Category: Getting Nerdy about Video Game Music

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Music Kits Series 2: Crossovers and… Christmas?

Let's ignore the stickers and look at the big prize: NEW MUSIC!

Let’s ignore the stickers here and look at the big prize: NEW MUSIC!

It’s that time again. On February 12, 2015, Valve introduced a second batch of music kits for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. I had written about the first nine late last year, and it’s become one of my more popular posts recently. If you wanna see my reviews for the first nine music kits, click here.

Since there’s new ones, I thought it’d be nice to come back and write about these brand new ones and see if they’re worth your money.

Naturally, I’m going to review these, complete with videos so you can listen along. Like before, these music kits will randomly appear in the game as an offer for $4.99 for a standard one, or $6.99 for a StatTrak one that counts your MVPs in competitive matches. If you’re cheap like me, you can buy these on the Steam Marketplace at a cheaper value if there’s a specific kit you’re interested in.

I’m also gonna throw one in that came out in December, after I had written the original CS:GO music kits post. Consider these music kits part of a “Series 2,” if you will.

(The Midnight Riders music kit video is courtesy of YouTube user wtiw. All the other music kit videos are made by me.)


Midnight Riders, All I Want for Christmas

Description: “HAPPY HOLIDAYS, ****ERS!” -Midnight Riders

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Wow, the first official Valve crossover in CS:GO. Granted, some of the maps in Arms Race and Demolition are based off stuff from Left 4 Dead 2, but this is the first item that actually references another game entirely.

Midnight Riders is a fictional band that appears in the Left 4 Dead 2 universe. Their music is mostly southern rock, with such awesome songs like “Midnight Ride” and “One Bad Man.” In late 2009, they released a new track, “All I Want for Christmas is to Kick Your Ass,” which is used as the base of this music kit.

Most of the kit is taking the 3 minute track and splicing it together to fit CS:GO‘s music. Some of these, like Round Start 1, Lost Round and Death Cam make good stingers, but the rest is kinda slapped together, especially since a lot of the tracks like Won Round have a hard stop that’s a bit jarring. More proof that this feels slapped together is that the Bomb 10 Second Timer and Round 10 Second Timer are exactly the same. There’s not even any changes in instruments, they are literally the same track. Feels real lazy.

Compared to the other music kits, this seems slapped together as a Christmas promotion, and it could’ve been better. This one is currently unavailable for purchase in game, but you can still buy it on the Steam Marketplace if you’re curious. Though I can’t blame you if you’re not interested.

I wouldn’t mind seeing another Midnight Riders music kit, just put a bit more effort into it next time, Would you Valve?

VERDICT: Want some holiday cheer? This’ll work. Even works outside of the holiday season. Lightly recommended, get it on the Steam marketplace on discount.

Damjan Mravunac, The Talos Principle

DESCRIPTION: “Composer Damjan Mravunac blends energetic cinematic grooves with epic choirs in this music pack featuring music from Croteam’s critically acclaimed title “The Talos Principle”.”

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Looks like most of these music kits are going into crossover territory lately. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, personally.

Damjan Mravunac (that’s a hard name to spell and pronounce, btw) is a noted composer who’s been in the game music world for years. Most notably he’s worked on the music for most of Croteam’s games, going back to Serious Sam: The First Encounter in 2001, and returned for Croteam’s then-newest game, the critically acclaimed The Talos Principle. This is the second time an existing soundtrack has been modified to work in CS:GO, so let’s see what they did.

The main menu opts to use “False God” from the official soundtrack, though a little faster than the soundtrack variation, which makes the main menu sound very dramatic. In fact, all the tunes featured here seem faster than the ones according to the official soundtrack, which actually fits more than the original versions did. “Virgo Serena” and “The End of the Process” art used for the Round Loss and MVP Anthem respectively, which is probably the more triumphant one I’ve heard out of all the music kits to date.

Alas, I couldn’t pinpoint where the other tracks are used according to the official soundtrack, so I assume they’re based on in-game tracks that are not part of the official soundtrack. (Though if I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments.) Despite my inexperience with research, the rest of the music is a perfectly dramatic bombast, making even planting bombs in game sound like the most suspenseful thing in the world.

Mravunac made a very suspenseful and dramatic score in The Talos Principle, and it fits wonderfully here in CS:GO. Even though I haven’t played The Talos Principle, I still enjoyed the music kit because of its dramatic nature. One I’d recommend even if you haven’t played the game.

