The best of video game soundtracks over the ages have shaken and stirred even the best of us - we throw ourselves back to 2001, with Max Payne. We have been baffled and awe-inspired when in the moment thanks to a perfect musical score, much like when Boy's Fort starts playing when you're stuck in Limbo.
This story is dedicated to game soundtracks that are nothing short of sheer masterpieces. The list is not exhaustive, and is not rated in any order. It is a collection of a few of the most beautiful tracks that we have come across. There was only one criteria of judgment: these tracks made us head to YouTube and listen to them on loop. Here's to the sound of gaming!
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
The sequel to Hotline Miami, this game sets off the entire story line with tracks that race along, evolve into funkiness and mellow out when the time is right.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a story of vengeance, of war and how it affects everybody. It wears the look, sound and feel of a slasher violence movie ably, and the soundtrack, featuring tracks from a number of artists, highlights the game’s aesthetics. Two personal favourites (it wasn't possible to single out one) would be 'Untitled' by 'The Green Kingdom'
and 'Roller Mobster' by 'Carpenter Brut'.
While Untitled heightens the mood when you’re in the midst of a strange utopia, Roller Mobster pumps in the adrenaline right when the action is at its peak. Among other tracks, Blizzard by Light Club (theme for ‘The Fans’ in the game)
gets an honourable mention for seamlessly fitting into the story.
Portal 2 is a terrifying look at a possible future - a fusion of massively-powerful and out-of-control technology remembering humanity with regret and unfamiliarity. Yet, the main character Chell evokes in the player an endearing emotion. Set in the Aperture Science laboratories, it speaks of artificial intelligence, near-meltdown scenarios, and out-of-control technology. Through the game's storyline, as Chell progresses through the levels of the laboratory, we get to know the entire story.
The soundtrack, a four-disc pack titled 'Songs to Test By', is composed by Valve's in-house man Mike Morasky. The concluding song 'Want You Gone',
like the credit-roll song in the original Portal - has been sung and composed by Jonathan Coulton, and provides a fitting end to the Portal series, with the lines "You want your freedom/Take it/That's what I'm counting on/I used to want you dead/But now I only want you gone".
During the actual game, our favourite track is Cara Mia Addio,
coming almost at the very end of the game. The song plays as Chell exits the facility she has been held captive in, into an open wheat field, providing a fitting end to what Portal is all about.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed games are known for their complex storylines, gameplay that fuses stealth with action, and beautiful soundtracks.
While all the games in the series have great soundtracks, composer Brian Tyler has almost certainly surpassed them all in Black Flag’s soundtrack. During a standalone listen, tracks like Fare Thee Well
and Queen Anne's Revenge
almost singlehandedly tell the story that lies underneath, even without the help of any visuals.
The fourth edition of Assassin's Creed brings back the open world feel of the very first instalment. It revolves majorly around pirate battleships, a conspiracy within the underground and powerful Templars, the search for a powerful structure long lost, and the protagonist - a privateer-turned-pirate Edward Kenway - stuck in between all the politics. Black Flag incorporates free-flowing gameplay along with a story that takes on the Caribbean waters, and the British and Spanish empires in the 17th century. The main theme
of the game is, in our personal opinion, the best piece of music in the game (and arguably, in the entire Assassin's Creed series.)
The Mega Man Franchise
To talk about the most memorable soundtracks, and to miss out on Mega Man, would be absolutely impossible. A franchise that started 28 years ago, Mega Man, over the ages, has thrilled gamers both young and old.
It speaks volumes that a game designed almost three decades ago still keeps making it to innumerable all-time-greatest lists. Featuring a number of playable characters and defining enemies, the Mega Man storyline begins with the classic 10-part series, and ends more than 500 years later, with the Mega Man Legends series. Other parts which lie in between are Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX.
For such an extensive and defining series, there are hundreds of tracks that have attained fan favourite status over the ages. Some have even been taken up by music groups or individuals and covered in different versions! Arguably the greatest ever piece of music in the Mega Man series, in terms of popularity, sheer memorability and the pulsing rhythm that builds up to the game's finale is Dr. Wily's Theme: Stage 1.
Composed by Takashi Tateishi, this theme defines Mega Man, its legacy and is fondly remembered by every gamer who grew up during the 8-bit era. Of the number of cover versions, a rock version
and an a capella version
happen to be two of our favourite covers!
For honourable mentions, the Elec Man
and Snake Man
themes happen to be two more of our all-time favourite tracks. There is a different groove altogether in these 8-bit in-game soundtracks!
Built and designed by independent developers Supergiant Games, Bastion's soundtrack is one of the most beautiful and complete among the ones mentioned here, i.e. it stands by itself as a music album, and not a video game soundtrack. Produced and composed by songwriter Darren Korb, the entire soundtrack fits the fantasy world, the complete emotional range of the game, and the scenes as they go by. Our favourite across all the levels, Build That Wall,
has lyrics that speak, "Gon' build that wall until it's done/But now you've got nowhere to run/So build that wall and build it strong/'Cause we'll be there before too long". The same track also happens to be Zia's theme, a character in the game who is first introduced as 'Singer'.
The setting for the game is a post-calamity fantasy world, where the protagonist, The Kid, is on a journey towards the Bastion, in the fictional and catastrophe-struck city of Caelondia. During the journey, he meets other characters, who add to his conflict and push the story ahead.
The visuals are beautiful, presented with the help of an isometric camera view, and include a hand-painted fantasy world. To name a few tracks out of this exceptional playlist, Terminal March, Setting Sail, Coming Home and Slinger's Song steal the show.
Released in 2011, Bastion is a must-play action fantasy role-playing game - not for any specific reason, but for the entire experience that this piece of art has on offer.
It’s almost impossible to find someone who hasn't played Max Payne - the quintessential third person shooter that tells the tale of Max Payne, the NYPD detective whose family is murdered, and who sets out to avenge their deaths.
The elements that catapulted Max Payne to its now-legendary status include the use of graphic novel type panels in animated cut-scenes to progress the story, a dark noir-style, story-telling that would fit right in in hard-boiled-detective tales, the entire cinematic feel and, of course, the soundtrack.
Composed by vocalist-bassist of the Finnish band Waltari, Kartsy Hatakka, the entire soundtrack
earns a place on this list. The Max Payne theme is one of the most recognised themes in the world of gaming. With every scene and every action, the music combines perfectly with the psyche of Max. From The American Dream to A Cold Day in Hell, it is a gruelling revenge saga from the point where Max enters his home to find his wife and baby dead. The fitting end comes in the last chapter of the third part, A Bit Closer to Heaven. Max destroys the helicopter, with NYPD Chief Jim Bravura circling in on Max. The game ends with Max's words, "And then, it was all over. The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above... a bit closer to heaven." The soundtrack closes in with The Final Countdown.
SPECIAL MENTION: Monument Valley
Although this one's developed only for mobiles, we thought Ustwo Studios' Monument Valley deserved special mention - for its gameplay and soundtrack.
Set across ten levels, the princess-protagonist Ida needs to be taken through physics-defying monuments, illusions and their bizarre structural fallacies (referred to as sacred geometry in the game) to the core of her ancient civilization, to which she journeys looking for forgiveness. The entire soundtrack
is a beautiful work of art by composer Stafford Bawler.