Video games have been improving by leaps and bounds ever since they were first made. We have reached a point where realistic visuals can be done, where a game’s story is better than a film or television show, where the gameplay mechanics give the player so much freedom that how they approach to play a game is totally up to them. Casual players and fans of video games love to talk about a game’s outstanding or intriguing visuals, or the story of the game which left a considerable impression on them and more often than not, the fun things they can do in the game. But plenty of times, people tend to forget to talk about the audio aspect of a game, especially a soundtrack and musical score. The only time it gets spoken about seems to be when it’s bad or when it is outstandingly good. So let’s talk about the essence of music in video games.
Soundtracks and music in video games are hard to create. If you don’t do it well enough, the lack of it or the underwhelming inclusion of it can draw attention to the fact that something was off but a lot of times it is said to do enough to not be absolutely horrendous. But, if the music is good then it’s a completely different story. It elevates a game from just being good to being great. And the music in video games can be used in many ways, especially in terms of storytelling or world building. Most of the times though it’s used to hype you up and get the blood flowing or during those tear-jerking moments that leave an everlasting impression on you. Let me talk about the two games that actually inspired me to write this. Hotline Miami and Doom.
Both of the above games are known for their brilliant soundtracks that have gotten people who don’t know about the game to actually try the game for themselves. Let’s start with Hotline Miami as an example for the use of music in gaming. A twin stick shooter that took the gaming world by storm. Not only was the gameplay absolutely fun and kept you coming back for more, the music, OH THE MUSIC gets you absolutely hooked. The cocaine-fueled murder rampage is perfectly complemented by it. It makes you feel like you’re on cocaine(not that I’ve ever used cocaine), it hypes you up. It’s the game’s way of you telling you “Hey, you’re going to do something absolutely badass so here’s a little taste of badassery to keep you going” and the moment you beat a level or a stage after all the dying, the moment of triumph is so sweet with the badass music blasting in your ears and piles of bodies strewn about on the floor to emphasize your victory. And once you’re done with a level, the score menu has slow, chill music to calm you down so that you can enjoy your moment of euphoria.
Onwards to DOOM. Calling Mick Gordon a genius would be an understatement when it comes to the DOOM soundtrack. The new DOOM games get everything right about what the franchise was about – including the use of music in gaming. DOOM guy doesn’t say a single word but the music, the music talks for him. The way it is layered to transition when you do something badass and when you’re being swarmed by an enemy to get more intense and calming down during downtime is beautiful. It pumps you up, the riffs going off as you rip off the heads off demons trying to kill you and the moment Rip and Tear started playing, I felt unstoppable. The music in the game in a way really does speaks for DOOM guy. The anger, the rage, you can hear it in the music. You can hear why he’s a legend and named the Doomslayer. If you haven’t played the game, do yourself a favor and go listen to the soundtrack because it is an amazing example for a good use of music in video games.
Those are two examples of music in gaming used to its fullest to engage players in their world and gameplay. Let’s talk about the Grand Theft Auto series and the Need for Speed series from Underground till Carbon. These games didn’t have their own music but a soundtrack made up of songs from different genres and artists whose licenses they had taken. These games helped shape the musical taste of a whole generation of gamers. Riders on The Storm, Hellraisers, I Ran, You’ll Be Under My Wheels and so many more songs are etched into our memory. They helped shape the time frame of the game to completely immerse the player and they’ve managed to leave a long-lasting impression. There are so many games out there with phenomenal musical scores like the original Mass Effect Trilogy, the Elder Scrolls series, the Fallout titles, the Witcher trilogy, the Saints Row series. Listening to Power while jumping out of a helicopter to take over a building for my gang is one of my favorite memories related to music in gaming thanks to Saints Row 3. Transistor and Bastion are two more games with fantastic soundtracks but maybe I’ll leave that for another time. Until that time, have fun and keep on playing.
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