VERDICT: Highly recommended, even if you haven’t played The Talos Principle like I have.

Daniel Sadowski, Total Domination

DESCRIPTION: Composer Daniel Sadowski raises the bar with aggressive electronic beats, creative sound fx and an exhilerating, [sic] driving, futuristic vibe. “Warning: Will cause a rise in adrenaline!”

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Oh hey, Daniel Sadowski‘s back. Our first returning composer, Sadowski did the Crimson Assault pack last year, which took a while for me to warm up to. His second work, “Total Domination,” however, hit me from the get-go, and it sounds amazing.

Much like Crimson Assault, Total Domination opts for lots of synth, though no dramatic Call of Duty-esque strings this time. At times, Total Domination sounds like it’d fit in a late ’90s-early 2000s era action game, like Unreal Tournament. It even has random speech samples that remind me of MOD tracker music, and anything that reminds me of that era is great in my book.

Even though the main menu and bomb timer are action packed, certain tracks like the Round Start and Round Action cues tone down the action, giving it a bit of suspense and reminding me of similar music from other games, like Overgrowth’s Receiver. It must be the instruments used, but it has a similar sound.

Total Domination is a great music kit just for the main theme, the rest is just a bonus. A very solid music kit.

VERDICT: Highly recommended, especially if you’re into that late ’90s electronic sound.

Various Artists, Hotline Miami

DESCRIPTION: A multitude of electronic artists deliver brutal beats in this exhilarating Music Pack from the iconic Hotline Miami.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Oh boy, a third crossover?! Man, we’re getting all buddy-buddy in this CS:GO world. The Hotline Miami music kit takes select tracks from the critically acclaimed soundtrack of the same name. Since all the tracks are taken from the original game and modified for CS:GO, I’ll review it by comparing what tracks they chose.

MOON’s “Crystals” is the Main Menu theme, which doesn’t fit that well here. Sun Araw’s “Horse Steppin” or “Deep Cover” would’ve been much better choices, especially since the former is the original game’s main menu. MOON’s “Hydrogen” and Scattle’s “Knock Knock” are the game’s action and round start cues, though I would’ve thrown in El Huervo’s “Turf” or Scattle’s “Inner Animal” for a potential third set. Oddly, both the round start cues have a weird reverse effect before the track begins, and a strange slow down fade on the action tracks that you probably won’t hear in game. Not sure why Devolver Digital thought it’d be cool to mix them this way, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Where I think they made the biggest blunder was the bomb timer cue. They used Perturbator’s “Vengeance.” But the portion they chose to use was the introduction of the track and then cut to a different part of the track for the 10 second timers, but they just fade out, sounding real sloppy in game with no tension whatsoever. I would’ve chosen Scattle’s “To the Top” as the bomb timer music instead, or would have edited “Vengeance” a little better to make it better fit CS:GO‘s mold.

Despite that issue, they made great choices for the round win (Purturbator’s “Miami Disco”), round loss (Eirik Suhrke’s “A New Morning”) and MVP anthem (Jasper Byrne’s “Hotline”). If CSGO supported multiple win or loss cues, some of the other cuts from Hotline Miami’s soundtrack would’ve been great additions.

This isn’t a bad music kit, it just has some strange soundtrack choices. Hotline Miami had an amazing soundtrack, and for them to outright omit some of the best tracks is disappointing. Though if you loved the hell out of the game’s soundtrack, being able to hear it while playing CS:GO is a treat.

VERDICT: Recommended, but honestly could’ve been a better selection of cuts used. Get it on discount on the Steam marketplace.

Mateo Messina, For No Mankind

DESCRIPTION: Own your enemies. Pure intensity by Grammy winning composer, Mateo Messina.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

So we’ve seen crossover works, and a returning game composer do a music kit. How about a film composer next?

Mateo Messina is a noted film and TV composer, composing music for many films such as Juno and Thank You for Smoking. I believe this is his first video game score, and it’s interesting in his approach with For No Mankind.

For No Mankind goes heavy on the cello with mixed synths and heavy percussion. This is very apparent on a lot of the tracks. This reminds me a lot of John Powell’s work on the Bourne series of movies, especially Start Action 2, which would probably fit right at home in a scene from a Bourne movie.

