While studios compete in the realism of graphics, sometimes it is the soundtrack that creates a huge part of the atmosphere of a video game . As in the movies, each game tries to emphasize the world it creates for the right situation with music. You just need to unscrew it in the settings to zero to realize its huge impact on the perception of the virtual world. The best type of music doesn’t just play in the background, but enhances the gameplay and enhances the emotional impact of the story.
This article will talk about ten video games with outstanding soundtracks that create a significant part of the atmosphere of the game.
Heroes of Might and Magic III
Heroes 3 is one of those games when you see a screenshot and music immediately plays in your head. A huge part of the bewitching atmosphere of the legendary turn-based strategy rests on the soundtrack. The themes of each faction sound special and do not get bored even after many weeks of play.
The authors of the music, Paul Romero and Rob King, even came to Russia in 2018 with a series of concerts, where the soundtrack was performed by a symphony orchestra . It’s funny that Paul Romero, answering the question of which faction’s music he likes the most, said that he had never actually played computer games in his life.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Released in 2012, Skyrim has become one of the most successful games in history, gathering a huge crowd of fans around it. The secret is, Bethesda has always tried to make games that you want to settle in . A huge free world allows you not only to complete quests and gain levels, but also to win back a character, build various skill systems and join various guilds, influencing the course of history, as well as exploring countless locations in somewhere gloomy, and somewhere epic and majestic fantasy setting.
The creators understood the need for a massive soundtrack for such a game, and composer Jeremy Soule did a tremendous job – more than 4 hours of music for each landscape and situation. Epic orchestrations combined with ethnic motifs have become a new standard for games in this genre. When recording, a 30-voice choir of “barbarians” was used, singing in the language of the game world. There is no chance to count all the cover versions made on the title theme of the game, which, of course, is a clear symbol of the composer’s services to Tamriel and his fans.
Deus Ex was released in 2000 and was one of the first in the Immersive Sim genre, combining first-person shooter and RPG elements with an inventory and character leveling system. The game received great reviews, a bunch of awards and a dedicated fan community.
The soundtracks in the Deus Ex series of games are an important element of the game. And, although many people note the chic music in the 2011 remake of Human Revolution, it is the first part of the 2000 release that is a unique example of using an entire genre as the basis for a soundtrack. This genre is tracker music, which appeared in the 80s and gained popularity among the IT people of that time in the 90s. Many are familiar with it from keygens of pirated software, but it also had independent significance as an element of cyber culture called demoscene.
Such an associative range and a special synthetic sound fit perfectly into the atmosphere of a game about a dystopian future with government conspiracies, nanotechnologies, terrorists and special services (sometimes in one person), coupled with a deadly pneumonia pandemic. It all sounds eerily familiar in today’s realities and makes fans reinstall the game every time its soundtrack plays.
Composed by a group of musicians from Straylight Productions, including Michiel van den Bos, Dan Gardopée and Alexander Brandon. The latter, by the way, writes music for System Shock 3, a remake of the cult game from the nineties, similar in theme and gameplay.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Although many people like the soundtracks for the first two parts of The Witcher, they cannot be called truly outstanding. But the creators planned to make the Wild Hunt the perfect game, and this is the case when they succeeded. The result collected all possible gaming awards and made the Geralt saga a worldwide phenomenon with its own series on Netflix. In Russia and the CIS, the franchise fell in love with Slavic motifs dear to the heart.
Marcin Przybylowicz, the game’s lead composer, collaborated with Polish folk metal band Percival on the soundtrack. The musicians of the group did not have a specialized education (which even caused some difficulties), but they had authentic Slavic instruments – from lutes to hurdy-gurdy . This gave the game a unique organic sound that has become its hallmark. The gigantic amount of work done on the layers and variations of the music is also impressive. Each region, situation, key character or story arc has its own individual soundtrack. This makes the game extremely lively and dynamic, allowing you to better feel every moment.
The bombastic symphonic soundtrack is not very stylistically suitable for an acidic 2D shooter like “kill them all”. The creators of Hotline Miami were inspired by the film Drive (they even thanked the director for it in the credits) and made a simple move – they took the music of the same genre that sounds in the film. She fits perfectly into the surreal plot and setting – retro-futuristic Miami of the 80s.
The soundtrack for this game was not created by a composer, but is a set of tracks from various representatives of the Synthwave scene, sometimes going into the realm of stoner rock. The synthetic sound of the neo-eighties is emphasized by the obvious influence of Vangelis with a direct borrowing of the part from the Blade Runner theme.
Hotline Miami is a great example of a minimalistic soundtrack that not only captures and conveys, but also largely determines the atmosphere and style of the game itself.
God of War
In God of War 2018, the Spartan warrior Kratos has drifted all the way to the Scandinavian fjords, where he is trying to lead a modest life and raise his son. But, as it usually happens, the visit of an unexpected guest turns into a journey through all the worlds of Scandinavian mythology. Such a setting is not new to fantasy, and composer Beer McCreery did a great job of creating unique sound and audio landscapes, when listening to which the imagination instantly generates images from God of War.
