Soundscapes: The Glitchy Ode of Night City
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Written by: Andray Smith
Edited by: Huimin Zhuo
After clocking forty hours in CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, I’ve been constantly surprised for better or worse by the quality of the game. My own playthrough had been a coin flip of whether I’d discover a series of annoying bugs or bad A.I.. Yet the stories the game told in its quests along with its musical score and soundtrack made for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Very few AAA titles find a way to make their score compelling, filling their world with very derivative and unimaginative sounds that function as a backdrop but lack the extra layer of character and creativity that a good score brings. When a composer is able to push forward and use music as a medium to enhance the narrative, it creates an experience that is thoroughly addicting and wholly memorable.
If you’ve ever welled up to a violin at an emotional climax in a film or show, you likely have a good idea of what strings can do to bolster the mood of a scene. What makes Cyberpunk 2077’s music special is that it still creates the atmosphere that the scene needs, but it weaves in its own motifs and themes in rewarding ways. There are numerous tracks within Cyberpunk 2077 that make a good case for how one can enhance their game while still creating music that is fun and interesting. Composers Marcin Przyblyowicz, P.T. Adamczyk, and Paul Leonard-Morgan have done an incredible job in creating a sound that intensified my enjoyment of Cyberpunk 2077.
My favorite track, “Been Good To Know Ya”, is prominently featured at the game’s climax. Sonically, it’s a moody earworm with a foreboding aura and mystical texture that plunges you into a trance as the roller-coaster of Cyberpunk’s main quest unfolds before you. For context, you’ve been fighting your way through the best and worst of Night City to remove the A.I. of an indie rock star terrorist that gave you insane regenerative abilities at the cost of destroying your body as you know it. Faced with a final gambit that could save your life, you’re forced to fight through waves of enemies all for the chance to remove this A.I. The moment is laden with anxiety, pain, and hope. It is a gamble built upon layers of riddling events and emotions. As you step forward seeking a conclusion to your journey, what better to accompany the moment than an orchestra of bittersweet synthetic strings.
The bass and strings are met with synthesized notes mimicking a choir, playing on the idea that the commodification of technological enhancements has ultimately morphed humanity into cyborgs that creep closer and closer to being something that is more metal than human. However, the suggested imagery continues beyond that; the track goes even deeper, tying that otherworldly choir into themes of mysticism and the occult. Death is the natural enemy of one trying to preserve themselves with cybernetic and “Been Good To Know Ya” subtly implants the feeling of fear and uncertainty that is death is known for. It is only when all these small elements have been introduced that the track evolves and grows in size and intricacies, going back to that overwhelming wall of sound that Cyberpunk is rife with. Still, there’s a clear sign of reservation and the instruments will pull back, always reverting to the strings and slow bassline. It perfectly captures your anxiety and drags out in a slow and methodical manner.
The musical score flaunts its versatility lulling you into a sickly trance, perfectly underscoring the final moments of the plot. Where other tracks disorient and overwhelm you to suit the chaotic nature of the game, “Been Good to Know Ya” doubles down on the existential crisis in front of you. It amps up the realization that death is real. Beyond its curtain is a world unknown. Incorporating your themes and narrative into your music is important, and the way it’s done within this track is very straightforward but engaging nonetheless. Even with the technobabble that is rife in Cyberpunk 2077’s setting, you’ll still recognize the allusions to death and the afterlife.
Creating a feeling of suspense and anxiety in a game is difficult. The protagonist is usually an indestructible pushing through unbelievable scenarios in gameplay and story. So it’s difficult to create a threat that the player will register as legitimate, so using music to trick the subconscious is key. Cyberpunk associates deviations in its usual electronic offerings with important plot moments and character themes. Even the string section that is slightly synthetic is one of the more organic sounds you’ll hear. In fact, the game begins with you getting a glimpse of that string section. “V” the opening track that plays with the title screen briefly plays the exact same string arrangement. Although it is common to reuse motifs in a song to signal connections in themes and characters, it is still fun to hear those connections and even rewarding when you understand them. So when you hear that grumbling bass being met with otherworldly strings, you recognize that this conclusion is where the game will come full circle and it will not be an easy ride.
Listen to the Track on Spotify and Apple Music
Learn More About Cyberpunk 2077
Learn More About the Composers: Marcin Przyblyowicz, P.T. Adamczyk, and Paul Leonard-Morgan