Some other tracks, like Start Round 2, the Round 10 Second Timer emphasize piano, sometimes to compliment the rest of the track, or in the case of the Bomb 10 Second Timer, emphasize it strongly. However, I think the Round and Bomb 10 second timers should be switched so that they flow a bit better, since the Bomb 10 second timer doesn’t have cello in the background and it’s a bit jarring. Though that could be intentional, who knows?

I really like this one because of its dramatic spy thriller tone. This is a good one if you want something brings the dramatic tension much akin to a modern spy thriller. Here’s hoping Messina tries to branch further out into video games, I could see him making a wonderful game score if this music kit is any indication.

VERDICT: Recommended, especially if you’re wanting something that feels like you’re in a spy/drama flick.

Matt Lange, IsoRhythm

DESCRIPTION: Indulge your aural senses in a collection of cinematic, glitchy atmospheres and hard-hitting throbbing rhythms by electronic producer and innovator Matt Lange.

LISTEN ON: YouTube, CS:GO Stash

Our last one is Matt Lange, a noted DJ/producer who’s done lots of electronic music work. While he’s done remixing for games like Halo 4, I believe this is his first exclusive video game score. According to Vibe, he’s their #1 electronic artist to watch out for in 2014, so he’s probably gonna be a big name in the electronic scene. But for now, let’s see how he did with his CS:GO music kit, IsoRhythm.

The Main Menu reminds of some modern electronic music, with syncopated beats mixed in with dramatic strings. Eventually it slows down, leading to a piano interlude before the main melody drops back in with heavy electronic guitar riffs. Other cues, like the Start Round cue, go for fast techno beats that would fit perfectly while dancing in the club.

Other cues, like the Round Win and Loss cues, are very subdued, which remind me a bit of Sasha’s LNOE and Noisia’s Sharpened. Though the big standout track is the bomb timer. It’s a really tense, dramatic cue that slowly builds up as it goes through. The Bomb 10 Second Timer is especially interesting, it’s not really a tune as it’s a bunch of heavy pulse-pounding beats that sounds very much like a ticking timebomb as the bomb is about to go off. I bet this sounds great in game.

The electronic musicians that are featured in CS:GO thus far have been good to great, and Matt Lange’s IsoRhythm is no exception. While I’m not a super fan of this kind of music, I can see this being real popular with some of the CS:GO community considering their fondness for electronic music, if tournament streams are any indication.

VERDICT: Recommended. Fits the electronic mold better than some of the other contributions.


That’s it for now. I’ll say it again: I like this idea because each and every individual composer featured here has their own unique “take” on the game, and it makes each of them stand out that much more. Unlike the original nine kits, I’d say these are all pretty good in their own unique way, and there’s really no bad one here in the bunch.

PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS: The Talos Principle, Total Domination, For No Mankind.

I hope Valve keeps going with this, just to see who else will contribute music to the CS:GO world. Still waiting for that Simon Viklund music kit…


Check out the other CS:GO Music Kits 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 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.

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.

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From a game mod to Splinter Cell: How I discovered a song by accident.

Over the years, I’ve amassed ridiculous amounts of video game knowledge. I created the Secret Area as a good place to share said video game knowledge with people. Naturally, video game music is something I’m also interested in. While I am a bit of an outlier in terms of my game music tastes – I usually prefer stuff by American and European composers, and don’t really care much for Japanese game music past the SNES/Genesis era – I still love finding information about game music, much like a lot of things I like.

So I’m gonna get nerdy about video game music. I’m gonna write about something that came to mind fairly recently that I thought would be worth sharing. This will hopefully be the start of a new series where I delve into the oddities and bits of inane trivia of music in games.

2014-09-21_00001

Poke646 is one of the best Half-Life mods out there. At the time, most Half-Life mods reused most of the existing templates that the original game used, making Black Mesa look like a research facility that spanned a whole continent. Mods like They Hunger and many others changed how people looked at Half-Life, but not nearly as well as Poke646 did. One day, I should write about Poke646 and its sequel Vendetta, they’re some of the best Half-Life mods out there.

The game’s credits, featured below, featured this haunting, ambient tune.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv-PuH6BNiI]

The hip-hop styled track really fit in line with the rest of the game, which also had some great original ambient music. Thankfully all this music is in the Poke646 mod folder, since I don’t know much about the composer of the ambient music, and there’s little information about it or the mod’s soundtrack online.

