6 Video Games with Amazing Soundtracks
As an interactive medium, video games draw you in for several reasons. The graphics may be hyper-realistic or rendered in an irreverent art style, the gameplay may be immersive or cleverly designed, and the levels expansive or infinitely replayable. Whether you are spending minutes or hours in a game, your constant companion will be the one thing that you don’t see: the game’s soundtrack.
Far from the chip tunes and synthesized sounds of 8 and 16-bit systems, game music has evolved from mere blips and looping tracks to full-blown orchestral soundtracks and carefully-curated and licensed playlists. As the graphical capabilities of consoles and PCs improved, so did their ability to faithfully render music.
What games have equally impressive tunes to match the intense on-screen action and button-mashing gameplay? Here are some of the games that are best played with headphones or speakers at full blast.
Format: PS1, PC, Mac, Sega Saturn
Developed by Liverpool-based publisher Psygnosis, Wipeout XL was a futuristic combat racer that first came out for the original PlayStation in 1996. In the game, players take control of gravity-defying ships as they race through Blade Runner-esque cityscapes with twisty roller coaster-like tracks. Set in the year 2097, Wipeout XL didn’t have much in the way of a story. The game focused on delivering intense high-speed hovercraft action. To set the proper racing mood for speed junkies, Wipeout XL’s soundtrack enlisted the work of several electronica superstars such as The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, The Future Sound of London, Orbital, and Daft Punk. Nothing feels more satisfying than going full speed on the track at 300KPH and hitting your opponents with the Quake Disruptor with The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” pumping on your speakers and rattling your subwoofers.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Format: Xbox, PS2, PC, Mac, Android, iOS
Grand Theft Auto games almost need no introduction. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the massive sequel to the '80s-themed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Set during the '90s and featuring a different protagonist, San Andreas follows the story of Carl “CJ” Johnson, an African-American street gang member. With a land area that’s four times larger than Vice City, players can spend hours driving through three cities in the game which are fictional versions of areas in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. There are eleven radio stations that are available across several genres, such as classic rock, hip-hop, gangsta rap, grunge, alternative, reggae, country, and house music. Each station has a dozen or so licensed tracks making up more than a hundred songs for the eclectic in-game playlist. The official soundtrack of the game contains 23 selected tracks including Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets To Paradise” which is perfect for midnight cruising.
Need for Speed Underground 2
Format: PC, PS2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, DS
Released near the height of the street racing craze in popular culture, Need for Speed Underground 2 delivered the high-speed thrills of street racing. Instead of exotic supercars from the previous Need for Speed games, the cars featured in Underground 2 are recognizable names in car tuner culture. Players have to win illegal street races to acquire import racers such as the Subaru Impreza WRX, Lancer Evo VIII, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7, and the Nissan Skyline GT-R. There are also a handful of European and American cars like the Golf GTI and Ford Mustang GT. The game’s signature song is a reworking of “Riders of the Storm” by The Doors with new rap by Snoop Dogg. The in-game tracks include songs from rock, techno, and hip-hop genres.
Format: Xbox 360, PC
In the Halo game series, players control the main character called the Master Chief. He is an enhanced super soldier who wears a nearly-impenetrable armor with a recharging energy shield. The action in this first-person shooter game is relentless as Master Chief tries to resist hordes of aliens called The Covenant in the fight for humanity’s survival. To complement the breathtaking action and epic set pieces, composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have created a film-level orchestral soundtrack for the game. With a 60-piece orchestra and a chorus of chanting monks, the game’s official soundtrack fills contains two hours of music. There’s nothing quite like feeling the adrenaline rush of charging into battle while Master Chief's theme is booming along with the sound of rifle fire. The game OST even made it to the Billboard 200 list.
Format: PC, Mac, Android, iOS, PS4
Grim Fandango is a 3D graphical adventure game from the mind of game auteur Tim Schafer. The game is a humorous mashup of Aztec mythology, Jazz Age fiction, and classic film noir. In this game, something is afoot at the Department of Death, where Manny Calavera discovers a few anomalies. Manny acts as guide who escorts souls to their final destination and one of his assigned clients is having trouble in the final phase of her journey. Aztec-inspired art and architecture mixed with Art Deco motifs permeate throughout the game and the characters appear as skeletal Mexican calaca figures. For the game, composer Peter McConnell created several instrumental orchestral tracks influenced by Latin American folk music, jazz, ragtime, swing, and '20s big band sound. Just playing these tracks makes you feel you’ve been transported inside a smoky jazz bar with a dram of whisky in hand.
Format: PS4, Xbox360, PC, Linux
Bioshock: Infinite is set in an alternate-history 1912. A technology known as ‘quantum levitation’ has enabled the creation of a floating city called Columbia. Booker Dewitt, a Pinkerton security agent, is tasked to find a missing girl who is believed to be abducted in the city. As Dewitt prowls around the massive city, he discovers that beneath the surface of the floating utopia is a society literally cracking at the seams because of unchecked capitalism, racism, and religious zealotry. Because of the existence of alternate realities, players get a peek at possible realities via song covers done in different musical styles. Throughout the game, players can hear snippets of a calliope cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” or a Dixieland version of REM’s “Shiny Happy People.” The songs are not in the official soundtrack, but appear as Easter eggs in the game.