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Dead Space 3 by Jason Graves and James Hannigan (Review)

posted Mar 12, 2013, 9:17 PM by Koray Savas

If you play video games and you listen to film scores, Jason Graves and James Hannigan are two composers you are definitely aware of. If you do not know who they are, familiarize yourself with their music as they are some of the best working in the industry today. Dead Space 3 continues the story of Isaac Clark, a space engineer with the unique ability to store blueprints for alien markers in his brain, a dangerous device that mutates human tissue into Necromorphs, which are some terrifyingly deadly creatures. The game series does a nice job of blending atmosphere and mood to create the action horror it's highly regarded for. Jason Graves' music plays no small role in evoking that sense of dread and fear. He composed the scores for the previous two games, which were great in how he used music to create an unsettling and unnerving world devoid of hope. The music, and the games alike, are very much influenced by classic science fiction films of the 70s and 80s. Jason Graves' music took a few notes from the Alien franchise, channeling a lot of Jerry Goldsmith eeriness in the underscore while maintaing a contemporary rhythmic body to fuel the gameplay. In Dead Space 2, he utilized a more quiet soloist approach in his string writing that really fleshed out the horrors Isaac was trudging through, bringing a melancholic finality to the emotions playing out in the story. With Dead Space 3, the music plays a significantly different role, the most obvious being the introduction of James Hannigan into the mix.

The game has multiple new settings for the player to roam through. While the previous games more or less kept you contained to spaceships with tight, dark corridors with poor lighting and monsters bursting out of ventilation shafts, this installment takes you to a colonized planet that oozes Blade Runner and Total Recall, as well as a frozen planet where a majority of the story unfolds. This without a doubt conjures comparisons to The Thing, particularly with Necromorphs that now evolve as you shoot off their limbs; tentacles sprouting out of a pair of legs as it sprints towards you. The whole atmosphere is no longer cold and dark, but exploratory and bright. The action is faster, there are human enemies to worry about as much as alien, and this is where the music takes a turn for the loud and frantic. Graves still provides his signature package of tense horror and longing hopelessness, his highlight being "Knee Deep," but now Hannigan infuses a load of pulsating action and melody into the mix. It elevates the Dead Space universe to new heights without sacrificing its roots, and that is an element of scoring that is hard to come by in sequels, whether they are films or not. "200 Years Ago, On An Icy Planet..." is a helluva prologue for a score, and Hannigan takes it even further with "A Broken Past" and "Lunar Express." The only detracting factor is that underneath it all, the game feels like it was temped with Zimmer's Inception. "Lunar Express" is almost an exact carbon-copy of "Mombasa," so while it's a thrilling piece of action with some great melodic lines, it does the exact opposite of what every great score should do, and that is pull you into the world of whatever it is you are experiencing. Thankfully these instances are few and far in between; the album is a meaty 83 minutes and the interspersed selections by Graves and Hannigan keep it flowing quite well for such atmospheric music.

The music for Dead Space 3 is greater than the sum of its parts. Veteran composers Jason Graves and James Hannigan combine forces to create a truly unique listening experience that is part horror, action, and fantasy. While the infamous temp-track syndrome lives on through this score, they never let it outshine their complete grasp on the Dead Space universe, in which the terror of alien and man alike is brought to life through their music.