Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been replaying Silent Hill 2 lately. It’s been a while, but Konami’s survival horror classic is a game I return to time and time again. A title I consider one of the most perfect games ever created, even 20 years on.
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Silent Hill 2’s story is beguiling. The gameplay is still disarming and genuinely unsettling. But it’s the soundtrack, created by the great Akira Yamaoka, that is the game’s greatest gift. Crank up the game’s principal piece ‘Theme of Laura’ – its parent soundtrack was re-released on vinyl by Mondo in 2019, or it’s on Spotify – and you’ll hear one of gaming’s most luscious compositions. ‘Theme of Laura’ is as evocative heard out of game, as it is within.
I spend a lot of time listening to the soundtracks from video games – not all of them from two decades ago. A more recent favourite is the work of Australia-based Mick Gordon, who, as well as providing the music for Bethesda’s Wolfenstein series, and 2017’s deeply underrated FPS Prey, was responsible for the osmium heavy metal of 2016’s DOOM reboot and its sequel, DOOM Eternal, released early last year.
Gordon’s soundtracks are much like what you’d expect metal music to be like in 2021: mammoth heavy and redefining previously-accepted boundaries for frenetic energy. DOOM’s soundtrack sounds like the game plays. It’s disappointing that Gordon and id Software fell out after the sequel’s release. It’s extremely unlikely he’ll return for a third game, though recent collaborations with Bring Me The Horizon suggest that he’s far from done.
Even more recently, I’ve enjoyed the soundtrack to CD Projekt’s much maligned Cyberpunk 2077, a game that in so many other ways, I don’t even particularly like. Music, though, is one of the things the game unarguably does brilliantly, and is perhaps the Polish studios most effective tool in realising their vision of dystopia.
Whether it’s the stuttering electronics of instrumentals like ‘The Rebel Path’ and ‘To Hell And Back’, or the tracks created by artists like Grimes, A$AP Rocky, HEALTH and Metz (who all perform under pseudonyms – Grimes is Lizzy Wizzy, a popstar she also voices in the game), Cyberpunk 2077’s soundtrack sounds an awful lot like you’d expect the future to sound.
Not only that, but in coaxing new music out of Swedish punk titans Refused – who provide the music for SAMURAI, the band fronted by Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand – Cyberpunk 2077 asks questions, not only of the future of music in video games, but that of music itself.
I recently spoke to the band Antre, a rising voice in British black metal who hail from Nottingham. They’re a band with a profile, but nothing like their appearance on the Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack – under the name Dread Soul – has given them. “We’re still pinching ourselves!” says guitarist Chris Marsland. Huge credit also has to go to the developers for getting such a broad representation of musical genres into a game, especially independent artists and genres not normally represented in gaming – black metal itself is generally unrepresented in gaming.
This also reminds me of a conversation I had with many managers of music acts, prior to the release of 2013’s GTA V. It’s generally accepted that the most important factor to breaking a band, in the UK at least, is having the support of the massive BBC Radio 1. And yet, prior to the release of said game, everyone I spoke to expressed their desire to get their acts’ music onto the soundtrack of the impending phenomenon, admitting that doing so was even more important to them than the support of Radio 1. This thought has stuck with me. And this week that thought became an idea.
With the realities of the ongoing pandemic dictating what we can and cannot do – and in truth, much more the latter – and with no end to the myriad of restrictions faced by so many in sight, it strikes me that video games may well have the answer to many of the problems the music industry currently faces.
I wrote last year on this very website about the gallant attempts of many to hold festivals, in lieu of physical events, within games and virtual spaces. But it also occurs to me that games like Cyberpunk 2077, in offering space on their soundtrack to rising names, may well provide vital opportunities for music discovery within a time where bands can’t play and can’t tour.
Circumstance dictates that music is on its arse in 2021. Games continue to thrive. There is opportunity here. Take Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 for example. There are few who spent time with that game the first time around and didn’t come away with a raft of new favourite bands.
So developers, when you’re thinking of who might make up your creations s/t’s, spare a thought for music’s new names. It’s an opportunity to make your games feel fresh and vital. And if you don’t, I fear we’ll all be listening to nothing but legacy acts within a few years.