On this episode of Rank’em, I wanted to look at some of my favourite videogame songs. I am talking actual songs here, ones with lyrics and everything. Often when I see these sorts of lists, they are focused on musical themes (think: overworld theme from Zelda) and classical pieces. There aren’t that many games that feature awesome songs so I am even going to cheat a bit with this very list as some of these songs come from trailers for videogames. The original Gears of War popularized this practice for trailers and so if a song, be it from a trailer or a game, sticks in my head then it might crack this list.
Song has to be significant aspect of game or trailer, eliminating all racing games or sports games, even those curated by Jay-Z.
One song per game, this artificial limit means some games got screwed, (namely Red Dead Redemption that would normally occupy three spots on the list).
I generally don’t like metal – sorry Brutal Legend.
No pirate sea shanties – sorry Assassin’s Creed 4 – or bard songs – sorry Dragon Age and the Witcher – but you should totally check this out.
No music games – sorry Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Honourable Mention: Cyberpunk 2077: “Bullets” – Archive
On the heels of my article last week on CD Projekt’s the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I wanted to highlight these awesome trailer released years ago for a game that has yet to come out. CD Projeckt has admitted that the trailer was partially used to gauge interest in the project and the wicked “Bullets” really helped ramp up excitement for it. The fact that the game is unreleased means that this can only be an honorable mention.
- Assassin’s Creed: “Lonely Soul” – UNKLE
A lot of people disliked the first Assassin’s Creed, often characterizing it as a glorified tech demo. While it is true that it was a lot simpler than much of what came later, it was also more focused. You truly felt alone in a big world and this trailer really captures that. It also highlights the anachronistic nature of the series: the slick future meeting the ancient past. Very cool.
- Alan Wake: “War” – Poets of the Fall
Remedy very much enjoys Poets of the Fall as evidenced by the Finnish band’s presence in both Max Payne 2 and Alan Wake, the latter of which featured many songs scoring some significant story moments and action scenes. Of those “War”, although cheesy, was probably my favourite and it gets the nod here.
- Gears of War 2, “How it Ends” – DeVotchKa
For a certain generation of gamer, “Mad World”, the Gary Jules remix of a Tears for Fears song featured prominently in a series of trailers and television ads will always represent the destroyed beauty of Gears of War. Gears of War 3 even acknowledged the enduring popularity of the song with a few notes playing from it at an emotional moment. That being said, the DeVotchKa song used in the trailer of Gears 2 took advantage of the emotional stock players now had in the characters to deliver a more powerful experience and I much prefer the song so it bumps Mr. Jules here.
- Portal: “Still Alive” – GLADOS (Jonathan Coulton)
Where to rank a comedy song? Well what if it is an exquisitely made comedy song that captures the humour of the game while being peppered by inside jokes, fan service and cake? Some may disagree but #7 works for Glados. The song itself is hilarious and remains superior to its sequel “Want You Gone” in Portal 2. It is also a part of gaming culture at this point. I have to dock it some points though because I often find myself skipping it when it comes on my iPod. The song works in context but requires a certain mood to be appreciated. I am making a note here: huge success.
- Jet Set Radio: “Improvise” – Jurassic 5
I am somewhat breaking my own rules here a bit here as by including this, I am opening the flood gates to sports games and Tony Hawk games in particular. To that I say, the Jet Set games are not traditional sports games. They are experiences that are intrinsically attached to the music being played. Most of that music was done by Hideki Naganuma but I am going to go with the one track by Jurassic 5 as the one I turn up whenever it is on.
- The Witcher 3: “Oats in the Water” – Ben Howard
The newest entry on the list comes from the launch trailer for the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (which I wrote about last week). Paired with the visuals, the song creates a strong sense of mood and builds to a climax reflecting the story and action in the game. This trailer sold me on a game I had been on the fence about playing and I am glad that I did. Also, unlike some of the music on this list, while it works well in the trailer, it can also stand alone.
- Grand Theft Auto V: “Sleepwalking” – The Chain Gang of 1974
Ever since Grand Theft Auto III popularized the in-game radio station format, there have been a lot of songs included in Grand Theft Auto games. Unfortunately, while everyone has a favourite, few ever rise above the crop. In my mind, Vice City had the best overall soundtrack and was also the first game in the series to feature popular licensed music. By GTAIV and V, there was so much content, it is almost ridiculously difficult to pick a standout song. That is why I am glad that Rockstar did it for us, highlighting “Sleepwalking” in the trailer for GTA V. That song represents the three protagonists of the game quite well and is the one that I now most associate with GTA.
- Bioshock Infinite: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” – Courtnee Draper and Troy Baker
Here we are in the top 3 and honestly, all of these songs could top the list. They all are actually notably featured in the end credits of their respective games. Of the three, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” ups the ante further by being performed by the game’s voice actors Courtnee Draper and Troy Baker. While the full live-action version of the song in the credits is really fun to watch, it is the short but poignant moment in the game where your character Booker DeWitt picks up a guitar and performs the traditional hymn with Elizabeth that really pushes this one up the charts. It helps that the song provides an important clue to understanding the game’s plot as well.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: “Way to Fall” – Starsailor
Metal Gear Solid 3 is often looked at as the high water mark was the Metal Gear franchise. Part of this is the music. Many will point to the game’s main James Bond-esque theme “Snake Eater” as the standout track. For my money though, nothing hits harder than Way to Fall as the credits rolls to conclude the game. In a series that it is mostly known for ridiculousness, it captured a pretty awesome human moment. In narrative-heavy games, much like in movies, a strong end credits song can put an exclamation mark (double pun intended) on the whole package. So with that build up out of the way, let’s get to number one…
- Red Dead Redemption: “Dead Man’s Gun” – Ashtar Command
Whenever people talk about the music of Red Dead Redemption, and believe me, they do it often, they rightfully talk about “Far Away” by José González. The song, an original composition for the game, plays as your character, John Marston, arrives in Mexico for the first time. That moment, as your horse gallops away from the border, is a powerful one, as is the later moment when you finally return home to the sounds of Jamie Lidell’s “Compass”. Both songs play during actual gameplay and I found myself slowing my progress so I could hear the pieces in their entirety. For me, however, the most powerful song of Red Dead plays during the end credits following the game’s epilogue. Spoilers aside, Ashtar Command’s “Dead Man’s Gun” doubles down on ending a game, drawing from the mood and themes of the countless hours that came before to cap a helluva journey.
Just buy the soundtrack already.
Agree? Disagree? What are some of your favourite videogame songs? Tell us below or email at firstname.lastname@example.org