While many of the categories in our Game of the Year awards will have long explanatory justifications for each entry, Best Soundtrack is much simpler for me to write. Music is subjective, and as such you’re many of you are likely to disagree with our choice. But the great thing is I get to highlight just some of that music here, and hopefully some of what you hear you will come to love. I think 2012 has some of the best music I have ever heard in games, and that music ranges from huge orchestral pieces by famous composers like Clint Mansell to gloriously catchy chiptunes that sound like they were made in 1988. If your favourite isn’t included below, tell us why we’re wrong to have missed it!
Terence Lee (AKA Lifeformed) made the best retro soundtrack of all time for Dustforce. Its every classic console rolled together, every happy memory of 8 and 16 bit gaming rolled together, and the result is something familiar but also new. Its a soundtrack that evokes spring time, breezes on a clear day and unfettered optimism. Since I heard it for the first time earlier this year I have listened to it almost every day. Terence Lee is a chiptune genius, and Dustforce is a great game with a perfect soundtrack.
Max Payne 3
Health’s Max Payne 3 soundtrack is a great match for the game it accompanies. Max’s journey is nihilistic and hopeless in Max Payne 3, and Health’s soundtrack sounds like someone who is resigned to their fate. Laconic and gorgeously haunting, it reaches a high point near the end in the airport with “Tears”, where the vocals appear in the mix for the first time in the game and make for an epic finale to a surprisingly brilliant and much overlooked game.
There’s a beautiful Japanese theme throughout Sine Mora’s soundtrack. The game is gorgeous too, and the music manages to enthuse the player when the pace slows and calm the player when things get a bit hairy. The changes in tempo from track to track are well judged and supplement the games relentless pace. Akira Yamaoka is of course one of the best known games composers of all time, and he crafts another masterpiece here.
When I started making this list I had a clear favourite in mind. As I continued though, I came to love Hotline Miami’s score more and more. The chiptune influence is strong, with several moments evoking the Commodore 64 era of game music. It’s far more than a retro soundtrack though. There’s stuff in here that sounds like The Doors. At times it even sounds like the Beach Boys, played on a speaker that has melted in the sun. While a number of different artists contribute (including the brilliant Jasper Byrne who made the best horror game of the year: Lone Survivor).
Lone Survivor may evoke the best bits of Silent Hill in its psychological-horror gameplay, but its musical score rivals that of Silent Hill’s star composer Akira Yamaoka too. From industrial grit to twangy, clean guitars, it manages to be both beautiful and beautifully ugly at the same time. Its great to listen to on its own, but when it accompanies the twisted story of Lone Survivor its unnerving, genuinely scary and absolutely brilliant. I have never heard a more effective soundtrack in any game I’ve ever played.
Far Cry 3
A games doing pretty well when it can make dubstep sound relevant in 2012. Far Cry 3 oscillated between orchestral grandiosity and dubstep grunginess to give us a soundtrack as trendy as the themes it explored. Not many games devs would be up on modern music enough to include Die Antwoord.
Composer Austin Wintory is going to be huge. His talent is obvious and staggering. This soundtrack is simply beautiful, I don’t have the words to do it justice. If I tried, I would liken the music, and the game it accompanies, to swimming in liquid sunshine. You should stop reading this now and just listen.
Mass Effect 3
When we discussed recording some arrangements of pieces with one of our CDT writers who is also a world class pianist, we HAD to play some Mass Effect 3. In fact, our whole game music project (of which you will hear more in the coming months) was initiated because one of our visitors (and friends) told us how much he loved Mass Effect 3’s score. Soon, other readers were echoing this and demanding we record some pieces from this classic game score as they each choose their personal favourites.
While other entries here might be small pieces, made by a single dedicated musician, Mass Effect 3 shows everything thats great about big budget game music. Its epic, dramatic, it helps make the gameplay more engaging and its as good as anything you would hear in a Hollywood movie this year. Better even.
And the Winner is… Dustforce
This was so hard. I really love everything on this list. Jasper Byrne, Austin Wintory and Terence Lee are all winners. Austin Wintory made something so beautiful it almost hurts. Terence Lee made has made a soundtrack that I listen to every single day, and it makes me happier every time I hear it. Finally, Jasper gets his name on two entries here and he’s not just a musician, he also made one of the best games of the year! The talent of these guys dumbfounds me. Well done to you all. And thank you.