T2: The Arcade Game Soundtrack (Sega Genesis), Matt Furniss, 1993
Game developers certainly didn’t pass up the opportunity to make the most of the blockbuster juggernaut that was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. At the time the third-highest grossing movie worldwide (behind Star Wars and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), James Cameron’s work prompted numerous video game adaptations. In fact, when Midway ported their arcade rail shooter Terminator 2: Judgment Day to home consoles, they had to change its name to T2: The Arcade Game, to differentiate it from the already existing T2 games. That didn’t stop Midway Manufacturing Company from porting the game to as many platforms as possible – even to those that don’t seem like obvious candidates for a rail shooter (the Game Boy?)
The arcade original, with its polished presentation, remains fondly remembered. The reception of its many ports was quite varied. The Genesis adaptation fared well enough, with reviewers agreeing it offered a fun opportunity to blast away at robots – as long as you didn’t mind the inherently limited rail shooter gameplay. As was often the case at the time, each port received an original soundtrack – and the Genesis game was lucky enough to be scored by Matt Furniss.
The year prior, Furniss had scored the Genesis, Game Gear and Sega Master System versions of The Terminator. Those soundtracks – despite their obvious qualities – were a bit too short on substance to qualify as classics (although Furniss coaxed some imposing, hefty bass sounds out of the Game Gear and Master System). The T2: The Arcade Game soundtrack is Furniss’ strongest entry in the franchise, the best T2: The Arcade Game score and an intriguing addition to the Terminator franchise’s musical universe. While Geoff Follin and Tommy Tallarico used their franchise assignments to write either experimental sound collages or 80s-inspired, hook-laden pop/rock, Furniss takes the most obvious approach: an all-guns-blazing, unrelenting action score.
Like the game, the T2: The Arcade Game soundtrack knows not to outstay its welcome. Clocking in at less than 15 minutes, the score hits hard from the get-go. Furniss’ masterful handling of the Genesis’ Yamaha YM2612 sound chip is well-known, and T2: The Arcade Game might be one of his crowning achievements. Each instrument has both a crystal-clear sound and a powerful presence that are an absolute delight. Fitting for a game with such an industrial, futuristic narrative, it’s particularly the percussion that steals the spotlight and not surprisingly, Furniss builds his tracks around densely layered rhythms. The drum sounds that Furniss teases out of the Genesis hardware are stunningly forceful and crisp. If one was to look for a demonstration of where the Genesis surpassed the SNES’ sound capacities, the T2: The Arcade Game soundtrack would be a prime example.
Right from the start, “Mission 1”’s hard-hitting drums ramp up the energy and tension. They contrast nicely with the more measured synth lines that at times turn surprisingly melodic, ringing out like majestic guitar chords. This explosive mix is bolstered by a busy, supple bass that allows Furniss to keep this mix of energetic and cinematically sweeping elements constantly moving. While Furniss obviously knows how to write adrenaline-driven compositions, there’s no shortage of melodies and potent atmospherics on the T2: The Arcade Game soundtrack.
On later tracks, Furniss varies his compositions by changing the nature of their rhythmic attack. “Mission 2” and “Mission 4” make extensive use of syncopations and poly-rhythmic percussion layers, moving the previously hard rock-tinged music closer towards prog rock and dance music. Furniss marries this outburst of frantic energy with more fragmented melodies – they help guide listeners through these whirlwind compositions that keep delivering new ideas at a frightening pace. On the short, trenchant “Mission 4”, Furniss is happy to indulge in the music’s disorienting effect, with an erratic synth lead that contributes to the panic-stricken mood. On “Mission 2”, he anchors his cue through a constantly pumping bassline that feels more threatening than empowering. Of course, “Boss Theme” turns out to be the soundtrack’s fastest, most single-minded track and its hyperactive bass and furious speed are really all it requires to sustain its short run time.
The T2: The Arcade Game soundtrack changes its tack a bit on “Mission 3” and “Mission 5”, turning into something a bit more grooving. “Mission 3” opens with a head-nodding hip hop influence, while the synth leads become more active and intricate. Once more, Furniss builds a potently claustrophobic, dystopian atmosphere and underpins it with a complex rhythmic web – pay attention to the snare that travels between the stereo speakers, subtly enhancing the soundscape.
Final level track “Mission 5” turns out to be the T2: The Arcade Game soundtrack’s most intriguing cue. For the first time, Furniss sets the scene rather than jumping into the action right away – it’s the melodic outburst at 0:48 after a relatively quiet start that really brings the track to life. Furniss delivers an anthemic tune, but its chromatic resolution and the impossibly heavy bass chords gnawing at the music drag the melody down just as it is about to soar. This kind of emotional complexity comes unexpected, but it’s another example of Furniss’ exemplary attention to detail on what is one of the Sega Genesis’ most vividly realised scores.
- 01 - Mission 1 Furniss, Matt 2:16
- 02 - Mission 2 Furniss, Matt 2:05
- 03 - Mission 3 Furniss, Matt 2:18
- 04 - Mission 4 Furniss, Matt 1:19
- 05 - Mission 5 Furniss, Matt 2:38
- 06 - Boss Theme Furniss, Matt 1:17