Game Music, Reviews

Dark Void Soundtrack: Condemned to the Void? (Review)

February 12, 2010 | | 6 Comments Share thison Facebook Dark Void Soundtrack: Condemned to the Void? (Review)on Twitter

We’ve been talking a lot about Dark Void on the site. We can’t agree more with composer Bear McCreary’s assessment of Western game music while also sharing love for classic 8-bit music, so we had high hopes for the game and his soundtrack. While we later learned that McCreary would be able to demonstrate his love for 8-bit music by scoring Dark Void Zero, there’s still the orchestral epic that is the Dark Void soundtrack to address. So, is it any good?

I suppose I’m really skirting around the fact that this game got horrible reviews nearly everywhere. Now that I’ve said it, the question is whether or not the poor review scores also reflect on Bear McCreary’s contributions to the game. What I’ll tell you before jumping into the review is that he delivers on his promise to do something different in a Western videogame, but it’s admittedly not all that different from what he’s already been doing in film and television throughout his career.

Find out if that’s a good or bad thing in our review of the Dark Void Original Video Game Score after the jump!

Starting from the top we have “Theme from Dark Void,” which everyone should be intimately familiar with by now. I have to say that the melody really caught me after listing to the 8-bit version (which is featured at the end of this CD), but having accessed the theme through that version, I find the orchestral version here to be almost an arrangement of sorts, and I love it. I know I’m working backwards from his 8-bit arrangement to the original, but I’m sticking with it! It’s a great theme, and I love how it’s incorporated into a number of pieces throughout the score, especially in the emotional “”Will and Ava.”

I was saying in the intro that McCreary doesn’t stray too far from what he’s done in television and film in terms of his cinematic approach, but it’s still quite different than the typical orchestral fare we tend to see in videogames. He  incorporates all sorts of ethnic instruments into his music, including the nebulous “ethnic woodwinds” along with instruments that I’d never even heard before: the erhu and Yialli tanbur. I highly suggest checking our Bear McCreary’s blog where he extensively goes into the instruments, performers, and recordings sessions, as it’s a fun and informative read. These instruments are joined by a full orchestra, complete with sweeping strings and powerful brass, but also lots of organic tribal percussion that generates a lot of momentum.

“Village Attack” in one such track, coming as an intense action cue with powerful brass stabs, but the few excursions into the Dark Void theme, voiced by some lovely woodwinds, provides a wonderful contrast. “Taking Flight” is equally action-packed with foreboding string stabs and explosive orchestral hits that keep the piece moving forward. Tracks like “Archon” and “The Collector” have an epic air about them, proceeding with a bombardment of percussive sounds. I particularly enjoy the violin work towards the end of “Archon” with layered effects that almost make it sound like an electric guitar. Another standout is “Ava and the Rocket,” which is a short cinematic cue that really drives home the sensation of rocket-propelled flight with its adventurous sound. “Void Requiem” is the longest track on the album, approaching the 8-minute mark. It’s a dark and foreboding piece that drips with atmosphere. It creates the impression that something terrible is right around the corner, laying in wait.

“A Mysterious Jungle,” on the other hand, is contemplative, making effective use of silence to give the piece a sense of gravity. As the title suggests, it’s definitely mysterious with its uncertain string progressions and distant woodwinds, and is one of my favorite tracks here. “The Prophesized One” is another great track that slowly builds upwards with layers of electric guitar that are distorted and filtered, creating an abstract grunge fest of sorts. Later, “Survivor Camp Combat” also gets its rock on, working in some funky bass and almost seductive woodwind melodies. It’s really a great track that will have you bopping your head. “Tesla’s Laboratory” is another shorty-but-goodie, sporting a minimalistic twangy guitar progression that generates a distinctly foreign atmosphere.

The final push is accompanied by “The Dweller,” which uses an intense flurry of strings, ominous brass, and thunderous percussion to drive the player towards the end. The credits theme is surprisingly short, clocking in at only two minutes, and it features a rather haunting woodwind arrangement of the main theme. Strings fade in and out of the mix to further enhance this feeling of isolation that’s left with the listener.

But this soundtrack won’t leave you on a down note. The final track is the “Theme from Dark Void (Mega Version Bonus Track).” This is the 8-bit version of the main theme that made me fall in love with this theme. McCreary works in some very Mega Man-esque percussion, and keeps the theme at a skipping pace. It’s quite lovely, and a great bonus.

The interesting thing about the Dark Void soundtrack is that it’s a customizable experience. It can be listened to casually in the background where it provides an excellent ethnic ambiance for the listener, or for those who listen closely, it can be an incredibly complex and expansive score with many different instruments and elements.  To quickly mention the packaging, there’s actually a foldout booklet that has an extensive list of credits along with a few pages of comments from Bear McCreary, which is really a nice touch.  While I may have wanted to walk away with more of McCreary’s melodies stuck in my head (unfortunately the main theme is the only track that will likely stick with you), I’m satisfied with his cinematic approach, and am looking forward to the Dark Void Zero soundtrack to really drill some melodies into my head. You can pick up the Dark Void soundtrack from Sumthing Else Music Works.

Do you have any thoughts regarding Dark Void now that it’s out? Do you think the “Mega Version” makes for a cool bonus track?

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