, hearing bleeps in the early days, to more advanced, but still, limited music during the bit wars and more strongly evolving music onward, I often took much for granted. A selection of my personal favourite games scores are, both older and modern, clinically and critically spoken rather disastrous. Yet, I have come to love them while playing the game, and even enjoying them separately. It is not the same as with television series and, especially, in film, in which different ´rules´ apply. Therefore, reviewing game music is something I would rather avoid.

In his research for Frostpunk, the composer listened to a lot of different music to find a specific musical voice that, as he explained, is evident in the end result. For one thing, he admitted having listened to Vivaldi, probably the famous winter cycle of The Four Seasons. If he did, I could not find any trace of that in his score, but others might. Regardless of the fact that he listened to a variety of music, the quartet mostly reminds me of Clint Mansell - The Fountain and Ramin Djawadi - Game of Thrones. The cue In the Flame directly, but shortly quotes The Fountain at 2:22. I can't say it does much harm, as it only appears for a few seconds, but I fear I may have failed to remember blatant 'citations' elsewhere. Another, musical idea is lifted from, I believe a remote control score. I fail to remember which one, but it has been influential and heard in an unaccountable number of other scores. It is heard in different musical disguises, in cues such as Frostpunk Theme, Brave New World (at 2:42) and other places, becoming quite a dominant musical distraction.

The overall merging of these different musical elements make for a score that could not have been more appropriate and effective within the game itself. Originality is certainly a large issue within the score to Frostpunk, but the convincing processed sounds for the icy landscapes, and the emotionally appealing intimacy of the quartet, still makes quite a good impression.



Tracklist
01. Frostpunk Theme (3:06)
02. Are We Alone? (3:54)
03. The Darkest of Days (4:42)
04. Streets of New London (3:58)
05. Brave New World (4:01)
06. The Last Flame (4:41)
07. The Shepherd (4:04)
08. Into the Storm (4:35)
09. The City Must Survive (4:11)
10. Damned Souls (4:39)
11. The Still Cold World (Bonus Track) (2:29)

Total duration: 44:21




(written 24-01-2020)
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Released by

Gamemusic (regular release 2018)