Yesterday I started playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. I’ve never played a Far Cry game, but heard good things about this one so I wanted to give it a go. I get through the cinematic intro and the gameplay starts. I’m in a helicopter, with a laser gun, and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally is playing. Boom, I’m instantly hooked. And I’ve never even seen Predator. A good song automatically gets me excited to play.
It got me thinking about how a good licensed soundtrack can really enhance a game. One series that uses music exceptionally well is Saints Row. Popular music is used enhance set pieces – in SR3, Kanye’s Power plays as you take over a rival gang’s penthouse apartment, and Holding Out for a Hero is the track when you race to rescue your crew near the end of the game; in SR4 Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing plays as you’re selflessly risking life and limb to diffuse a nuke and save the United States from an attack.
Music is also used to help you bond with your homies on their loyalty missions. Pierce’s mission is always a highlight in the games for me, with SR3 having him and The Boss sing along to What I Got, while it’s Opposites Attract that offers a bonding moment in SR4. It’s the music that gets me into the game, and performances of the voice actors that make the characters come to life.
Another game that uses licensed music in a spectacular way is Spec Ops: The Line. Vietnam era rock is a mainstay of the war shooter, even those set in present or future days. While The Line does deliver a few of these classics, such as songs by Hendrix, Deep Purple, or the lyrically relevant Nowhere to Run by Martha & the Vandellas, it also delivers some more diverse, though ultimately very fitting songs. Rather than stick to the 60s and 70s catalogues for the soundtrack, it ventures into more recent music that plays homage to the sounds and messages of the era, such as the Canadian rock band Black Mountain’s Stormy High, or The Black Angels’ The First Vietnamese War. More unexpected are the addition of Mogwai’s quiet RU Still In 2 It or Björk’s Storm. However, though they are unexpected, they fit the tone of the game perfectly. Spec Ops: The Line is a game that subverts expectations in many ways, not just musically but narratively. I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack, preferably as you play the game.
Good music can also be used to great effect in trailers, often making me interested in a game that would otherwise fly right under my radar. My feelings on the Call of Duty franchise are quite ambivalent. Advanced Warfare was the first game I played (and reviewed) in the series, and while I thought it was a solid shooter, it didn’t send me running out to pick up any of the other 700 games in the franchise. When the Black Ops III trailer released a few weeks ago, I thought it looked great. However, after thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that the use of The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black was responsible for 99% of my excitement. The actual gameplay doesn’t look much different than AW. This is not the first CoD trailer to make use The Rolling Stones either.
Original soundtracks also often make a game for me, with Bastion being the soundtrack I always think of first, but that’s a topic for another post.
Is there any particular use of licensed music in a game that sticks out for you?