Best Game Soundtracks August 2017
Greetings, friends! I'm here again as the month comes to a close, and I've rounded up samples of scores from the newest games. In any other year, August might have been a slow month, but there are no slow months in 2017 -- maybe there won't be ever again! This month gave us new soundtrack releases from talented composers like Ben Prunty, Grant Kirkhope, and Gareth Coker, as well as a host of others.
I was ecstatic to see that Ben Prunty released a new album at the tail end of July: It's the soundtrack to The Darkside Detective, a lo-res comedy point-and-click from indie team Spooky Doorway. If you know Prunty's work, it's probably the phenomenal score to FTL: Faster Than Light, but his soundtrack to 2015's Gravity Ghost is worth checking out as well. Prunty's work on The Darkside Detective is in the same vein: electronic work that is a paradoxical mixture of intense and mellow. It's an odd choice for Spooky Doorway's decidedly goofy take on a paranormal police procedural, but Prunty's score adds a layer of eldritch menace to offset the silly dialogue. An album well worth checking out.
Also released in the last days of July was Sundered, a brutally difficult (but visually arresting) platformer from Thunder Lotus Games. It features some procedural generation and a "Metroidvania" structure, along with a Lovecraft-inspired aesthetic of tentacled horrors and ancient, unspeakable ruins. The game's soundtrack is by Max LL, who previously scored Thunder Lotus's game Jotun. It features plenty of bleak, low strings and ominous hums, as though vast, Cyclopean shapes were moving in the darkness of the orchestra pit.
It's still too early to tell if Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski's latest project, Lawbreakers, has the power to carve out a lasting space for itself in the crowded world of online shooters. In this day and age, you're hamstringing yourself if you don't burst onto the scene with a diverse, multi-ethnic cast of Pixar-pretty cuties custom-designed to launch a thousand ships on Tumblr. Nevertheless, Lawbreakers does extremely well in terms of its soundtrack, which is a collaborative effort between some pretty big names in game music. There are tracks here from Mick Gordon (DOOM), Jason Graves (Tomb Raider) and Jack Wall (Mass Effect), among others. If you're a fan of synth-heavy electronic rock, this is one for you.
Earlier this month, Finnish developer Housemarque released its second intense sci-fi shooter of the summer: Matterfall is hard on the heels of June's Nex Machina, and it sports an intense electronic soundtrack by the same composer: Ari Pulkkinen. The premise of the game has something to do with a futuristic city overrun by red matter (bad) and blue matter (good...?), but if this one is in your wheelhouse, it will be because it lets you shoot many robots while a bass pounds in your ear and synths scream at you.
Not long after it released a few weeks back, I heard Bloober Team's Observer called "the cyberpunk we deserve in 2017" -- the world keeps getting more awful with each passing month, so why shouldn't our bleak gazes into the technology-enhanced future be even bleaker? Observer sees you taking on the role of a "neural detective" who can hack into people's memories. It is, evidently, quite dark. The score, by Arkadiusz Reikowski, is fittingly bleak -- no danceable tracks here, just oppressive, ambient soundscapes, with some lilting vocals thrown in here and there for good measure. Listen to this one if you want to feel anxious because of something other than the news.
If you're looking for a soundtrack that won't cause you anxiety, look no further than Tee Lopes' arranged score to this month's Sonic Mania, Sonic's triumphant return to form after twenty straight years of being featured in absolutely no games whatsoever! I sure was disappointed when Sonic disappeared from the limelight after his last appearance in Sonic & Knuckles, but Sonic Mania has recaptured for a new millennium what made Sonic in the '90s so great. (It was the soundtracks.) These superbly remixed tracks unfortunately haven't seen a digital release yet, but if you want a sweet vinyl version, Data Discs is releasing a printing next month. Supplies are bound to be limited, though, so… gotta go fast.
If you're a fan of cinematic game scores, you undoubtedly dug Henry Jackman's orchestral work on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Well, good news! Mr. Jackman has returned to score Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and he once more brings his Hollywood experience to bear. This newest entry in Naughty Dog's seminal man-shooting/wise-cracking series features gal-pals Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross on the hunt for a mythical artifact in the mountains of India, all the while viciously dunking on the absent Nathan Drake (I assume). Give this one a spin on Spotify; the score is alternately intense and moody.
When Yakuza 0 came out earlier this year, I told myself that I was going to wait for this month's release of Yakuza Kiwami and use that as my entry point to finally get into this decade-old gangster saga. Now Kiwami is out, and I hear that it almost expects you to have played 0 before tackling it? I need someone to babysit my toddler for a month so that I can finally buckle down and just play this whole monster of a melodrama end-to-end. In the meantime, I'm going to keep my headphones filled with the soundtrack's comically-intense shredding guitars. Don't expect to get an official release for this album in the West, but keep your fingers crossed that we get Kiwami 2 sometime next year.
Ever since he gave us the score to Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015, I've been excited for anything with Gareth Coker's name attached to it. Now, at the end of August, ARK: Survival Evolved is finally emerging from Early Access, and it brings with it a new orchestral score by Coker. I'm not one for survival games, but I do love dinosaurs, and with a triumphant soundtrack like this, you don't need to twist my arm to get me to saddle up on a hadrosaurus (or whatever) and live out my childhood Dinotopia fantasies.
I made a grievous miscalculation in the run-up to this round-up: I assumed that we'd never see a soundtrack release for Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle because Nintendo. What I hadn't counted on was that of course we would see a soundtrack release for Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle because Ubisoft! This is a tremendous relief, because the soundtrack is by none other than the much-beloved Grant Kirkhope, the composer who scored GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie, and most of your middle school experience. Kirkhope has a tremendous amount of fun with the classic leitmotifs of the Mario universe, concocting a sonic style that blends the childlike joy of Mario with the unhinged anarchy the Rabbids embody. Go give it a listen!
A couple of this month's big game releases don't yet have soundtracks available. Keep your ear to the ground for word about Chris Remo's soundtrack to Fullbright's Tacoma, and before too long we'll probably also see a soundtrack to Ninja Theory's Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. We might also see a wide release for Malcolm Kirby Jr.'s G.I. Joe-inspired soundtrack to Volition's Agents of Mayhem. Stay tuned!
For those vinyl collectors out there, don't sleep on Limited Run's vinyl pressing of the soundtrack to Sukeban Games' cyberpunk bartending simulator VA-11 HALL-A. It was one of the best albums of last year, and well worth picking up to add to your collection.
That brings this month's roundup to a close, but there's plenty more on the horizon! Next month will give us Austin Wintory's score for Absolver, the original score to Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and the soundtrack to the gaming's biggest sequel in a decade -- Knack II. Until then, friends, happy listening!