Whether you've hated or embraced the newer generation of recent horror games, we can all agree that they have one of the most atmospheric and genuinely adrenaline-rushing soundtracks in any video-game genre.
I decided to list a Top 10 of horror video games which I felt reflected the genre in its truest, frightening and most haunting form! Of course based on personal opinion, I expect anyone who reads this to contribute their own Top 10 and or thoughts on the choices!
DISCLAIMER: There is many many MANY good songs and soundtracks out there and in some cases I would simply be filling my Top 10 with multiple songs from one video game series if I'm not careful. So I've chosen here to make the most varied Top 10 I can without repeating tracks from the same soundtrack and or game series!
Hope you enjoy it! LET'S START THE COUNTDOWN!!!
Resident Evil 2 - "Save Room Theme"
Resident Evil 2 was fantastic for its time conveying variations of horror. It had classic "eerie" horror which relied on subtlety in the form of exploration, not knowing when the enemies will appear and clever positioned camera angles to amplify the tension.
The other element was the "jump-out scares" or the up-tempo fighting elements of the game which is designed to ignite and initiate the pent up energy you've built via the previous tension of exploring!
The developers cleverly designed their "Save Room" to be a middle ground or purgatory between these elements of horror for the player to rest from. However the music that was implemented, even though calming, was connotative of a certain level of sorrow that questions the player if they are really safe from their predicament? - Only time will tell!
Fatal Frame 2's soundtrack is written to reflect the video game's onscreen premise in its entirety. To that effect, the soundtrack is pretty much a Concept Album.
"The Twins Return" is written to sum up a few factors of the story-line. The most obvious reference is the instrumentation - Although subtle, it conveys the premise of the story being based in a Japanese village/backdrop through the use of minimalistic instrumentation found in several East Asian Cultures (not exclusive to Japan).
Furthermore it is to give a religious or ancient connotation. Without spoiling the story-line, I felt this song summed up all the elements of the story so well, whilst making me continuously clean my Playstation 2's controller from the constant sweat produced from my palms! (Those who had dirty thoughts for this sentence, for shaaaaaaaaaaaame!!! ;0p)
This is a special one. Written to sound like the intro music to "Patriot Games"/"Call of Duty Modern Warfare" when the terrorists or the CIA are shown as corrupt and or massacre a bunch of civilians unjustly, the middle-eastern tones in this theme capture just that imagery in the game's first intro cinematic.
The word "Epic" comes to mind as I hear the strings growing and growing as the music progresses, its overall sound leaving the player with sadness and a sense of hopelessness.
Cleverly, the song is dominated by the latter mentioned sound, until the last 10 seconds!
The atmosphere and notes change to a more sinister, dissonant and horror tinged element. We can also hear something beyond the music...Is that breathing we hear at the end?
It's subtle touches like this to gaming music which turn games like these into "Triple A" titles.
Hitchcock Horror is what comes to mind when I listened to this. It's pretty much classic and in a way this game is too. It wasn't really a polished game per se' but it was brazen enough to try to have a atmosphere and vibe on par with the "old" horror and thriller classics. It conjures it up nicely in this one! Sadly not enough games have that much appreciation of character and experimentation.
Oh and that real-time intro movie! Man, gotta miss the days when they put in effort like that!
Music like this should be featured in a movie and in a way Castlevania: Lords of Shadow surpassed that medium altogether. It brought back a "factor" in music which is lacking in today's "standard" in video games or for that matter the entertainment industry as a whole.
It really reminds me of a Tim Burton movie from the 90s, "Edward Scissorhands" or a great Fantasy Gothic classic tale.
The running theme in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was undoubtedly sadness/regret. Capturing that element was no problem for composer Óscar Araujo however I did not expect to be blown away with how epic he made this soundtrack sound within a horror game genre yet still retain that element of fantasy gothic horror.
Although I appreciate those medieval/power metal-esque themes from the yesteryear Castlevania games (Which are legendary games in my opinion), the soundtrack in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow really helped catapult this game's story and atmosphere up and above its peers and influences and has set in my opinion a new standard for other games to follow.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl - "Menu Theme"
When I first heard this track I was a little surprised. It had a lot of strong elements from Angelo Badalamenti (see David Lynch's movies to hear examples of his work, they always work together). Sweeping somber strings but a strong ethereal/dream-like overtone.
This game falls roughly between the line of Post-Apocalyptic and Horror. In that sense it shares genre similarities to the Fallout series, however S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl follows more of a mystery/fear element driving the characters in the game. They aren't aware of the FULL effects of the radiation fallout in the zone, so all their stories are but rumors and soaked half in folklore - Therefore it fell more into a horror category this game due to its focus on the effects of the zone and what horrors it had produced both within beast and men alike.
