In late 2010, Bungie released their final game in the Halo series, the enormously successful franchise they created with the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, back in 2001 on Microsoft’s Xbox. That final game was Halo Reach, and marked Bungie’s passing of the Halo torch to new Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries, who are currently hard at work on Halo 4, the continuation of Master Chief’s storyline.

A new studio taking over a successful, established franchise (and one that still has its own distinct feel in amongst a glut of same-y grey, military shooters) had many fans worried: how would 343i maintain the look and feel of the now-classic Halo experience? And what of the music?

Everyone knows at least one piece of Halo music, and it’s probably the main theme that played on the title screen of Halo:CE – those Gregorian monk chants that have come to be something of a hallmark for the series. Marty O’Donnell’s scores have come to be known for a mix of bombastic orchestration and quieter, more vulnerable moments – often in the same piece.

Meanwhile, his more subtle, bluesy, noir-influenced work on side story Halo 3: ODST shows not only his versatility, but his willingness (and, more importantly, ability) to step away from what fans expect from a Halo soundtrack while still retaining that sense of fragility and mystery.

So the question becomes, how to replace, and ideally even surpass Marty O’Donnell and his iconic scores? The answer, it seems, is not to try to top Marty’s work, but side-step it.

This piece of music, ‘Requiem’, was pieced together from a few videos by intrepid YouTube users and listening to it, it’s immediately clear that Halo 4‘s audio team, led by ex-Kojima Productions man Sotaro Tojima and one-time Massive Attack collaborator Neil Davidge, are taking a different road entirely with their work on the new game.

It’s sweeping and orchestral, but in a different way to Marty’s scores. It’s a piece that is incredibly evocative of a sense of mystery, of a place that no human eyes have ever seen. If O’Donnell’s music felt like it described a mix of sci-fi and action, Davidge’s take seems to evoke exploration and discovery. It almost sounds like it could have been used in an early scene from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

Of course, with Davidge onboard we can surely expect some driving electronic beats and soundscapes, and while that may seem to be one departure too far for Halo, the samples that have been heard so far seem to both work in the context of the short gameplay segments we have seen, and mix into the overarching orchestral themes beautifully.

If this all sounds like Halo 4‘s audio team are throwing the baby out with the bath water, fear not; members of the team have expressed their love for Marty O’Donnell’s work, as well as a desire to honour it. Neil Davidge himself says, “It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution of the past Halo scores.” This can certainly be heard in the opening stages of the WayPoint ViDoc ‘Making Halo 4 – Composing Worlds’, embedded below. The choral chanting is vaguely reminiscent of those famous Gregorian chants from Halo: Combat Evolved, yet different enough to be able to stand on its own merits.

With an epic, evocative departure that steps out from O’Donnell’s considerable shadow while simultaneously paying tasteful homage to it, Halo 4‘s musical score seems to be in safe hands under the team at 343i. I, for one, can’t wait to hear more, and in context, too.

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