WARNING!!!: The following contains spoilers for Gears or War 3, Bioshock Infinite and Tales from the Borderlands
I think music is an under appreciated aspect of video games. Music is powerful at evoking emotion and giving the current situation a particular feel, where it be epic, sober or eerie. Some AAA developers go as far as employing massive film composers to create the music, and get whole orchestras to record it. But, what interests me especially, is the use of licensed music in video games. I’m particularly interested in why the developers include specific songs in their games and what they wanted it to add to the experience. With this in mind, I’d like to share three songs used in games that I think are really strong example of how music can improve the game experience.
Gears of War 3 – Mad World
The Gears of War series is about a band of brothers with massive chainsaw guns fighting against an alien race… So you would think that its narrative has much in the way of an emotional story, and for the most part you’d be right. That is, until the death a major character during the third game. Here our protagonist and his teammates are in a tight spot and one of your friends makes the ultimate sacrifice to save you by crashing a vehicle into a large gas canister. The accompaniment of Mad World, by Gary Jules, really helps stir all the feels in the player. With its slow pace and simple melody it really makes the cutscene emotional and eerie as we see in slow motion aliens burning to a crisp and the teammates jump for cover. For many gamers, this is one of the saddest moments in gaming. Various reaction videos have been uploaded to Youtube, of people commiserating over the death. In my opinion, I think the music makes the cutscene even sadder.
Bioshock Infinite – Girls Just Want to Have Fun
The first Bioshock game built an incredible, immersive underwater city, and I believe part of this was due to the music. It really helped place the world in the 60s time period it was going for, and the games sequel Bioshock Infinite is no exception. The song is Cyndi Lauper’s 80s hit ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, however, done in an old timey fashion. It sounds great and fits in nicely into the world, but is also feels quite discreet so you might not immediately recognise it. What I love about this song in particular is that it perfectly reflects what’s happening in the narrative at that time. We have just rescued Elizabeth from a tower she has been kept in her entire life, and she is exploring the outside world for the first time. You go around a beach, while Elizabeth keenly observes things she’s only ever read about, and you see the wonder she expresses at this new world. In the original song there are the lyrics: “Some boys take a beautiful girl and hide her from the rest of the world. I want to be the one to walk in the sun.” In this context the lyrics are obviously referencing Elizabeth and so it gives us a clue into what she’s thinking.
Tales from the Borderlands – To the Top
I’ve included this song as it’s just simply epic, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since I played episode 4 of Tales from the Borderlands. It’s ‘To The Top’ by Twin Shadow. It plays during the opening title sequence which is a whole parody of Armageddon’s launch scene. The two playable characters, joined by friends and foes, must take a rocket to a space station. The slow-mo walk that the characters take to the rocket, with the heavy drums and climatic chorus of the music, make the entire sequence completely awesome. I found it genuinely overwhelmingly beautiful. Part of this was certainly due to the journey that had taken my characters to that point, but much of it was the music. Every episode of Tales from the Borderlands has licensed music in their openings and all of them are just as good. There is something particularly satisfying about seeing character that you care about to embark on a dangerous mission accompanied by some epic music.