To that end the music really backed up this story's backdrop and set a tone for things to come. A mystery in an empty, lifeless, death-ridden zone of horrors.
Proving you don't need a million dollars and a massive team to make a great horror game, Amnesia: Dark Descent oozes frightening horror from its visual and audio design.
The music is one of the most frightening you'll probably hear from a first-person video game (Well, there is sparse few Myst-like Point and Click Adventure FPS hybrids on the market!). The music always keeps you on edge, I actually felt there was little or no respite thanks to the music - I certainly didn't hear the almost soothing equivalent of Resident Evil's "Save Room Theme" music at any point!
This game on every level is frightening. All your senses are in for a ride.
Static imagery, D-level voice acting and hammer-horror styled story, I questioned myself "So, how will this be scary?".
The strength of this game's horror is on atmosphere. Even though this word has been thrown about in this article enough times already, its extremely prevalent in this game's narrative and overall music.
The static imagery of which you explore becomes even more eerie and haunting. I never once felt welcomed in the house you stay in this game, the soundtrack was far too menacing.
The soullessness of the house and isolation is all I felt...and because of that, I was forced to read books/diaries/newspapers articles littered about the game to explain and retain my sanity of the events surrounding me...with only the music as my only companion...and the scratches that followed at night.
SIREN: New Translation (NA/EU Title: "SIREN: Blood Curse") - "Lament"
I am constantly questioning myself when I hear this song; "What is more haunting? The game or this song?"
Work like this is not just masterfully crafted in how its composed but how its also performed. The vocal performance on this track is unbelievably haunting. It is almost like a cry and a chant in one form. In that respect, the title of "Lament" fits it perfectly.
The music itself I feel is heavily influence by Angelo Badalamenti (particularly if you listen to the "Mulholland Drive" soundtrack and listen to tracks like "Love Theme" you will know what I mean).
Sadness, regretful anger, torment...all these emotions wrapped into one mystical vocal performance. I haven't since heard anything this powerful or emotional in video game music and it will be hard to replicate again if not impossible.
Silent Hill 2 - "The Darkness That Lurks In Our Mind"
Dark, disturbing, frightening, haunting, chilling, surreal, ominous, terrifying,...*flicks through Thesaurus*...uhm...he-...help me out here guys! This game is far too scary for words to describe!
Amongst horror fans this game is legendary. The game's series has far too many good musical pieces to mention however the one I chose here will give you a basic idea of what this game is all about and how dark it can get.
It really comes down to personality and experimentation in this music. Akira Yamaoka who composed the game's series from SH1 to SH5 (and the spin-offs on the PSP and Wii), really put a bit of his own personality in here. He always came over as more of a musician than a "hired in-house" composer and therefore always put his "trademark" into the gaming series music, so he never used conventional instrumentation like a hired orchestra to scare you, but instead created literally his own sounds to frighten you (He even performs all the guitar work on the albums!).
As the Silent Hill series's quality descended a downward spiral faster than Silent Hill 2's protagonist could jump down dark holes (or putting his hands in other people's toilets), the music always retained the same amount of quality, with fans always recounting: "...well, least the music will still be good!" (However with his recent departure from the gaming series you have to admit you kind of feel the series may be finally laid to rest now).
Fluidity is something which lacks from many game's music, which is why this gaming series alone is sitting at the No.1 spot in my opinion - The fluidity of each composed piece of music bled into each other nicely, conveyed the story/atmosphere and successfully, with the gameplay, moved hand-and-hand without being too overbearing or underwhelming.
The game's music is a narrative within itself, guiding the player's emotions and re-telling events both past and present in their respectful emotional light.
A magnum opus and masterpiece of gaming music which we are yet to see the same level of quality and consistency from another series.
Well, with a recent interview with Destructoid back last month, the creator of the following Horror/Mystery game called the music a little (quoting him) - "へたくそ" ("Hetakuso" - It means generally badly done like "clumsy" or not very good at what they do generally).
With this statement we can all to an extent agree, however accept the game's charm for...well...what it is! It's kind of *special* how it was made and within the horror genre itself this game is pretty, er...***special***!
Have you guessed what it is yet?
Love it or hate it...I sure hope you know how to whistle!
Saving the world from robotic drones and crazy Russian nationalists would be a whole lot easier if the 3DS wasn't crashing so much!!!
This blog post is here to clear up any confusions about the 3DS crash issue.
So I'm a owner of the UK edition of the 3DS since launch day on March 25th and I get the dreaded "Black Screen Crash" screen.
