Ask gamers to pick the best video game soundtrack of all time and a fight will probably break out.
There are so many good tunes to choose from, ranging from Rob Hubbard’s classic Commando theme on the Commodore 64 to more recent scores like Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. Any choice is entirely subjective, shaped by experience and nostalgia. But there are surely few better than this little lot…
1. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
Composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, Halo blends the sounds of orchestral strings with Gregorian-style chants to wonderful and epic effect. Halo’s tense keyboard solos and explosive drum salvos were key in urging you (as Master Chief) ever onwards in your fight against the Covenant.
2. Quarrantine (1994)
As a complete contrast to Halo, Quarrantine’s quirky video game soundtrack featured Australian alt-pop bands like Godstar and The Fauves. Inspired by Doom, Quarrantine challenged the player to drive a hover taxi through a dark, post-apocalyptic city to the sound of thrashing guitars.
3. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Ironically, one of Mass Effect 2’s best moments is right at the beginning of the game — the Normandy has been destroyed and there’s no noise at all bar the sound of Shepard’s respirator. But when it does kick off, the music is as stirring as any sci-fi movie soundtrack, orchestral pieces woven together with the original game’s chilled 70s-sounding synth.
4. Hitman: Codename 47 (2000)
Hitman’s dark, Latin-themed electronica bagged a 2005 BAFTA for “Best Original Music”. But this entry could just have said ‘anything by Jesper Kyd’. His compositions also include the video game soundtracks for Freedom Fighters, Borderlands and Assassin’s Creed.
5. Bastion (2011)
Darren Korb composed the music for this colourful action RPG, featuring a range of oddball instruments that include the harp, ukelele, an Arabian oud (an 11- or 13-string lute) and a dobro tenor guitar. Veering from the mournful Zulf’s Theme to the toe-tapping, Firefly-esque blues of “In Case of Trouble”, Korb described his style as “Acoustic Frontier Trip-hop.”
6. Chrono Trigger (1995)
Yasunori Mitsuda’s music for this SNES classis is generally regarded as one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. The best way to discover it? Head on over to The Chrono Trigger Symphony, where Blake Robinson’s fan version faithfully captures the dream-like essence of the original score.
7. Command & Conquer (1995)
Composer Frank Klepacki channeled the music of Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails for his work on the C&C video game soundtrack. The result was a militaristic megamix of hip hop, house, funk and rock rhythms, with a little jazz thrown in for good measure. Genre-defining stuff.
8. No Man’s Sky (2016)
While this overambitious space game fell short of many people’s expectations, the post-rock music by 65daysofstatic didn’t. The ambient electronica is perfect for a title that aims to evoke a sense of sci-fi wonder, epitomised by the track “Supermoon”, arguably one of the band’s finest.
9. Grim Fandango (1998)
There are so many good LucasArts tunes, but this one sees traditional Mexican rhythms collide with a heady mix of big band, jazz and swing. The re-recorded version features the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and toe-tapping numbers such as Mr. Frustration Man and Swanky Maximino perfectly capture that Minnie the Moocher-style feel.
10. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
Last place on our list could have gone to Trent Reznor’s thrashy Quake score or the trance dance beats of Hotline Miami (check out M.O.O.N). Instead, it’s the music I’ve been listening to while writing this — Michael McCann’s Human Revolution soundtrack, all ambient synths and fuzzy strings, with sampled vocals stirred masterfully in. Wonderfully atmospheric.
Now it’s over to you. Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us, what is your favourite video game soundtrack?