Once again, a year is coming to its end, so it is time to make lots of shiny lists to compare all the great things that occurred in the past 12 months. This is one of those lists. A list about video game scores of 2014. But this list is (hopefully) different. Instead of showing all the jewels of video game music, it will focus on the way the score influences the game and how it works for the experience of playing the game. So the list will not follow the star ratings the scores got and will instead be based purely on my experiences with playing the games.
First of all, a video game score that just feels wrong: Watchdogs. The score tries to be emotional which works in some places but feels repetitive afterwards. The action creates a distance from the game rather than to get the player‘s attention and engagement. I get that the game is about digital stuff and hacking, but I don‘t need electronic loops to constantly remind me. Action scenes should be intense to grab your attention and not just some loop in the background. The score just feels wrong and the parts where you don‘t notice it are probably the best. A score like Harry Gregson-Williams‘s The Equalizer or even any Bourne score would have worked better for this game. The music does get a little better in the DLC Bad Blood with some amazing main titles, but does not keep this style and returns to what we are used to from the main game. There are some action moments that feel darker and more intense but really are not much more than some electronic loop.
Honorable Mention: Dragon Age Inquisition
(by Trevor Morris)
A great fantasy action score with some parts that could as well be from a big budget movie to support a videogame is always something great. Trevor Morris manages to create a not too unique but still amazing atmosphere for Dragon Age Inquisition, however the music does not feel fully developed in some places. The action is not intense enough to really get the player‘s attention and ambient parts can feel repetitive. A great listening experience, that deserves to be mentioned on this list.
Honorable Mention: South Park The Stick Of Truth
(by Jamie Dunlap)
Unfortunateley, this list will be containing scores that never got released to the public. This is one of them. Dunlap creates a great score that has intense action for the various fight scenarios and some rather nice ambience. The real highlight is the use of “stereotypical" RPG game music and fantasy music in general in a really entertaining way, creating a unique experience that is definiteley worth it's time.
Honorable Mention: Assassin's Creed Unity
(by Chris Tilton)
Out of all the music that was released for this videogame, Tilton's thematic work is by far the best. A stunning and memorable main theme that captures everything that is important about this game. The danger and tragic of the french revolution aswell as the game's protagonist's problems. The entire score builds on this theme making it an absolute joy to listen to.
Most Honorable Of All Mentions: Tomb Raider
(by Jason Graves)
Yes, the magnificent Tomb Raider reboot came out last year, as did its score. I, on the other hand got my hands on a copy just last month and the game is easily one of my all-time favorites. After only one hour of playing I decided to get the soundtrack as well, because it is absolutely stunning. With the game getting a re-release on new consoles just this year, it would have been easy to just put it at number one of this list. But because the game and its score were already released last year, that did not seem right. So I decided to mention this masterpiece as honorable instead. The score uses its main theme, a heroic yet hopeless emotional foundation, in key moments and fills the gaps with really great ambient tracks constantly reminding you of the danger you are in. The combat music is easily one of the best I have heard so far and this game is on top of my imaginary “best video game combat" list, together with Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor. As in Shadow Of Mordor, the music is essential for the combat, being brutal and intense while also keeping up with the player's choices and reactions to create an amazing experience.
10. The Evil Within
(by Masafumi Takada)
I have to admit it, I dislike horror games. They‘re scary, and I don‘t like scary things. Nonetheless I bought Alien: Isolation and enjoyed it a lot, so I gave The Evil Within a go. What could possibly go wrong? While I have yet to beat the campaign, I am able to say that the music does an excellent job at creating suspense and a generally making me feel uncomfortable while fighting for my life. The score in some ways confirms horror music stereotypes, but (for the game experience) I‘m ok with that because why not use something that works? Still, there are a lot of great moments, like “Crude Contraption“ that really make the experience worthwhile despite the game being almost too scary for me (I hope there are no spiders...).
9. Far Cry 4
(by Cliff Martinez)
Yes, I play a lot of action video games. Yes, I love action scores. At first glance, the music seems to be very similar to Tyler‘s Far Cry 3, with a lot of electronics for over the top action and ambient tracks fitting the setting of the game. And since it is a Far Cry game, you really don‘t need much more. But Martinez really surprised me. While the 120 minutes of music can feel a little repetitive, the way the music plays during the game is essential for the game‘s feel. The music beautifully represents the Himalayan mountain state atmosphere before bursting into electronic action before returning to peaceful ambience after a short while. It really feels similar to Tyler‘s Far Cry 3 but since it worked there, it does so here.
8. Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare
(by Harry Gregson-Williams and Audiomachine)
When I finally got to hear the score to Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare on my iPod, I was absolutely stunned by Audiomachine‘s intense electronic action in combination with Harry Gregson-Williams‘s emotional parts. When I finally got my hands on the game, however, I was disappointed. The single player campaign features a lot of great action music but it is always just a little too silent to be properly heard. I was expecting to hear the intense action to keep me fighting (see “Draconian Dream“) and instead, there is just a hint of music buried under explosions, shouting and gunfire. Furthermore I could not find a way to decrease that half of the game‘s audio and keep the music at loud, so really, the score is barely there. It still is exceptional though. The multiplayer gave me hope as the intense action (again from “Draconian Dream“) starts playing during the match-starting-countdown, but at about 8 seconds to go it fades out and the rest of the multiplayer battles have no music at all. With games like Titanfall (see 4.) doing an excellent job at scoring multiplayer battles, I cannot understand why the developers did not bother putting music into multiplayer.
7. Assassin‘s Creed Rogue
(by Elitsa Alexandrova)
While I did not get to see much of Ubisoft‘s Assassin‘s Creed Unity, I instead focused my attention on Assassin‘s Creed Rogue, a second game in the franchise to come out this year. While Unity‘s score provides a lot of fun to listen to, Rogue is nothing too exceptional. In the actual game, however, this turns out to be the better choice. Where Unity‘s music lacks intense action for fights or chases (let's face it, the game is about that), Rogue is all about that. For the sequel to last year‘s Assassin‘s Creed IV Black Flag, Brian Tyler‘s happy pirate themes have been replaced by a more serious approach, composed by Elitsa Alexandrova. The music builds tension and bursts into intense chases as you fight your way through New York and take on ships in the North Atlantic. Rogue‘s main theme is so stunning, it makes me want to play the game whenever I hear it. So while the music in my opinion seems to stay a bit too quiet it still helps to really get you into what‘s going on.
(by Martin O‘Donnell, Michael Salvatori, C Paul Johnson and Paul McCartney)
A total of four composers working on one video game means a lot of variety. The music generally works for the game, especially the parts that are set on Mars. While I see the score as more of a listening experience than actual support for the game, there are brilliant themes representing the different planets and species, so you you immediately know who‘s attacking you if you see a red marker on your radar and start hearing music. The score does a solid job at creating intense yet heroic action to really get you involved in the epic battles far beyond the final frontier (yes, I had to make that reference again).
5. The Crew
(by Joseph Trapanese)
A score that you sometimes would not notice if you did not know there is one? Sadly yes. A huge open world but only the story missions contain actual pieces of score. This seems like a bad decision since I dislike the songs featured on the car‘s radio, so I drive in silence. Still the story missions have really great music that is fun to listen to while also being intense action tracks, something you do not see every day. Joseph Trapanese‘s score creates a perfect fusion between intense orchestral sounding action and electronic heavy elements to fun from start to finish.
(by Stephen Barton)
A first person shooter that only features multiplayer matches rarely has a great score. The Call Of Duty scores mostly focused on the campaign missions, so it was surprising to find the same quality of music in Titanfall‘s competitive multiplayer matches. Stephen Barton creates a massive scale score that perfectly combines orchestra with electronic elements to create intense action that accompanies first person combat. While playing, the music changes and is fast paced and intense during shootouts and chases and really powerful when engaging in Titan combat with dramatic sections for winning or losing creates a cinematic experience in a game that is just about shooting people.
3. Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes
(by Harry Gregson-Williams, Akihiro Honda and Ludvig Forssell)
Suspenseful spy music mixed with electronic action and heroic orchestral themes present an intense experience despite the game‘s story only lasting for about two hours (if you keep failing like I did...). While the heroic main theme is always a relief to hear, it‘s the ambient and combat music that really work out. It can be quite frustrating to hear a combat theme start since it means you have been detected and will probably mess up your high scores (S-ranks are a true pain... maybe even a phantom pain) but honestly once combat music is going, I don‘t really want it to stop. The music works really well with the bad guys‘ alarm sirens and adds to an already nice game. This score really makes me look forward to the upcoming The Phantom Pain which will hopefully see a soundtrack release as the music really deserves to be heard.
2. Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
(by Garry Schyman and Nathan Grigg)
Yea, I have to admit, I absolutely love the Lord Of The Rings universe and the recent action game Shadow Of Mordor just feels right for me. The score feels like proper middle earth music while it does not sound anything like Howard Shores work for the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit movies. Gary Schyman and Nathan Grigg really create a unique atmosphere for Mordor that feels like tribal war drums, perfect for the orc‘s society and features intense and powerful action that still includes a certain playfulness and perfectly resembles the brutal sword combat in the game. The music is ideal for getting combos and charging up special attacks in a massive horde of uruk warriors. The fact that when fighting a war chief, the score‘s male choir starts chanting the war chief‘s name really adds personality to the individual game experience and is a vital part of my favorite game of the year.
1. Alien: Isolation
(by Christian Henson, Joe Henson & Alexis Smith)
A list about effective video game scores has to contain this score and in my eyes, it deserves first place more than any score. While there are a lot of scary horror scores that establish a sense of fear in the listener, the score to Alien: Isolation does this while also referring to the original Alien score and symbolizes the attempt to go back to the franchise‘s roots instead of a linear shooter where aliens die like cockroaches (I still enjoyed Colonial Marines...). The use of material from the first Alien movie combined with modern electronic sections really makes the score a core feature of the game, you can tell from the music when you are about to die (and from the alien‘s attacking screams) and there are sections where the music alone makes you feel uncomfortable despite no actual danger being present.