The TA Top Five: Soundtracks

By Dread Reaver, 5 years ago
There is something about a great piece of music that can stir something deep within our souls, get us off the couch to dance, or even just simply cause us to violently shake our heads in time to the music (perhaps one of my personal favourite styles).

Video games have been incorporating musical compositions for quite a few decades, but we are now surely in a golden age where the quality of game tracks rival those heard in the cinema, and even professional orchestras. Here I will be looking at some of the best soundtracks to grace our consoles within the last decade. If you have a Spotify subscription, be sure to listen while reading; I have picked a few stand-out tracks for your listening pleasure:

5. Braid
September 7th

Alongside the unique time-bending gameplay, emotional story, themes, and watercolour visual style, Braid was commended for its subtle and haunting soundtrack. Being an independent game, developer Jonathan Blow needed to keep costs low so he subsequently decided to license musical pieces from a website known as Magnatune, primarily from artists Cheryl Ann Fulton, Shira Kammen and Jami Sieber.

Blow wanted to ensure that the songs he licensed were of a high quality, but also somewhat complex so that players would not experience too much looping when solving a difficult puzzle. In addition, the track needed to have an impact even when the gameplay itself was reversed, slowed down or sped up. There are no head-bangers here, but it's truly a solemn and deeply moving sampling. The soundtrack to the game was released in 2009.

* "Maenam"
* "Lullaby Set"
* "Downstream"

4. Halo
Halo4 Sept.24th

For a series as epic as Halo, the developers needed music to match. Martin O’Donnell teamed up with composer Michael Salvatori, who were both tasked with creating the iconic Halo theme song. They knew that they needed something “big, exciting, and unusual with a classical orchestra touch to give it some weight and stature”, and something with “some sort of 'ancient' feel to it." They were onto something: the scores for the Halo and Halo 2 theme songs that we have come to know and love both won awards, including Best Original Videogame Soundtrack from Rolling Stone.

Despite the latest Halo game being developed sans Bungie, the soundtrack to Halo 4 became the highest charting video-game soundtrack album of all time. This time the soundtrack was composed by Neil Davidge, and represented a major thematic shift to go alongside Halo’s new style. Check out the evolution in the tracks below:

* "Opening Suite" from Halo: Combat Evolved
* "Rock Anthem for Saving the World" from Halo: Combat Evolved
* "117" from Halo 4

3. Red Dead Redemption
September 7th

From the moment you step off the train and into the dusty wild-west world of John Marston in Red Dead Redemption, you know you are in for a real treat of a soundtrack. The majority of the in-game music was composed by a group named Friends of Dean Martinez and Woody Jackson. Players might recall that each of the three areas in the game had their own style of music to tie in with the different culture of that region, and it was these guys that put them all together.

Of course, you might also recall the first time John Marston takes a trip down south to Mexico with Jose Gonzales' haunting song “Far Away” playing, a track which really helped to convey the sombre situation that Marston found himself in. Gonzales actually took away a Spike Video Game Award for best song in a videogame for this track, and the game itself won Best Original Score.

* Jose Gonzales - "Far Away"
* Ashtar Command - "Deadman's Gun
* Bill Elm and Woody Jackson - "Born Unto Trouble"

2. Silent Hill HD Collection
Silent hill 2 1

The Silent Hill series is one of the first survival horror franchises that truly made me passionate about music in a video game. The music in Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 was composed by the extremely talented Akira Yamaoka, who proved that music could effectively help define a game world, rather than being something interchangeable just tacked onto the background.

In-game music would consist of a multitude of sound effects (including screams, footsteps on broken glass, industrial sounds), expertly remixed and strung together to create some incredibly unsettling music; some pieces not unlike Trent Reznor’s work in Nine Inch Nails. Particular tracks would often play to indicate a demonic unseen enemy in the nearby darkness, and served to heighten the tension.

Silent Hill 2’s title track, “Theme of Laura”, worked to combine a strong beat and sad melody. Claimed to be Akira’s favourite work, it perfectly sums up the melancholy theme that the game itself evokes. Akira also composed the track “You’re Not Here” with vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn for Silent Hill 3, and was the first Silent Hill song to actually include vocals.

If you are keen to catch up on Akira’s latest work, be sure to listen to the soundtrack of Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, and the recently released Killer is Dead. Have a listen to these tracks from Silent Hill 2:

* Theme of Laura
* Promise (Reprise)
* White Noiz

1. Alan Wake
September 7th

Remedy’s 2010 cult classic was praised for its original darkness versus light combat mechanic, and its Twilight Zone-slash-Stephen King inspired themes and narrative. It even picked up Time magazine’s award for best video game of 2010. However, little is often said about the music in the game, which includes both original scores as well as fully licensed music.

Players are treated to a range of different musical pieces during Alan Wake’s surreal adventure through Bright Falls; from the soft but haunting to the violent and intense, composer Petri Alanko manages to evoke the right mood for the situation.

As the game was divided into episodes much like a television series, this allowed the developers to insert real world songs at various points, such as "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, "How Can I Be Sure" by Anomie Belle, "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson, and my personal favourite: “Haunted" by Poe.

The most intriguing music tie-in, however, goes to a band named Poets of the Fall; they wrote and performed several songs, including “Children of the Elder God" and "The Poet and the Muse” for the fictional band depicted in the game, known as The Old Gods of Asgard. The songs served as an important plot device, and for a game that is largely a dark and moody affair, there is one set piece that promises to rock your socks off. Make sure your surround sound system is fully setup for that one!

The game also treats us to a nice little Easter Egg in a late sequence of the game, as members of Poets of the Fall are referenced (alongside an appearance by Remedy’s Sam Lake). Of course, the same band also provided another bunch of songs, “The Happy Song” and “Balance Slays the Demon” (get it, BALANce slays the demon?), for the XBLA sequel Alan Wake's American Nightmare.

* Poets of the Fall - "War"
* Poe - "Haunted"
* Old Gods of Asguard - "Balance Slays the Demon"

There you have it, the TA Top Five soundtracks. I hope you enjoyed the experience.

The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!