May game soundtrack roundup
Welcome back, friends, to another collection of soundtrack samples to soothe the stressed soul. This month saw no end of high-quality games with fabulous soundtracks, and so we should lose no time in donning our headphones and diving into this sonic cornucopia!
After much anticipation and not a few delays, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End debuted this month, to mostly rapturous accolades (and at least one dissenting voice who was quickly shouted down by the frothing hordes of gamer-dom). Zam’s own James O’Connor gave it a pretty positive assessment in his review a couple weeks back.
The game’s score was composed not by series regular Greg Edmonson but by Henry Jackman, a film composer responsible for Captain America: Civil War and Big Hero 6, among others. The Uncharted games have always had Hollywood blockbusters in their DNA, and so bringing on a composer like Jackman seems like a logical move.
It seems to have paid off! Jackman’s score is cinematic, full of drama and energy, and fits Nathan Drake to a T. Have a listen to “Race to Libertalia”:
Naughty Dog has made sure that the score is easy to get ahold of--you can pick it up on iTunes or listen to it on Spotify, and there’s even a very attractive vinyl pressing that you can pick up over at the iam8bit store.
The beginning of the month also saw the release of Gearbox Software’s Battleborn, the Borderlands follow-up that is, in the words of Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, “FPS; hobby-grade coop campaign; genre-blended, multi-mode competitive e-sports; meta-growth, choice + epic Battleborn Heroes!”
Unfortunately the folks at Gearbox haven’t released a soundtrack. (Maybe they’re all too busy playing Overwatch.)
Though it actually came out of Early Access at the tail end of last month, it wasn’t until a few days later that I discovered the soundtrack to Offworld Trading Company, composed by none other than the Grammy-award-winning Christopher Tin (whom you know for the score to Civilization IV, and if you don’t, now you do). OTC is a game about doing business on Mars, which is more exciting than Earth business by a long shot.
Tin’s compositions for the game are subdued but full of import, properly conveying the notion that Martian Business is Serious Business. Here’s the main theme, as an example:
If that’s not a tune to bankrupt your competitors to, I’m not sure what is. If you like that and would like to hear more, you can snag the whole album over at Gumroad.
One of the more delightful surprises of the month was weird sports(?) title Push Me Pull You, a game about teammates that are exceptionally close. These little games with soundtracks that are just a couple of songs in length are always some of my favorites of any given month, because they’re usually quirky and full of weird energy--and Push Me Pull You is no different. Dan Golding, a one-time game critic and current academic, has created a handful of tunes with peppy acoustic heart that are pure sonic joy. Have a listen to the main theme, then go over to Golding’s Bandcamp and toss him a couple of bucks for the rest of the tracks. It’ll make you feel good!
Despite Robert Rath’s excellent dissection of the game’s themes and James O’Connor’s superb two-part interview with the game’s director, I still haven’t found time for 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, which I’m kicking myself about even as I type this. I’m a sucker for games that position themselves at the intersection of important historical events and personal drama, and it definitely seems as though 1979 Revolution pulls it off with a bit more gravitas than, say, the latest Assassin’s Creed.
1979 Revolution’s soundtrack is done by Iranian-born Nima Fakhrara, and while I wish that I could pull up a sample to share with you, the team at iNK Stories hasn’t made it easy! The best I can offer is that you pull the album up in iTunes and sample it 30 seconds at a time, track-by-track. I encourage you to do so--it’s dark, moody, and intense. Very much worth a purchase.
If you’ve been following my soundtrack roundups for the last couple months, you’ll know that every month there seems to be an anime-flavored JRPG that flies under everybody’s radar but nevertheless has extremely funky music. This month, that’s Ray Gigant. It’s a dungeon-crawler for Vita about some teens who use wacky God-powers to destroy alien monsters in the ruins of post-apocalyptic Tokyo.
The important thing is that it has great battle music. Here, listen to “Crazy Violent Impulse”:
There’s no earthly way the soundtrack’s getting an official Western release, so here’s a YouTube playlist if you’d like to sample some more.
