I never thought I would ever come back to this. After a steady stream of music packs released throughout 2014-2016, I assumed Valve was done with the whole “CS:GO music kit” concept. After the Radicals Box hit in 2016, there had been nary a peep when it comes to that kind of content.
Then something changed. Throughout 2019 to 2020, Valve started slowly doling out individual kits, which was a better strategy to me as I could basically write about them when I had enough music kits to review. Then in late April of this year, they just dropped a pack of 7 new kits, which means I had to throw those plans immediately in the garbage.
It’s weird. The last major music kit release was in 2016, so to see them go from absolute silence to adding new ones every few months is a surprise. Especially with the spread of musicians we have on offer this time.
While I don’t play much Counter-Strike: Global Offensive these days – Call of Duty: Warzone has been my current vice, as my previous article could tell you – I still find some charm in the game. Global Offensive does things that seem absolutely baffling by modern shooter standards, yet works perfectly well without feeling too old school and too modern. That Valve has mostly stuck with it while adding elements of its competition like character skins makes it interesting to look at as a game, even if I’m not as invested as I once was. But we’re here to talk about the music, and talk we shall.
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To start, I’ll cover the four music kits released in the interim between the Radicals Box and the Masterminds Box. Like before, I’ll cover information about the musician in question, whether the music itself is good, and whether it fits in the context of Global Offensive’s gameplay. I’ll finish it off with a verdict. So let’s get started.
Like before, I’ll link to a YouTube video or to CS:GO Stash if you want to listen along.
The Verkkars, EZ4ENCE
DESCRIPTION: The Verkkars rise through the Finnish charts with a heart-pounding tribute to ENCE. Can it really be so EZ?
AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.
The first of the interim kits, this was released as a promotional kit after the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament in 2019. The Verkkars are an electronic dance band based in Finland, the same country that Major qualifiers ENCE are from.
ENCE is an eSports team that consists of noted Finnish CS:GO players, including allu, one of the replacements for Fifflaren in the classic CS:GO Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, and was a fairly reliable player during his tenure with that team. Combined with some other good players from the Finnish CS:GO scene, they came to be the underdogs of the tournament, getting as far as the finals in Katowice.
The downside was that their opponents in that final were Astralis. Or as I like to call them, The New England Patriots of Counter-Strike: A team that you can’t deny their high-tier skill and abilities while playing, but they are absolutely boring to watch them curbstomp everyone. (Surprising no one, Astralis beat ENCE 2-0 in the final, winning their second consecutive Valve-sponsored major.)
This was clearly made as a promotion for the team ENCE, and the title is a reference to a line that people were spamming in Twitch chat about the team when they were at their peak. The song itself is… okay. It’s bog-standard EDM. It really didn’t grab me.
Then the chorus got stuck in my head. The whole song is in Finnish (except for some sampled English dialogue from a tournament that plays during the breakdown), but the tone of the chorus just… hits the right notes to just get stuck in my head in the most obnoxious way.
I put “EZ4ENCE” in a category I’ve called “terrible god damn earworms,” where a specific portion of a song – usually the chorus – gets stuck in your head in all the worse ways and never ever leaves you. The Verkkars’ ENCE anthem is in the same league as Paul Oakenfold’s “Starry Eyed Surprise,” or Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary,” which is quite an impressive feat.
If you’re a fan of the team, it’s a good pack. If you’re not, Mord Fustang’s Diamonds does the same kind of EDM stuff but without the earworm chorus. Even listening to it again for this review has that damn chorus stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
EZ4ENCE, ENCE, ENCE
Dens putted upperbelt
VERDICT: Only recommended if you’re a fan of the team. Otherwise I lightly recommend it, get it on the Steam marketplace.
Scarlxrd, King, Scar
DESCRIPTION: Scarlxrd blends heavy trap beats with a flow and delivery that creates his own unique subgenre. With this exciting blend his live shows capture the attention of everyone in the crowd.
AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.
Okay, I don’t want to be That Person, you know, the one who doesn’t “get” present-day music. But I do not understand the trap genre of music, and I certainly don’t understand Scarlxrd. (That’s pronounced “scar-lord,” if you’re wondering.) He’s a young musician that makes mostly trap music, a sort of electronic rap genre that admittedly I don’t know all that well. Scarlxrd’s style is mixing trap music with some Japanese style and unusual character replacements for flavor.
It’s a shame that it’s not good music. The song itself, also called “King, Scar,” is obnoxious, prodding noise. It’s really hard to listen to, where Scarlxrd basically yells his lyrics in a harsh, robotic tone, while sticking with the very swing-like rhythm of him screaming hey and amplified bass that makes it sound like my speakers are being blown out.
