With 2016 nearly over, it’s time for our tradition of highlighting our favorite game music of the year. For me, there was a lot of great material in this year’s releases. For whatever reason, I ended up listening to a lot more of the music coming from the indie game section of the industry. There were definitely soundtracks from bigger games that caught my curiosity, like Doom and Dark Souls III, but the music that I kept coming back to listen to were from this year’s smaller titles.
In a slight change from the previous years, I’m going to be omitting Arrangement Album of the Year as a category in my picks, since I’ve actually been involved with a few that came out this year. However, I will be giving a special mention to some cool audio work that I saw this year that might have otherwise been overlooked.
Game Soundtrack of the Year: Abzû
By: Austin Wintory
One of my favorite indie games in recent years was ThatGameCompany’s Journey, which featured an amazing score from Austin Wintory. So when I heard that Journey’s Art Director Matt Nava was creating a similar type of game in an underwater setting with Wintory composing the music, I knew I had to check Abzû out.
This soundtrack lived up to my expectations, with beautiful performances from the Nashville Scoring Orchestra and the London Voices. Much of the album sounds reminiscent of the music work of Eric Whitacre, particularly in the vocal arrangements. In a refreshing decision, Wintory avoids his usual composition method of using a single theme throughout the entire soundtrack. Motifs enter and exit, never to be heard again for the rest of the experience. This results in pieces with their own identity, rather than a continuation or reworking of a central theme in each piece. All of these elements combine to create a haunting and mesmerizing listening experience that I kept coming back to again and again.
Runner Up: Hyper Light Drifter
Disasterpeace, aka Rich Vreeland, is best known for his soundtrack to the game FEZ. The soundtrack to Hyper Light Drifter almost feels like a spiritual sequel in terms of tone and atmosphere. While a majority of the instruments are synths, there’s a sprinkling of acoustic instruments thrown into a few tracks that adds a layer of intimacy to the overall sound. The music of Hyper Light Drifter has a darker tone than his previous work, and it matches the retro-neon art style of the game perfectly.
This was another soundtrack that I kept going back to for repeated listenings. An absolutely wonderful atmospheric work that’s worth your attention.
Special Mention: Thumper
By: Brian Gibson and Marc Flury
Thumper is a game that I had previewed at a number of events over the past couple of years, but I never got the chance to do a full review. I’d be tempted to include the standalone soundtrack as a runner-up on this list, but the truth is that the game mechanics and sound work so well together that engaging with them in isolation would feel like a diminished experience.
If you haven’t heard of Thumper, it’s an intense rhythm horror game that has you careening at high speeds down an obstacle filled track. In order to survive the obstacles you must time your movements to the audibly telegraphed rhythm’s of the obstacle patterns as they hurtle towards you. As a result, there is a fast-paced call and response dynamic between the player and the level, which gets more intense as the rhythms become more complicated and faster.
The music and audio itself has an eerie percussive and synth sound, that works well with the creepy metallic aesthetic of the game. It’s an excellently designed game and audio experience, thus getting my special mention. Definitely pick up Thumper if you haven’t already.Tags: Features, Game Music, OSVOSTOTY 2016, Soundtrack of the Year