Ray Gigant isn’t the only Japanese niche title to come out in the West this month: Raiden V, the latest in the long-running series of shmups, was released on XBox One a few weeks ago. I’ve heard next to nothing about it, but the soundtrack by Yoshimi Kudo is great fun! Wailing guitars all over the place! Here’s the song that plays during the first dang level:
I get about 90 seconds into that track and I desperately want to see something, anything, explode. (Here’s a YouTube playlist if you want more.)
At long last, fans of Paradox Interactive’s trademark brand of strategy finally got to take their strategizing to space this month with the release of Stellaris. Though many reviews I’ve read cite a somewhat monotonous middle-game, the vibe seems to be generally positive, and the soundtrack, by Paradox’s Main Music Guy (official title) Andreas Waldetoft, is downright fantastic. Though it’s not yet widely available (you’d need to buy one of the game’s special editions to get it), we can cross our fingers for an independent release. Here’s “Luminescence”:
Speaking of soundtracks that don’t yet have an official release, the new DOOM came out this month, and despite an enthusiastic dedication to preserving the spirit of the original score (as detailed in these two brief videos featuring composer Mick Gordon) we don’t yet have an above-board way to secure that score for listening. Which is a shame, because Gordon’s music really does the work of taking the heavy metal aesthetic of the original DOOM and melding it with what we’ve come to expect, sonically, from our big-budget blockbuster shooters. (Gordon was also responsible for the soundtrack to the new Wolfenstein, so he was probably the logical guy to call when updating yet another early-’90s genre-defining FPS.)
Have a listen to his updated version of “At DOOM’s Gate,” the classic DOOM riff that you might better know under the name “E1M1”:
Let’s do an acoustic 180° and have a listen to a track from Soft Body, the meditative twin-stick non-shooter with a minimalist visual aesthetic and a delightful ambient soundtrack by developer Zeke Virant.
Soft Body is one of those games that’s easier to show you than to explain, so why not take a look at our Let’s Play to see what it’s all about? Then you can mosey on over to Virant’s Bandcamp, where you can check out the rest of the soundtrack.
I’ve normally refrained from offering you samples from soundtracks of re-releases and remasters in these roundups, but when the game in question is Valkyria Chronicles and the composer is Hitoshi Sakimoto, I feel I would do you a disservice by passing it over. Sakimoto has been composing for games for almost 30 years now, and has titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story in his discography. His score for Valkyria Chronicles perfectly suits the game’s fantasy-WWII aesthetic, and it’s just a blast to listen to besides. What’s more, it’s finally been released on iTunes, which means it’s very easy to add to your collection! Here’s “Fierce Combat” as a taste of what you’re in for:
A couple days ago, Platinum Games released TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan, and… Look. I could describe it to you, but nothing I do is going to top what Justin McElroy says in his review over at Polygon: “Every song sounds like a low-on-toner dot matrix printer tumbling down the stairs of a burned-down synthesizer factory while it tries to print a picture of a guitar.”
That sound you hear is me sliding my keyboard across my desk in defeat. I got nothin’.
Here, have a listen to a track if you don’t believe him. He nailed it.
And that, finally, brings us to the 800-pound hyperintelligent gorilla scientist of the month’s game releases: Overwatch. You don’t need me to tell you about Overwatch’s soundtrack. You’re already playing it. You’re probably playing it right now, and you’re only reading this roundup in between matches.
Well, if you do want me to tell you about it, let me say that if this month in game soundtracks was “the game,” then the soundtrack to Overwatch was “the play of the game.” Overwatch’s score, mostly composed by Blizzard veterans Neal Acree and Derek Duke, is a lot like Overwatch itself: By turns light, colorful, heroic, and inspiring, it makes for some great listening. Have a listen to “Route 66”:
You may already own the Overwatch soundtrack if you purchased one of the game’s special editions, but in case you don’t, you can snag it on iTunes! Easier than defending an objective with Bastion.
Before we finish up, there are a couple of new vinyl releases of soundtracks from earlier this year--both Oxenfree and Hyper Light Drifter are getting exceptionally fly vinyl editions from iam8bit, a company which is absolutely becoming a necessity for those of us with turntables. (And even if you don’t have a record player, just click through and look at that art!)
And that’s it for May! There’s an awful lot to look forward to in June: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Star Ocean 5, and more! (I’m hopeful for some truly excellent JRPG battle music, myself.) Ta ta, and happy listening!