Dark Void

Game Score Review: Dark Void

Bear McCreary, best known for his acclaimed television scores for BATTLESTAR GALACTIC and CAPRICA, makes his video game debut with the new sci-fi action adventure DARK VOID. The game’s story story takes place during World War II and centers around a cargo pilot who is teleported to another world–the “Void”–while flying through the Bermuda Triangle. The Void is inhabited by an ancient, banished alien race (the “Watchers”) that is seeking to enslave the human race and take over Earth.

McCreary wrote the 100-minute score in an astonishingly short three week period with nothing but production sketches to guide him, He then recorded the score with a 63-piece ensemble of the Hollywood Studio Symphony, bringing back many of the soloists from his GALACTICA scores to perform on this one as well.

McCreary provides a fascinating and generous discussion of the score and the challenges of writing for video games on his blog. In addition, he gives a detailed musical analysis, complete with written musical examples and audio clips of the score’s multiple themes.

Given the story and McCreary’s reputation, it should come as no surprise that the score is a muscular one. Yet it is anchored by a lovely main theme (“Will’s Theme”), played with the eerie, theremin-like sound of the rarely used keyboard instrument, the Ondes Martenot. Whether used in relation to the hero or as the tender love theme, it’s a memorable theme that weaves in and out of the score.

Dark Void game soundtrack
“Theme from DARK VOID”

Acoustic guitars join the foray in “Tesla’s Laboratory” and McCreary flirts with classic western harmonies and a bit of Morricone as well. Other guitars include the 12-string, nylon string, steel string, quatro, bajo sexto, Portuguese guitar, bass mandolin, baritone electric and electric sitar.

The quiet moments are few and far between, but “A Mysterious Jungle” provides a short breather from the action-oriented music surrounding it. Dark, military rhythms underscore the scorpion-like “Archon.”

An international flavor is incorporated through the use of ethnic instruments such as the balalaika,  panpipes, and the quena, a South American flute. The alien Watchers are characterized by an electric violin. But the main element of the score is the ever-present drum work, including tabla, taikos, dumbeks, medicine drums, shakers, chang changs and tom-toms.

The CD closes with a charming 8-bit version of the main theme that McCreary uses in the DARK VOID ZERO version of the game. It’s oh so mid-1980s, in the best retro, nostalgic way.

As McCreary states on his blog: “You will not hear a single sampled orchestral instrument or sampled soloist of any kind in this entire game score. It’s all live.” And for that I’m thankful. I personally prefer it when McCreary stays within the orchestral landscape and doesn’t let the drums and electric elements (whether it be guitars, violin, or other strings) overtake the music.

As the discussion on his blog indicates, McCreary has made a real effort to expand the musical capabilities of game scoring. But after the first few cues, the tracks tend to sound alike and the incessant drumming often overtakes many of the other musical ideas that McCreary has incorporated. Perhaps the score is more effective when playing the game.

McCreary obviously has talent and I’d love to hear what he’d do with a non-sci-fi score, something without drums. Fans of McCreary’s work will probably be ecstatic and I’m glad to see more game music being released. But I’m still waiting to see what other musical muscles this talented young composer has to show us.

  1. I think its awesome you are reviewing video game scores! Plese try some time in your busy schedule to listen and review the score to BioShock 2. its very good!

    1. Thanks Pedro, glad you’re enjoying them. It’s a new genre for me and I’m still feeling my way so thanks for the recommendation of BIOSHOCK 2. I’ve heard good things about it. I’ll add it to the ever-growing stack of things I need to listen to. :)

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