And remember people, there’s an O in the OST acronym. So none of those licensed-songs-cleverly-used-in-an-epic-video-game-moment here.
Such as shame at that, since I have some picks regarding that category. My all-time favorite Saints Row franchise has some of those: Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” in Saints Row: The Third and Stan Bush’ “The Touch” in Saints Row 4 come to mind.
But, that’s another story for another day, I guess.
As you might have noticed in my other stories, I fancy me some heart-pumping and adrenaline-injecting kind of game soundtracks. Tracks that are fast-paced and quick on the beat. Songs that got me pumping, so to speak. At the same time, I don’t discount slower, more ambient themes that take things slow. It’s just that I don’t usually play chill, slower-paced games such as Minecraft and Journey myself, hence my inability to provide songs from games of that kind.
There will be more of this story, for sure. Right now, I am limiting the entry to three songs for the sake of “brevity”. Keeping with my own tradition of limiting things to three in my stories doesn’t hurt either.
Also, I have not played some of the games that featured these soundtracks. Some of these songs I came across on other platforms such as YouTube, and after a listen or two I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s rad.” So much so, I decided to add them to my own playlist of favorite soundtracks without even touching the games they are in. All the more impressive to these songs in my opinion.
Lastly, though it goes without saying, this story is subjective.
Razormind — Simon Viklund (Payday 2)
If the long-running 2013 FPS game were to have a theme song, this should definitely be it.
As I have pointed out in a previous story, Simon Viklund has no shortage of killer soundtracks when it comes to Payday 2. Hence why I propose him as a successor to the great Mick Gordon for future Doom soundtracks. But nope, Andrew Hulshult has already taken the mantle which I believe is a great move on id Software’s part. Viklund on the other hand, will always have his secure legacy as the creator of Payday 2’s musical identity with “Razormind” playing no small part in it.
Per Payday 2 BGM tradition, “Razormind” is divided into four distinct parts: stealth, control, anticipation, and assault. Stealth when the heisters were sneaking around, control when they got spotted, anticipation when the cops started arriving, and assault when all hell broke loose with the entire state’s worth of police battalion attempting to overwhelm the four daring heisters.
In a way, “Razormind” is formulaic. It has its quieter moments signified by light beats, a build-up section comprising of more intense synth beats, and a beefy beat drop telling the players that the police assault is on. All of Payday 2’s soundtracks have these musical features one way or another. So what makes “Razormind” special?
In my opinion, the sirens.
Well, there’s also the insanely adrenaline-jolting beat drop, but it was the sirens that sold it for me.
Right after the beat dropped, “Razormind” started featuring sirens playing in tandem with the track’s heavy drum and electric guitar melodies. They all work well with each other, which was a bit of a surprise since the sirens can come off as shrill and annoyingly high-pitched. Like nails scratching against the wall.
But I suppose that’s the message of “Razormind”. The song, like the game it’s featured in, is loud, fast-paced, and chaotic. Not to mention the sirens send a clear message to the players: the cops are here. The tiger is out of the cage. The stealthy “smart” plan has failed, if it even existed in the first place. The entire police force have arrived, and they will stop at nothing to bring you and your friends down. You want to get out of this alive? Not much you can rely on other than your steady hand, quick feet, and sharp mind.
As I have mentioned earlier, the sirens work well alongside the drums and electric guitars. If anything, they add another unique layer to the song making it grittier than most of Payday 2’s other heist soundtracks. It felt more like a proper FPS game score rather than a dance-floor music that happened to be featured in an FPS game.
Now that I have experienced Payday 2 for close to 300 hours, I almost always turn up to a Payday 2 heist with “Razormind” in the background. It’s simply the one song that have stuck with me since I have started my career as a heister.
‘Cause remember, if you play “Razormind”, there is no way you are going in quietly.
The Only Thing They Fear is You — Mick Gordon (Doom Eternal)
Mick Gordon you absolute madlad, you have done it again!
There is no way I am making a story like this without featuring any of Mick Gordon’s music, much less any of his music from the Doom series.
Coming off from his masterclass in Doom 2016, Mick Gordon returned to score its 2020 sequel Doom Eternal. With all the acclaim surrounding him after 2016, inevitably a question arises: can he match or even surpass the high standards he’s set for himself?
The answer is yes, yes he definitely can.
“The Only Thing They Fear is You” (TOTTFY) is just one part of Doom Eternal’s superbly composed original soundtrack. Frankly any one of the tracks in that list, mixed by Mick or not, could have made it into this story. I would not be surprised if someone exclusively used the entire Doom Eternal soundtrack as their workout playlist. But this time, it’s TOTTFY.
