Cowboys And Arpeggios: GAMINGbible’s Best New Video Game Music Of 2018
Video games are rarely defined by their music - outside of the rhythm action genre (obviously). But a great soundtrack stays with you long after the game's credits have rolled - and here is a selection of GAMINGbible's favourite original scores that we've been revisiting even when the controllers are packed away.
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Red Dead Redemption 2 - by Woody Jackson
Having co-produced the scores for Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar inviting Woody Jackson back for the studio's mega-budget Wild West hit was a no-brainer. Naturally dropping the more synthesised components of his GTAV score - peppered though that was by healthy splashes of brassy funk - RDR2's music finds Jackson veering from croaked paeans to the crooked landscapes of an America untamed to lovelorn confessionals set to minimal strings. The instrumentals are often tied to the action, and so encompass dramatic, pounding arrangements and more laid-back, explorative suites. Quite the range, for quite the game.
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Tetris Effect - by Noboru Mutoh
Tetris isn't a rhythm action game - it's a classic falling-blocks puzzler. We know this. But Tetris Effect comes close to being a purely musical journey, with its soundtrack responding to the clearing of lines - and the music in question representing a wonderful range of genres, from propulsive bass-heavy house to sparkling trance, to suit the strikingly varied visuals of the gameplay (especially when experienced in VR). Noboru Mutoh's score here surpasses his work on another Tetsuya Mizuguchi production, the astounding Rez Infinite. No small feat, that, but an almighty endorsement.
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Into The Breach - by Ben Prunty
The year's best strategy game was heavy on drama, as your mech-riding squad could so easily be wiped out, with fallen friends staying very dead. And much of the game's amazingly tense atmosphere came not via the visuals, which were easily readable but kind of basic by modern standards. Rather, it's American composer Ben Prunty's music - at turns electrifying, elegiac and introspective - that really gets the hairs standing. He's previously delivered soundtracks for FTL: Faster Than Light and Gravity Ghost, but Into the Breach is Prunty's best yet, acutely moving and full of momentum at the same time.
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Celeste - by Lena Raine
Exciting, demanding, emotionally draining - Celeste is one of the most outstanding new games of 2018. And its soundtrack, too, runs the gamut between energetic chiptune-y beats, heart-melting piano solos and strings-emboldened rushes of I-Can-Do-This optimism. If Seattle-based artist Lena Raine wasn't known to you before, this remarkable collection of tunes, forever underpinned by earworm motifs, might well make her a most-played artist going forward.
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Far Cry 5 - by Hammock
Hammock have long been a high-profile band amongst contemporary fans of all things ambiently shoe-gazing, but there's no doubt that their music for Far Cry 5 has exposed the Nashville duo to many more admiring ears. They're not the sole composers on Ubisoft's open-world hit - film scorer and pop producer Dan Romer contributes, too. But Hammock's We Will Rise Again album of original material makes for an awesomely enveloping listen - and you don't need any attachment to the game to enjoy it (although it certainly ties in, thematically). Says the band themselves: "Some of our listeners might be sceptical about 'game music'... [and] we were probably sceptical ourselves... but when all was said and done, we felt like we were able to create some genuine moments of melancholic beauty." Job done, guys.
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Octopath Traveler - by Yasunori Nishiki
A classic Japanese role-playing score for a very classic-feeling Japanese role-playing game, Yasunori Nishiki's music for Square Enix's Switch-exclusive Octopath Traveler stirs magical memories of Final Fantasy titles past, Secret of Mana, and more. With eight playable characters, there are several contrasting themes at play throughout Octopath - but what binds everything is one of the most catchy battle themes of any JRPG - a sweeping, striding symphony to surge through all enemies. Nishiki made sure that the track got players pumped up, and even tens of hours deep into proceedings, it never fails. "A memorable melody is a must," says the composer - and Octopath is full of them.
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GRIS - by Berlinist
Barcelona-based band Berlinist - no, they're not from Germany - had been gently plugging away beneath many a radar for a while, but their score for GRIS (made by Spanish studio Nomada) has elevated the four-piece to an all-new level of public recognition. One of 2018's most beautiful games, the sumptuous visuals of GRIS are superbly supported by music that ebbs and flows with a deftly measured melancholy rarely heard in the interactive medium. One for rainy afternoons spent wishing for a rainbow to break free.
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Hades - by Darren Korb
Supergiant's isometric action title Hades is only in early access right now, having been revealed at The Game Awards - as but the follow-up to such greats as Transistor and Pyre, it has already caught critics' attentions, with IGN slapping an 8.8 score on it. Darren Korb's soundtracks for Supergiant's previous titles won the American songwriter significant acclaim - particularly for Transistor's smoky jazz-flecked score - and his latest work continues a winning streak of fantastically varied and immediately attention-grabbing cues, worthy of further celebration.
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Below - by Jim Guthrie
Capybara Games' roguelike Below hasn't exactly been the critical hit its makers would have hoped for after the precedent set by the same studio's magical Superbrothers. But the same composer for that 2011 delight, Canadian singer-songwriter Jim Guthrie, returns for Below, and his mix of sharply plucked acoustic guitar and widescreen atmospheric drones is another winningly enchanting concoction.
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God of War - by Bear McCreary
Having made his name largely in television, scoring series like Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead and Outlander, God of War represents LA-based composer McCreary's biggest gig yet in video games yet. And having been invited to soundtrack the year's most-celebrated PS4 exclusive, he held nothing back. Involved in the game's development from an early stage, McCreary blended northern European folk styles with thunderous percussion, an Icelandic choir, and the voice of Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir to craft a perfectly complementary work, which also makes great use of native Nordic instruments like the Swedish key harp (or nyckelharpa). A rousing, rambunctious score that cannot fail to get the blood pumping.
Featured Image Credit: Rockstar Games