Soundtrack Review: Outer Wilds (2019)

Last year, composer Andrew Prahlow took us on a sonorous journey in Mobius Digital and Annapurna Interactive’s video game adventure through time and space – Outer Wilds. In the game, the player-character finds themselves on a planet with only 22 minutes before the local sun goes supernova and kills them. The player continually repeats this 22-minute cycle by learning details that can help alter the outcome on later playthroughs. Prahlow’s celebrated soundtrack accompanies players’ planetary expeditions with a tranquil mix of lulling synths and electronic reverie (and the catchiest banjo motif this side of the galaxy!).

 

Speaking about his approach to scoring the game, Prahlow had the following to say:

When asked to compose the music for ‘Outer Wilds’, I wanted to create a sense of simplicity and nostalgia as the player slowly becomes familiar with the world of the Hearthians. I immediately thought of an old beat up banjo that I had received as a gift a few years prior.

This main theme contrasted the melancholic textures of the Nomai [a technologically advanced alien race in the game] – where I crafted ambient soundscapes with guitar and synthesizers, heavily influenced by post-rock. As the player explores the solar system and the story moves forward, these textures become more complex, along with the campfire tunes that are the center of the score.

Having listened to the soundtrack, I have to say that the Outer Wilds soundtrack is not what I expected given the story is about an astronaut exploring a planet and an extinct alien civilization. The banjo dominates a large portion of the score, giving the music a very rustic sound that is, again, unexpected for the genre, but also comforting because it is familiar. And indeed, the main banjo theme for this score is very catchy, I really liked it. It’s subtle enough that you could listen to it during a long period of gameplay and not get tired of it.

I also feel it’s very interesting that Prahlow makes the score more complex the farther along you go in the story. It’s almost like musically rewarding the player by giving them new music as they explore new portions of the game. This is something I don’t recall seeing in other video games and I think it’s an interesting detail that sets this game apart in a good way.

Outside of the Main Theme, the score possesses a wide range of soundscapes, all cleverly executed and that give the impression of various places. For instance, “Space” and “The Sun Station” give off the vibe of being in the void of outer space. By contrast, “The Nomai” and “Nomai Ruins” are among the most melancholy in the entire score, echoing the demise of a long-dead civilization. Those last two are actually some of my favorite pieces in the score, they provide a great contrast to “Timber Hearth” and the game’s main theme. And finally, I have to give a mention to “Let There Be Light”, an all too short cue that fairly explodes (pun fully intended if you think about it) with sound and imagined light. It’s unlike anything heard in the score to date and was a very pleasant surprise given the overall tone of the score. I really liked that moment and it was a lot of fun to imagine what was happening in the game to create that kind of music.

All in all, you should definitely check out the score for Outer Wilds as it is very beautiful. In fact, for his work on this score, Andrew Prahlow has been nominated by both BAFTA and G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild) in multiple categories for his dynamic score for Outer Wilds. Prahlow’s score for Outer Wilds has previously won “Best Original Score” at Only Single Player’s Best of 2019 Awards.

Let me know what you think of Outer Wilds (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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2 thoughts on “Soundtrack Review: Outer Wilds (2019)

  1. Pingback: An Interview with Andrew Prahlow, Composer of ‘Outer Wilds’ | Film Music Central

  2. Pingback: Soundtrack Review: A Brief History of Time Travel (2018) | Film Music Central

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