Resistance -Burning Skies- Original Soundtrack :: Review by Simon Elchlepp
After four entries into the Resistance franchise of FPS games that all saw strong reviews and commercial success (to varying degrees), 2012's Resistance: Burning Skies turned out to be the black sheep of the family that brought the franchise's successful run to a screeching halt. One of the early titles for the PlayStation Vita, and carrying high expectations with it, Burning Skies continued its predecessors' general story line of aliens invading North American in the 1950s. However, the game was met with average to damning reviews and, like the console itself, has failed to shift many units. Since Sony Computer Entertainment announced in mid-2012 that it currently had 'no definitive plans' for the Resistance franchise, Burning Skies might go down in history as the game that ended the Resistance series on a sour note.
After David Bergeaud, Garry Schyman, and Boris Salchow had filled the composer's chair on previous Resistance games, Jason Graves (Dead Space, Alpha Protocol) and Kevin Riepl (Gears of War, Hunted: The Demon's Forge) were brought on board for Burning Skies. Both artists' portfolio revealed them to be obvious choices for the game, as they had both extensively dabbled in dark orchestral music that often enough originated in the science fiction genre. As for the stylistic direction of their work here, Graves revealed in interviews that "Sony was extremely specific about wanting a classic, emotional, theme-driven score", while Riepl stated that the composers "were basically asked to deliver melodic, dynamic, and very emotional music." As the game's narrative functioned as a prequel to previous Resistance titles, no need was identified to thematically tie in the title with previous scores. To deliver the whole soundtrack, encompassing more than an hour of music and recorded with a 60+ piece orchestra, the composers had less than a month. That rushed schedule didn't leave the two composers much time for in-depth collaboration, although Riepl based his main theme for the score on the one Graves had composed.
Focusing on emotionality in the testosterone-driven environment of an FPS title is an approach that Burning Skies shares with its immediate predecessor, Salchow's Resistance 3 no doubt triggered by the games' similar storylines of male protagonists trying to save their families. However, there's a number of reasons why Burning Skies registers a couple of notches below 2011's best FPS score. Things start off well enough with the collaborative "Burning Skies", exposing the main theme that will dominate Burning Skies. An elegiac, lone trumpet melody, its noble patriotism is bound to recall Michael Giacchino's similarly-natured Medal of Honor main theme (fittingly so, given that Giacchinos' theme is in turn inspired by 1950's WWII movies). The theme is neither hugely memorable or original, but it's easily recognisable and at least in its first outings adds the desired amount of emotionality to the music. Running for more than five minutes, the title theme finds enough time to not only put the melody through a number of variations, but also to build a satisfying arc that convincingly brings together melodramatic strains with full-bodied orchestral action music a feat that few other tracks on the album accomplish.
Indeed, Burning Skies never quite recaptures the emotional momentum that its opening track achieves. One reason is the unsatisfying implementation of its main theme. Initially, the theme plays a sufficiently versatile role, appearing in a tense rendition on "Never Give Up And Never Give In", where it juxtaposes a strident march, and later creatively worked in brief snippets into the eerie "Out of the Fire". However, it soon becomes obvious that the title, in its aim to achieve emotional impact, relies too heavily on repetitions of the main theme in its original, dignified incarnation. This tendency becomes most obvious on "The Minutemen", initially a sorrowful string adagio which then turns into another robust march. For its melodic material, the cue almost solely relies on repetition upon repetition of the main theme, and while its relative emotional straightforwardness might truthfully echo particular genres of 1950s Hollywood scores, the melody's lack of nuance becomes wearisome when it isn't presented in sufficiently varied guises which is the case here.
On other occasions, the use of the theme feels simply misplaced, for example when another proudly trumpet-bound rendition of it clashes with the subdued tension material on the opening of "Abomination". Ironically enough, the same passage on "Abomination" highlights the ultimately insufficiently realised potential that lies in Burning Skies' main theme when the melody's opening three notes are worked into the composition's cautiously proceeding underscore.
By the end of the album then, the main theme has unfortunately lost most of its power to convincingly communicate victory, witnessed at the endings of "Out of the Fire" and "The Fire of Humanity", where yet more straight repetitions of the theme are more likely to inspire eye-rolling than feelings of achievement. There are teasing hints at how the music could have ended up more inspiring, particularly when "The Fire of Humanity" quotes the main theme on a significantly more massive scale than ever before on the album, performed by full choir against tinkling metal percussion. In this shape, the melody achieves an impressive, previously unexplored sense of scale and awe, but unfortunately, such occurrences remain the exception from the rule and "The Fire of Humanity" and the score itself end with more solemn performances of the by now well-familiar melody. It's difficult not to wonder whether the score's very short creation period at least contributed to this unfortunate recycling of the score's main ingredient.
