Video game soundtracks are arguably one of the most under-appreciated pieces of music in entertainment. While you’re sitting there blasting and slashing your evenings away, the sound design and background music do such a good job of immersing you in the virtual world you’re inhabiting that you often forget that they’re there at all. In fact the most memorable soundtracks are often full of licensed songs that you’ve probably already heard, with games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 being famous for raising a generation on punk rock.
Pretty much every EA game is a candidate for this too, with Need For Speed, FIFA and SSX filled to the brim with licensed songs, yet rarely are these full of anything that is truly unique to the game.
But what about original songs and soundtracks, written and performed solely for the purpose of complimenting an action packed video game? There are of course many of these written by people who sadly don’t get the recognition they deserve, but there are also a surprising amount of famous musicians and bands that have donated their talent to various games throughout the years. While some of these games are more deserving than others (why any band did an exclusive song for Iron Man 2 is beyond us) this list proves that great original music and video games sometimes co exist.
Sometimes is the key word here, as several of these songs are actually unbearably awful.
10. Cold – Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
When Midway Games were set to release their psychic-powered third-person shooter back in 2004, they decided to enlist the help of popular American hard rock band Cold. Reading that sentence may conjure up two important questions; firstly, wasn’t the psychic shooting game on Playstation called Second Sight? And secondly, who the hell are Cold? Both are valid questions, and while Second Sight was the undoubtedly better game, some PR geniuses decided to release both for the same consoles only four months apart – smooth.
Cold may not have made much of a splash across the pond, but they are a solid and pretty respected rock band over in the States. They were one of the first bands to include in-game footage into a music video, so they also have that (admittedly strange) claim to fame.
The idea to include gameplay footage into a live action may have been great in 2004, but the game’s grainy PS2 visuals are definitely starting to show their age, just like the song behind it. The whole thing may look pretty laughable now, but either way, this happened, and it was (probably) cool at the time.
Now you know about another game you’ll probably never play, and have an obscure new band to soundtrack your weight-pumping sessions, aren’t we good to you?
9. Korn – Haze
When Ubisoft decided to release a first person shooter for the PS3 by the team behind TimeSplitters, people were pretty excited. Sony proclaimed this as their ‘Halo killer’, as they previously did with Killzone, but to be fair to Sony these guys had helmets with visors too, so the comparison was slightly more apt. The problem was, once the game came out everyone realised it was utterly abysmal, therefore Ubisoft had to suddenly come up with a way to drown out the negative reviews and wave of bad press the game was receiving, and get Haze’s name out there – and that’s where Korn came in.
8. 50 Cent – Blood On The Sand
We live in a world of unanswered questions; what happens after we die? Why do people like Alan Carr? And most importantly, how in the hell did 50 Cent’s game get a sequel. Well the answer is, we live in a strange and mysterious world, where people apparently have awful taste in everything.
After his mind numbingly-dire first outing – 50 Cent: Bulletproof, 50 Cent is back with his G-Unit friends to take the fight to the middle east, and defend everyone’s freedom.. or something. The game basically sees you shooting a load of arabs while Fiddy’s music pounds through the speakers – and you’re surely just dying to hear some of the mad good tunes he made for this game aren’t you? Well don’t worry – we’ve got that rim-spinning classic right here.
7. Avenged Sevenfold – Black Ops 2
Probably the least surprising entry on the list. Call Of Duty is known for its massive ad campaigns, and this well publicised collaboration is one you were most likely already aware of. With Avenged Sevenfold’s vocalist M Shadows being a huge gaming fan, this is one of the least cynical collaborations on the list, and this cheesy metal track serves its purpose perfectly.
The combination of Black Ops 2′s frantic team-based zombie mode and Avenged sevenfold’s driving metal track is a great match, and one of the few songs on this list that suits its subject material. While not a great song, its cheesy, over the top and fast – just like COD. An original game song done (almost) right.
