RANK’EM: TOP VIDEOGAME SONGS

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.

HOUSE RULES:

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.

Sorry guys, you may rock pretty hard but you are ineligible for this list. Better luck next time!
Sorry guys, you may rock pretty hard but you are ineligible for this list. Better luck next time!

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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…

  1. 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 exmpodcast@gmail.com

 

The Question Mark – RANK’EM – E3 2015

So E3 2015 is in the books and I think everyone collectively agrees that it was a solid show. You had a little bit of sequels, a dash of remakes, and some significant new intellectual properties. Add in a smidge of surprises and you have a yummy cocktail of gaming goodness. Instead of exploring a topic as I do each week in the Question Mark, I am going to use this pulpit to highlight what most appealed to me from this year’s E3 announcements. Bear in mind that I was not there, did not try anything and am judging everything from the press conferences and online coverage (of which there was a lot!). Also, I would highlight that I made my choices based on my excitement level for each game as compared to how I felt before the conference, which cut out games like Batman: Arkham Knight which I am already very jazzed for and E3 didn’t really add anything new.

So finally, without further ado, here are my click-bait friendly faves from the conference:

Honourable Mention: My youth. Final Fantasy VII, Shenmue and the original Gears of War are some of my all-time favourite videogames and I am happy to see them get revitalized or relaunched. I do firmly believe that these games succeeded partially due to when they released and I am unconvinced that they will be big hits now, or even games that I spend a significant amount of time on. That being said, it was cool to see them being recognized, particularly by Sony.

Hey! Ryo! Hey! Somehow I doubt your adventures will stand the test of time.
Hey! Ryo! Hey! Somehow I doubt your adventures will stand the test of time.

10. For Honor: This new IP from Ubisoft looks promising, although it may end up being a glorified tech demo in the vein of the first Assassin’s Creed. I did enjoy the first AC and I enjoy what I like to call “thumb candy”, that slick feeling of being in control. It looks like For Honor may offer that feeling through a new and innovative control system.

9. Dreams: Again, this is theoretically amazing stuff. The fact that Sony launched their conference with a Japanese emotional adventure game, a procedurally generated universe, and then Dreams, a creative dreamscape sandbox, shows how far games have come. I prefer to play and not necessarily create. I haven’t touched Minecraft or Little Big Planet. I am excited to know that this game exists though and I am aware of the possibilities. Hopefully somebody makes something super cool in it.

So. Much. Cuteness. Completely unlike any of my dreams.
So. Much. Cuteness. Completely unlike any of my dreams.

8. Uncharted 4: I made my wife watch the exciting car ride video that closed Sony’s E3 conference and she said what I am sure a lot of people are thinking “Ehhh, it just looks like more Uncharted” to which I would say: EXACTLY. Enough time has passed since the last game for me to get sufficiently excited although it is very possible that they have gone to the same well too many times. Hopefully, this is actually the last Uncharted and Naughty Dog goes and lends its considerable talents to a new game.

Oh Drake, you are so dreamy. I will miss you when you hopefully never come back.
Oh Drake, you are so dreamy. I will miss you when you hopefully never come back.

7. Fallout 4: Announced prior to the show, I am excited for this game despite the fact that I doubt it can surpass what CD Projeckt Red has done with the Witcher. The more of these giant games, the better!

6. Super Mario Maker: The only Nintendo presence on this list, I feel like this could be a tool/game that is used for years and outlives the system that it is launching on. It reminds me of Mario Paint for Super Nintendo in a way. Like Dreams, this is more of a creation toolkit but unlike Dreams, it is one that I could see myself using. If the rest of Nintendo’s Wii U content wasn’t so barebones, I might have considered picking one up.

Super Mario Maker: Teaching budding level designers how to troll their friends since 2015
Super Mario Maker: Teaching budding level designers how to troll their friends since 2015

5. Horizon: Zero Dawn: Okay, let’s get this out of the way immediately: what a dumbass title. I get that every new IP is launched with eyes to future expansion but can we please just save the subtitles for sequels? What was wrong with “Horizon”? Also, Zero Dawn sounds stupid and repetitive. Why not call it Zero Dawn: The New Beginning, Part 1? Ridiculous. Anyway, rant over. The game looks awesome and I like the sci-fi meets cavemen concept. This is the type of original concept work that generally puts video games ahead of movies. I also like the female protagonist and the gameplay. Nothing ground breaking but everything looks solid and enjoyable.

4. Sea of Thieves: Rare was another big player in my teen years with its Nintendo 64 catalogue one of the most impressive for any individual publisher in a console’s lifespan. Sea of Thieves has all the charm of a Rare classic. I also love Monkey Island and comedic pirate games and I can see this filling that void. My concerns stem mostly from the MMO aspects as I generally prefer single-player experiences. Knowing my luck, I will end up being one of the deckhands pulling the ropes. Sounds glamorous.

3. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: I am a fanboy for this series and have played and finished every single one. I had some trepidation with Mankind Divided as I felt that it might be an overreach for Eidos Montreal (particularly after Thief) or that it would negate the choices that concluded Human Revolution. While I still have some of those concerns, my fanboyism and the stylish trailers are winning me over.

Yes, I know we used this photo for a previous EXM but what can I say? We love us some Deus Ex!
Yes, I know we used this photo for a previous EXM but what can I say? We love us some Deus Ex!

2. No Man’s Sky / Star Citizen: I am lumping these two games together due to the similar theme of space exploration. Star Citizen didn’t get much of a showing and may still be a long way off. No Man’s Sky performed much better and is staggering in its scope. The procedural generation technology is very impressive but I am left to wonder how repetitive the game may end up being. It seems rather wide open but will there be a story or campaign? I could see myself enjoying it for a few evenings and then growing bored. Hopefully that isn’t the case. The concept is extremely exciting.

Look at all the purty colours. If you look closely, you can see that all the plants are poisonous.
Look at all the purty colours. If you look closely, you can see that all the plants are poisonous.

1. VR + Hololens: Look, by and large these conferences are about one thing: selling you the future. You must believe in the potential for new experiences and new technologies that will deliver something beyond what you are playing right now. My age and experience has made me less interested in sequels and remakes – I want new shit. In particular, I want something that will blow my mind. I think virtual reality gaming will be that thing and the highlight of the show for me was seeing giant companies like Microsoft (through Oculus, Valve, and its Hololens) and Sony (through its own Morpheus) jump on board the bandwagon. This could be a fad, like motion controls, or it could be the future. Either way, I am excited to find out.