Game Music, Reviews

Gears Keep Turning: Gears of War 3 (Review)

Gears Keep Turning: Gears of War 3 (Review)

October 31, 2011 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Gears Keep Turning: Gears of War 3 (Review)on Twitter

I have always been a fan of Steve Jablonsky (as well as all of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions). It is for this reason that I have been a bit critical of his previous work on the Gears of War series. In fact, I confess that the soundtrack to Gears of War 2 became my proverbial whipping boy when discussing soundtracks’ abusing of main themes and not providing enough variation. There is no denying the brute strength and sheer bombast of the main themes of Gears of War, so I was hopeful the themes would be presented in a way that was more dramatically ripe and varied. Most importantly, I was hoping that the drama unfolding on the screen might finally catch up to the drama unfolding in the orchestra. Despite being hopeful, I was still skeptical I would see this happen.

Although there are several folks in the world of Castlevania fandom who would believe me to be overly prideful and stubborn when presented with an opposing viewpoint, I can assure you that I am absolutely thrilled to have been proven wrong by Steve Jablonsky and the Gears of War franchise.

As though it were a direct hit on my previous criticism, the soundtrack begins with “Restless,” a lyrical, string-heavy variation of the main theme that allows for the next piece – arguably the main theme, “Gears Keep Turning,” to chainsaw our ears into submission. Similar to the previous installment’s “Hope Runs Deep,” this main theme differs slightly from its predecessor. Opting for a slightly faster tempo and slightly thinner orchestration, “Gears Keep Turning” paints a slightly more intimate picture of the battle to come. This approach is not an accident and spearheads the overall game’s concept of a more character-driven story set in the backdrop of a disgusting and brutal battle for survival. Once the ship is attacked by varying disgusting enemies, Jablonsky tinkers with the theme immediately in “Meanwhile Below Deck,” lending it to the low strings and half-timing it as opposed to the usual brass bombast, creating a very effective and moody variation.

Maligned by purist game critics for lacking emotional depth, the Gears franchise filled in these perceived holes with several reflective dramatic moments. Upon returning to his former stomping (and playing) grounds, pro-bowler-turned-COG Augustus “Cole Train” Cole is overwhelmed with nostalgia upon walking through the place that was once his home. Jablonsky punctuates this moment with “Hanover’s Favorite Son,” a hopeful and melodic number that – in a rare moment for the series – shifts to the major mode. Combining the pride of sports with the patriotism of the Army bugle, this piece helped create one of the most memorable moments of the series.

“A Fine Mess” is anything but. A lumbering, percussive march with voices, brass, and strings on full blast forms a terrifying and intense cacophony. Jablonsky creates tension without resorting to the usual tropes of “intensity.” The piece varies in dynamic volume but maintains its tempo throughout creating a sense of relentlessness from the enemy.

One of the more egregious issues with the Gears franchise was the use of electric guitar to denote a respite from battle. When a certain group of enemies has been neutralized, like clockwork, an electric guitar jams a power chord as though to say “THIS FIGHT IS OVER NOW.” Although this convention is still present, it is not nearly as pronounced as it was in previous games; a welcome change.

The slight kick in the pants Jablonsky has given Gears of War 3 has gone a very long way. Fans of the series will – no doubt – love this soundtrack, in particular for some of its more subtle moments. The big Jablonsky moments are all there in full force, but this time – more than the other two soundtracks – there seems to be an extra layer of depth and intimacy making this, by far, the most exciting of the three. Because the big moments are fewer and more spaced out, when they finally arrived, I found myself all the more energized and ready to say, “BOOM.” Additionally – and perhaps most importantly, the themes’ returns were welcomed with open arms (and ears) as they were used more sparingly and with slightly greater intention. This seemingly minor tweak propelled this third soundtrack into the upper echelon of soundtracks for the year.

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