6. Trent Reznor – Quake
Nine Inch Nails front man and song writer Trent Reznor is a bit of a busy bee. Having soundtracked The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as well as of course regularly touring the world and writing albums – Trent’s done a bit of everything. What you might not know though, is that the famous rock star scored the entire soundtrack for the original Quake.
While many artists on this list have contributed an original song, its rare that an artist of Trent’s calibre would devote his time to creating the soundtrack for an entire game – yet he did. Another good reason for people to love NIN.
5. Lamb Of God – Iron Man 2
Lamb Of God are arguably the greatest metal band of the last decade; combining flawless musicianship with a progressive approach to songwriting and a no holds barred live show, they really are a band you can’t help but respect. Sadly the colloboration wasn’t a success. Why you ask? Because Iron Man 2 is a godawful turd of a game.
The real question is, how did this collaboration come about? You can only assume that the developers needed something to redeem their game and help get it out there to the gullible masses, and being the loveable dudes that they are – Lamb Of God accepted the massive cheque presented to them and wrote something that was genuinely awesome.
They probably named the song after their experience of trying to fly in the game. Lamb Of God did their part, but one good song can’t save this buggy mess of a product.
4. Clint Mansell – Mass Effect 3
Who?! Clint Mansell was the keyboard player in successful 80′s mash up band, Pop Will Itself. Since leaving the band, Mansell has gone on to score some massive films such as Requiem For A Dream, Moon and Black Swan. He also did the soundtrack for the Doom film – but hey, they can’t all be winners, right?
Turning his hand to epic game soundtracks, the Mass Effect series was perfect for Clint’s brand of grand musical stylings. This haunting and majestic piece is arguably one of the most memorably pieces of music in the series, and is a masterfully written composition. If you ever want to make your commute home that much more epic, whack this on your iPod and make your rush hour struggles that much more cinematic.
3. Trent Reznor – Black Ops 2
Trent Reznor and Black Ops 2 in this list again? What a cop out. As you may have read earlier, Trent has his hands in many musical pies, and after finishing off his David Fincher soundtracks, he decided to compose an original theme for Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2. The reason this is so high up on the list is because the theme is so subtle and unassuming, that unless you were previously aware of Trent’s involvement you’d have no idea that the theme was written by him.
Trent was also originally involved in the sound design for Doom 3, but had to abandon it due to touring commitments – which given his overbearing presence on this list already is probably a good thing. Maybe he did some other games and will pop up again on our list? You’ll just have to read on and find out… (spoiler, he’s not in it again – that would be ridiculous).
2. José González – Red Dead Redemption
One of the most memorable moments in the game is complimented beautifully by this original composition from José González. In Rockstar’s brilliant open-world western adventure, you play as an ex-outlaw called John Marston. After being told you’re going to have to hunt down your friends in order to save your family’s lives you step on a raft to Mexico and are greeted by this nifty little ditty.
As you cross the border this beautiful song sets the mood perfectly, providing players with a thoughtful and haunting acoustic track to soundtrack the start of their journey. The song fits the narrative and game’s dark themes perfectly, and as well as being the best song on this list, ‘Far Away’ is arguably also the most fitting for its subject matter.
A truly brilliant piece of original game music.
1. David Bowie – Omikron: The Nomad Soul
Yes, you read that correctly – David Bowie.
In 1999, music’s most famous David teamed up with gaming’s most famous David (David Cage) to collaborate on a PC and Dreamcast adventure title. Set in a dystopian futuristic city, the game was full of mystery, action, demons and often ill-fitting Bowie songs.
One of the first game’s from the revered creator of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, Omikron is a forgotten cult classic. Bowie wrote the entire soundtrack to the game, and while the songs originally appeared in Omikron, many were adapted and re-written for Bowie’s album Hours, which came out later the same year.
While the song doesn’t set the world on fire, that creepy video above makes it all worth while. With genuine superstars like Bowie soundtracking games, who will be next? If enough huge cheques are written – anything is possible.