Since I don’t enjoy the song itself, which plays in the main menu, it’s really hard to recommend the rest of the kit. Any track that’s just the introduction with the prominent toy box sounds are the best part because it doesn’t go full force, in-your-face about it. But then the vocals kick in and it becomes outright unbearable. This doesn’t even have the “lightly bang your head along” factor that some hip-hop has to me, it’s just too brash to really enjoy as a song, even as a music kit.
Keep in mind, there’s probably good music in this genre, hell probably even by Scarlxrd himself, but this is a bad, bad music kit. If anything, this song now rivals Hundredth’s Free in the “great if you want an obnoxious MVP anthem” category, which I didn’t know there was competition.
VERDICT: Not recommended. Straight up. This will probably be the only one in this list that I can say I actively dislike.
Halo, The Master Chief Collection
DESCRIPTION: Give your Counter Strike auditory experience a legendary makeover with the Master Chief Collection Music Pack, featuring iconic musical moments from the Halo universe. © 2019 343 Industries. All rights reserved. Used with permission from 343 Industries. Halo: The Master Chief Collection and the Halo logo are trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies.
AVAILABILITY: Given to those who own Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Steam, and have accumulated 10 hours of play in the latter.
Hey, it’s been a while since we’ve had a cross-promotional music kit. The last one was for like, Hotline Miami and The Talos Principle. I thought we’d never get another one of these.
Naturally, this features a smattering of music from the iconic Halo series of games, and is a promotional for The Master Chief Collection launching on Steam. Oddly, it’s credited to “Halo,” and not to Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, the composers of the music featured here.
Admittedly, I am not a super Halo fan. I played the first thanks to Gearbox’s alright PC port, and played 2 and 3 many years later, the latter with a friend in co-op. I’ve been meaning to get The Master Chief Collection just to give Reach and ODST a proper try, but it’s not a game series I’m super itching to play, especially for ten hours to get this music kit.
Most of the music comes from Halo 2, with a few tracks from Combat Evolved and one track from 3 filling out the rest. Those expecting music from ODST, Reach or 4 may be solely disappointed here, but they got the tracks that mattered.
Sadly, the Main Menu cue they chose isn’t the one I would’ve chosen. 343 opted to choose Ghosts of Reach from Halo 2, whereas I would’ve immediately chosen Halo from Halo: Combat Evolved, which is pretty much “the Halo theme” to me. It’s quite a bizarre choice, honestly.
At least there’s a selection of some of the hard rocking anthems from the first two games here, it’s not all the orchestral choir stuff. The first Start Round and Action takes those chugging guitars that were prevalent in the first two Halo games, and they fit well here.
I mean, if you’re into Halo, you probably already bought The Master Chief Collection, so you can’t really go wrong with a “free” kit in this case. But I wouldn’t say it’s worth going out and buying the collection just to have this kit. You’d have better luck borrowing this off some guy in-game with a Mister Chief avatar instead.
VERDICT: Recommended, especially if you’re willing to spend $60 on six games in an iconic Xbox shooter franchise.
Half-Life: Alyx, Anti-Citizen
DESCRIPTION: This music kit commemorates Half-Life: Alyx, Valve’s VR return to the Half-Life series. You are humanity’s only chance for survival, and your immersive environmental interactions continue in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
AVAILABILITY: Given to those who purchased a Valve Index VR set before Half-Life: Alyx launched on March 23, 2020, otherwise currently unavailable for purchase.
Many years ago, I wrote a post about They Hunger, a Half-Life mod that ended with me making a jab at Valve for ignoring anything Half-Life related in what seemed like eons. In early 2020, they released a new Half-Life game, and this time, it was a VR exclusive. I’m only mildly disappointed that it’s VR, but I’m glad that Valve acknowledged the franchise that basically put them on the map for the first time since Half-Life 2: Episode Two came out back in 2007.
Naturally, they pulled all the stops in making cross-promotional content with some of their games, and yet they went with the “rare music kit in CS:GO” option and not like, an Alyx hat in Team Fortress 2 or something. Then again, Valve pretty much stopped caring about TF2 about 5 years ago, so this doesn’t surprise me.
The track featured is Anti-Citizen, which plays at some point in the game, as well as being featured in some of the early trailers. It’s electronic with a guitar riff, very reminiscent of the later parts of Half-Life 2. It works out surprisingly well, and fits kind of in the same way Kelly Bailey’s Hazardous Environments does. The downside is that it just uses Anti-Citizen, and not any other deep cuts from the game’s soundtrack, which would’ve made for a nice robust kit. Oh well, it’s better than nothing.
