Music in gaming. Whether it’s bringing out an emotional reaction or the result of some hilarious moments, it can be a very powerful tool in the way we view things. I myself have always held the use of music and song in gaming to a rather high standard. That being said, I realize songs aren’t cheap and using certain music from pop culture isn’t always the most efficient way to go. There are several games, however, that take a leap of faith in that regard and the results are nothing short of amazing.
Without further ado, this list is dedicated to my favourite songs featured in games and the way they’re used.
“Disco Inferno” by The Trammps - Bulletstorm
Oh Bulletstorm. It’s been an interesting run for the cult classic shooter. Starting off in an acquired position right from the get go, it’s a shame that the sales figures were so abysmal for this title considering how entertaining and cathartic it was. It makes sense though, the fatigue from shooters during the time more than likely turned people away from it. If you didn’t get the chance to experience it the first time around, I wholeheartedly recommend the remastered version that’s available.
You can experience all the guns, guts, and grooviness that it has to offer. Speaking of grooviness (Subtle lead in right?), there’s one moment in Bulletstorm that always gives me a solid laugh. It could be my first run through, or my fourth go at it, but the disco club section of the game is by far one of my favourites. You have some beers, grab a chaingun, then combine with the song “Disco Inferno”, and there you have a recipe for success. Well, that and the pretty epic shoot out.
10. “Turn Up The Radio” by Autograph - Alpha Protocol
Many out there will probably agree that there are too many games right now that boast the notion of “Your choices affect the world around you!”. Unfortunately, there are titles out there where the concept of ‘foraging your own story’ means little more than switching out the dialogue for a couple of conversations, which is a shame due to storytelling coming as far as it has in recent years. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good choice-based games out there, the SEGA published title Alpha Protocol being one of them.
A spy-based action thriller, Alpha Protocol featured likable characters, a well-constructed narrative, and a nice little reference to the 80’s. Yes, during a boss fight midway in, a Russian mobster makes a stunning fireworks entrance to the tune of “Turn Up The Radio” by Autograph. The guitar riff, coupled with an 80’s vibe and the sheer nonsense of it all makes this boss fight all the more memorable. All in all, I got a pretty good chuckle from the novelty of it all and still look back on it with fond memories
9. “Mother” by Danzig - F.E.A.R 3
As I’m sure you’ll see further along in this list, I’ve got a soft spot for some old fashioned rock ‘n roll. What’s strange, though, is hearing a classic rock song in a game you’d never expect to hear one in. Case in point: F.E.A.R 3. Now, perhaps I may be using the word ‘never’ too frivolously, but it’s just a little bit jarring to hear Danzig of all groups start up during the endgame credits. For a series that started out so firmly on the horror end of the spectrum, the switch to ‘balls-to-the-wall action’ (if I may be so direct) is one that I’m sure left at least a couple of people scratching their heads.
That being said, the ending song “Mother” is not out of place by any means. It does a wonderful job at signifying the end of the trilogy, as well as producing a sinister vibe that hints towards the notion of ‘dark days ahead’. Whether or not a F.E.A.R 4 is actually on the horizon is for the developers to know and for us to find out. But when it comes to the original three games, “Mother” was a solid choice of song to end things off.
8. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith - Saint’s Row IV
Sometimes a cheesy classic is all you need to set the right tone. Saint’s Row has always been known for its over-the-top style and enjoyable nature, but the fourth title in the franchise decided to go for a much… grandeur feel shall we say. The sense of irony is something that’s never seemed to be lost on Saint’s Row and the inclusion of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is a nice little ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ to the massive scale that the game is operating on.
What better way to lead into your big budget sequel than trying to deactivate a missile high in the air with Aerosmith blaring in the background? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, that’s for sure. There are other sections throughout the game that also use music quite well such as “I Need A Hero” by Bonnie Taylor, but I still feel the overall campness, and small hint of irony, using the Aerosmith single was a genius move and one that needs to be appreciated more.
7. “Blurry” by Puddle of Mudd - Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War
As far as flight simulators go, Ace Combat 5 holds a rather special place in my heart. I still remember getting it, alongside a PS2, on Boxing Day and playing it all hours of the night. Funnily enough, being the first PS2 title I ever owned, it’s kind of sad in hindsight considering how many great games had come out for the system. I suppose one could chalk it up to nostalgia value. In fact, I still enjoy going back and playing it from time to time. The gameplay, the style, the open-endedness, it all just works so well.
It’s not just the design of Ace Combat that brings me back though, it’s also the music. The inclusion of Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry” is something that still gives me goosebumps today. After the initial training mission, the player is greeted with a cutscene that continues to build on the backstory given to the Captain. While Chopper, your co-pilot, is about to inform you of some of the finer details, you can clearly make out the song in the background. Not only is it a nice mood setter, but the air of foreshadowing is quite thick during the conversation. The lyrics “Can you take it all away? Can you take it all away?” are emphasized right before the dialogue starts and during the conversation itself. It’s a subtle hint that makes you think in a game where you wouldn’t expect it.
Thank you Namco, thank you for introducing me to this wonderful piece.
6. “Soul of a Man” by Steve Stern - Mad Max
For a lot of games, emotional set pieces can usually be found near the end of a story or during a moment of reveal. Mad Max does have emotional pieces worked in throughout, but they pale in comparison to the effect of the opening and how it influences the player.
