The Best Uses Of Music In Video Game Commercials

Gears of Edge via EA and Giant Bomb

Gears of Edge via EA and Giant Bomb

Before a popular video game is released, you will see hundreds of commercial ads promoting the living hell out of them. Any video game commercial you see online or on television would be horrendous without the perfect music to accompany it. I do not want to hear a country song during a Halo commercial or a Mario Bros. commercial featuring a heavy metal artist. There is an art to choosing the correct songs that influence one’s mood, which then makes them more or less willing to buy the game.

After considering the hundreds of video game ads I have seen in my lifetime, there are two that have been the most memorable: the Gears of War commercial that featured Gary Jules version of “Mad World,” and the Mirror’s Edge debut commercial featuring Lisa Miskovsky. It is also worth noting that both of these commercial ads helped boost the artists popularity.

Gears of War – Gary Jules

Gears of War logo via Xbox Wire

Gears of War convinced me to buy an Xbox 360 during my senior year in high school. It had the gory violence I was looking for, a unique cover system that involved sliding into cover while shooting around it and a decent story that would build into one of my favorite video game trilogy’s (not counting Gears of War: Judgement as a part of the main series). The marketing team for Gears of War knew what they were doing by featuring a cover of “Mad World” by Gary Jules when they released this incredible commercial to help promote the game:

Many people have not heard this song since its premier in the classic 2001 movie titled Donnie Darko. You can go even further and say that some people may have not heard this song since the band Tears for Fears released the original back in 1982. While I prefer the original version of the song, the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World” went perfectly with the commercial.

The first face you see in the commercial is the main character, Marcus Fenix. Throughout the commercial, Marcus is running from the Locust, which are a race of reptilian humanoids that lived underground but have now surfaced. Whenever it pans to the water reflection of himself, it made perfect sense when the song mentioned “familiar faces.” In fact, it was hard to find familiar faces in the world of Gears of War. The planet was apocalyptic, everyone you knew and loved died from the Locust invasion, and there was always another enemy around every corner, so it often seemed like there was no such thing as a “familiar face.”

Different Locusts via Gears of War Portal

Next, you see Marcus running away from something that was hidden underground. The Locust are after him and there may be “no tomorrow.” Marcus and what is left of the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) soldiers, also known as Gears, are doing everything in their power to save this planet from total destruction.

The lyric, “dreams in which I’m dying are the best I ever had,” fits brilliantly with this commercial. Seeing the main character surrounded by all the destruction and being persued by the hordes of Locust, you could assume that many people living on this desolated planet wish for things to be different. For many of the soldiers fighting for this planet, it is possible that their dreams that involve death are much better than the excruciating pain of seeing a loved one die by these Locust.

Finally, when you hear final two words, “Mad World,” you finally see a Locust called the Corpser; a massive spider-like creature that is 45 feet tall. One thought sinks in, this entire planet is mad. There is nothing left, so why are the humans still fighting? Marcus will never give up the fight, which makes him seem determined to the point of madness. This is his planet and he is not letting the Locust take over.

Corpser via Gearspedia

This commercial blew its audience away. As reported by gaming magazine Joystiq, “Mad World” was propelled to number one on iTunes at the time of the commercial’s release. Strangely enough, this cover saw #1 once in 2003 after it released in the UK, but Tears for Fears never had a number one song in their existence. This shows that artists who link their songs to popular video games will often see positive results.

Mirror’s Edge – Lisa Miskovsky

Faith from Mirror’s Edge via Giant Bomb

There was no video game like Mirror’s Edge when it debuted in 2008. It featured first-person platforming with hardcore parkour. Incase you do not know what parkour is, it is a form of movement that helps you get from point A to point B in the fastest way possible. While thinking on your feet, you will use all of your surroundings to vault, swing, run, jump and roll to reach your destination. Do you need to get from the top of a trailer truck to the inside of a trashcan super fast? Simply hardcore parkour.

