Musical Rewind: Looking Back At Some Of The Best Game Soundtracks From 2016
Music in video games can be just as important as the visuals or the writing when it comes to immersing the player. The right soundtrack can set the mood to make a victory feel triumphant or a tragedy feel painful. To celebrate these achievements, I looked back at the year to round up my favorite video game soundtracks released in 2016.
The underwater spiritual successor to Journey (also done by composer Austin Wintory) is filled with ambient music that invokes a sense of mystery and depth. The calm symphony of the beginning levels directly contrasts with the dramatic pounding beats of the game's final moments, building up an intense atmosphere before a serene calm at the end. This directly correlates to the actions the player can take during these moments, allowing the atmosphere to become interwoven with the soundtrack to create a truly immersive experience.
My favorite game soundtrack to come out this year, Doom is unapologetically loud and destructive. The heavy tones produced by Mick Gordon help make every fight feel like a vicious bloodbath of guts, violence, and metal. While some softer tracks play when you're traveling between arenas, the soundtrack's biggest achievement is it is gritty enough to match the hellscape that sprawls out before the player. This music resonated with gamers so much that Gordon performed two of the game's tracks on stage during this year's Video Game Awards.
The classic rhythm shooter-experience Rez was upgraded to PS4 this year with new content and an optional VR mode. Every level has a base track, with enemies and shots turning into the beats that make up the electronica-style music. This may sound chaotic, but it creates a relationship between the music and the player where each person's experience is slightly different depending on their own timing. Hitting more enemies in a row helps your score rise faster, which in turn upgrades your avatar to look more and more complete. This encourages highlighting as many enemies as possible before blasting them away so the beats all flow seamlessly. It's a unique take on creating a techno soundtrack.
The individual beats of the crypt are a giant component of this rhythm dungeon-crawler because they symbolize the pulsations of your stolen heart. Gameplay is centered on moving and attacking to the song of each level to make your actions more effective in order to be in sync with your missing heart's rhythm. Because of this mechanic, the composition is full of pulse-pounding techno and metal, so fights with even the smallest enemies still feel epic and impactful. Composer Danny Baranosky has plenty of experience making music like this, having created the soundtracks for both Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac.
The Kickstarter project from the developers of games like BioShock, Halo 2, and Rock Band is home to a haunting soundtrack. The dulcet tones from the twangy guitar make the journey through this post-society rural America both harrowing and somber. The entire score was written by singer/songwriter Chuck Ragan, with many of the songs featuring vocals by him that add to the haunting melodies of the soundtrack.
A cyber punk bartending simulator inspired by anime and visual novels needs a soundtrack as interesting as the characters you encounter at its small bar. Both the game and the music were influenced by the '90s PC era, giving everything a retro-future feel. Mixing drinks for the various customers of the bar affects their mood, which in turn changes the music from bright and preppy to dark and gloomy. Since none of the lines are spoken in this game, these musical variations are part of what give the characters such a wide array of personalities.
The Final Fantasy series is known for its amazing soundtracks filled with epic battle themes and triumphant trumpets composed by the acclaimed Nobuo Uematsu. While he's moved onto other projects, the new composer for the series, Yoko Shimomura, has an impressive track record as well, scoring such classics as Super Mario RPG and Kingdom Hearts. The adventure of four men trying to save their kingdom requires a range of emotions that is not only matched, but heightened by the soundtrack. The excellent cover by the award-winning indie band Florence and the Machine and the ability to listen to past songs from the series is just icing on the cake.
Hyper Light Drifter delivers a powerful story of fighting through sickness without uttering a single word. This was a tremendous task, but the soundtrack by Disasterpeace (a chiptune artist known for his work on the score of Fez and the indie horror film It Follows) enhanced the mood every step of the way. The musical score tries to emulate the game's ambiguous writing with songs that have an ambient, but retro feel. It's a beautifully harmonious soundtrack that captures a relaxed sense of wonder.
Usually the most violent a rhythm game gets is when you see someone frantically stomping on a DDR pad to perky anime music. So, it's a bit surprising to see Thumper live up to its name, filled with heart-pounding tracks that complement the breakneck speed visuals. Even the less chaotic tracks have a foreboding undertone to them, never quite giving the player a rest from the adrenaline rush of trying to perfect a particular song.
A story of time-looping mystery with a heavy focus on the relationships between the characters needs a soundtrack that feels just as connected. Composer C. Andrew Rohrmann crafted a musical score that captures the supernatural elements of the game with lighter tones in direct contrast to deeper bass that makes even the happier moments remind you of the imminent danger. The entire soundtrack is a Morse code message that expands on the story, making it more impactful on the overall experience of the game.
The setting of The Banner Saga 2, a calm tactics game in Viking times, requires a unique soundtrack(again composed by Austin Wintory) to convey a sense of serene urgency. The use of more traditional instruments and powerful drums invoke a sense of a calm before war, which works well for this game. Some softer scores balance out the more heightened tracks so that the players can relax like the characters and camaraderie that follows the end of a battle.
What original soundtracks did you love this year? Or even all time? Sound off in the comments.