The Halo series will forever be my favorite series of video games for so many reasons. From the spectacular level design, to the tight gameplay, to the interesting narrative, I love so much about Halo, especially the titles developed by Bungie. Along with all those reasons I just mentioned, one of the things that really grabbed me about Halo was the amazing soundtrack composed by Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori.
From the moment I started up the first game, my attention was captured by the Gregorian chant that plays on the menu. Something about it invokes a sense of wonder and mystery that still gives me chills to this day.
The iconic song on the soundtrack (and one of the most iconic songs in all of gaming) is, of course, the main Halo theme, which has appeared in some form or another in every main series game. The track isn’t particularly complex, but it is an amazing composition. The rhythmic drums, the buildup of strings leading into the main melody, everything about the song captures the essence of what Halo is.
Halo 2 stepped it up a notch with its “Mjolnir Mix” variant of the song featuring guitar performed by the legendary Steve Vai. Infusing metal guitars with the orchestral arrangement of the song, for me at least, raised the epicness of the song to a new level. The way Vai shreds his way through this track is simply amazing.
Halo 2 had a lot more guitar music mixed into the soundtrack in general, giving fans of the series such phenomenal tracks as “In Amber Clad” and “Reclaimer,” and featuring the songs “Follow” and “Blow Me Away,” performed by Incubus and Breaking Benjamin, respectively. Halo 2 easily has one of the best soundtracks in the entire series.
It was Halo 3, though, that really stepped up what the series’ soundtrack could be. Halo 3 was the first entry in the series to feature a live orchestra, which was used to not only create new, fuller arrangements of songs from the first two games, but to bring entirely new compositions to the table. Unlike the first two games, where some tracks popped up several times throughout the game, each level and Halo 3 had a unique soundtrack that progressed along with players as they fought their way through the Covenant and the Flood.
While it did have a classic version of the Halo theme, Halo 3 also featured a new, piano-filled arrangement in “One Final Effort.” The thing I really liked about Halo 3's soundtrack, however, was the way it took motifs from the first two games and subtle worked them into the soundtrack in new and interesting ways, such as in “Released” and “Roll Call.”
Then we have the two other games in the series that Bungie worked on, Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach. Neither followed the story of Master Chief, so each game featured an entirely new soundtrack composed by O’Donnell and Salvatori.
Of all the games in the series, I think ODST has the best one. It brought in so many new elements into the mix to fit in with the dark noir aesthetic of the game. Alternating between moody night time themes for the city exploration aspect of the game and more epic, adrenaline pumping themes for the flashback missions, there is so much variety across the soundtrack, and all of it is fantastic.
Reach, on the other hand, had a less memorable soundtrack. That said, there is still a lot to love to be found. Unfortunately it was the last Halo game Bungie worked on and, as a result, the last one to be scored by O’Donnell and Salvatori.
343 Industries has released two more Halo titles in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, but the soundtracks lack the same magic that made the Bungie titles so amazing. At least I can still go back and listen to the hours and hours of fantastic music that O’Donnel and Salvatori composed for Halo over the years.