The first game I got for my 3DS was Super Street Fighter IV 3D. If you play this game online, it requires internet functionality (Wi-Fi). To confirm I completed almost all the Arcade mode and played several people online and it never crashed.
I played around with the AR Cards and the several packaged programs that are installed into the 3DS without any crashing issues. I then noticed the firmware update and downloaded it and got that "For a Limited Time Only" 3D video.
I then purchased the game Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. This is when I witnessed my first crash.
I got to Chapter 2 when suddenly half of my screen on the top melted to black...but I have to emphasize "MELTED"...it wasn't FULLY covering half the top of the screen and the bottom screen was fully black.
I tried holding the power button down and nothing happened - Game screen stood there frozen. I then closed my 3DS...opened it again and the console was off! Upon replaying the game again the problem didn't happen...because I did something different:
The crash kinda threw me off. I was really worried this was a hardware issue and thought maybe this had something to do with hardware limitation or bad firmware. Well, turns out I did something completely random which made the game work whilst figuring this out: I turned off my WiFi.
To be precise I only get the crash under ONE condition, when the WiFi is on...and it is only with Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
I don't contest it will happen with other games in the 3DS's launch library too, however I can confirm right now it happened to me again when I "tested" putting the WiFi on and playing a late Chapter in the game (Chapter 6) and the crash happened - This time I got the full on error message from Nintendo.
So it comes down to faulty firmware in the context of the WiFi's functionality.
If you want, any 3DS owners can report the games they have had this problem with in the context of the WiFi issue here in the comments and I'll list it in an update on this blog, but for now as it stands Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is effected badly!
(For all music mentioned here, please see the bottom of this post in the "References" section to hear them!)
Gaming since the Atari ST games (Ok I admit though I was like a toddler though!) and being a musician/composer myself I had to ponder the question of the direction of which our music is going in video games and for that matter the legacy it leaves behind.
So pretty much games nowadays have turned a profit to be more lucrative in some cases than making a Movie/TV series and definitely a music record.
Back in your 8-bit and 16-bit area we had music limited by technology. Alot of what your kids nowadays relate it's sound to "chiptune" sounding music. This was because it was mainly created via synthesizer and programmed via MIDI. The results of which of course never had a atmospheric dynamic which could compete with say a 60 set Orchestra conducted by John Williams.
However something profoundly influential and memorable came from this simplicity:
For example, I guarantee if you play somebody the Metroid "Save Room" theme people will remember it. Even people who are not gamers by nature know how to sing the Mario theme! Castlevania has had so many reiterations and re-imaginings of it's series but alot of people just remember the first NES Castlevania's "Vampire Killer" Theme.
The move in technology meant we could start uploading higher quality pieces of music into video games and could start focusing on depth and dynamic in those pieces to convey atmosphere and feeling in our video games, but was the move onto better technologies a healthy one for music and video game's marriage of the two arts?
Take for example our theme concept again. Still composers were taking the opportunity to create a series of games with a theme which people could still remember, for example Monster Hunter series, DragonQuest, Starcraft, Persona, Halo, Resident Evil, God of War, Fallout (This is a dual victim this case, early years had themes and latter is in the following opposite camp - Read on for more info!) etc
We have the opposite camp which sprung from this advancement in technology. Outsourced composers who took it upon themselves to try and bring gaming into a Film-like or TV quality experience in likes of games like The Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Resistance, Gears of War, Call of Duty Modern Warfare etc
However did we remember those latter pieces of music?
The problem nowadays with music in a general format in gaming is the problem that music has on all entertainment mediums of how its experienced firsthand, be it video games, film or even just simply music itself: Memorability.
So we got a split of camps. People who thought thematic music still mattered and of course brought a depth of sound and atmosphere to their music however kept in mind they needed to create something unique for this game which wouldn't necessarily be common place in a Film/TV.
The other camp felt we needed to be closer to Films/TV experience and took therefore 90% of their influence from the latter medium looking up to and paying homage to composing legends like John Williams (Star Wars) and Jerry Goldsmith (Total Recall) or even Vangelis (Blade Runner) - (Examples are of films turned into video games already or closely inspired by them).
However when the PS3/XBOX 360 was first released I started to feel a certain lifelessness within' some of the PS3's/XBOX 360's (The "NU-GENERATION") franchise music. Most of the game's started to have a "set standard" I felt. I felt that the composers felt either obligated to write an orchestral style score for the game OR were thinking very business minded "a la' George Lucas style" about how they could make this art form or entertainment experience a profitable income without putting too much new concepts into it.
