I’ll be honest with y’all: I love listening to music in my spare time. It’s the kind of thing that gets me pumped when I’m working out on the elliptical trainer, and that keeps me entertained and busy while staring at a monitor and doing other things on my laptop, like writing this blog article you’re currently reading. So it only makes sense that, as a gamer, I take a strong interest in listening to the original soundtracks (OSTs for short) of the games I play.
One of the first things I usually do when I boot up a game (especially when that game is new) is giving the soundtrack a listen. I’ve been playing games ever since I was a toddler, and I know for a fact that a great soundtrack usually equates a great game (according to my experience, at least). Virtually all of the “good” games I played throughout my life were accompanied by an equally impressive soundtrack. That’s how things have always worked on my end.
I know that correlation does not imply causation, and you might disagree with my pattern and theory, but I’m just stating something that I’ve always noticed when comparing games with their OSTs. Music plays a key component in games: it enhances the onscreen action and turns normally mundane scenes into soothing and/or epic setpieces (depending on the nature of the game).
There are so many examples that I could list to confirm the theory that music can indeed turn a good experience into a great one. But I’m going to limit myself to seven entries since that’s roughly the number of OSTs I would have no problem listening to ENTIRELY several times (which disqualifies a lot of other solid OSTs I wanted to include). The OSTs I’m about to list are the kinds of soundtracks that have captivated my eardrums for months/years on end. They turned the games that I already had fun playing into aural masterpieces.
For each game, I’m going to tell you why its soundtrack was so good and I’m even going to include its best track to give you an idea of how awesome it sounds. The games are not listed in any particular order. So here we go:
1) TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
One of my favorite shooters of all time also happens to have one of my favorite (and most extensive) soundtracks of all time. This criminally underrated console shooter franchise from the creators of Goldeneye always had a thing for catchy tunes of all kinds (orchestral, techno, etc…), and Future Perfect was the aural apex of the series: not only was it filled with more of the audio goodness that composer Graeme Norgate has been dishing out for years, but it also includes most of the tracks from previous TimeSplitters games! So essentially, Future Perfect is several games in one, soundtrack-wise.
2) Darksiders II
Darksiders II is one of the best sequels ever made: compared to the first game, the sequel has a more interesting protagonist, a better combat system, a bigger world to explore, and most importantly, a much, MUCH more memorable soundtrack. Composed by Jesper Kyd, the soundtrack for Darksiders II is a collection of pitch-perfect, melodic tunes that make the game sound like an epic adventure that can stand up to the likes of Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, and The Witcher. The contrast between “light” and “dark” tracks only enhances the distinct nature of individual tracks and portions of the game.
3) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Soothing, whimsical, rejuvenating… Those words perfectly describe the orchestral tracks that accompanied my experience with Oblivion when I first played back in ‘08 following a nasty car accident I was caught in. When it comes to OSTs that can heal mental wounds (wish the same could be done about my left clavicle!), Oblivion is easily on the top of my list. Jeremy Soule’s soft and minimalistic approach to ambient/combat tracks is expertly suited for a huge role-playing game. It’s this attention-to-detail that sets Oblivion apart from other RPGs and even other Elder Scrolls games. OSTs don’t get any more comforting than this.
4) Payday 2
Payday 2 is the ultimate aural orgasm: it wastes no time delivering a one-two punch of dramatic crescendos and flawlessly-matched beats that considerably ramp up the action. Simon Viklund’s masterful composition is brimming with heart-pounding tunes that not only enhance gunfights to unparalleled levels of intensity, but also make the player feel like a completely unstoppable killing machine. It’s so intense, in fact, that it instantly became my go-to soundtrack for workouts. Because trying to get ripped is just not the same without listening to motivational, techno songs.
F.E.A.R. is not just a simple human emotion. It’s also one of the spookiest, and most visceral shooters ever made. In addition to the incredible gunplay and near-flawless AI, the game also includes one of the greatest ambient soundtracks I’ve ever listened to. The atmospheric tracks that highlight the feeling of isolation are juxtaposed with the orchestral symphonies that punctuate the extremely hectic nature of the game’s combat. Hats off to Nathan Grigg for expertly composing a game that effortlessly meshes horror with action, a feat few games can accomplish.
6) Black Mesa
It was a tough call between Black Mesa and Half-Life 1/2, but the nod ultimately went to Joel Nielsen’s dramatic and pulse-pounding composition. Black Mesa’s focus on quality over quantity has allowed its soundtrack to be much more potent than what you’d find in your average shooter. The OST contains just enough Half-Life goodness to whet the aural appetite of die-hard Valve fans, while still offering a collection of poignant-sounding tracks that will bring a tear to many gamers’ eyes. Black Mesa is not only of the best mods to ever hit the gaming scene, it’s also one of the best-sounding shooters I’ve ever played.
7) S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
STALKER (I’ll spare myself from the punctuation madness) is a tense, and unforgiving shooter that is not afraid to get under your skin when you least expect it. It does that through its incredible soundscape, including its atmospheric and minimalistic soundtrack. The Zone is a scary and sometimes quiet place to be in, and Frey “MoozE” Vladimir recognized that fact by composing a collection of haunting tracks that do an amazing job of complimenting the oppressive ambiance. STALKER is not a game for everyone, but those that do take the plunge are in for an aural treat.
And that’s my list of soundtracks that you should definitely consider checking out in your spare time. Feel free to share your opinion with me in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check out my other blog articles, including the one on anime FPS that recently got featured on Kotaku’s front page.
But before I go, here’s an honorable mention: