There’s something to be said about a good soundtrack. They can empower us, lift us, make us feel “big” enough for whatever grand task a game puts us to. They help to dictate a game’s mood, convey a sense of atmosphere, and give an overall flavor and personality to a game that simply couldn’t be achieved by any other means. Because of this, it’s one of the most important parts of any form of interactive medium.
Thankfully, 2012 saw its fair share of fantastic soundtracks, ranging from solemn tones conveying a sense of stillness and despair to fast-paced dance beats portraying madness. For some games, the soundtrack was at the core of the gameplay itself, where in others it became a masterful backdrop serving to create a beautiful and original world. Here are the best and most standout soundtracks 2012 had to offer.
It’s not really surprising that the soundtrack for Journey was nominated for a Grammy; it’s an absolutely gorgeous composition, reflecting the mood and tone of the game so well that it rests at the very heart of it, acting as a driving factor in the gameplay as you move throughout its unique and beautiful world.
So what makes it so special? While the story told in Journey is unique to the player, it still remains a game about pain, sorrow, struggle, and loss, with a strong undercurrent of hope running beneath it all.
Through the use of melancholy instruments, the soundtrack does a masterful job setting up the feeling of the world and the journey you embark on. Orchestral swells play up the exciting moments throughout the game, while lone instruments convey the overall feeling of loss and loneliness you experience throughout the course of the gameplay. Of all of these soundtracks seen in 2012, Journey’s soundtrack is one that impacted the game’s personality and sense of emotion in a very real and moving way.
The soundtrack to Fez managed to blend both the flavors of 8-bit classic game music and electronic swells in an ethereal mix that played up the game’s whimsical and wondrous nature well. It’s a game all about exploring various pixelated environments, and the soundtrack manages to serve as a beautiful tone-setter without distracting from all of the other elements of the game, making for the perfect soundtrack for one of the year’s most interesting and innovative games.
Sound Shapes manages to marry gameplay and soundtrack so well that both elements take cues from each other and create an intoxicating experience that can really only be had to be understood. Sure, you might not be a big Beck fan, but after spending some time traversing the game’s colorful and highly stylized environments, you’ll appreciate the great lengths developers went to sync your actions with gameplay in a seamless and satisfying experience unlike any other game of its kind.
Mass Effect 3
Regardless of how you felt about the ending, it’s hard to deny that Mass Effect 3 was one of the best games of the year.
And at the core of it all is the game’s soundtrack, a mix of both synthesized and orchestral sounds that have become iconic of the game over the last eight years of its life. Mass Effect 3 was no stranger to this, and the soundtrack in the game did a fantastic job of playing up each and every single dramatic moment throughout the story. I especially loved these moments in particular, where a solitary piano was used to covey a sense of sorrow and loss. It truly was a soundtrack that served as a fitting part to the conclusion of one of the greatest gaming trilogies ever made.
To gamers, the name Jesper Kyd is pretty much synonymous with great soundtracks. The veteran composer of both the Assassin’s Creed and Hitman franchises, he made a return to pen the soundtrack for Death’s epic quest in Darksiders II.
The soundtrack of Darksiders II uses whimsical and airy woodwind sections alongside booming percussion and dramatic brass swells to really play up the feeling of Death’s power and the fantastic feel of the world around you. While it might not have been the best game of 2012, Darksiders II had by far one of the most impressive and beautiful soundtracks of the year.
Hotline Miami is an ultra-violent game where you play as a character who’s pretty much snapped and gone off the deep end. It embraces madness through its use of over-the-top violence, stylized presentation, and, you guessed it, its soundtrack.
The soundtrack to Hotline Miami is an interesting mix of songs featuring heavy dance beats and electronic flair. It varies between being both tranquil and intense, creating an eerie overall tone of instability. Which, you know, helps describe a mass-murdering main character pretty dang well.
To The Moon
If you haven’t played it, To The Moon is a PC game with one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever encountered in a game. It’s deep, insightful, a bit unsettling, and nothing if not moving.
The sountrack to the game was no less important, especially in this, the main theme. This very theme is used to great effect throughout the course of the game and uses electronic elements to create an upbeat and enchanting melody that paired well with the game’s especially emotional moments.
One of the breakout games of the year, FTL is a space-based game borrowing ideas from space sims and text-based games. It’s a challenging experience and one that was punctuated masterfully by a fantastic soundtrack comprised of electronic sounds the likes of which we’ve grown to associate with space and sci-fi games in general.
But despite its conventional nature, it still manages to be a gorgeous and interesting composition in its ability to add to the game’s personality and give it a whimsical flair riding alongside the game’s already well-designed gameplay.
In the beginning of Super Hexagon, a screen will pop up advising you to play the game with headphones. DO IT. It’s there for a reason.
An action puzzler on iOS, Super Hexagon is an experience that, much like Dyad, can only be described as “trippy”. It’s frantic, it’s flowing, and it’s incredibly addicting.
The soundtrack to the game manages to not only convey its overall personality and tone, it also blends some of the best elements of old school game scores with electronic beats to make a composition that sounds like it’s been ripped straight out of an arcade in the early 90′s. Thanks to the incredibly hard nature of the game itself, you might not get to hear as much of the soundtrack as you deserve, but it’s still an amazing composition all its own.