It’s a shame it’s locked away to a $1,000 headset that you had to buy before the game came out. Now I’m not expecting Valve to give this kit away for free, but at least making it purchasable or even the option of “if you own Half-Life: Alyx you get this kit for free” would’ve been a much better compromise. Because I don’t think there’s a big overlap between hardcore CS:GO players and Valve Index owners.
VERDICT: N/A. Can’t really recommend something you can’t really get anymore, can I?
Now, for the main event: The Masterminds Box. Seven music kits, some by returning composers, others by some new ones. There’s even another game crossover in this set.
Similar to the previous Radicals Box, this is available for purchase in three ways: A standard version for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or available on the Steam marketplace at various prices. The box works much like any other crate in CS:GO, so you’ll be paying to get one of the seven kits on offer. If you’re looking for a specific kit, you’ll have much better luck on the marketplace.
Austin Wintory, Bachram
DESCRIPTION: Austin Wintory mixes Celtic fantasy with sizzling electronics and a generous helping of Peter Hollens’ vocals in this genre-bending Music Kit.
Austin Wintory, the iconic composer that brought us the soundtracks of Journey, The Banner Saga trilogy and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate makes his long-awaited return. His previous music kit, Desert Fire, was one of the original 9 kits released way back in 2014, and it was one of my favorite kits. I fully expected that the next one he’d make would be just as good as that.
I wasn’t expecting a celtic folk vibe from him, that’s for certain. While it’s a bit more electronic than I was expecting, there’s a strong sense of action and tension throughout the whole kit, with a strong sense of percussion, which I can always appreciate. The bomb timer tracks are the right amount of subtlety and suspense without being too in your face about it, and it really works.
Admittedly I’m a sucker for heavy percussion-driven tracks, so it didn’t take very long for this to really catch my interest. The prominent percussion might be a bit overbearing in spots, but the bomb 10 second timer using that combined with the vocals of Peter Hollens makes it give the right sense of tension.
Wintory hit it out of the park again, doing an outstanding job with an out there genre. It’s great, and instantly became one of my new favorites.
VERDICT: Highly recommended. Even if the style isn’t your thing, it fits well in the mold of CS:GO.
Sam Marshall, Bodacious
DESCRIPTION: Inspired by the funky video game music of the early 90s, composer Sam Marshall cooks up some classic game nostalgia with a spicy modern sauce.
A newbie to the CS:GO music kit scene. Sam Marshall is a music editor and composer, working on such hits as Concrete Genie, Skullgirls Mobile and… Mass Effect: Andromeda. Well, they can’t all be winners.
According to Marshall in the description, Bodacious goes for a ‘90s video game vibe, and it took me a moment to realize what specific style he’s going for. As I listened through the whole pack, I started thinking of stuff like the early Need for Speed games, which is more late ‘90s than early ‘90s like he claims. That’s more prevalent in the various incidental tracks like the Bomb Timer tracks and the Start Round/Action cues. It’s got that pulse-pounding electronic stuff that people like Rom Di Prisco were making all over racing games in the ‘90s, and this pack probably wouldn’t be too out of place there.
The Main Menu’s got the right amount of rhythm and funk to it that makes it fun and catchy, even if the rest of the kit goes in a much slower, dramatic pace. The bomb timer track is especially good at its buildup, though the 10 second bomb timer doesn’t build to that climax nearly as well. Despite that, it’s probably one of the better electronic-themed kits out of the entire CS:GO music kit library.
Marshall would eventually compile some of this music into an EP, also titled Bodacious, which is on streaming services like Spotify. It’s worth a listen, much like this kit.
VERDICT: Recommended for those who want something electronic and funky.
Matt Levine, Drifter
DESCRIPTION: Composer Matt Levine delivers raw swagger in this gritty homage to the Spaghetti Western. It has never felt better to say, “go ahead, make my day…”
Matt Levine is primarily a music editor and sound producer, but has also composed some music, mostly for Sony’s properties throughout most of the 2000s and 2010s. Any major AAA game that Sony published around that time, he likely had a hand in its sound and music, like the Uncharted saga and the Infamous games. I can’t vouch for his individual work, but having such a pedigree like that means this is likely gonna be pretty good.
The whole pack is going straight for the Spaghetti Western kind of style to it, complete with twangy guitars and jangling spur-sounding percussion. It actually works pretty well, even when he picks up the tempo for stuff like the Start Round/Start Action cues.
It took me a while to really enjoy this one. Initially, it sounded fairly derivative in spots, but then it grew on me as I heard each track multiple times. It’s a fairly solid kit, and I hope we see more stuff from Matt Levine in the future.
