Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 21 May 2013 12:00
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And it really highlights how so few triple-A games in recent years have used a rockin' soundtrack to such an effect. The only genre that does the kind of thing I'm talking about reliably is driving games, usually by pretending that the music's coming out of the car stereo. I was having a ball weaving through traffic at high speed in Driver: San Francisco, but I was having twice the balls - I might almost say an entire scrotum - doing the same thing while a really good song was playing. Me, I'm mainly into classic and 80's rock, so every time I got into a car in Saint's Row 2 I'd switch over to the 80's station, and ploughing through pedestrians took on an almost cosmic significance as I did so to the sound of "The Final Countdown." Even more so when my main character started singing along.

But I can't recall many really effective uses of bangin' choons outside that genre, not in modern gaming. There are a lot of songs that enhance a driving experience, because there's a certain rhythm to driving: maintaining your speed, watching the scenery rhythmically flutter past, the heavy bass hits of pelvises smacking against the front bumper. But virtually every kind of gameplay has a rhythm that a punchy song can get the most out of. Whether it's running from cover to cover snapping off gunfire, or blocking your way through a melee fight, a good song instantly makes any moment of generic combat memorable.

I can remember a few right now. Staying with Saint's Row, near the end of Saint's Row 3 you're given a mission to run off and rescue someone, whereupon "I Need A Hero" by Bonnie Tyler starts playing, independent of any car stereo. And I found that the moment stood out in my mind so much that a few days later I found myself looking up the song on Youtube. And when I did so, I couldn't help noticing that the first comment - and incidentally I loathe that one often accidentally sees the top comment on a Youtube video and in almost every case it spoils the best part of the fucking thing - was someone asking "Hey, did anyone else come here because of Saint's Row 3?"

A few other cases leap to mind. That one bit in Spec Ops: The Line where the Radioman starts taunting you by playing "Nowhere To Run" by Martha and the Vandellas over the sound system as you fight off the enemy (maybe sorta possibly a reference to a similar use of the song in The Warriors). Or of course the ending song from Portal, that certainly helped plant the game in the collective memory.

So the number of triple-A games I play that put all the effort into getting expensive orchestral soundtracks made strikes me as triple-A doing the same thing triple-A always does - spending a whole lot of money and ultimately getting a more generic experience out of it. I mean, at least that J-rock song from the title screen of Dragon's Dogma is something I still remember about it. And I haven't found a single commercial-grade bleach that'll help that fact.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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