This really may be my favorite category every year as I can’t get enough of good music. There’s nothing better when a game’s soundtrack works hand in hand with the gameplay to really elevate the experience. For me, music is so important that a bad soundtrack can even be a detriment to the final product as well. Hey, if you’re going to spend a significant amount of your time with a game, isn’t it only right that your ears have a great time as well?
There were so many great soundtracks this year so trying to whittle down the master list was pretty difficult. I covered a ton of them in my “Soundtrack Central” features this year so in case you missed them, I’m going to post my original thoughts on each one as well.
These games got top marks from my ears this past year.
And the winners are…
For me, the music was one of the highlights to the older KI games so I was a bit nervous for the reboot, hoping it would put as much care into the soundtrack as well. My fears were unfounded as Mick Gordon simply knocked it out of the park, tapping into the past while still creating something new and ear pleasing.
Drawing inspiration from the past games in the franchise, Mick was not only able to create diverse, interesting, and memorable music, he did so in a way that fully embraces the past while still managing to tread new ground. Killer Instinct’s soundtrack is fully dynamic, as the action defines how complex or simple the song is, Ultra combos are timed with the background music, and samples from the previous games are woven into each theme. In the end, I find the entire soundtrack to be a feast for the ears and like the previous games, hugely memorable.
Unfortunately, Remember Me is a game I wish I had more time with this year but just has not happened. Still, with what limited playing time I’ve had with the game, one of the first things that jumps out at you is the dynamic and interesting soundtrack by Olivier Deriviere. I think it’s really the way that Deriviere managed to make the music sound completely dynamic by recording the original track, editing it, and splicing it with electronic sounds. It’s extremely unique and really well done.
At times you have this sweeping orchestral track and every now and then you have digital and synth noises remixed in over it. It’s a very cool effect and really creates a fantastic synergy between the game’s world and the soundtrack which supports it. Because of this the music has a sound of being both organic and electronic which constantly makes the music seem like it’s fighting one another in a completely good way.
Here’s something I didn’t expect. Christophe Héral and Billy Martin somehow managed to top their amazing work on Rayman Origins with Legends. Continuing with their creative and unique style, both Martin and Héral somehow manage to continually add more to their songs throwing in everything like banjos, flutes, kazoos, and everything else to make sure each stage has that unique sound to it. Their work on the music stage levels is just as impressive and caused me to replay them many times over just to hear the great music again.
Unlike Origins, the Legends soundtrack didn’t hit me right away almost giving off a more subtle vibe. The more I played the game though, the more prominent the music became soon getting stuck in my head and just about knocking off Origins completely. Legends features a similar style incorporating fun music that fits well with the game’s zany style. The soundtrack is incredibly creative, whimsical, and a massive amount of fun to listen to. This is one of those times that the music helps to elevate the already rock solid gameplay into astronomical heights.
Splinter Cell Blacklist
Since we’re talking about a spy thriller type of game here, the music would also need to be mysterious and thrilling at the same time. Thankfully, the talents of Mike Zarin and Kaveh Cohen managed to capture that stealth action feel for the latest Splinter Cell game. Each track manages to be dynamic, changing based on what the player is doing creating a pulse pounding and exciting soundtrack for the ears.
What’s great is that the player can change the way that they approach the game and this approach translates to the music tracks as well. For stealthy players, the music matches your gameplay style, namely subtle and quiet. Get detected or go loud and suddenly the music swells and gets louder, matching the now tense and frantic feeling. The music here just sounds menacing, like you’re being stalked by an unseen foe, fitting perfectly into the Splinter Cell franchise.
The Last of Us
I could go on and on about The Last of Us, but I’ll actually save that for tomorrow’s post. While the other games on this list feature booming, exhilarating or toe tapping music, Gustavo Santaolalla took a different approach to The Last of Us. Instead of relying on hooks and beats to hold your interest, Santaolalla chose to highlight the acoustic guitar in order to tap into the emotional and tension side matching the gameplay.
As the songs swell and build, the string plucking becomes fiercer and more intense. It’s compelling and focuses more on the emotional side of the game rather than the suspense and horror. The best of this can be heard from the title track, The Last of Us, starting slowly and building into a very strong and memorable tune. It’s not always that I say this, but not only will the game’s story stay with you long after you’ve played, but so to will the music.
Put together by Rom Di Prisco and Peter Chapman, Guacamelee features a fun and vibrant sound and really taps into the luchador theme. Most songs sound like they took a Mariachi Band and blended it together with electronics. What resulted is an insanely memorable and catchy collection of songs.
The best example of the Mariachi tone comes from Santa Luchita with it’s layered trumpets, the song will please your ears greatly. Forest del Chivo is another favorite of mine mixing a sort of an electronica sound with traditional Latin sounds. For a mix, check out the undead version of the song which alters the sound a bit, keeping the base sound of the track but adding additional effects to change it into a new sound.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Talk about retro. Scored by the metal band, Powerglove, Blood Dragon’s music feels right at home here as it tightly embraces that 80’s sci-fi action movie vibe. We’re talking power chords, electronic percussion beats and a whole lot of synth effects for good measure. While the core game play experience was great, it was definitely the music which helped push the game further into amazing territory. I would accept more of this with open arms without question.
When Blood Dragon promised to embrace the 80s style, it went all out. That includes the deliciously amazing soundtrack which sounds like it was ripped from your favorite cheese ball 80s sci-fi movies. It sounds so authentic that you may even start to wonder if you’ve heard these before from various movies like RoboCop, Predator, or The Terminator.
DmC: Devil May Cry
Completely coming out of left field for me, DmC not only is one of my top surprises this year, but so to is the aggressive and hard-hitting soundtrack. Combining the aggressive hardcore elements of the band, Combichrist, along with the electronic pulsating beats of the trio, Noisia, DmC features a unique soundtrack that fits perfectly with the gameplay taking place on the screen.
Surprisingly, it fits extremely well with the game and the combat scenarios that Dante and Vergil find themselves in. The music actually lifts the combat and gameplay up providing that extra amount of energy to go hand in hand with chaining attacks together. It’s an interesting mix of sounds and one that works surprisingly well to the game’s benefit.
Garry Schyman became one of my favorite composers after what he did in the first BioShock. It was moody, mysterious, and fit the world like a glove. While many would settle back into that groove for a sequel, Schyman chose not to reuse assets and created a brand new sweeping orchestral score. The songs once again fit the world that Irrational has created and smacks of 20th century American patriotism. Stunningly perfect.
The soundtrack really enhances the world and the gameplay the player finds themselves in, diving home the time period and ultimately creates a better game because of it. Familiar elements remain such as the screeching violins and layered sound of the various instruments as it draws upon the unknown and fear of the original BioShock. The most impressive thing about the BioShock Infinite score is that Garry Schyman managed to create a memorable and dynamic score that feels familiar to his work with BioShock without completely reusing the same sound.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
While Black Flag represents a game that I’m currently playing, the sound design and music from Brian Tyler really stands out and meshes so perfectly with the themes and setting of this world. It really managed to make me feel like a pirate sailing in the Caribbean, looting, plundering, and singing sea shanties without a care in the world. Well, outside of that Man O’ War bearing down on me…
Many of the songs sound like they belong in a Pirates of a Caribbean movie, but since this is a game about pirates, ships, and the ocean, it’s a perfect fit. In many of the songs (especially The High Seas and In This World or the One Below), the violin seems to be the featured instrument and really pushes home the “pirate jig” action sort of sound you’d expect. Many of the tracks here feature a blazing tempo straight out of a Hans Zimmer epic, but all of them will make you feel that you really are sailing on a pirate vessel.