Community Picks: The 25 Best Game Soundtracks
Video games use soundtracks to create a certain atmosphere, evoke a specific emotion, or simply keep your attention during moments of downtime. The soundtrack rarely directly affects gameplay--with a few notable exceptions--yet a game's music is often an integral part of the experience. Just imagine Super Mario Bros.' World 1-1 without its famous tune or driving through Los Santos in Grand Theft Auto V without the radio playing in the background. The music doesn't affect how either game plays, but if you take it away, both would probably be the worse for it.
We asked the Tom's Hardware Community to rank the best game soundtracks and came up with the following list. Remember that you can play with other members of the Tom's Hardware gaming community by joining our Steam group and find interesting things to play via our Curator feed.
25. 'Interstate '76'
Who'd have thought a game devoted to vehicular combat would have a memorable soundtrack? No, we aren't talking about the heavy metal styling of Twisted Metal, no matter how convenient the genre's and series' names are. We're talking about Interstate '76, a game released by Activision in 1997 that ended up being a finalist for the Outstanding Achievement in Sound and Music award from the Interactive Achievement Awards.
24. 'Street Hacker'
Street Hacker is a hacking simulator that debuted in 2004. Much of the game takes place on a virtual computer made to look like an actual Linux shell. Outside the confines of that laptop is a story involving corporate espionage, a double-crossing, and then an attempt to dig up some dirt on the person who did you wrong. This being a game about hackers, of course, the soundtrack is appropriately influenced by EDM and heavy bass.
Many of Minecraft's players end up spending countless hours in the game exploring, harvesting resources, and building whatever their imagination and the game's systems allow. The game's soundtrack was composed to suit the many environments you'll visit without distracting from the task at hand. Playing without a soundtrack could quickly make the game seem empty; playing with a soundtrack that calls too much attention to itself could quickly get tiring. Minecraft's soundtrack has to walk that line, and based on the game's continued popularity, it seems like it has managed to do so.
We mentioned at the start that many soundtracks don't affect gameplay. But many soundtracks have started to change based on what you're doing in the game. Most simply respond to specific cues, though, which can quickly get repetitive if you find yourself in the same exact situation over and over again. Abzu's soundtrack uses a full orchestra and choir that interacts to a situation more dynamically than simple cue-based changes.
21. 'Midnight Club II'
Rockstar Games knows that basically nobody drives in silence. That's why Grand Theft Auto V has so many radio stations, and it's also why the soundtrack for Midnight Club II was good enough to release as a promotional gift at E3 2003. The soundtrack boasts 38 songs worth of radio-worthy electro, trance, and rap, all of which aspire to make every lap around the game's tracks will feel like more than a casual road trip.
20. 'Sonic CD'
Sega and Nintendo weren't just engaged in a technological arms race in the '80s and '90s. They were also competing to create more recognizable mascots, and even though Mario won, Sonic isn't far behind. Sega's anthropomorphized hedgehog is still around, but for many people, Sonic CD is the best title in the series. The game could've appeared twice on this list--it has two soundtracks, one from Naofumi Hataya and Masafumi Ogata, the other from the Sega Technical Institute. No matter which you hear, the tunes are all but inseparable from the iconic platformer.
19. 'Rez Infinite'
Years before Abzu was even a concept, Rez Infinite helped define what it meant for a game to have an adaptive soundtrack. Where other games played sound effects in response to your actions, this rail shooter evolved its electro soundtrack as you progressed, and your actions were actually tied to the beat. Soundtracks in many other games are a backdrop, but in Rez Infinite, the music defines the entire experience.
18. 'Sonic Mania'
Sonic CD isn't the only entry in the series with a notable soundtrack. Sonic Mania's is noteworthy because it manages to balance the nostalgia the game was trying to evoke without seeming too stale. Each track would feel at home on the series' 16-bit entries, to be sure, and we must say the all-too-familiar track that plays when Sonic starts to drown is just as terrifying now as it was when we played those titles decades ago.
Everything about Owlboyis a throwback to a previous era, from its pixel art graphics to its soundtrack, but that doesn't mean its developers rested on their laurels. No '80s or '90s console would be able to offer these graphics, and the soundtrack's blips and bloops are merely reminiscent of those decades' chiptune melodies. This is what you remember those games being like, not how they actually were, and we're 100% okay with that.
16. 'Jet Set Radio'
Surprise! A game with "radio" on its title had a soundtrack worthy of its list. Fine, maybe it isn't that surprising, especially since pretty much anyone who owned a Dreamcast probably remembers how good Jet Set Radio's soundtrack was. Sega composed original tracks and licensed songs that ranged from J-pop and rock to EDM and funk. This heartfelt tribute to youth culture actually had a soundtrack that captured the same spirit.