Often one of the most overlooked aspect of the interactive medium is the sounds we hear whilst playing, often beautiful, moving sounds. Our writers have collated their top, most engaging scores from across gaming's sizable library.
After the acclaim of the pulp-action Uncharted games, it was important that developer Naughty Dog ensured that their next project, The Last of Us, maintained its own tonal consistency. Reaching for the grand soundscapes that accompanied Nathan Drake’s adventures just wouldn’t be appropriate this time. Something else was needed, something more delicate and minimalist. Cue composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
His work on Brokeback Mountain and Babel had been resonating with the team at the studio as they conceptualised the auditory identity of The Last of Us. They eventually realised the influence Santaolalla was having and brought him in for the soundtrack. With detuned guitars, PVC pipes and everyday recording spaces, he gave them that distinctive sound they were looking for.
Alongside the incredible art direction and performances from the actors, it is the music that gives the experience so much heart.
Santaolalla employed a “more textural and not necessarily melodic” approach that fed back into the overall writing process of The Last of Us. Neil Druckmann, creative director, explained that “As the story was still being written, you could listen to a piece of music and just get a sense of where it was supposed to go tonally - the music was inspiring the story.”
Alongside the incredible art direction and performances from the actors, it is the music that gives the experience so much heart. In an industry where the soundtrack is usually one of the final parts of production, the seamlessness of its implementation for The Last of Us is as collaborative as it is groundbreaking.
The small soundtrack of LISA: The Joyful was made in a trial version of Fruity Loops by one guy with the auspicious name of Widdly2Diddly. It’s also bloody fantastic.
With only a tiny library of MIDIs and the inability to edit a song after closing it, the soundtrack’s feel is simultaneously irreverent and diverse. It’s full of baffling, alien-feeling tracks that squirm in your ear and over simple but effective rhythms.
With only a tiny library of MIDIs and the inability to edit a song after closing it, the soundtrack’s feel is simultaneously irreverent and diverse.
Focusing more on emotion than complexity, it flows from the climactic – Broken Tooth March, All American Badass – to the downright depressing – Land of Hints, He’s My Dad. And then there’s the tracks that are just plain weird, with fan favourite 666 Kill Chop Deluxe being played on synthesised air horns.
It’s a perfect mirror of the game it accompanies. The LISA series is equal parts goofy, spooky and heartbreaking, and you’ve never played (or listened) to anything quite like it.
A game’s soundtrack is meant to match its mood in every way and add another layer of atmosphere to the playing experience. Action becomes heightened, quiet moments become emotional or brooding. With a good enough soundtrack, even the more mundane parts of the gameplay are made more bearable. There are few other games that embody the abstract ‘mood’ of a game more than that of The Witcher 3’s soundtrack.
The Witcher 3’s soundtrack fuses Percival’s distinct sound with the grandeur of a fantasy soundtrack to create something that feels exotic
Composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz and Mikolai Stroinski in collaboration with Polish folk band Percival, The Witcher 3’s soundtrack fuses Percival’s distinct sound with the grandeur of a fantasy soundtrack to create something that feels exotic upon first playing through the game. Some standout tracks include ‘...Steel for Humans’, which adapts Percival’s ‘Lazare’ into an intense battle theme, as well as ‘Aen Seidhe’ and ‘Hunt or Be Hunted’.
Even as a standalone album, The Witcher 3’s soundtrack never fails to get me excited about the game all over again.
Picking a favourite video game soundtrack is honestly one of the trickiest choices this medium presents for me. There are so many stellar examples, from the haunting beauty of Silent Hill 2 to the heavy metal ferocity of Doom. But speaking personally, few compare to World of Warcraft.
Music in video games can serve several purposes. Sometimes, it might form an integral part of the brand (as in Super Mario or Final Fantasy) or help dictate the pace of. But what World of Warcraft’s soundtrack does expertly is tone setting. One of the game’s strengths is its distinctive environmental design, and this is done audibly as well as visually.
What World of Warcraft’s soundtrack does expertly is tone setting.
Depending on which zone the player is in, the music can affect a sense of peace and tranquillity (i.e. Elwynn Forest), mystery and wonder (i.e. Storm Peaks) or foreboding and danger (i.e. Icecrown or Tirisfal Glades). It’s a really interesting interplay between sound and environment that honestly deserves far more praise than it gets.