As promised, my top ten favorite bits of game soundtracks

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So my afternoon got completely derailed.

I was sitting down to write a thing and I put on the music from Metal Gear Solid 4 as background, but it reminded me how great it is. Which I started talking about, which led to me thinking about all these other great pieces of musical scores from games, so what the hell, here’s a list of my favorites.

I should note that this is not comprehensive. This is not a list of the best, this is just a list of the ones I often come back to or that were formative in some way. Most of these games are also very recent. Some of that is that I’m a relative newcomer to gaming – as a kid I missed out on a lot of the stuff my friends were playing on account of having no TV and little in the way of actual friends who would let me come over to see their game systems. I didn’t touch a console until I was in college. I’m a newbie.

The other part of it is that I tend to forget stuff I played a while ago unless it was really important for some reason, so this is also a snapshot of what’s at the forefront of my mind.

That said, these are in a sort of order. Here we go.

10. Myst III: Exile – Theme from Edanna | Jack Wall

There’s actually not much that’s remarkable about this track in and of itself – it’s sort of your standard new-agey deal. But I remember when I got to the age of Edanna – a lush, beautiful jungle world, by far my favorite age in the game – and this track started playing. There was something so perfect about the timing of it, and it pulled me into the environment with a frankly weird level of intensity. I’ve never stopped associating it with that feeling of goofy, childlike wonder as I wandered around swinging on vines and looking at glowing butterflies.

9. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – The Streets of Whiterun | Jeremy and Julian Soule

It actually took me hearing this piece in isolation from the game to appreciate it. There is, again, nothing stand-out amazing about it, but there’s just such a sense of place, and what I think is a real affection for the world of the game itself. Skyrim presents an gorgeously lush world in which to play, even if the game’s story elements are incredibly derivative and silly, and this perfectly captures the gentle way in which the game pulled me in and folded itself around me when I first played it.

8. Dear Esther – Always (Hebridean Mix) | Jessica Curry

Dear Esther stunned me from the moment I started playing it. This track, which begins when you find yourself in the caves beneath the surface of the island, almost made me cry it’s so perfect for the atmosphere of that section of the game. It’s quiet, meditative, and mournful – like the game itself. But it swells in intensity at several points, again like the game. It basically gave me lots of feelings about a game I was having lots of feelings about anyway.

7. Myst – Finale | Robyn Miller

Myst is probably the first game that blew the top of my head off – for a variety of reasons – and its music was a huge part of that. It doesn’t sound like much today, but in terms of capturing and augmenting the atmosphere of a game’s world, it showed me what might be possible. The music that played during the credits of the “best” ending especially grabbed me. It holds a very special place in my heart to this day.

6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsOld Snake | Harry Gregson-Williams

This was probably the first piece of a game’s score that blew me away in the way that Myst did. Again, I probably came late to this, but while I’ve always been a soundtrack buff, I was used to hearing this kind of quality in film scores. Not games. So here was a piece of music I’d be impressed hearing in a film, and it was playing over a game’s cutscene. It remains one of my favorites, as well as yet another thing that showed me what might be possible for the truly ambitious.

(Okay, we’re now into the territory where things are just barely edging each other out.)

5. L.A. Noire – Main Theme | Andrew Hale

I’ll admit to having a soft spot for more recent film noire on the order of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, and of course L.A. Noire was basically all those tropes in a blender. For that reason alone, I loved it, but this theme hit me right in the brain the first time I heard it, and was a giant indicator that I was in good hands, that these people knew their tropes well and they knew what to do with them. Which turned out to be exactly correct. It’s a fabulous theme.

4. Portal – Still Alive | Jonathan Coulton

I’ve been confining myself to instrumental scores, but come on. I can’t not include this one.

3. The Last of Us – Main Theme | Gustavo Santaolalla

This is what happens when you get an Academy Award-winning composer to do the score for your game: It’s fucking amazing. Another one that gets tears out of me.

And these next two were almost impossible to choose between. They’re basically ties. Almost ties.

2. Uncharted (trilogy) – Nate’s Theme | Greg Edmonson

This is already one of the most recognizable game themes of all time. I came very late to the Uncharted franchise, but when I fell I fell hard, and this theme now slams me in the gut with so many emotions. Also it’s just incredible. Just fucking listen to it. Listen to it and try to resist the urge to go have adventures. Bet you can’t. I’m actually typing this from the summit of K2.

AND

1. Half Life – Hazardous Environments | Kelly Bailey

Gets the #1 slot not because it’s the best piece of music here but because I have a literally Pavlovian reaction to that opening bass. Like. Oh my GOD here comes something fantastic. Of all of these it probably gets me the most immediately psyched.

(WHERE THE HELL IS HALF LIFE 3)

So that’s it. That’s my list, as of now. Back to all the stuff I should have been doing in the last hour.

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