Soundtrack Review: Returnal (2021)

On May 7th, Milan Records released the original soundtrack to the newest Playstation 5 game Returnal, with the music composed by Bobby Krlic. Best known for his work as the Haxan Cloak, Bobby Krlic brings his experience as an award-winning composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist to Returnal, imbuing the score with a gritty and experimental quality that matches the tone of the third-person shooter game. The album marks Krlic’s first-ever video game title as lead composer and follows his critically acclaimed, award-winning scores for director Ari Aster’s Midsommar, Hulu’s Reprisal, TNT’s Snowpiercer and The Alienist.

Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) is a British artist, composer and record producer based in Los Angeles. Over the past decade, he has created music under The Haxan Cloak, releasing two critically acclaimed full-length albums (The Haxan Cloak and Excavation) and touring extensively as a solo artist, building a devout fanbase. In 2015, Krlic began collaborating with fellow producer and Oscar-winning film composer Atticus Ross on soundtracks including John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 and Michael Mann’s Blackhat. Since then, Krlic has scored a number of major network television shows including TNT’s SnowpiercerThe Alienist: Angel of Darkness and Hulu’s Reprisal as well as a recent collaboration with Swans for Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2. Notably, he wrote the much lauded original soundtrack to Ari Aster’s sophomore feature film Midsommar, for which Krlic received The Ivor Novello for Best Original Score in 2020.

In Returnal, after crash-landing on a shape-shifting alien planet, Selene must search through the barren landscape of an ancient civilization for her escape. Isolated and alone, she finds herself fighting tooth and nail for survival. Again and again, she’s defeated – forced to restart her journey every time she dies. Through relentless roguelike gameplay, you’ll discover that just as the planet changes with every cycle, so do the items at your disposal. Every loop offers new combinations, forcing you to push your boundaries and approach combat with a different strategy each time.

The music for Returnal is, well, it’s really incredible. I was immediately intrigued by the game’s “caught in a time loop” premise and wondered how the game’s music would play into that concept. As far as I can tell, the music does connect to that idea of time repeating itself over and over again, though not in the way I thought it might. Most of the tracks sound warped and distorted, there are sudden, static-like sounds that cut in and out of the music, and my favorite part? There are times when it sounds like voices are cutting in to the music, creating this muddled effect that makes it sound like you really are lost in time.

The instrumental mix is about what you’d expect for a game like Returnal, a combination of electronic instruments and synthesizers mixed in with choral voices. What really caught me by surprise though is how calm the music is for the most part. Given what I’ve heard about this game, I was expecting sci-fi music that was more action-oriented, or at least faster-paced. But it’s nothing like that, and it’s making me seriously reconsider what this game is all about. This sounds like a more cerebral game than I initially thought, and I’m very excited about that. I like games that require you to think and this music makes me think Returnal is one of those games.

If I have one complaint about the soundtrack for Returnal, it’s that it’s surprisingly short, there’s only nine tracks in total. I don’t know if that speaks to the overall length of the game, but I’ve seen some soundtrack albums that are three times as long, and it was startling to see this one be so short.

That minor issue aside, I enjoyed the soundtrack for Returnal, and I think all of you will too.

Returnal Track List

  1. The Crash
  2. The Forest
  3. Helios
  4. Citadel
  5. Murals
  6. Recessed
  7. Motionless
  8. A Mysterious Device
  9. Dream Already Seen

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

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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