The score's less than convincing use of its main theme is not the only thing that prevents Burning Skies from melding emotional drama and pulse-pumping action with consistent success. On the few occasions where the score's melodic content and sentimentality are not provided by the main theme, the results are mixed. "The Shock That Awaited Us" feels a bit strained in its strife for emotional response, as it layers a pained violin melody over its busy orchestral action rhythms. The doleful tones of "Family" are more successful at tucking at the heart strings, even though the track's melodies lay it on a bit thick. Tellingly, the most emotionally convincing and moving track is "Ellie", which announces its refreshing, effective restraint with an opening for solo cello.
Another impediment to the score's success is its bumpy album flow. As mentioned, things start out well with "Burning Skies", and for a while, actually continue on quite an imposing note with Riepl's "Panic in the Streets" and "Never Give Up and Never Give In", both recalling his strong work on Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Tracks like these are instantly exciting orchestral powerhouses that benefit from comparatively rich orchestrations some nice woodwind work to be found here and a dedicated performance by the orchestra, captured in all its force and immediacy. It's rare to come across a portable score with such lavish production values. With its frenzied string and brass rhythms that keep changing throughout the piece, "Panic in the Streets" is an interesting exception, as most of Burning Skies' action material has a militaristic focus and forward drive in this game, humanity's response to the alien invasion is more organised than on Resistance 3. Later on the album, Graves produces his best solo contribution in a similar vein with "Conversion Tower Attack", which sees him whipping the orchestra into a rhythmic frenzy pleasantly reminiscent of his Dead Space score.
After this opening salvo of three strong cues though, Burning Skies struggles to regain its sure footing. Some of Riepl's later action material is less impressive than on his earlier tracks, while his main theme a defiantly rising figure heard in the combative surroundings of "Panic in the Streets", "I'll Find You" and "The Alpha Lab" is too rarely heard to make much of an impact on the album, despite the fact that the music could have certainly used some thematic variety. None of the tracks in the album's middle third run for more than two-and-a-half minutes and a good number of them feel like fillers. Sadly, particularly the majority of Graves' solo pieces disappoint. Each shorter than two minutes, "Before the Dawn", "A Human Source", "To the Conversion Tower" and "Demons Upon Us" are brooding mood-setters, with a predictable focus on the bass region and a lack of the dissonant tension that energised Graves' similar efforts on Dead Space 2. Some woodwind inserts provide a bit of colour, but by and large, these brief cues are timbrally too conservative to generate much effect, even though "A Human Source" manages to include a suddenly very ominous version of the main theme on oboe over extremely deep bassoons.
For the first half of Burning Skies, there are few musical signs of the invading aliens, which robs the score of some of its dramatic potential. Aggressive string dissonances that likely represent the extraterrestrial enemy forces raise their head several times, first on the opening track "Burning Skies" and later with the shrill, violent last third of "Never Give Up and Never Give In". All in all though, these applications of more abrasive material are too sparse to create a signature sound that could satisfyingly give the aliens a music identity quite a contrast to Resistance 3, which right away plunged the listener into a battle against overwhelming enemies from outer space. This only changes halfway into the score with "The Swarm", whose familiar militaristic elements are contrasted with stereotypically 'alien' sounds including whining violins, instrumental distortions and creepy sound effects all of which at least address humanity's extraterrestrial threat more openly, but do so in quite hackneyed fashion.
"Abomination" is slightly more successful, as it veers between gloomy underscore, ballsy action material and main theme-driven emotionality without developing conclusively. However, the majority of its components, taken on their own, are effective, particularly a grandiose mid-section that underpins a Gothic two-note brass motif with rapid violin scales. However, the score's one truly successful blend of 'alien' sounds with adrenaline-saturated combat material is "The Alpha Lab", which introduces the characteristic string dissonances on a much more massive scale to battle a slowed-down, immense rendition of Riepl's main theme that sounds more determined than ever. The track also leads the action rhythms into more chaotic, punishing terrain, while magnifying them to underscore both the dimension of the alien threat and humanity's furious struggle against it. Unfortunately, its power overshadows the album's actual 'last-battle' cue "Out of the Fire", which doesn't achieve the same intensity in its depiction of competing musical forces and thus fails to generate the desire cathartic effect once the battle is won. What also holds the cue back is the fact that much of it feels like a rehash of Dead Space's climactic track "The Hive Mind", particularly the spectral eeriness that opens both compositions.
Taken on their own, several aspects of Burning Skies are attractive enough. It is very competently produced, featuring polished orchestral performances and crystal clear sound quality. There's a good number of frantic, densely orchestrated battle cues that hit the mark, while some of the emotional material such as the opening track is effective, if heavy-handed. The same goes for those portions of the soundtrack that address the alien invaders only occasionally truly inspired and convincing, but usually efficient. However, viewed as a whole, Burning Skies fails to come together, due to an erratic album flow that suffers from several filler cues, and the sheer repetitiveness of its main theme's application. It's not as bad as say 007: Tomorrow Never Dies or Blazing Angels, but it gets close. What's more, the score's focus on emotionally impacting material isn't as pronounced as one might have expected, in large part due to the overused main theme. There are enough album highlights for fans of orchestral sci-fi scores to warrant a look into Resistance: Burning Skies, but it may be better to download individual tracks rather than the entire album.
Overall Score: 6/10