I don’t know if you knew this but I play a
lot of video games and while a lot of why I enjoy these games
has to do with gameplay, narrative and aesthetics, the music is an essential piece of the puzzle
In this video I’m going to go through particularly personally influential video game soundtracks,
and how they made me discover my music taste today The original Deus Ex released in 2000 was
about an anti-terrorist agent, uncovering global conspiracies involving the Illuminati,
Hong Kong Triads and the United Nations. Set in the 2050s, it attempted to recreate the
look and feel of Blade Runner, a cyber future. Unfortunately, visually it has aged very poorly,
but the story and music still hold a place in many people’s hearts, and for a long time
was considered one of – if not the greatest game ever made.
A sequel was made in 2003 which did not live up to expectations, with generally unfavourable
reviews. This meant a new Deus Ex game wouldn’t be available to the public for another 8 years.
So, in 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was released; a prequel to the original Deus Ex.
Developed by a different company, it is certainly a product of its time gameplay-wise; taking
cover, regenerating health, limited dialogue options – a far stretch from the simple mechanics
of the original. Despite being set 23 years earlier, the developers
still went for the cyber-future aesthetic, this time primarily based in Detroit, while
also exploring China, Canada and Singapore. As such, the music sounds similar, but with
the 11 years of technlogical advancement, the music recreates the original’s style successfully,
while improving the overall quality. There was something stopping me from listening
to this music on the regular, however. That being, the music was generally designed to
be intertwined with the gameplay on the screen, meaning listening to the music alone made
it sound awkward without the context. As such, the music was left on the backburner, ready
to further appreciate with the added bonus of some nostalgia.
Without me knowing it, this game introduced me to the futuristic, synthesized genre of
music which would make itself known again a few years down the line. Skyrim, released on the 11th of the 11th,
2011 is an open world role-playing game set in the land of, well, Skyrim, which is a region
of Tamriel. At the time, Skyrim was the peak of open world
games – A giant land to explore as you saw fit, quests and riches to be found around
every corner, and a beautiful, other worldly fantasy aesthetic to immerse yourself in;
and immerse you did. If you’ve ever wanted to be a mage, an archer,
a warrior, this game had you covered, and then some. The accessibility to beginners
who had never played a video game before, combined with the role-playing appeal to seasoned
players created a world-wide phenomenon, the likes of which has only been repeated once
or twice to this day. Naturally, a journey on an epic scale requires
an epic soundtrack. Enter Jeremy Soule, a man who’s video game discography dates back
to 1995. Commanding an orchestra, he created some of the most instantly recognisable pieces
of music, especially the trailer’s. Skyrim itself, however, was not as action-packed
as the trailer might make it out to be. Plenty of time is spent simply walking, through lavish
landscapes, dimly-lit dungeons, and crystalline caves. The music needed to reflect the tranquil
nature of these settings, and Soule did so magically. There are, in fact, multiple 10 hour compilations
of his music, set with some environmental sounds to relax with on YouTube, amassing
millions of views. The only let down, in my eyes, was the times
where it was supposed to get your blood pumping – a clash with an enemy. The range of enemies
in Skyrim was vast, from little mudcrabs to giant dragons (or, technically wyverns but
let’s not get into that), and unfortunately, the music often did not reflect the danger
of the enemy you were fighting. An angry fish would give you the same musical sting as a
mammoth. So, while exploration was captivating, combat
was immersion-breaking. Luckily, the positives outweighed the negatives, and gave me a good
introduction to the epic orchestral music genre. Again, this would be further explored
in the future. The Bioshock series is regarded as some of
the best narrative experiences that video games can offer. If you’ve ever wanted your
beliefs challenged, Rapture or Colombia are the places to go.
What Skyrim got wrong, Bioshock Infinite got right. Getting your blood pumping and your
spine chilling is what this game did best. While not a traditional horror game, the strings
and percussion of the soundtrack could fool you into thinking it was.
The game is near impossible to go into detail with in a few paraphraphs, but to give you an idea
of what I’m talking about, here’s a clip. While this type of music isn’t usually suitable for your day-to-day commute, it got me in
love with the disturbing, uneasy, goosebump giving melodies which, once again, I would
discover more of in the future. You ever wanted to kill demons from hell?
On Mars? With the utter barbarism of a predator with nothing to lose? Doom. Wait, no, not
that one. This one. Back in the 90s, the Americans were worried that
video games were recruiting their kids into satanic cults. Games like this gave them an
argument. The original Doom, released in 1993, was one of the first first person shooters
to exist, and it took the world by storm. Primitive today, it was one of the finest
gameplay experiences you could have at the time.
In 2016, a faithful reboot was made, the brutality of which is yet to be matched. The game is
so metal, some of the sounds come from 9 string guitars, pure sin waves, white noise, a soviet
era synthesizer, and even an actual chainsaw. The game modifies its soundtrack depending
on what actions you’re performing – causing the music to truly reflect your gameplay,
which is almost always terrifyingly violent. Adrenaline in audio form, Doom holds nothing
back. The composer, Mick Gordon, goes into depth about how he wanted to honour the original
Doom’s soundtrack while transforming it into the modern day, as well as detailing how he
obtained some of the raw sounds the music is famous for. It’s worth checking out if
you’re into that sort of thing. Despite it being so ruthless it’s sometimes
uncomfortable to listen to, it was one of the first soundtracks I bought. It is generally
recognised as the best soundtrack to any video game, ever.
There’s just one more game that would lead me to the music that would define my tastes
from there on out. When someone mentions the 80s, what do you
think of? Cheesy movies? Casette tapes? The Cold War? Neon?
Why not take all of them, and put them into a game? That’s what two swedish developers
decided to do, and the result was Hotline Miami.
The gameplay was simple. Get a weapon, go to a destination, kill everyone, return home.
A top down perspective gave you all the information you needed. The pixilated graphics separated
the player from the atrocities they commit. Like Deus Ex, the protagonist is caught up
in conflicts beyond his own, and with a little research finds how he’s been manipulated and
coerced into actions he did not want to commit. Or maybe he did. Or, maybe you, the player,
did. Did you continue playing because you were
forced to, or because you liked it? Do you like hurting other people?
Or you could not bother answering those questions and engage in some top quality reaction based
gameplay with some of the best and most fitting music in existence.
The developers obtained music from already established artists for their game, meaning
the tracks are full audio experiences by themselves. You don’t need the context of gunning down
Russian mobsters to enjoy them, but it amplifies it to the nth degree.
What’s fascinating about this game’s soundtrack is how it captures the full experience of
the genre so effortlessly. Of course there’s the blood-pumping musical backing to the main
gameplay, but the downtime between levels and the story moments include some of the
best examples of what the genre is capable of. MOON’s Dust plays out after every level
in Hotline Miami 2 – an almost melancholic, retrospective tune to lower you down from
your adrenaline high. There’s a creepy sting to every scene containing the men with animal
masks. It truly makes you uneasy. The music helps you, the player, feel what
the protagonist would be feeling at any given time, and it fits the setting to a T. It gave
me the introduction to my now favourite genre: Synthwave.
So that’s more or less where the story is right now. Outside of video game soundtracks,
synthwave artists like Carpenter Brut […], Perturbator […], and Ollie Wride […] are my go-to
nowadays. “Synthwave” as a genre is an umbrella term, whatever synthy-styled music you’re
looking for, you can find it. I can thank Hotline Miami for introducing
me to it.