A mix of an orchestra and Scandinavian ethnic instruments with an unusually wide range of choirs can sound not only extremely brutal and majestic (which is a must for a game with such a name), but also surprisingly touching, allowing you to reveal the subtle nuances of the characters’ emotions at the right moments. In any emotional scene, you can see how the game world works in tandem with the soundtrack, turning to that to better describe the characters and story.
Silent Hill 2
Both movies and games in the horror genre have given the world a lot of remarkable music. The atmospheric survival horror series Silent Hill, produced by the Japanese studio Konami, immediately comes to mind. Among nearly a dozen games, it is not easy to pick the best, but many fans tend to consider the second part of the 2001 release as the most outstanding part of the soundtrack created by the legendary composer Akira Yamaoka.
Silent Hill has given the world a lot of memorable images and many gamers will cringe, remembering the gloomy locations of the game. The composer creates suspense and conveys emotion in a minimalistic way through repeated repetition – a technique well known to listeners of dark ambient, drone, doom and other decadent genres.
Just like in movies, Japanese horror has taken a special place in video games. Western audiences are taken aback by giant monsters, depressing locations and a general atmosphere of hopelessness in the works of Japanese studios. It’s all about local mythology, in which there are so many spirits, demons and ghosts that even call a witcher.
When you need to emphasize with music the dark depths of hell with cacodemons, pentagrams, shooting enemies into pieces with a shotgun and the accompanying atmosphere, then gloomy violins and a mysterious piano are indispensable. The author of the soundtrack for the original Doom was inspired by the metal classics of his time: Slayer, King Diamond, Metallica. The result was very organic and brutal. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor (future Oscar winner for The Social Network Music) became a big fan of the cult game and wrote a similar soundtrack for Quake.
The author of the music for the game in 2016, Mick Gordon, had a difficult task: to make it even more brutal than in classic shooters. He found inspiration in the metal genres that are relevant today, traditionally seasoning it all with a fair amount of industrial and insane sound effects. It turned out so hellish that it demolishes the tower!
Determining the best game in the Souls series from the Japanese studio FromSoftware will inevitably cause a lot of controversy, as well as the question of the best soundtrack.
Bloodborne is a PS4 exclusive that differs from Dark Souls in its setting. Instead of the Middle Ages – the Victorian era and the atmosphere of Lovecraftian horror. An interesting setting requires interesting music, and Bloodbourne is no exception. In contrast to the minimalism of Silent Hill’s music, here we can talk about maximalism – magnificent orchestrations will rumble in my head for a long time after a couple of hours of gameplay. Battle tracks for battling psychotic Japanese monsters give way to dark soundscapes of dissonant violins and howling choirs.
A whole group of composers had a hand in the soundtrack: Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Michael Wandmacher, Yuka Kitamura and others. The studio even released a collector’s edition on vinyl.
The sound series is organically combined with the game world and sets a gloomy accompaniment to the entire gameplay, expanding the gaming experience and making you think about the frailty of being after another defeat.
Journey is a 2012 adventure game from Thatgamecompany. Here the character travels to a distant mountain through the desert. The developers tried to convey a sense of surprise around the world and a sense of their own insignificance in it.
The music for Journey was the first game soundtrack to win a Grammy! Moreover, the soundtrack in it is an independent element of the narrative, responding to the actions of the player and what is happening in the game.
The author of the audio was the composer Austin Wintory, who wrote music for dozens of films and games. Working in a team with a sound designer and programmer, he managed to create fascinating sound canvases, operating with instrument parts like paints on a canvas.
All tracks are interconnected by a single musical theme, in which the cello plays the main role.
Red Dead Redemption 2
While other large-scale open-world projects make the most bombastic symphonic soundtracks, Red Dead Redemtion 2 from Rockstar Games studio bets on minimalist and simple, but heart-catching songs from a whole group of talented composers and performers.
It suddenly turns out that grandfather’s acoustic guitar, coupled with powerful vocals, can sound no less epic than all these horns and timpani. It is the accuracy of hitting the moment and the situation that makes the soundtrack to the game so atmospheric. Although it sounds good on its own, it is revealed in all its beauty in conjunction with the plot, characters and setting. Any cutting of the best moments of the game will confirm this.
The 2018 release garnered a bunch of awards, including Best Soundtrack from The Game Awards, IGN’s Best, and Giant Bomb.
Graphics become obsolete in a couple of years, music – never. Even the eight-bit themes from Super Mario have gained immortality and are performed either by a symphony orchestra or by rock musicians. Today, more and more studios are paying attention to the musical part of the game and sound design in general, and some are even trying to use the soundtrack in the gameplay.
If earlier an hour of music and one musician was enough for an average game, today the standard for AAA projects is a whole team of composers and 4–6 hours of a soundtrack, so many worthy games and series with impressive soundtracks did not make it to this list.
Curiously, the surge in popularity of VR games is fueling interest in binaural audio , which in the future will allow for even more immersion in the virtual world.