Getting Nerdy about Music

A look at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s original music kits.

Featured Post Image - A look at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s original music kits.

So for the past month and a half, I’ve been fixated on something a bit unusual:

When you need some jams while getting the ace on Dust II.

Valve introduced “music kits” to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive back in October 2014. These special items replace the game’s default music with unique tracks by nine different musicians. You can get one of these offered randomly in-game for $4.99, or buy one on the Steam marketplace if you’re looking for a specific one. Alternatively while in-game, you can borrow anyone’s music kit if they have one equipped, so you can give it a try in action.

I love video game music. I also tend to get nerdy about the parts of video game music most people don’t notice. Naturally when this was announced, I was excited for something that was probably done to distract us from how broken the CZ75-Auto is in CS:GO (at the time). But I was curious on what each one sounded like, and if they were any good.

The first nine music kits introduced. A nice mix of game composers, DJs and hard rockers.

For the sake of this, I’m gonna give a review of each kit. Granted, I’m not an expert at reviewing music, but I’ll try to review it to the best of my abilities, and links that feature each kit so you can listen to them for yourself. Without further ado, let’s get started.

I’m not gonna review the stock default that’s been in the game since 2012, but I will say this: It’s fine. It works. It’s credited to just “Valve,” but some of it seems to be split between Valve composer mainstay Mike Morasky and DOTA2/Myst V composer Tim Larkin. It’s what I kinda hate about Valve’s philosophy of only crediting the company rather than specific employees: It makes it harder to credit who made who.

(Videos courtesy of YouTube user TheLeafyfille.)

Austin Wintory, Desert Fire

DESCRIPTION: Grammy nominated game composer Austin Wintory asks, why bother hunting your enemies when you can lure them in with a deadly, admittedly insane, tango?

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Austin Wintory’s done music for most of thatgamecompany’s work, such as fl0w, and Journey, which I heard was a great game. (I still need to get around to playing that one.) Out of all the game composers featured here, barring Sean Murray, I’d say he’s probably the most famous game composer out of everyone here.

Wintory’s Desert Fire opts for an acoustic guitar with an orchestral accompaniment, fitting right at home on maps like Inferno, Mirage or Dust II. One of my favorites is the second action cue (startaction02) that plays immediately as a round starts, with a brassy horn section finely tuned to the action. The MVP Anthem is another favorite, with quick percussion and a flute solo, which fits perfectly for when you fragged the entire enemy team, or successfully defused a bomb.

It may be a bit cliche on the acoustic guitars and the woodwinds, but it works insanely well. We’re already off to a great start.

VERDICT: Highly recommended.

Daniel Sadowski, Crimson Assault

DESCRIPTION: Video Game Composer Daniel Sadowski delivers Edgy Action mixed with CRAZY FAT beats in this pulsating, exhilarating Music Pack.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

I’ve never heard of Daniel Sadowski, but he’s done music here and there for some movies and games, most notable the 2009 A Boy and His Blob reboot, and doing music for something like Counter-Strike is enough to get you noticed more, so good on him.

Crimson Assault goes heavy on the techno, a 3-note motif appearing throughout all the tracks in his score, becoming the only notable thing about it. The score itself is very much pulse-pounding action, and the bomb timer music being one of the highlights, fitting perfectly with the suspense of bomb defusal mode.

This music kit took a good while to grow on me. At first, I felt it was bad techno and was probably the worst of the pack, but after a few listens and hearing it in action in-game, it fits in CS:GO. If you’re looking for something that will get your blood pumping, Crimson Assault’s not a bad choice.

VERDICT: Lightly recommended, get it on the Steam Marketplace on discount.

Dren, Death’s Head Demolition

DESCRIPTION: From game music composer Dren, this cinematic, superhero-metal inspired music pack puts the ‘ill’ into KILL!

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

For this first group of music kits, Valve really went all over the place with who they chose. Dren isn’t a composer I’m familiar with, but he’s done music for other games, mostly mobile games like Transformers: Age of Extinction. As I said, getting featured in a game like this gets you noticed, especially with his music kit.

Filled with heavy percussion and a chugging bass line, Death’s Head Demolition ends up being a good mix of dramatic orchestral score with subtle hints of rock, which does crop up on some other games like Call of Duty. It makes it feel very innocuous, which isn’t bad, it compliments the game without being too obnoxious. This was another one that I thought wasn’t great as first, but after a few listens and hearing it in-game, it fits perfectly fine in the game.

