Guest Writer: Playing Different Tunes

Fallout 3 with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”

Yes the apocalypse never sounded so trippy! I find listening to this album while playing this game works on so many levels. First of all the similarities in themes and story; ‘Fallout’ is about a person who’s lived in the vault his whole life while the world outside destroys itself until one day he breaks free into a land consumed by violence and brutality (not to mention some great jazz). Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ is about a boy who hides behind a psychological wall that protects him from the horrors of the outside world ,until one day he breaks free and is thrust into a violent and disturbing journey (unfortunately he doesn’t find any jazz and becomes Bob Geldof). Their themes are almost identical at times which in a way makes Pink Floyd the logical soundtrack to ‘Fallout’. Both games manage to express this feeling of desolation, loneliness, and at times despair while remaining fascinating and somehow dripping with cool.

Certain songs sync up lyrically as well as thematically. For example the opening line of “Mother”, “mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?”, just fits perfectly with the game.


All these little hooks stand out while you are playing ‘Fallout’ and enhance not only the game, but the music too. They play off each other to create a wonderful surprise. Anyone who has heard ‘The Wall’ will also know it’s an album full of atmosphere, epic build-ups and tense dives into insanity. Anyone who’s played ‘Fallout’ will know that’s exactly what the game feeds off. I urge you all to try this and hear for yourselves.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam with The Stone Roses “Breaking Into Heaven”

In the blood stained jungles of Vietnam a man who looks like a monkey sings about taking some drugs and having the time of his life.

The first reason this song fits is the intro; Lasting for several minutes with the sounds of streams bubbling past, animals in the jungle, frogs, birds and crickets and guitars fading in and out you gain the sense you are moving through a living, breathing jungle. This, along with the lush scenery of Vietnam in the moments before the two sides start their conflict, creates a tension that slowly builds over time, with bongos and tribal drum beats picking up the pace. It’s a tension missing from the original soundtrack. I find that most online shooters don’t do much in the way of a build up and throw you into the action and with nearly all online shooters having no in game music. It’s nice to sometimes play something in the background to add a bit of character.

When the song finally kicks in the guitar sweeps up bringing the intro to a memorable conclusion before taking the listener on a musical trip with some of the band’s best work. Solos, meaty bass lines and lyrical perfection are left to run wild. At this point the battle is well under way with both sides engaged in a bloody battle for control of the map. ‘Breaking into Heaven’ provides an excellent soundtrack to the Vietnam War while staying away from the clichéd use of Hendrix’s ‘All along the watch tower’. And there’s a certain sobering moment watching these computer generated nameless characters falling to their death while “I’m breaking into heaven” is sung out of your speakers.

There are many other examples that don’t need so much detail in their explanation, too!

  • GTA 4 – Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Green Manalishi’ (With the Two Pronged Crown). Fleetwood Mac used to be cool ok! Being chased by the cops while driving a vintage muscle car can prove this!
  • Fifa – TheSoundtrack to ‘Bioshock’. Yes even other game soundtracks can work wonders. The distraught ventures into an underwater dystopia express the pain you feel in the last few minutes of a game of football where all you need is just one goal.
  • Resistance 2 – Beethoven’s ‘Piano Sonata’s’ because nothing gives blowing up the Chimera a sense of style like Beethoven.
  • BF: BC2 Vietnam – Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig in The Sky/Money’. These two again I know but I’ll always remember the moment I walked onto the scourged landscape of Hill 137 while these two songs played one after the other. There is something utterly mind blowing about this look into hell. Epic and horrifying. It almost feels like a scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’.
  • Call of Duty: MW2 – Leonard Cohen. No really trust me this works. There’s a strange contrast between these two that somehow clicks. The gentle melancholy tones of Cohen provide a calming change from the worries of kill streaks and fury at that one sniper hiding in a tree somewhere. I actually found I played better while Cohen was playing. Maybe the trick to getting a good score is keeping cool and level headed?

So there you go. Soundtracks are always evolving like the rest of the industry. New composers for new games, new sounds to explore, but remember you don’t always have to listen to the stuff on the disk. Sometimes it pays to play the wrong music.

If anyone else has found any bits and bobs that sync up with games I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments and if you have yet to try listening to music while playing a game I highly recommend all of the above.

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  1. Agreed, incredibly important for me too. Some games with great soundtracks are Dirt 2, Shatter and even games like Madden 11.

  2. Great article. Soundtracks are half the game nowadays, and have been for a good while. My first big OST experience was the score for the first Tomb Raider game, and for me the most important soundtrack of all time is still the music from the first Silent Hill (some people think that particular one isn’t a proper soundtrack though, because they believe “it’s mostly scary noises” – but to me it’s music, and made the game 10 times more scary).

  3. I have a special song for owning on CoD: MIA – XXXO.

  4. Completely agree with the second half of the article. I actually prefer listening to my own iPod when playing COD. For me it just fits. Whack it on shuffle and see what comes up, its genius.

    However with games like Dead Space where soundtracks really matter, I couldnt do it. Would be a bit weird hacking limbs off Necromorphs whilst listening to Adele.

    • still worth a shot. If i’m playing a single player game i’d never do it. unless its something like Fallout or GTA where i’ve played them before andi know what to expect. i’d always turn off the music during a cutscene as well

  5. I tend to play games and listen to new (Or old ones that havent been heard for a while) ablums in full. I’ve actually done it to most of my games so now when i hear a certain song it reminds me of a game.
    Used to play MW2 loads but the sounds were only in-game explosions ect.. so the ol’ ipod on shuffle was perfect. I do leave the game sounds on though, so I can hear people shooting, running and doing anything that lets me know where they are :D

  6. An excellent article, well written rht992. It reminded me of some of the fantastic music and soundtracks put into games these days, and also the annoyance of hearing that same sound every time you die or retry a level. The music in the first Assassin’s Creed was rather good I seem to remember, ‘Still Alive’ from Portal of course – as well as the Mirror’s Edge soundtrack by the same name. LBP choice of music is usually rather fitting for their respective levels. Also, I hear that the sound in Killzone 3 is supposed to be rather good – making the whole game world come to life. I was in PS Home last night and the only sound I heard was the occasional seagull for most of the time.

    • I love the music for little big planet. Such a delightful almost cheeky sound to it.
      Vavle do make amazing soundtracks. i was thinking of giving them a little nod for the half life soundtrack.
      All i know about killzone is teh music in the beta was rather downbeat and understated compared to the music in the second game. I’d say i prefer the new score

      • Great article, fella. Didn’t get a chance to reply to it properly yesterday. It’s something I still wish Sony would address properly as some game music is awful… hell… even annoying and a detriment to the game itself.

        I thoroughly enjoyed Plants Vs Zombies on the PC as I switched off the generic and repetitive in-game music so I could fire up Winamp and listen to my own music instead. Made the gaming experience even more pleasurable (seeing as the title was already awesome).

        Music that failed to engage goes to Half Life 2. Once again, a great game but the music was very forgettable. However, welcome aboard, Cinematic Mod. You tried it? Sure, it brought in commercial scores from Batman Begins, etc, but it utterly transformed the feel of Half Life 2 on second playthrough. Wow, what a difference.

        Finally, and more recently, LittleBigPlanet 2. The music is a massive let down compared to the prequel. Out of twenty or so tunes, I’d say there are only five or so good tracks. Over half of LBP1 had great, great music. Hell, even the session musician and incidental stuff was better than this time around. Don’t get me wrong, LBP2 is an amazing game but the music has really lost its admiration and respect from the first one. Such a crying shame. :-(

        Oh, Savage Moon on the PS Store. Allows for custom soundtracks so I compiled a rousing score of Aliens, Batman Begins, Gladiator, etc. Each level was superb to play whilst listening to this lot. Well… until the game became stupidly hard.

      • i would agree on the LBP2 thing. i do still prefer the music from the first one by a long way and the half life music isn’t that great if you don’t have the game playing. I don’t think i could just stick it on at any time but for me when its in game it just fits perfectly and captures that horrible at times gritty looking future

  7. “I mean ‘Rock Band’ wouldn’t be any good without music would it? It would just be pressing buttons.”

    Or hitting them, with sticks :D

    Interesting article, anyway. Back in 16-bit days, I always used to have my own music on while playing games, and some of that music still has really strong associations with the games, even now.

    • haha true true but i’d be too scared to hit any part of my playstation with a stick

  8. What a great article (you old hippy you!) As a rule, I never listen to a game’s soundtrack more than once, preferring my own playlist. What a joy it was when Burnout Paradise added custom soundtracks, Avril Lavigne was never conducive to fast, aggressive driving… Front Line Assembly or Monster Magnet fitted the bill much better!
    Maybe it’s a shame that I (and others it would appear) don’t listen to the in-game music a bit more bearing in mind the time, effort and money the developers put into this aspect of their product, but as you say, it gives the player an element of customisation in their games.
    One final, slightly related point… it still baffles me how many people on PS Home don’t have their own music playing. Anything is preferable to the aural equivalent of watching grass grow (with the occasional seagull!)

    • haha old hippy you say? i’ll let you know sir i’m just 18 and happen to really like pink floyd ;)
      It is a shame more people don’t pay attention to the music. i’d lobe to see game soundtracks getting the same retail value as film soundtracks but interest in the the soundtracks to games is growing all the time.

  9. Hey thanks for getting this on the website and thanks to all who take the time to read it and comment :)

  10. i love game soundtracks, my favourite ever being the original worms, besides the fantastic theme song i thought their use of individual notes in the background was utterly perfect.

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