Checking the Score: Hard West

Checking the Score is a weekly feature about video game music, composers, musicians and tools of the trade.

Think of the western genre and what comes to mind? Perhaps the spaghetti westerns made famous by a young Clint Eastwood? Go there and pretty soon you’ll be whistling the famous theme from The Good, The Bad and The Uglymusic by the great Ennio Morricone.

Hard West
These days, thanks to pop culture hits like Joss Whedon’s Firefly the sound of westerns is apt to be bluesy slide guitars and maybe a lonesome muted trumpet. Where scores for westerns in the 1950s were orchestral and epic, now composers search for a more intimate sound.

Polish composer Marcin Przybylowicz has been responsible for the music direction, sound design, or actual composition on such games as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Afterfall: Insanityand Hard Reset. He’s also composed music for over two dozen mobile games.

This past week Creative Forge Games released a new turn-based strategy game. Hard West, with music by Przybylowicz. The game itself is an interesting mix of traditional western tropes with some supernatural elements and, like the game, the score is a mix of contemporary “western” sounds filtered through an eastern European orchestral sensibility. The 14-track soundtrack of Hard West is available on iTunes and through Steam. The Steam version includes some digital extras.

With evocative track titles like “Welcome to the Hard West,” “Story of a Murderer,” “Dies Irae,” “The Wrath of God” and “Who Killed the World,” it’s clear the game has a dark and foreboding tone. Heavily featured are low strings, guitars and percussion. Rattlesnake-sounding shakers and ominous chords morph into a heavy rock beat, accompanying and eerie fiddle and processed voices somewhere way in the back.

With the exception of a few cues such as “Dream Town,” which is slow and mournful, the score for Hard West is not filled with memorable tunes, but clearly emphasizes texture and a palpable feeling of unease. Look for a review of the game soon, but meanwhile check out the score.