Dear Video Games: Please Reconsider Your "Emotional" E3 Trailer Music
Your covers and repurposing of music used elsewhere is a distraction, not an enhancement.
‘Metro Exodus’ screenshot courtesy of Deep Silver/4A Games
The two Metro-series games I've played to date, which also happen to be the only two Metro-series games to date, are amongst my favorite first-person shooters, ever. They're constantly oppressive, set in a ruined Russia of the near future, the landscape disfigured by war and the wildlife mutated by radiation. Anything and everything can kill you, and much of it doesn't fire back. Both Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light are the most magnificently bleak twists on the standard-issue point-and-shoot power fantasy.
So when I saw the announcement trailer for Metro Exodus, in Microsoft's whoop-along presser of this year's E3, I was immediately in. Nothing was kept back from us, teased before a big reveal—inside three seconds, we're told that what we're seeing is inspired by Dmitry Glukhovsky's novel Metro 2035 (which itself took cues from Last Light, thus completing the circle of literature influencing video games influencing literature). No fronts, no tricks: here's what some of you were waiting for. And then the music started.
That familiar, pacing piano line. That ominous guitar tone. That palpable conveyance of dread. That slow build towards something, though you're not sure what—even though you know exactly what, because this music has been wheeled out for gigs like this time after time, ever since British film composer John Murphy wrote it for the (still-striking) 2002 zombie movie, 28 Days Later. It's not the same version that we heard 15 years ago (and please don't click that link if you're averse to seeing thumbs pressed into eyes), but it might as well be. It serves the same purpose. It manifests the same tension. Or at least, that's the idea.
Above: 'Metro Exodus' trailer
The execution, though, what's put into practice, falls short of benefitting what still looks to be an awesome game, right up there with my favorite announcements of E3 so far, purely because We've Been Here Before. So many times. The piece in question, "In a House—A Heartbeat," was used again in 2007's 28 Weeks Later, in the film Kick-Ass, in a 2013 television commercial for pear cider, and no doubt many more instances that a cursory Google doesn't immediately deliver.
The use of "In a House" in the Metro Exodus trailer is intended to stir trepidation, to manifest eagerness, tentative though it is, for some burst of drama, of violence. But it just makes me think of all of these other times it's accompanied some slice of action, be that to raise emotions or flog fruity booze. And that feels so very lazy on the part of those charged with putting these showcase spots together. The associations of this music, the baggage it carries, categorically undermines the uniqueness, the originality, of the product, the art, that it's supposed to be enhancing.
Above: 'The Evil Within 2' trailer
At least, it does to me. And I feel the same way about hearing a cover of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" in the trailer for The Evil Within 2, which was a standout moment of Bethesda's pleasingly to-the-point presser, which clocked in at under 40 minutes. I've not been able to identify who the artist is (it might be a specially commissioned one), but come on, please, everyone: using these alt versions of well-known pop songs to sell us new shit has to stop. Because you're immediately downplaying the newness of said new shit. I hear "Ordinary World," and my head's in the past.
This is a song that came out in 1993, a song about its writer coming to terms with the death of a friend, being used to sell a survival horror game. Yes, the chorus, I guess, fits the theme of the game—the exploration of an otherness, a darker side to what we can usually see. But also: "I won't cry for yesterday?" Isn't that precisely what the protagonist of this game is doing, in clinging onto ghosts, following them into this sequel? Again, it's laziness. There's a hook, the smallest one, the slightest indication of suitable association—and it's grabbed, and tugged at, and there we go, there's your trailer with a song that just barely works.
It's not enough, in my opinion. People, hundreds of them, work so hard to bring freshness to these games, these experiences, which is so vital given so many of them, from afar, look a lot like what we've played a hundred times already. Choosing the right music is of massive importance—it has to complement but not dominate, which these two examples do, and hold up to scrutiny regarding its relevance to the project at hand. Games are more than inputs and actions, with music an essential part of the overall package—and that relationship, that synergy, starts at the announcement stage, on the announcement stages.
Blame Gears of War, I guess. But shit, even that was ten years ago. We can do better. We should do better.