The Earth has become a giant cybernetic ball in space. It oceans are dry, it’s atmosphere is no longer habitable, and it’s lifeforms – namely humans – are now extinct. The machines take this opportunity to party without care in the world, atomizing the human race and leading them to supreme victory in the solar system. That is, until a sudden anomaly occurs. Deep within the bowels of a machine base, four brains lay dormant. With the help of a small drone, he breaks out, inhabits a combat war machine, and wages war against Earth’s machine overlords.
There are thousands of war machines before you and they all fall to the plasma fire of your left-hand cannon and the nuclear fire of your right nuclear launcher. In the carnage of exploding machines across the dystopic wasteland, there is the thumping soundtrack. But it isn’t rock-n-roll or a sweeping orchestra, it’s the pulsating and aggressive sounds from composer Dan Terminus. It embodies the crazy-haired, neon-colored visuals of dystopic 1980’s science fiction movies.
For those that haven’t heard of this particular game, Neurovoider is a cyberpunk, procedural-generated rogue-like twin-stick shooter and it’s available on all platforms, including PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo Switch. As the last human brain on Earth, you will take your revenge across dozens of levels, changing your robot body to best suit the needs to survive the challenge ahead. Featuring nicely designed pixelated visuals, a retro color palette, and tight gameplay, Neurovoider is an absolute blast. But from the very beginning of the game, you are hit with the punctuating bass of opening song, Detonation.
As player play the game, you are hit with music that feels reminiscent of dark, R-Rated films, such as The Terminator and Friday the 13th. Dark, digital chords strike down on the players as they trek thought the irradiated wastelands that were once human civilizations. Each chord and note, along with the percussion of a thumping drum and bass, emphasizes doom and desperation to survive in a world run by intelligent machines. Some tracks feature a calmer, but still intense rhythm, with tracks such as Pegasus Pro Ultra Fusion and “It’s Too Bad That She Won’t Live.” Then there are extremely aggressive, digitally violent tracks that get genuinely have you feel like you, the player, are in danger, such as “Heavy Artillery” and “Eternal Annihilator.” The last two tracks truly instill the danger of a frantic, deadly warzone, and they are great to listen to when partaking in an intense activity, like exercise. It’s a remarkable soundtrack, and I listen to it almost daily.
Playing Neurovoider reminds me that we are in age of making the old new again. Vinyl is returning, cassette tapes are being made, and many games are adopting classic visual styles. As for the synthwave score of the game – a format of electronic music, conducted completely by machine and synthesizers – the inspirations come from the very games and movies we experienced in the 80’s and early 90’s. It’s a spectacular invention of music and it is having a positive impact on the games we play today, and even hit shows and movies.
Dan Terminus is a synthwave composer. Often considered the instrument of the future, synthesizers were extremely common during the 1980’s. One of the most notable uses of the synthesizer, as an example, came from Van Halen’s 1984 classic hit, Jump, in which several strikes of loud, cheery, ripping chords strikes the listener before hearing analog drums and proceeding with the rest of the track. The synthesizer was used until the early 1990’s, as alternative rock and roll an nu-metal took to the airwaves. Since then, the genre had been relatively dormant, until the rise of dubstep, and one particular videogame: Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (2013), an 80’s inspired spin-off of the titular FPS franchise, Far Cry. The score for that game was composed by Australian synthesizer group, Power Glove (not to be confused with the video game cover metal band of the same name).
Far Cry 3 and its soundtrack was released around the same time as another, lesser-known but sensational videogame that redefined indie games forever: Hotline Miami from Dennaton games. A brutal murder mystery, with sharp visuals and insane difficulty, the game featured a pulsating soundtrack from now-big names in the synthwave community, from Jasper Byrne to Pertubator to M O O N. Since then, other synthwave artists have arisen and lent their talents to other video games, films, and shows.
This revival attributed to the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things, when the soundtrack, especially the show’s introduction, became a cultural phenomenon. Composers like Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein took plenty of inspirations from 80’s family and horror movies, most especially Spielbergian films such as The Poltergeist and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
For videogames, the options aren’t just limited to Hotline Miami and Far Cry 3 anymore. French-based developers Game Bakers release one of 2016’s finest games, Furi. A furiously challenging game, where each level is one giant boss fight, featured a varied soundtrack of synthwave artists, from Carpenter Brut to WaveShaper. Recently, Devolver Digital released the 80’s inspired RPG, Crossing Souls, with music from synthwave group TimeCop 1983. The game takes the grand-adventure films of the 80’s such as The Goonies, and places a group of kids in an action-packed dimension-tripping adventure.
A great attribute to videogames is the ability to discover new music and musical styles. How they blend into the gameplay and world is always a study in what emotions and feeling the composer wants the player to feel. Nuerovoider, for me highlighted the powerful comeback of synthwave and how it compliments and age of pop culture where the 1908’s are coming back in full force. Synthwave now is an aggressive reinvention with peaceful tranquility. To take the whimsical and awe-inspiring futuristic perspective of music and place it in a more modern setting provides a unique direction to music. in the case of Neurovoider, it wiping out all opposition with impunity.