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Music to your ears..

Modern video games are the result of hours of tireless work on behalf of the developers. You can’t imagine the amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into creating a few thousand pixels.

But while games get more visually impressive and immersive, there’s one little bit of the past that probably helps them more than anything else. For all the improved graphics that can show the water bouncing off the road in GTA V, or completely destructible environments in Battlefield, there’s nothing that adds atmosphere than a good soundtrack. When I say that, I don’t just mean the instrumental pieces that many games use for epic or tumultuous scenes. Licensed soundtracks, when done right, can truly enhance the experience.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few that really encapsulated the mood of the moment in that particular game – we’ve steered clear of games like GTA that use licensed music all the time, and picked out ones where the lyrics really do make a difference. Needless to say – spoilers ahead.

The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil – Call of Duty: Black Ops



Call of Duty is mainly about blowing things up, and if you play the multiplayer, screaming at adolescents across the other side of the globe as they snipe you from 1500 yards away. Much more rewarding are the single player experiences, particularly in the older games. Call of Duty: Black Ops visited an era that the franchise hadn’t yet explored: The Vietnam War. As already established in plenty of movies from Apocalypse Now to Full Metal Jacket, the 70’s lent themselves well to music, and Black Ops takes this on board. In the level “Crash Site”, you pilot a PT boat along a Vietnamese river, with the strains of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil accompanying you. Why does this fit – well, as you pilot the boat, you lay waste to enemy emplacements on the river banks, that are set amongst villages and civilian residences. You literally are the Devil to these people, as you destroy their homes in the name of your mission.

David Bowie – Space Oddity – Alan Wake



Alan Wake is a weird game – the basics being that “the dark” – or at least a malevolent presence in the dark – is out to get you. You don’t have to run and gun, but you do use a torch to keep the darkness at bay. The end credits of Alan Wake show the main character accepting the need to keep the darkness at bay by journeying into a lake, sacrificing himself by cutting off contact with the rest of the world. Pretty bleak isn’t it? Well, couple that with David Bowie’s Space Oddity, where “Major Tom” refuses help from mission control to stay in space, and you have a pretty grim parallel.

Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea – Bioshock



This one is pretty self explanatory. Bioshock is a game where 99% of the story unfolds in the underwater city of Rapture. Going into the plot and its influences would take a much longer article than this one, suffice to say that central character Jack is encased in a claustrophobic, steampunk nightmare at the bottom of the ocean. Lots of references are made to the once-idyllic nature of Rapture, making the use of Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea particularly appropriate. A nice, gentle love song playing as the man made faux paradise around you crumbles is the height of melancholy.

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas – Nowhere to Run – Spec Ops: The Line



Spec Ops: The Line is a game with a huge twist at the end. The game messes with your head to the extent where you realise all the death and destruction you were dealing out in the name of good – was actually in the name of the bad guy. The bad guy himself? Well, that turns out to be you. From being the white knight, trying to free the abandoned residents of Dubai from a US military dictator, to realising you’re that very dictator? Well, that’s a bit if a shock isn’t it. Not as big as the shock at the end where you have to embrace your bad guy image in the face of the advancing relief forces, or cover it up. You really have nowhere to run.

Frank Sinatra – Under My Skin – Arkham Knight


Last, but certainly not least, is the latest offering from Rocksteady. The Arkham games haven’t been known for their use of licensed music, apart from Mark Hamill’s terrifying rendition of “Only You” on the end credits of Arkham City. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that Hamill’s Joker, while in death, gets a haunting cremation during the opening credits of Arkham Knight. Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra accompanies his end, symbolic of his dependant relationship with Batman, something that’s hinted at in the prequel comics. It could signify that The Joker without Batman is nothing, while on the flipside, Batman isn’t convinced that The Joker isn’t still involved in the main plot of the game somehow, despite Sinatra’s ode to obsession playing as the burners engulf him in flame.

You can’t always bank on a video game being good, but sometimes, the music involved helps to elevate it a level. Sometimes, it just gets under your skin.

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