Top Gear Rally Soundtrack (N64), Barry Leitch, 1997
After two generally well-received entries in the Top Gear franchise, developer Gremlin Interactive must have felt that the series needed a bit a of shake up. That was probably correct, given Top Gear 2 had felt like an expansion pack of Top Gear – and considering that these two games didn’t look very different from Gremlin’s earlier Lotus trilogy of racing games. The result was Top Gear 3000 – the original trilogy’s black sheep, with its sci-fi trappings and weapons system. While swiftly forgotten, Top Gear 3000 kicked off the Top Gear franchise’s experimental phase. The results of this attempt to reinvent the series and keep it relevant hit the Nintendo 64 in quick succession: Top Gear Rally, Top Gear: Overdrive, Top Gear Rally 2 and Top Gear Hyper-Bike. Reviews for all these titles were fairly strong, with reviews commending Top Gear Rally for its realistic gameplay and accurate physics.
The Top Gear Rally soundtrack saw the return of a familiar name: Barry Leitch, who had of course scored the first two Lotus games and Top Gear in the early 1990s. The second half of the decade saw him returning to racing games with a vengeance – after Top Gear Rally, Leitch wrote two (!) unreleased soundtracks for Twisted Edge Snowboarding, before penning music for Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA, California Speed and San Francisco Rush 2049. For Top Gear Rally, Leitch took an unusual approach – rather than emulating CD-quality sound, he used 8-bit samples (“[…] probably the only N64 game ever to use [them]”, Leitch mused in an interview). Like on a 16-bit machine, the samples were produced live off the hardware – which made Top Gear Rally one of the most advanced examples of this production technique, due to the N64’s comparatively advanced audio capacities and number of samples available.