Gaming’s best soundtracks

Making a good game is three parts luck, one part skill and an extra part getting that soundtrack spot-on. Here are our 10 favourites.
 
  • Mario 64 screenshot
    Dan Cairns
    By  
    Last updated: 28 January 2014, 16:01 GMT

    A game’s music is often considered a tertiary concern after the in-game action or its graphics. It’s a shame, because a decent soundtrack can really up a game’s oomph or impact, and make something a bit mediocre and dull into a rollicking romp.

    Here are a few soundtracks that stuck with us:

    Quake

    Doom has an iconic soundtrack, but you’d never go out your way to listen to it or tell people about it, would you?

    How about Quake, though? Quake’s soundtrack is something else. Id software got Nine Inch Nails frontman and Oscar winner Trent Reznor to make a bunch of eerie, Lustmord-style soundscapes that fit in wonderfully with the whole gothic, futuristic-Eldritch Horror atmosphere of the game.

    Cracking stuff to fall asleep to if you like a good nightmare.

     

    Super Mario 64

    Just magical. Super Mario 64 is still one of the best games ever made and the soundtrack is a big reason why.

    It’s a varied beast, from bouncy happy tunes in the Bob-Omb Battlefield to the shimmering, ambient theme in the water levels, it’s full of memorable tunes that’ll have you glazing over in a haze of nostalgia.

    Things really were better in the old days.

     

    Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

    Usually when people talk about Castlevania and music, it’s in reference to the litany of memorable themes from the older games.

    But this is about the new Lords of Shadow series, which features a score so grandiose that it makes the Lord of the Rings score sound like Kraftwerk.

    The original Lords of Shadow was a great game with a few flaws, but the soundtrack (and the few snippets heard from the upcoming sequel) ensured it was greater than the sum of its parts.

     

    Tomb Raider II

    Before the reboot, where Lara Croft turned into Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, Tomb Raider was a much more sedate, cerebral puzzle affair which required lots of brainpower.

    This was reflected in the music, which burbled away gently whilst Lara leapt about, made animals extinct and accidentally ran into walls.

    Less was more, and people still reflect upon the soundtrack fondly, as they reminisce about locking the creepy old Butler in the freezer.

     

    Silent Hill 3

    Whenever music in games is brought up, Silent Hill is often pushed to the forefront, and with good reason.

    Silent Hill wouldn’t be half the franchise it is without its eerie ambient tunes or its clanking, discordant menace.

    It’s one of the few game soundtracks you wouldn’t be embarrassed being caught listening to.

     

    Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

    Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was a pretty big departure from the usual Metal Gear games, and the soundtrack reflected that.

    There was none of the bombastic Hollywood stuff from the other games. Instead Konami went very silly, with a high energy, utterly stupid and brilliant selection of electronic/thrash metal tunes, replete with daft lyrics and wiry guitar solos.

    It made an already brilliant game that much better.

     

    Perfect Dark

    The spiritual sequel to GoldenEye 007 may have fallen apart in its latter stages with dreadful aliens to shoot at in boring environs, but the soundtrack was a belter.

    Mixing Bond-style espionage themes with a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi bent was a masterstroke.

    A bit like Vangelis if he kept picking Oddjob at Goldeneye multiplayer, basically.

     

    Turok 2: Seeds of Evil

    Turok 2 was a heady mixture of Conan the Barbarian, Lovecraft, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Alien, so it needed a soundtrack big enough to properly convey its scale.

    You don’t go on a one-man crusade against a universe-ending, omnipotent, bipedal death insect with chiptunes or funky house music blaring out your iPod do you?

    Of course not, you go in with some blood and thunder pomp – and Turok 2 delivered in spades, with a soundtrack that flipped from grandiose to minimal and eerie with gay abandon.

     

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

    Don’t laugh, it wasn’t our copy.

    That said, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube had a lovely soundtrack, easily capable of being used in the films too should some savvy producer have desired it.

    It was lilting and unthreateningly classical, with occasional narration by Stephen Fry to make you feel that little bit smarter.

     

    Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

    It would have been remiss not to stick a Star Wars one in – Shadows of the Empire gets the nod though, because it actually had a soundtrack created for it.

    It wasn’t written by regular Star Wars composer John Williams, but by another chum of George Lucas, Joel McNeely.

    You wouldn’t have guessed though, as some of the tunes made for the book/game were easily the equal of music heard in the films.

    The good films, obviously.

    Dan Cairns
    By  
    Last updated: 28 January 2014, 16:01 GMT

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