It may not have the third-person roadie-running action of the classic Gears of War games, but Gears Tactics still manages to easily stand shoulder to shoulder with its source material COGs as one of the definitive experiences within that franchise. Just as bloody, a whole lot more cerebral and violently tactical, Gears Tactics is a spin-off with teeth that looks, feels and plays damn well.
It also sounds brilliant, thanks to a moody and atmospheric score thanks to composer Edward Patrick White. A Gears of War veteran fro the original Xbox 360 days, White’s score emphasises a corruptive and dark tone throughout the gameplay experience, providing a heroic but desperate scramble to survive against overwhelming odds. We recently had the chance to speak to him on his work for Gears Tactics. Here’s what he had to say:
So where does your Gears of War story begin? What was your first exposure to the brand and its big beefy boys?
It was probably 2007, I’d just bought my first apartment. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have children and it was basically me, a brand new kitten. I had a deck chair, I had a TV and I had an Xbox and I had that copy of that first Gears game. And no interruptions, so I was able to spend an awful amount of time clocking up hours on that game.
There’s a lot of creative DNA in the Gears soundtracks, thanks to composers like Ramin Djawadi, Steve Jablonksy and Kevin Riepl. Was there a common theme or a thread throughout their contributions, that you wanted to keep in your soundtrack?
The thing to remember with Gears Tactics is that chronologically it occurs before the first Gears of War takes place and it has a completely different set of characters. So in that way it was clear to all of us that they would need their own unique musical themes and yet we felt a great responsibility to the fans of Gears of War. Particularly the change from third-person cover-based shooter to a top-down tactical game.
We felt it was really important to say to fans ‘Don’t worry we’ve got you, we understand what we’re doing here.’ What I really tried to do was have an overall stylistic influence that encompassed the first game right through to to some of the more recent contributions like Gears 4 and 5. Gears 5 was in development at the same time as Tactics, so I was able to get a beat on what they were doing and it was about how we could unify that sound into something that feels quintessentially Gears but can also be its own thing.
There are some Easter egg moments in the music, where if fans of the original games are listening, they’ll get some payoffs.
At the same time, what type of sound did you want to add to Gears Tactics, to put your stamp on the franchise?
From my perspective, a lot of it is about thematic material. And again, finding those tunes that are unique to those characters, the new villain and so forth. I think there is always something that’s a little bit corrupted about the Gears music. You can have the big brass, you can have the full orchestral theme going but it should never get too heroic. You should always feel that you might win a battle, but the war is still going. That’s a quality that we try to get into the music.
I can only imagine how challenging it must be to develop a soundtrack which not only sets the atmosphere in Gears Tactics, but also has to give you that subtle prompt to push forward and think carefully about every move you make. How did you approach composing music for a game that looked to blend thoughtful tactics with quick-reflex action?
It’s one of the challenges that we knew we were going to have to crack right up front, because music functions differently in first-person vs third-person. The music can often get away with being less interactive because if you decide to go hide down an alley, what you’ll often find is that the system wil keep playing the exciting music, even though you’re not doing that.
Ours is obviously turn-based, so it’s a really gory game of chess that we’re playing. That meant that the music had to function very differently, so you have a player turn and then you have the enemy turn. And those had to have very distinct and unique flavours. That was the first thing and obviously those flavours were going to be interrrupted by a change of turn, that doesn;t happen in the traditional Gears franchise.
The other thing is of course, you might be sitting there for some time, deciding how you’re going to play this next moveand for the music to be banging away and be really exciting when you’re trying to have a cerebral experience at that moment. That wouldn’t have made sense, so we had to have quite a dynamic score, that could track your decision-making in a way, at the same pace that you would make those decisions, so that when you’re being quite strategic and deciding what you’re going to, the music is more strategic.
Once you actually engaging in combat and its being quite bloody, then the music is scaling up.
Are there any tracks in particular, that proved to be the most challenging to nail during the development of the soundtrack?
It was interesting. I was on the game for two years, so there’s an iterative process that’s taking place over quite a long period of time where you’re experimenting, you’re throwing sphagetti at the wall, you’re finding out what sticks and what doesn’t, what the developers are responding to. I spent an awful lot of time to get Ukon’s theme just right, because in a lot of the game he’s skulking about and the evidence of his work in the Gears world is there, but he had to almost exist as a musical character before you really meet him properly as the big villain.
So I spent quite a lot of time thinking about how we would do that in a way that wasn’t going to feel too intrusive, and yet paid you off when you do finally meet him.
The one thing I’m noticing in video game soundtracks, is that composers such as yourself aren’t just developing more cinematic scores, but they’re also experimenting with different sounds and instruments. For example, Mick Gordon’s soundtrack for Doom 2016 has a freakin’ chainsaw thrown into one his tracks. Have you also experimented with adding something unusual to your score, or making use of different instruments to achieve a more alien tone?
I think it’s always the pursuit of authenticity. For me it’s always something corruptive in Gears, so I will draft anybody who is walking by my studio, and my eight-year-old daughter would come in to bring me a snack and I would say ‘just sing whatever you want to sing’ and then I would pitch it up, pitch it down, stretch it, reverse it, granulate it and do all kinds of things.
You never really hear these things as a featured instrument, but the fact those things are in there really helped to give you an unsettling and organic feeling.
If I’m spinning up the Gears Tactics soundtrack on Spotify for a listen, which tracks would you recommend I listen to, for an Easter egg hunt?
Certainly Off into the sunset, there’s a pretty big one there. The wrong Gear possibly has some stuff in there. The soundtrack itself focuses on the cinematics and the story and quite a lot of the Easter eggs are playing in the in-game music, so you’ll have to buy the game to find those!
Lastly, I want to go back to the main menu of Gears Tactics. The moment that soundtrack starts, there’s a weird gap with the trumpet sound. Is there a story behind that, is there something that a casual listener is missing out on that we should be paying attention to?
This would be very much what I would consider to be an Easter egg, it’s really inspired by the original legacy music of the game. Particularly that first game’s score. To me there are snare drums and some brass material and it’s almost like it’s being cut-off mid-transmission, there’s something about it just kind of echoing there. You’re only just getting this snippet of the transmission and I quite enjoyed that. I remembered something that spoke to me about the first Gears soundtrack, so it felt like I had to get that in there as a colour.
Last Updated: May 12, 2020