The following article will have minor spoilers for Max Payne 3, Halo 4, and Far Cry 3. None of the spoilers are end game plot points, but some may still be considered spoilers based on certain locations or mission objectives.
Remember that time you were playing a game, and the musical cue was just so great that the moment will now be with you forever? Well for me, those moments make up some of my favorite gaming memories. This year, there has been a few stand out musical cues, and the ones I remember most each used the music in different fashions, but they were all effective in their own way.
Max Payne 3: The Airport
Skip to 5:50 for the transition to the cue.
To truly appreciate this musical cue, one should play Max Payne 3 in its entirety. At this point in the game, Max is ready to end what has been the icing on the cake to his sad excuse for a life. After watching the people he cared about die and failing to protect those who he needed to, his time for retribution is at hand. Entering one of the final areas opens up not only one of the hardest shootouts in the game, but to the first song with lyrics. The words are not motivating you to finish the fight, nor does the music provide any sort of energy. The song is the perfect accompaniment to this point in Max’s life, the second line goes “We’ll fall from where we crawled.” In a series that takes you through the worst of a man’s life, this cue nails what feels like the end of your journey with him, and it comes with a certain acceptance to the end.
Halo 4: Reminiscing
Watch from beginning until 1:18
343 wanted to make Halo their own, and may not have fully accomplished that, but they still made a great game. With the new spin on the series, the old Halo soundtrack was canned and a new one was brought in. While I never thought of the Halo soundtrack as memorable, those who have played the games always have one piece of music stuck in their heads when thinking of the game: the chanting monks. Going into the seventh mission in Halo 4, Master Chief is coming out of a hole in space with Star Wars-esque music playing in the background, that is, until Chief looks up and catches a glimpse of a Halo ring above him. The chanting monks slowly fade in and instead of it feeling cheap or cheesy, I had a moment of reflection. I remembered my time with Halo 3, one of my favorite FPSs, I remembered being able to look up at almost any time and see the edges of the ring disappear into the clouds, I even remembered thinking how annoying the chanting monk song had gotten, but there I was, appreciating and enjoying it. In a game of new directions, 343 found a way to implement a staple in the series that was remembered enough to give almost anyone a certain nostalgia, but the moment was also short enough that it did not overstay its welcome.
Far Cry 3: Fun with Fire
Very slight mission spoiler here from a little before halfway into the game
Not all music cues need to take a more serious approach. Last year my favorite music moment was jumping out of a helicopter and skydiving towards a penthouse while shooting off my pistols into a crowd of partying people in Saints Row the Third. The best music cue in Far Cry 3 comes along in a similar fashion. You are tasked with drawing out a drug lord, and how else would you do it than burning his fields of weed with a flamethrower? It is one thing to pump yourself full of flame resistant syringes and don a flamethrower, but when “Make it Bun Dem” by Skrillex and Damian Marley starts up, the mission takes a whole new level of fun and ridiculousness. With little to no actual relevance to the over-arching story, other than a convenient way to introduce a new antagonist, this mission would be much less memorable without the reggae dubstep lending a bit more flavor to the chaotic burning of pot plants that is your backdrop.
These musical cues are just a few examples of some great ones that have been created this year, and throughout gaming history, music has continually helped make moments more special to people. As we move forward into the next round of games, I advise people to take a bit more of a listen while playing games. You might just hear some music that you forget very quickly thereafter, but who knows? Maybe you will hear that one piece of music that compliments the game so well that the moment will stick with you long after you put the controller down.