If CS:GO didn’t have a soundtrack in it already, Death’s Head Demolition would probably be the closest to an “official” soundtrack. It strikes a good balance of orchestra and rock, fitting right at home in a game like this. Death’s Head Demolition’s a good music kit, even if it’s not incredibly outstanding.

VERDICT: Recommended.

Feed Me, High Noon

DESCRIPTION: Renowned elecronic [sic] musician Feed Me, brings a western corral showdown into a modern electronic space.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

I’ll admit that I’m not a super fan of dubstep music, or even electronic dance music in general. Probably since that didn’t really explode until the late 2000s, while I was well into my twenties and stuck in my ways of listening mostly to classic rock. I like some of what I’ve heard up to this point, and Feed Me’s High Noon caught my interest fairly quickly.

I wonder if Feed Me got the opportunity to do a music kit for CS:GO because of his song “One Click Headshot.” At times, High Noon’s main theme sounds very much like “One Click Headshot,” but with an added western sound to it.

Several of the tracks like the Choose Team cue have a bit of subtle chiptune mixed in as well, even the Round Loss cue has good electronic notes accompanying the guitar. It compliments the track well in a way that makes it not overbearing.

High Noon seems to be one of the most popular of these initial music kits, I usually see that one or one by Skog that we’ll get to real soon, and I could see why. A majority of CS:GO players strike me as part of the EDM/techno crowd, and this one fits for those people. Even for a person like me who’s not really into the genre, I enjoyed High Noon and it’s probably the best of the bunch.

(Fun fact: There’s an unused MVP anthem hidden in the files, filled with chiptune-y goodness that’s 4:33 into the video. Time will tell when this will actually get used in game!

Verdict: Highly Recommended.

Noisia, Sharpened

DESCRIPTION: Dutch Electronic Trio Noisia brings a tough, cinematic feel with a unique blend of tradition and progression.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Alas, my knowledge of Noisia begins and ends at DJ Hero, as “Groundhog” was featured in that game, and was considered one of the hardest songs in the game to master. Though they’re not new to video game music — they have contributed music to games like Motorstorm Apocalypse and DmC: Devil May Cry — I’d say out of all the people featured for Valve’s new music kit idea, they’re the most famous out of this lot.

Sharpened goes for heavy electronics mixed in with dissonant strings and noisy percussion. It’s very in-your-face at times, yet very dramatic. The Bomb Countdown Timer is one of my favorites because of its ticking tempo mixed with very harsh strings, increasing the tension of the situation involved, especially when the ten second timer kicks in.

Noisia did a good job on Sharpened, bringing a unique musical take. Even though I don’t know much of their music, if this is any indication, I’d probably enjoy some of their other stuff.

VERDICT: Recommended.

Robert Allaire, Insurgency

DESCRIPTION: Music to crush your enemies see them driven before you from award winning composer Robert Allaire.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Robert Allaire is another relative unknown to me, I’m afraid. He did assist in making music for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, as well as incidental music here and there, so this will likely be good.

Insurgency is heavy on the electronic synth. In fact, I don’t think there’s any live instrumentation in any of the tracks, which makes it stand out very well. It reminds me very much of MOD tracker files, which I have a soft spot for. This is apparent in the main menu and part of the round start tracks. The Round Win and MVP Anthem sound triumphant, and the Deathcam and Round Loss cues sound appropriately downbeat.

I never thought electronic music would fit in the world of CS:GO, but Allaire did a good job here. Insurgency is a good pick for those who want a slightly different electronic sound from the others here.

VERDICT: Recommended.

Sasha, LNOE

DESCRIPTION: Immerse yourself in this cinematic soundtrack full of soaring strings, pulsating melodies and driving drums from the world renowned DJ / Producer Sasha

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

DJ Sasha is the third and final electronic artist who made a music kit, with LNOE (which stands for “Last Night On Earth,” Sasha’s record label). Again, much like Noisia and Feed Me, I don’t know much about Sasha’s work, so all I can go by is what is featured here.

If there was one word to describe LNOE, it’s chill. LNOE does have the same quick tempo that some of the other music kits featured have, but it’s very subdued. Even with how low key it is, it brings the right amount of suspense and action. A few of the cues, like the round win and MVP anthem have subtle piano, whereas the bomb timer and choose team cues have prominent percussion.

A lot of people who play CS:GO likely have the music turned off, but LNOE might change that. It’s not “in your face,” and that’s good. While this music kit didn’t wow me too much, I could still borrow it if someone else has it.