Cut to 2010. I had recently picked up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction Special Edition for $35 at Ubisoft’s online store because of an issue of the special USB keys not working on some copies. As I was going through the game itself, a certain tune started to play that sounded familiar…

(WARNING: Plot spoilers for Splinter Cell: Conviction within.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNhxKNzeOHc&start=2155]

Yep. It’s the same song. Until then, I had thought that credits music was a unique track made for Poke646. In reality, it was a licensed song: DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” from his 1996 debut Endtroducing…..

Ubisoft had licensed “Building Steam…” to play over this part of the game. Since it had been years since I had played Poke646, I had realized the tune sounded familiar but couldn’t quite place it until I replayed the mod much later. After knowing this fact, I bought the song not too long after, naturally.

Games using licensed music is hardly new, think of the many music games that have come out over the years. But most games usually have a composer do all the incidental music, rarely do they use a licensed song unless it’s made specifically for the game, like Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” and “Survival” from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Ghosts, respectively. Why Ubisoft thought the DJ Shadow tune fit this particular scene is a mystery that we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of DJ Shadow, he has contributed remixes to a few games himself, such as the “El Dorado Megamix” he did for the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune soundtrack, and two tracks for Motorstorm Apocalypse. So he’s contributed music to the video game world, both directly and indirectly.

To bring it back around to Poke646, “Building Steam…” got a remix when Vendetta was released in 2006, adding some rocking guitars over the game’s credits. In a way, adding additional instrumentation to a song that heavily uses samples is interesting, because it’s using a song with samples as a sample for a new song. It’s fascinating, really.

Thanks to these mods, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” has become the Poke646 theme in my mind, which was used in some big budget game. Its inclusion in Splinter Cell: Conviction seems quite bizarre to me, especially since I first heard the song through a game mod many years before. Still a good song, highly recommend you give it a listen. Can’t say if the rest of Endtroducing….. is as amazing, but I’m willing to bet it’s a solid album.

I don’t follow many hip-hop or electronica DJs, but after hearing “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” I could probably get into this kind of music. Hell, I loved Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was mostly Amon Tobin’s work, as well as enjoying most of Crackdown‘s licensed music which was the same kind of style. Time to broaden my tastes in music…

Speaking of game music, I recently updated an old article from 2013 comparing the tunes from NES game show games to their real-life counterparts. No longer using volatile YouTube videos, I replaced them with convenient MP3s. Check it out here if you wanna read more of me getting nerdy about video game music.

Music from the Xbox video game NHL Rivals 2004: A soundtrack review.

In my recent pick-up video, I had mentioned I found this unusual soundtrack: Music from the Xbox Video Game NHL Rivals 2004. Before I get into it any further, I should explain this soundtrack’s existence. Let’s go back a decade, as we talk about Microsoft’s failed attempt at a Sports game brand called “XSN Sports.”

Back in the day, Microsoft tried to make their own Sports franchise against EA and Sega. (This was before Take-Two bought Visual Concepts from Sega.) In 2003, they introduced XSN Sports as their flagship sports game brand. Under this banner, Microsoft’s sport-focused games featured tournaments and leagues that players could make in-game to share on the respective website. The games included NFL Fever 2004, Links 2004, and Rallisport Challenge 2. Alas, they couldn’t make a dent in the competition, and the XSN Sports brand was folded one year later. The XSN service was later shut down in 2006, presumably to shift focus onto the then-new Xbox 360.

As a promotional tie-in, they released the first in the “XSN Sports Soundtrack CD Series,” featuring various songs that come from the game’s soundtrack. However, despite saying “Volume 1” on the cover, there was never a Volume 2, which is funny in retrospect.

The soundtrack CD also comes with a bonus DVD, featuring some NHL highlights from the 2002-03 NHL season, some Wayne Gretsky promos, and DVD-ROM features of the game’s cinematics, trailers, and some wallpaper. Not much to say about all this, it’s a hockey game after all. My experience with hockey games begin and end at Blades of Steel.

Licensed soundtracks are hardly new, sports games have been doing this for a long time. Hell, bands used to be hyped for having a song in the new Madden game. What makes this special is the song selection, which seems unusual for a hockey game. Then again, I don’t watch hockey, so maybe this fits in some weird way. Let’s go track-by-track, shall we?

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