18th April, 2008
Music is a very powerful thing indeed. In a movie, the right sound at the right time can completely transform the impact of a scene, adding resonance or even completely changing the mood of the events on-screen if the director is clever enough. And there's no reason at all that it shouldn't have the same effect in a videogame.
But while the annals of gaming history are stuffed with memorable and effective ditties that have become as well-known as the gameplay of the titles they inhabit, sometimes game soundtracks just don't quite cut it. And sometimes they're downright bloody awful.
Praise the heavens then, for the Xbox 360's built-in custom soundtrack feature. A quick stab of that big silver X and we can take over a game's sound direction on the fly. With great power though, comes great responsibility, and such a gift needs to be used well. With that in mind , we've taken a lengthy trawl through the GamesRadar staff's collective music library and taken the time to put together a little videogame music alchemy. We chose only the pieces which really added something to the gameplay experience. Tracks which brought out new aspects of the games we played with them, or summed up what they were about even better than their original scores managed to do. And in a few cases, we used music that totally subverted the whole point of the game and turned it into a very different experience indeed.
These are the results of our experiment.
Gears Of War
Gears Of War has a strong original score, but there's definitely room for improvement. The thing is, with a situation as dour and grim as the one Marcus and co. find themselves in it's easy for a game to become pretty one-note in tone. We're constantly shown the loss that the planet of Sera has suffered and told of the nightmarish fear that the Locust can instill in even battle-hardened grunts like the Gears, but we never really feel it in the game. We wanted music to bring out the deeper textures of the story, and thus, these were our selections.
Aphex Twin - Gwety Mernans
This slice of none-more-dark ambient soundscape is well in the running for the most evil piece of music ever written. Minimalist, pulsing, and with an overbearing nature and immense sense of loss and isolation, it's exactly the track for setting the atmosphere of post-Emergence Sera. Gears never really plays up its horror side as much as we'd like, but this track brings it out to stunning effect.
Infected Mushroom - Apogiffa Night
And when the hardcore violence kicks off, you'll need something pounding but dramatic. This is where Israeli Psychadelic Trance loons Infected Mushroom come in. Their music is some of the most eclectic and complex in the electronic field, but Apogiffa is exactly the right kind of visceral punch in the face you need for a Gears Of War fire fight. The bassy opening horn section echoes the Predator score to tremendously ominous effect, and once the hard industrial beats kick in it's focussed hardcore Locust-mulching all the way. Hit the video below to experience what we're talking about with these two tunes.
Vangelis - Blade Runner End Title Theme
Vangelis' groundbreaking score for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is rightly iconic. We knew it had to come in useful somewhere in this feature, and ye gods were we right. The soaring, bombastic end credits theme is perfect for Gears Of War. Heavy with a pulsing sense of urgency, sprinkled with all kinds of shimmering futuristic accents, and infused with a strained. mournful, but indignant synth line throughout, very few pieces of music say 'epic' in a more emotionally affecting way.