We all have things that make us fall in love with certain games and merely ‘enjoy’ others. Some claim this personal apex of gaming to be graphics or gameplay; some say it’s an incredible storyline and some just settle with fun multiplayer. For me it’s something a little different. Fleeing from earth during the opening of Mass Effect 3 was entertaining, the gameplay was solid and I was gearing up to get stuck into a long ‘good and entertaining’ game. Then the music kicked in, the title flashed up and as the reaper echoes boomed from my TV, my heartbeat and emotion kicked into overdrive.
Now, I won’t try to list all of the incredible experiences I’ve had and which games I’ve had them in, that list would break the internet. Instead, I will try to divulge exactly why it is that video game soundtracks make me feel the way I do, and why I believe they are integral to the ways we play games. Every game for instance, can be expressed in a sense of rhythm, the techno-mechanical confusion of Portal 2, or the thud of Gears of War. When this rhythm is echoed through a soundtrack or ambience, the rhythm intensifies and the immersion is heightened. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was one of the games that I believe did this best. I remember the title fondly as an amazing open world adventure, packed with side activities and character. What transported this game from incredible to a masterpiece however, were the magically inspired ambient tracks, from Jeremy Soule that played throughout the game. These tracks were befitting of the context and action. When you were settled into a tavern, or shopping for supplies, the music was melodic and relaxed. When you were deep in daedric ruins or spider infested catacombs, the composition rose to a crescendo of anxiety and climax. These experiences coupled with incredible accompanying instrumentals, made Oblivion one of the best games I have ever played.
In-game soundtracks not only immerse you in the gameplay and spur forward your emotion, but they can also completely change the way you perceive the story and environment. When I first started playing Saints Row 2 I didn’t like it, don’t get me wrong I love the game now, but during those initial missions, it just didn’t settle properly. I was about ready to put the controller down and take a break when I discovered Klassic FM and Generation X the game took to a whole new form of entertainment. Rolling through the city, robbing jewellery stores to a soundtrack of Journey and Mozart made Saints Row 2 beyond excellent. Obviously there are some instances where the shift in attention and excitement can go the wrong way, something that I experienced whilst playing Gears of War 3. In a certain characters death scene, Gary Jules’ Mad World begins playing. This comes sailing out of the blue when compared to the rest of the game’s bass thundering composition, and even in the context of the narrative, felt a little out of place.
Just as a game can change with good music, I also find myself liking a game purely based on its music. When I loaded up Crysis 3, I was hit with Borislav Slavov, New York Memories track. Now Crysis 3 doesn’t do anything special, the story is a mere ok, the visuals are nice and the gameplay is fun. I would have left it at that if not for this track and perhaps this is where my love of music transcends others appreciation of it. I would rate Crysis 3 as a brilliant game solely because of its music. It brings me back to the world of Crysis every time I hear it, and dramatically influenced all of it’s content I was hit with beyond the menu screen. This is a perfect example of why it’s so vital for game developers to include brilliant scores in their creations; it adds a level of attachment and nostalgia to a game, before the player has even scratched the surface.
So there you have it. My exploration of music in games, why I love it, why we need it and how in my mind, it dramatically changes the character and personality of a game.
So what about you? What is your Shangri-La of gaming features, what makes you fall in love with games time after time? Let us know in the comments below. If you want to share general opinions on video game soundtracks jump into the forum thread here. Thanks for reading.