The debut trailer for Mirror’s Edge involved a woman running through different obstacles as fast as she could through the use of parkour. You notice how bright the environment is with splashes of red that seemed to guide her to the final destination. She runs, jumps and slides while her faint breathing can be heard in the background. Unless you have your speakers turned up, you can barely hear the song in the commercial. Watch and listen to the trailer below:

Notice how smooth the woman was moving and how the song flowed with her every step. Every move she makes seems to sync with the music, the building she jumps to, the swift wall ride, and transition to the top of a crane is nearly a perfect match with the song in the background.

The song you hear is “Still Alive” by Swedish pop singer Lisa Miskovsky. She first appeared in 2001 with her debut album named after herself. Lisa was very popular in Sweden, but no one really knew of her in America. When people saw the Mirror’s Edge trailer, they wanted to know more about the song. Once EA saw how everyone loved this new single, they decided to do an entire remix album for “Still Alive,” which reached the top 50 on Billboard Dance charts for over 10 weeks.

Still Alive Remix Album Cover via TheUscore

I truly believe that with the help of Mirror’s Edge and EA, Lisa Miskovsky received a new following of fans. During an interview with Billboard, Lisa said, “This is not only a groundbreaking game, but an unprecedented opportunity for me to collaborate with writers and remixers I’ve admired for years.” To this day, I still listen to a few tracks off the Mirror’s Edge Remix album.


Video game commercials are not easy to create. Luckily, I still remember two out of the hundreds I have seen. Gears of War and Mirror’s Edge are two entirely different games, but they both showed me how artistic a video game commercial could be through the use of music. When you connect the right songs to the commercial, the audience gets excited to buy the game and the artist gains publicity and the opportunity to work with other artists they look up to.  I hope that the future of gaming has memorable commercials like these. I leave you with the official “Still Alive” video.


One comment

  1. Great article! Marketing is one of those things which is so hard to get right. A trailer has to be the right length, it needs to show the right stuff, have perfectly fitting music and give off the right atmosphere. I think while many manage adequate marketing, there’s few that manage to nail it.

    In a way, I feel like it’s almost a lost art with the trailers we’ve been getting in recent years. From the start of last gen to around half way through it, what made some of these trailer so perfect is that they have some weight to them, to what’s on display. No matter how far fetched an idea may have been, there’s something relatable which keeps it somewhat grounded to reality.

    With Gears of War, Mirror’s Edge or even the Halo trailers, these characters aren’t just flying up into the air, doing everything with ease and non-stop action. You see Marcus having to pull the weight of what he’s wearing, he has to pull himself up. Master Chief was knocked out in one of hist railer at the start and he doesn’t leap up, he gets up slowly and he has to prepare to run out and take on a battlefield full of enemies. With Mirror’s Edge, you see in first person that Faith is pulling herself up, she has to catch her balance and she can’t wall run for too long. She’s graceful but there’s that weight, that effort that keeps it relatable that makes it so compelling.

    The music definitely helps there and it emphasises the them you’re going for. With Halo there’s a sense of mystery and action. With Gears of War, you have this sense of defeat and a defiance to fight back. With Mirror’s Edge, the trailer gives off a feeling of gracefulness and a push to keep going without stopping. The music helps to tell you what those games are about and combined with a good trailer, they convey all the necessary information.

    I think gaming is also a great medium for artists of multiple forms to collaborate and benefit. For musicians and composers in particular, you can gain a huge following and a dedicated fan base. Take Marty O’donnell for example, he’s got a huge, dedicated fan base that credit him with being one of the reasons Halo was so great and so memorable.

    He brought the game to life and gave them such a great atmosphere with his music. Sure, they’d have been great otherwise but you got that sense of awe, you felt the hype and you knew exactly the sort of game play or emotion that was expected of you at the right moments. He’s considered so influential that until Halo 4, most people couldn’t imagine a Halo title without Marty being behind the music.

    There are many exceptions of course but I do think there’s some great opportunities there and the collaboration effort alone with articles of multiple mediums coming together for games development is pretty amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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