At this point we’ve covered all the bases when it comes to desert-sounding ambient music: Acoustic tango in Austin Wintory’s Desert Fire, the Spaghetti Western vibe of this, even adding an electronic spin with Feed Me’s High Noon. I think we’re good on this front unless someone tries to make a middle-eastern sounding pack, then we’re covered.
VERDICT: Lightly recommended if you’re looking for something to frag on Inferno, and the other packs don’t quite sound right.
Daniel Sadowski, Eye of the Dragon
DESCRIPTION: From the composer who brought you “Total Domination”, “The 8-Bit Kit” and “Crimson Assault”, comes “Eye Of The Dragon”. Music composer Daniel Sadowski mixes Ninjas + Guns + Hip-Hop + Techno to create an action-packed Music Kit. Ninjas are known for their fast and precise attacks, yet they can be invisible to their enemy.
When I said there was gonna be returning composers, I wasn’t kidding. This is Daniel Sadowski‘s fourth music kit for CS:GO, and he’s even done two more for DOTA2 in the years since. He’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t surprise me that they brought him back again.
Eye of the Dragon goes for an Asian hip-hop style, with sword swings and gunshots being creatively used for beats. It surprisingly works without being too obnoxious. The rest of the kit feels a little disjointed in spots, with some tracks feeling like they end too abruptly, such as the bomb timer cues.
The whole pack has the same kind of “MOD Tracker” music vibe that his second kit Total Domination had, and I can appreciate anyone who tries to make something in that sort of vein, intentionally or not. It also reminds me also of stuff like the Hong Kong levels from the original Deus Ex, which also used mod tracker files for its soundtrack.
It’s a pretty good music kit, and it shows Sadowski’s willing to go in unique directions each time. It’s cool to see him carve a niche out of doing these packs, and I won’t be surprised if I’m here reviewing a fifth kit of his the next time around. Well, either that or Skog’s fourth.
VERDICT: Recommended. It’s got a nice style to it I don’t see many other musicians do these days.
Tree Adams and Ben Bromfield, M.U.D.D. Force
DESCRIPTION: Alchemists of a powerful chaos that is M.U.D.D. FORCE – composers Tree Adams and Ben Bromfield weld epic battle motifs and grinding synths into a Maelstrom of full throttle destruction.
The Masterminds Box Set features our first duo collaboration. Tree Adams and Ben Bromfield are both TV and film composers. Adams worked on stuff like NCIS: Los Angeles, whereas Bromfield worked on stuff like The Boss Baby: Back in Business. Both have also collaborated on some shows, like Californication. Adams has also composed music for the mostly-forgotten game MAG for PlayStation 3, which Matt Levine also worked on. Funny how this all wraps around.
The thing about making music kits for CS:GO is that it can go two ways: You either take a different angle than your conventional work like Austin Wintory did, or you just go with what you’re familiar with. In the case of M.U.D.D. Force, the style feels definitively like the latter.
The Main Menu just reminds me of dramatic film underscore I’d hear during a ridiculous action sequence on your action driven thriller-of-the-week like NCIS or 24. The rest of the tracks give off a similar kind of vibe, with a bit of middle-eastern percussion that I was surprised to hear honestly. Guess this would cover that thing I mentioned earlier about covering all the “desert-sounding” genres.
M.U.D.D. Force is action-packed, it has a nice sense of drama, and fits the mood of the game as a whole. But it doesn’t really interest me nearly as much as the others. If you wanted a nice modern action movie score, this works fine in that regard, but it’s hard for me to really recommend this music kit over something like Ian Hultquist’s Lion’s Mouth, Michael Bross’ Invasion!, or Sean Murray’s A*D*8. It’s there, basically. That’s really all I can say.
I do hope these guys get another try, and maybe take a page from Austin Wintory or Daniel Sadowski and just go outside their comfort zone. I could see either one of them making a second kit that’s miles above their first work. But this is an alright first attempt.
VERDICT: Lightly recommended if you’re into finding the right action movie thriller vibe for your Counter-Strike. Get it on the Steam marketplace.
Tim Huling, Neo Noir
DESCRIPTION: Composer Tim Huling delivers classic film-noir style tracks blended with contemporary grooves and beats.
The last of the new composers, Tim Huling is a modestly known composer for works like Lineage and Planetary Annihilation, as well as composing one track for the 2008 Olympics. He’s also a teacher at the Berklee College of Music, so we got a man with a small, but somewhat notable career.
Neo Noir, his contribution, is unlike any pack I’d heard in CS:GO to date. Huling said in a roundtable with other composers that he was trying to go for the vibe of dramatic horror. I’m not sure if I hear it, but it does give the vibe of something quite overdramatic, like the horror movies of old. The only downside is the somewhat obnoxious percussion, which sounds a little too out of place.
