As we sit here waiting for the launch of Borderlands 2, it's easy to forget that a lot of people thought that the first game was going to be a huge flop. It was a new idea amid a flood of sequels, and a totally untested quantity—did we really need another first-person shooter? Why would anyone buy it? Analyst Michael Pachter famously said that the game was being "sent to die" amid other big fall releases like Modern Warfare 2. It made sense at the time!
And yet the game sold a ton of copies, and the sequel is one of the most hyped games of the fall. A lot of that was because Borderlands was a fun game, but I truly think that the above song, "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked" by Cage The Elephant, embodies Borderlands' come-from-behind success.
When most of us first heard about Borderlands, it didn't have its distinct attitude, or that cel-shaded style, or any of that—it was kind of this grey, post-apocalyptic shooter. If that game had come out in fall of 2009, it would have been sent to die. But Borderlands was revamped, given an attitude and an art-style to set it apart, and an ad campaign to match. And the whole thing was fueled by kick-ass music.
This trailer, which was the first to use the Cage The Elephant song, was also the first time I sat up and said, "Okay, I'm interested."
The song was modified a bit and used in the game's actual introduction, which also worked really well. The whole cheeky vibe, the "Brick as himself" thing and all that, it's really cool. And it's the way it's all cut to fit with the song that really sets it off. It's got that Guy Ritchie feel, hip-ass self-aware schlock cinema. It just worked.
And actually, this second ad, featuring "No Heaven" by DJ Champion, was almost as cool. Gearbox (or 2K) certainly has a thing for picking good music for Borderlands ads.
It goes to show that a well-chosen song can go a long way toward making an impression for an untested game. It should've been impossible to launch a brand new shooter right up against Modern Warfare 2. Thanks at least in part to some great musical selections, Borderlands broke through. Now the franchise is so big that the sequel could have been scored by Justin Bieber and we'd still all play it.
Well okay, maybe no game is that big.