VERDICT: Lightly recommended, get it on the Steam Marketplace on discount.

Sean Murray, A*D*8

DESCRIPTION: From the composer of two of the world’s biggest war games, comes a sonic loadout that will bring your enemies to Hell’s Gate!!

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Not to be confused with the NCIS actor (or the No Man’s Sky guy), Sean Murray is probably the composer I’m most familiar with. I remember his work in Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Black Ops, both of which featured sweeping orchestra mixed in with anachronistic techno and metal beats.It was pretty good even if they weren’t historically accurate. Then again, Call of Duty games have never been known for that sort of thing.

Since I was familiar with his Call of Duty work, I was happy when I found out he contributed to CS:GO with A*D*8.

The main theme, as well as the various cues like the round start cues and bomb timers, are all based on the same base track, full of dramatic strings, heavy drum beats, and subtle horns mixed with electronic growls. Some of the other cues, like the ten second timer and the win/loss cues would fit right at home in a Call of Duty game. It’s unfortunate that the bomb timer music is just the main theme with added instruments, I would’ve loved to hear a more unique track, but what is there isn’t bad.

A*D*8 is probably the closest to wanting that dramatic, action movie feel that Call of Duty scores have, I would recommend it if you’re looking specifically for that sound, or liked Murray’s other stuff.

Verdict: Highly Recommended.

Skog, Metal

DESCRIPTION: A lesson in aggression from Metal producer, Skog.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

So we hit all the common genres for these music kits: EDM/dubstep, orchestrated action, even some acoustic guitar fare. Naturally the only thing missing is some heavy metal. Jocke Skog fills that void with the simple-sounding Metal. Though, the ID3 tags on the MP3s call this “CSGO: Skog,” which might’ve been the original name.

Appropriately named, this music kit’s heavy on the distorted guitars and heavy beats that encompass most modern metal music these days, yet in CS:GO‘s case it fits. From the suspenseful tunes that play before a round starts, to the frenetic pace of the MVP Anthem, Skog does a great job with what he’s given. Skog even does a metal remix of the famed Funeral March for a round loss, which is a nice touch.

While I’m not a super fan of most modern metal, Skog does a good job with Metal. I can see why this one’s popular with the average CS:GO player, it’s got the right amount of action, and it rocks.

VERDICT: Recommended.

I really like the concept of music kits. They remind me of using random music CDs as Quake’s soundtrack, or the custom soundtracks concept that the original Xbox had. Since CS:GO doesn’t have customizable characters (at the time of this post), this is probably the better idea than slapping goofy hats onto terrorists.

Valve’s been on a “personal customization” kick in their multiplayer games, since Team Fortress 2 introduced hats way back in 2008, and it makes sense this is the next logical step. While not completely new — DOTA 2 had a unique score made for the recent International tournament earlier this year — I hope the music kits take off, because there’s a lot of composers and musicians I’d like to see with their own take on Counter-Strike‘s music in the future.

I’d totally kill for a Simon Viklund music kit, just saying.

PERSONAL FAVORITES: Desert Fire, High Noon, Sharpened, Insurgency, A*D*8, Metal.

Since this original post, Valve has been at a steady clip of releasing new music kits, now reaching nearly 50 different soundtracks from a spectrum of musicians. Check them out here:

– “Series 2“, released on February 12, 2015, added kits featuring the soundtracks to Hotline Miami and The Talos Principle, as well as new kits from Mateo Messina, Matt Lange and returning contributor Daniel Sadowski. This also covers the Christmas-themed Midnight Riders pack released in December.

– “Series 3“, released on September 24, 2015, added 14 new kits, featuring return musicians Jocke Skog and Daniel Sadowski alongside Red Bull Records bands like AWOLNATION, Beartooth and New Beat Fund; and from other TV and film composers such as Michael Bross, Ian Hultquist and Lennie Moore.

– “Series 4“, released on November 28, 2016, introduced the “Radicals Music Box,” featuring works from Red Bull and Fervor Records bands like Blitz Kids, Twin Atlantic, Hundredth and Neck Deep, as well as another pack by Jocke Skog.

– “Series 5“, released on April 16, 2020, introduced the “Masterminds Music Box,” featuring many return composers like Austin Wintory, Dren McDonald, and Daniel Sadowski; alongside newcomers Sam Marshall, Tim Huling and Tree Adams & Ben Bromfield. This also covers the loose music kits released in the interim between the Radicals and Masterminds Music Boxes, such as music from Scarlxrd, and Halo and Half-Life: Alyx themed music kits.

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