A depth of orchestral sounds I started to hear on every game coming into the 21st century. It became a standard on ALL games, trying to convey something the films/TVs had done oh so many times before, but did I remember it? No I certainly did not. Did it inspire me as a musician/composer like their film/TV counterparts did? Yet again, No...I felt NOTHING.
A funny example is people always talk about EVE Online being boring in the sense of its game mechanic and or its overall premise. Does this game even have music?! It doesn't have a theme that's for sure, on that level there is nothing to remember this weighty game by. It's like a incredibly detailed alien spaceship with no crew or individual purpose - So ironically the premise and backbone of your concept and universe is based on a lack of identity which funnels users into a one-way street of limited identity and choice with no soul.
In space, no one can hear you scream. Oh wait...they can cause nothing else is playing in the background.
The dullest soundtrack I heard in my life was when I listened to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion soundtrack. The dynamic of the fights had no impact, it all felt very light and not weighty/strong - Compare this to the fight music in Devil May Cry or the recently made Total War: Shogun 2 which conveyed aggressive battle themes - (Though of course don't throw Devil May Cry Industrial Metal into The Elder Scrolls please, Squid Bear is confusing enough as it is!).
I started to wonder where we had gone wrong. Final Fantasy became duller and duller and surprise surprise less popular or memorable when their key composer Nobuo Uematsu resigned.
I would play a game like Bioshock or Red Faction and think it was great but after not remember ONE piece of music from it.
The "Sweeping Orchestra" music formula became as formulated as a factory line. I felt like how FPS games and JRPGs were being churned out, the same went for these dull, lifeless, soulless composed music that came with them - All created for the love and worship of money as its first priority.
This made me question:
Will we remember these games on EVERY level? Also, where and why is their this sentiment of yesteryear and the word "classics" being tagged to older games?
It suddenly dawned when newer games like Super Meat Boy, Assassins Creed and Mirrors Edge were released. They didn't follow a formula and yet again went above and beyond having themes.
Super Meat Boy harked back to the "retro" (Now "Chip-Tune") era of video game music as a pure homage, but the soundtrack consisted mainly extremely strong melodic pieces of work which to be honest could be just released as a record by itself never mind it being related to a video game in the first place - To boot it slotted in perfectly with the game's overall artistic feeling/vibe.
Assassins Creed and Mirrors Edge thought about how they were going to 1: Relate their product to gamers with a Thematic piece and 2: Bring it into a modern era. What did they do? They used real musician's music:
Assassins Creed used the band MASSIVE ATTACK's "Tear Drop", the sequel boasted JUSTICE's song "Genesis". Mirrors Edge used Lisa Miskovsky's (In collaboration with "Teddybears") song "Still Alive" to give their work a face.
This brought a sense of identity to what they made and made it stand out amongst the rest. In a way the developers were celebrating their influences and I guess the PR/Advertising guys were rubbing their hands at two popular mediums working cohesively.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow's music was all Orchestrated - However the composer realized that to give depth you need music to relate to your subject matter. So each character had a repeating theme throughout the game. Yet again themes saved the day in this one.
After playing Fallout 3 and feeling though it was a slightly enjoyable game, it had NOTHING which made it feel like the original Fallout in the context of "Feel". Everyone related this to the script which was 50% of the problem. However when I played New Vegas and heard the old Fallout music thrown in again, I felt the Fallout experience had slowly came back somewhat.
There are a few examples of music going beyond both camps. Games like Silent Hill 1-5 are more of art pieces and genuinely unique or the bizarre yet ingenious Deadly Premonition - However to an extent their originality is a theme within' itself of how they stand out.
"Yo yo yo yo yooooo!! Check it out! All dis' equipment and I made ma' money monies makin' the same soundin' shit yo!"
As you can tell by now my point here is that your artistic work needs a face on every level. It needs its eye's (visuals), it needs a creative mind (story) and it needs it's voice (music).
We need more composers who realize that churning out deep atmospheric pieces of work does not equal instant success or cohesiveness for video games. They need to go back to the drawing board and focus on how their music relates thematically to subject matter.
Without a theme tune we don't have something to remember no matter how much or less our memory capacity as human beings is. Without a theme there is no "classic" or "legend" born, nothing to remember and nothing to inspire.
The success of a game is based on how memorable and influential it is. The same goes for when you go to the cinema to watch a movie or when you go to a concert to watch a band. If you got moved enough and remember it after - We as entertainers and artists have done our job.
This is the problem in Video Games now, we need to appreciate all our arts and realize a good video game does not come between a balancing of scales of visuals and story but also what our soul will feel hearing beauty and feeling sadness through memorable music which we will be humming to ourselves after years to come.