You’d think, with what a rotten year 2016 was, that I’d want to just forget about it. There’s one part of 2016, though, I’m not quite done with, and that’s the amazing music that accompanied many of last year’s best games. I can’t fit everything in here. Not even close. So instead, we’re going to run down a list of five awesome game soundtracks you shouldn’t miss. If you subscribe to Spotify, all of these soundtracks are available there, and of course on places like iTunes and Amazon if the soundtrack really catches you.
Doom – Mick Gordon
There’s a gap in our memories between how things seemed and how things actually were. We remember graphics with more detail. Scares are more intense. Music feels louder. The soundtrack to 2016’s Doom sounds like I remember Doom sounding. It’s the loud, thrashing metal that, in itself, feels like a reward. Leaping around, tearing through demons, whether with your Super Shotgun or your own two hands, to Mick Gordon’s pounding score feels like the kind of fun we’re supposed to save for special occasions. It’s a cathartic, satisfying wall of sound.
Watch Dogs 2 – Hudson Mohawke
As I played through Watch Dogs 2, I found myself, more and more, turning off the radio in the cars I was constantly ‘borrowing.’ I got a few hints of the soundtrack and had something weird happen that I don’t think I’ve ever had happen in a game. Protagonist Marcus Halloway wears earbuds for all but the shortest of moments in the game. It’s a mobile headset, sure, but it’s a constant source of music, too. The more I listened to the soundtrack, the more it felt like the music Marcus was listening to, and that represented Dec Sec. When I listened to the radio in the car, despite liking a few of the tracks, it felt more like I was listening to my music.
Marcus was one of my favorite game characters in 2016, along with the characters starring in the games above and below this entry, and the music felt like part of his character and his identity. When the final track, “Robot,” plays at the end of the last mission, I felt the same sense of relief and satisfaction that I imagined Marcus was experiencing.
Firewatch – Chris Remo
Firewatch, like Gone Home, is a game about sad, lonely people walking around in isolation. It’s simultaneously warm, intimate, ominous, isolating, beautiful, and lonely. It’s a ton of emotion packed into a pretty short game, and with a fairly linear design, the soundtrack matches the game beat-for-beat. The theme, here, matches the pre-internet setting and naturalistic feel of the game, and feels as warm as the sun poking through the trees.
Oxenfree – Scntfc
Like Firewatch, Night School Studio’s Oxenfree has a pre-internet nostalgia to it. When we don’t have a GPS plugged into every piece electronics we own, and a full internet-communications device at our fingertips, there’s a lot more mystery in the world. Scntfc’s soundtrack captures that sense of mystery perfectly. The game takes place at night and in a place the characters are mostly unfamiliar with, and as I listen to the included track, Beacon Beach, I can feel the quiet moments that start to intersect between the characters’ conversations, and the nighttime surrounding them.
No Man’s Sky – 65daysofstatic
No Man’s Sky was a huge disappointment. The soundtrack, though, is anything but. The score, provided by 65daysofstatic, feels perfectly suited to the feel Hello Games was going for with their game. The art of old science fiction books was a constant point of comparison throughout development. The songs of No Man’s Sky capture the sense of wonder so often attached to exploration, but they also manage to capture the slow moments in space, of the constant sense of forward movement.
I’m done with No Man’s Sky, but the soundtrack will stick with me.
There are so many others worth mentioning. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has a perfectly cyberpunk soundtrack. Dexter composer Daniel Licht gave Dishonored 2 exactly the kind of twisted whimsy it needed. Disasterpeace struck the same kind of gold he did in Fez with Hyper Light Drifter. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine took us to a new land, and the music fit it well, both sticking to the core of what makes the Witcher‘s music sound like it belongs and offering something new at the same time. Virginia‘s soundtrack calls to mind Twin Peaks just as much as the rest of the game. Austin Wintory brought his talents to The Banner Saga 2 and Abzu to very different results. I’ve inevitably missed some great ones, so jump into the comments and let us know what video game music you loved this year.