This year at Gamescom, the Video Games Live orchestra performed selected arrangements from the Overwatch original soundtrack. The performance was amazing, its heroic themes accompanied by some of the game’s iconic cinematic shorts.
A video game soundtrack played live, particularly by a full orchestra, is something that’s only come into vogue in the last decade or so. The reason for this has to do with the nature of their composition. When game soundtracks are written, they’re done so to stimulate immersion and seamlessly guide player emotion throughout an interactive experience. It somehow both makes sense for them to be played to an auditorium full of people, but it’s also a risk if the audience isn’t already familiar with the material that soundtrack is connected to.
That said, there are a few soundtracks that would make a wonderful live concert experience, regardless of the listener’s level of familiarity with the game in question. Here’s our top ten awesome video game soundtracks we’d love to hear live.
10) The Last of Us, Gustavo Santaolalla
The Last of Us, the undisputed Game of the Year 2013, had a beautifully constructed soundtrack by Argentian composer Gustavo Santaolalla. Seamlessly following the player from one scene to another, immersing the player in the game’s post-apocalyptic cityscapes and swamps, this soundtrack’s central acoustic riff remains iconic in narrative driven games.
In 2014, Playstation presented “One Night Live”, a concert depicting iconic scenes from the game with accompanying music. It is The Last of Us at its most moving, an emotional tour of its gorgeous soundscape.
Top track: The Path (A New Beginning)
9) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Hans Zimmer & Lorne Balfe
Hans Zimmer couldn’t help but make it to this list, nor could Lorne Balfe. Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare caused tidal waves in the gaming community for its hyper-playable multiplayer, seamless combat loop and rapid-fire gameplay. When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 arrived two years later, that revitalising streak continued, accompanied by a monumental soundtrack by Hollywood heavyweight Zimmer. The man Christopher Nolan considers his go-to guy for film soundtracks brought his formidable talents to the video game industry — and not for the first time. Zimmer has composed for video games several times in the past, his music appearing in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, Crysis 2 and he received a Music Producer credit on Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls.
Top tracks: Opening Titles, Extraction Point
8) Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Jesper Kyd
Assassin’s Creed is an iconic series, home to some of the best game soundtracks ever composed. Jesper Kyd worked on soundtracks for a number of titles in the series, and was the original composer behind one of the franchise’s most beloved themes, Assassin’s Creed 2‘s “Ezio’s Family.” However, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood really homes in on the sci-fi and fantasy overtones of the series, creating a truly immersive and seamless soundtrack no matter where the player is or what they are doing. Brotherhood builds on the terrific soundtrack of Assassin’s Creed 2, and presents something we don’t see in games all that often — a brilliantly constructed theme for a character entering middle age. Kyd has since passed the baton on to formidable composers Sarah Schachner (Assassin’s Creed Unity, Assassin’s Creed Origins), Austin Wintory (Assassin’s Creed Syndicate). Alexis Smith and Joe Henson are the composers for the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
Top track: Ezio’s Family
7) Bioshock Infinite, Garry Schyman
Irrational Games struck gold with Bioshock Infinite, garnering praise for a game that continued the original title’s metatextual essay on control and video game design. The game was a success on every level, but its sound design was worthy of special mention. The soundtrack perfectly evoked the feeling of Colombia, a city that never existed, floating high above the clouds, as though it were a real place with a real history.
Top track: Lions Walk With Lions
6) The Beginner’s Guide, Ryan Roth
I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t include an indie title on this list. Davey Wreden’s follow up to cult hit The Stanley Parable, The Beginner’s Guide was a much more narratively mindedtitle, and created an immersive and gripping, surreal experience. Ryan Roth, who has worked on a number of video game soundtracks since, was behind the soundtrack for The Beginner’s Guide. The immersive and surreal musical library he created plays a fundamental role in pulling the player through Wreden’s story of reckless ambition, lies and self-doubt.
Top Track: Turn Back
5) Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Power Glove
Blood Dragon was a short-and-sweet stroke of genius. Released as a stand alone expansion for Far Cry 3, the game featured a short narrative steeped in late 1980’s sci-fi action movie tropes.
What was interesting about Blood Dragon‘s soundtrack was that it followed a much different arc to its contemporaries, its emphasis on retrowave themes and direct throwbacks to the 80’s. This made for a game able to revel in how self-aware it was. Better yet, the soundtrack was produced by Australian retrowave outfit Power Glove.
Top tracks: Sloan’s Assault, Power Core
4) Fight Songs: The Music of Team Fortress 2, Mike Morasky & the Valve Studio Orchestra
Valve’s Team Fortress 2 remains one of the most unique and entertaining video game soundtracks ever recorded. A cold-war setting, an international cast, the art design in the style of a Norman Rockwell piece were all tied together by a soundtrack that perfectly encapsulated the game’s campy, spy-movie sense of humour. Winning a round adorns the successful team with iconic theme of the game, whilst the losing team gets a depressing theme overlayed with a “Boo!”.
The iconic soundtrack of Team Fortress 2 was recently released on Vinyl as “Fight Songs”, with a hint for the recent Jungle Update at the very end of the song list. Big on brass, and a fusing of popular 60’s jazz and surf rock sounds, it is a game soundtrack unlike any other, as full of character as any of its hilarious player classes, and is perfectly encapsulated by our top track pick.
Top Track: Medic!
3) Wolfenstein: The New Order, Mick Gordon
Mick Gordon, famed Australian musician and noted shredder in the local metal community, was the man behind the soundtrack of Machinegames’ 2014 Wolfenstein: The New Order. The album is insane, and is the perfect shrieking accompaniment to a world suspended in a perpetual hell of Nazi control. It moves from purposeful momentum driven by distorted power chords into industrial screech and roar as players shoot their way to victory.
Top Track: Zellenblock B-2
2) No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe, 65daysofstatic
Though ill-received on release, 2016’s No Mans Sky recently received a monumental update titled Next. This caused a massive influx of new players, given the recently added multiplayer option to the game. Upon my own return to the game with the major update, I recalled how terrific the soundtrack was, composed by 65daysofstatic, with some sounds doubling as in-game sound effects.
The soundtrack is iconic, and gives some real immersion and purpose to what the player is doing, especially in tense situations like being on superheated or toxic planets.
Top Track: Aasimov
1. DOOM (2016), Mick Gordon
Mick’s back. As if Doom could avoid this list. In 2016, Doom received the Soundtrack of the Year at the Games Awards – and rightfully so. Mick Gordon made his return with Doom, following on from the earlier success in Wolfenstein: The New Order. However, where Wolfenstein dealt with the throwing off of oppression and taking back one’s liberty, Doom is an end-to-end rampage, with themes of rage, body horror and demonic intrusion to play with.
Whilst the Doomslayer rips and tears through the minions of hell itself, Mick Gordon’s soundtrack blasts in the background, its guitar-soaked soundscapes lulling the player into a kind of combat trance. While glory-killing demons, the music is built to ebb and flow with the player, seamlessly rising and falling throughout each battle. The sounds of the weapons are designed to not conflict with the soundtrack, indeed they’re supposed to become a part of it, and the result is one hell of an experience.
This entry also kind of cheats, because Mick Gordon performed the soundtrack live at The Game Awards. We’d love to see him play this set here at home. Bring this shit to PAX, Mick!
Top Track: BFG Division, but really it’s all so damned good.