For me, liking TOTTFY is simple: it reminded me of BFG Division, which is one of my favorite tracks from Doom ’16. The atmosphere it set up and the feeling it evoked, especially when mowing down demons as the Doom Slayer.
And what feeling might that be, you ask?
Fear. Terror. Horror. But it was not you experiencing them, it was the demons. You are the one they fear, their source of terror and the one haunting them in their darkest dreams.
This message was conveyed so very well in TOTTFY; the entire track is drenched in metal, sure, but pay attention to the synth leitmotif flowing in the background. It’s something you’d hear at a haunted house attraction or a cheesy horror movie, only that it was usually accompanied with mystifying piano notes instead of crunchy guitar riffs. Fits the setting really, you are in hell and you are facing demons, you are supposed to be terrified.
But since you are the Doom Slayer burning hot with unbridled rage represented by the violent guitar riffs and savage drum thumps, the tables have turned. That horror theme was consumed and assimilated into your being, allowing you to weaponize it against the demons instead.
It’s a horror theme with a twist. It’s not your theme song for the demons, it’s their theme song for you.
This kind of ‘horror theme with a metallic twist’ theme is also present in BFG Division. It’s kind of strange really, around four years have passed between the two Doom games and almost nothing have changed. The demons still continue to check under their bed for the Doom Slayer. Maybe I slightly prefer BFG Division for being a bit more chaotic, but TOTTFY still gets that message across while still being indubitably metal.
And that’s why I like it so much.
I’m Back (to Rise) — Mick Gordon ft. Omega Sparx (Killer Instinct 2013)
The one game I don’t play in this story. But I imagine this track is one of the reasons a Killer Instinct player might become a TJ Combo main.
As a YouTube comment said it first: if Doom is concentrated testosterone, then this track is definitely concentrated adrenaline.
My first encounter with this song is in a Death Battle YouTube video. We all know the one: Combo went up against Balrog from Street Fighter. After receiving a brutal haymaker to the face and on the verge of losing, Combo rose up, made an insane comeback with this song going full-blast, and finished Balrog off with a literal head-snapping uppercut. Good stuff.
I was so impressed by that video that I ended up looking up the song that played during the comeback, and the rest is history.
Where do I even begin with this song? The intro is explosive, the rap verses hit hard, and the overall composition of the track oozes hype. Each of the track’s beat seemed to serve only one purpose: to build hype. And when the song drops with the chorus, it dropped hard.
Much like the previous two songs in this story, there is a story to be told here. This time it’s about the human boxer at the center of it all, TJ Combo. If you pay close attention to rapper Omega Sparx’ excellently delivered (and written) lyrics, you’ll notice that it chronicles TJ’s life story: how he became complacent with his flashy lifestyle and his subsequent downfall, how he’s giving it all to regain his former glory, and how he’s confidently taunting all who stands in his way. It’s all wrapped up in a gloriously extravagant musical package courtesy of Mick Gordon himself.
Make no mistake, the roster of Killer Instinct 2013 is no joke: we got a dinosaur, a rock golem, an ice alien, a werewolf, and a vengeful spirit just to name a few. Yet here is Combo, a mere mortal human being. He was aware he is an underdog, even more so after he ripped off his strength-enhancing augmentations. All that’s left is his sheer will and passion for redemption burning inside him which made for the very essence of “I’m Back (to Rise)”. He’s got all the confidence in the world to take on anything that’s being thrown at him despite his disadvantage, and that’s why we root for him.
I mean, who can forget those chorus lines? They are simple yet impactful. Even though the wordings differ with each line, they all serve the same purpose: a war declaration by Combo saying that he is, indeed, back.
Mick Gordon’s homage towards the classic TJ Combo theme did not hurt either. It has been remastered with beefier beats complete with impactful synth thumps that only adds towards the original score. Fans of the good ol’ TJ Combo theme can also find enjoyment in this track if they don’t rate the modern hip-hop part.
And that C-O-M-B-O chant to close things off? Icing on the cake. Absolute masterpiece, even if I don’t play the game myself.
And that’s about it.
I suppose that’s the beauty of video game soundtracks: like the games they feature in, they also tell a story. Be it a bullet-riddled bank heist gone wrong or a human boxer standing up despite his shortcomings against dinosaurs and demons, these stories resonate with us through these songs. And since we are directly involved in these stories as the player, in a way these songs aren’t just about the game; it’s about us.
At least, that’s one way to look at it.
Like I said earlier, I would like to do more of this in the future. But until then, this will have to do.