During the intro, Max finds himself in another situation where marauders chase him through the desert. After obtaining the upper hand for a moment, Max is eventually overrun and left for dead as the bandits drive off. Our hero doesn’t take to this well and decides instead to give it one last ditch effort and attempts to kill the leader. While the fight itself ends up in a draw, the real hit comes from the background music. Steve Stern’s “Soul of a Man” manages to capture the desperation of Max’s situation as he claws for salvation in a place that has torn apart his mind and soul. Overall, it’s a beautiful intro coupled with a beautiful song.
5. “Hush” by Deep Purple - Spec Ops: The Line
War is hell. That pretty much sums up the tagline for the experience you’re getting out of Spec Ops: The Line. And what a fitting tagline it is as you go to hell and back again, trying to hold onto your sanity as you realize the very enemy that you’re working to destroy is the enemy that’s been with you the entire time. Woeful, of course. Hopeless, certainly. Entertaining, yes?
Joking aside, Jager development knows their stuff when it comes to storytelling, and music isn’t something that’s left out of the mix. Earlier on in the story, you, as Cap. Walker, find yourself in the middle of a firefight where things have taken a turn for the worse (I mean obviously, you’re in a firefight). So imagine my surprise when during this close quarters encounter, Deep Purple’s “Hush” begins playing over the sound system. It put a weird spin on things and was almost foreboding in a sense, giving off a feeling of dread for what was about to come.
To sum up, it was a great, if not chilling, use of an old classic.
4. “Santa Monica” by Theory of a Deadman - Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit
Oh, where do I begin with this one? I feel as though a good collection of people are going to read this and then do a double take on the title of the article. Long story short, Indigo Prophecy wasn’t all that bad. Sure, it had moments where it left more than a few gamers wondering what had just occurred, but it was still an entertaining experience. Certainly more entertaining than Beyond: Two Souls. Overall, I’d say it left quite the impression on the community.
One such impression that left its mark on me was the song choice in-game. This only occurs at specific points during the story but the main character, Lucas Kane, will find himself in his apartment every now and again. And while there’s plenty of exploration to be had from the bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen. The living room is where the real gem of the game lies. I’m not sure how many times I played “Santa Monica” on that stereo, but I’m pretty sure the song is running on repeat in my subconscious forever. The music just embraces what the game is all about so well and turns up the unintentional humour factor to eleven. I’m not sure why I found it so hilarious that Lucas Kane could just sit on the couch and look like the most brooding individual ever, but I’ll say this much: “Santa Monica” makes it work on a near perfect level.
3. “Crazy” by Patsy Cline - Twisted Metal/Deadpool
Music doesn’t, and indeed won’t, take just one shape. It’s an ever changing thing that structures itself based on how we feel. For some it may garner a more positive response, well for others it brings out more negative feelings.
“Crazy”, performed by Patsy Cline, is one of my favourite tracks for this reason. When used in the Twisted Metal remake, it has this creepy vibe to it, drawing in the player in with its slick tones and soothing sounds. It’s almost off-putting in a sense, making one feel uncomfortable to a point where nothing truly feels right. Whereas on the other end of the spectrum, Deadpool does a complete 180 with the tune by turning it on its head and using it for far more comedic purposes. Some of which include being stuck in an elevator and doing a sing-a-long with Death. Now, I may not be right about a lot, but the fact that a song can go from something like Twisted Metal, all the way to Deadpool in a moment’s notice, that’s just a little bit crazy.
2. “War” by Poets of the Fall - Alan Wake
Those close to me will know just how much I love Remedy Entertainment. Those close to me will also know how much I love Poets of the Fall. So when the two put forward a joint effort to create the physiological horror title Alan Wake, you could say I was hooked right from the start.
The thing that grips me about Poets is their almost cinematic rock sound. The style itself blends incredibly well with Alan Wake’s dark tone and offers a spiritual journey of sorts. The song “War” especially, which appears during the mid-point of the plot. The rocking tone coupled with fighting the darkness made for such a cinematic experience that I couldn’t help but stay in the area until the song had finished playing (Not proud to say I sang along as well).
Long story short, “War” gets a whole lot right without missing any of the beats.
1. “Blow Me Away” by Breaking Benjamin - Halo 2
I’ll just come right out and say it, Breaking Benjamin is my favourite band through-and- through. I won’t lie and say there isn’t a little bit of bias going into my top pick, but “Blow Me Away” is used to such great effect in Halo 2 that there’s a good chance I would’ve had it in the top two regardless. The weird thing, though, is that I’ve never been a huge fan of Halo. They’re exciting games for sure, but nothing I’d write home about overall. So imagine just how good a song would have to be to keep me coming back to it over and over again.
Despite only being in one section of the game, I still find myself returning to it on a regular basis. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of fighting aliens to screaming vocals and heavy guitars, so “Blow Me Away” fills that niche pretty well. The song may be a bit subtle when it first starts, but when things begin to build up and you realize it’s there, that’s when you know shit is about to get real. It’s a song that does a lot more than just serve as a track for a cool battle scenario, it also solidifies the notion that you are playing the Chief. And nobody messes with the Chief.
So there they are, my top ten favourite songs used in videogames. I hope you had as much fun checking out the list as I did making it. If you have any favourite musical moments of your own, feel free to comment below.