Stuff the Start Round/Action tracks remind me of a sweeping shot of a town, or a chase sequence, which feels a bit out of place here because those tracks play when playing are buying things before a round starts. The bomb timers give a rather dramatic flair to the tension of the proceedings, and I can’t imagine that being good to hear while waiting for enemies to play.
Perhaps it works better as a music kit while one is spectating a match rather than actually playing a match. It’s alright, and it’s not something I’ve heard in this game before, so it works. I hope he sticks around and makes some more stuff.
VERDICT: Lightly recommended if you want something a bit more unconventional. Get it on the Steam marketplace.
Dren, Gunman Taco Truck
DESCRIPTION: The apocalyptic mariachi soundtrack from the indie game hit, Gunman Taco Truck, comes to CS:GO with intense Mexican flavored tunes like Pollo Diablo and Persecución de Helltain!
Oh hey, another long-time-no-see returning composer. Back when I reviewed Dren McDonald’s first kit, Death’s Head Demolition, I lauded it for basically being nice and suspenseful with some good subtle action, at one point saying “If CS:GO didn’t have a soundtrack in it already, Death’s Head Demolition would probably be the closest to an ‘official’ soundtrack.” I still believe that.
This time around, we go in a completely different direction. The music comes from Romero Games’ Gunman Taco Truck, released back in 2017. Despite me being a Doom aficionado, I really haven’t paid much attention to John Romero’s post-id Software work outside of the infamous Daikatana. I heard Gunman Taco Truck was a ridiculous yet fun game, and if this music kit is any indication, I probably should give it a try.
This is the only kit in the Masterminds Box that’s a game crossover, and since the game is absurd in its nature, Dren opted to go full-on mariachi band for the game’s soundtrack. He made the right choice. I’m a sucker for prominent horn sections in any form of music, and horns dominate the whole kit, with occasional guitar and strings for extra flavor. The brass is prominent all over the kit, and it sounds great.
Interestingly, the pack comes with two main menu themes. Persecucion de Helltain is likely what you’ll hear most of the time, and I genuinely don’t know if CS:GO can accommodate two main menu themes besides the default one. A shame, because the other track, Pollo Diablo, is a good track too.
It’s surprising how there’s now five music kits in CS:GO that have the “southern/western” vibe to them. All with distinctly different styles, and all of them work out pretty well. And for being a game crossover, this is probably one of the best ones next to The Talos Principle. It’s worth it.
VERDICT: Highly recommended, especially if you love hearing triumphant horns in combat.
There are now nearly 50 music kits in Valve’s iconic shooter. It doesn’t seem like they’re gonna stop now, and I’m glad for it. While I may be a novice when it comes to understanding things like music composition and sound design, I really appreciate all the works featured here, even the ones I didn’t enjoy as much.
Making music kits has to be an outright daunting task. To be told you have to make what amounts to 10-15 minutes of game music, some with tunes as short as five seconds, has to be quite the challenge. Moreso than your average 3 minute composition.
Before writing this article, I watched a roundtable discussion among all the composers of the Masterminds Box Set, hosted by Austin Wintory. I recommend giving it a watch when you can, especially if you’re like me and fascinated by stuff like sound design and music composition. It really made me appreciate game music more than I already did.
Even in 2020, when Global Offensive will have been out as long as this blog has been around, Valve still updates the game occasionally, and has no signs of stopping. Whether or not this is because of genuine interest among employees at Valve, or because they now actually have some competition in Riot Games’ Valorant, I have no idea. Whatever the case may be, I’ll still be here whenever they announce a new set of music kits. It would be outright crazy to stop now.
Meanwhile, since it’s been six years, I’ve since given up on hoping for a Simon Viklund music kit. Viklund teased doing a kit back around 2015, and seemed nothing ever came of it. Then he later said around 2018-19 that he heard Valve “stopped doing music kits” and abandoned the idea entirely. A shame too, because I would still love to hear him make a music kit. Even if he were to make one now, he’s probably too busy working on GTFO anyway. Oh well.
If they’re gonna start going back to releasing new sets of music every six months or so, I’m down for it. Just… don’t do it like that time in 2015 where you thought releasing over a dozen of them all at once was a good idea. Admittedly that was a rough time.
Check out the other CS:GO Music Kit collections:
– “Series 1” is the initial set of nine music kits, released on October 10, 2014. Featuring a varied group of musicians from game composers Austin Wintory, Daniel Sadowski and Sean Murray, to EDM artists like Feed Me and Sasha, to hard metal from Jocke Skog.
– “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.