Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Top 10 ...err... 11 Game Soundtracks

I picked up The Command & Conquer Collection the other day, in part, because I remember the soundtrack from Red Alert as one of the great soundtracks of all time; the driving rock/military combination of a few of the tracks perfectly set the mood for one of the great RTS experiences that kicked the genre into high gear.

It's been said over and over again that the aural experience is as important to games as the visual and gameplay experiences. I totally agree. Some of my favorite games also have some of my favorite soundtracks. Is it that great games are produced by teams that also recognize the value of producing great soundtracks, or is that great soundtracks make great games? Maybe both?

So, without further ado... my top 11 game soundtracks:

11: Halo
Hardcore Halo fans will probably hate me for only putting this at #10 (or 11), but for me, the music beyond the opening sequence isn't memorable enough to drive the rating for this one to the top. If the entire game had the impact of the score for opening sequence, it'd be #1.

10: Quake II
For the same reason I loved the Red Alert soundtrack, the Quake II audio tracks bring the FPS battle with the Strogg to life with angry guitars and a driving electronica beat. Ripping the CD and listening to the "Operation Overlord" track, I'm reminded of the Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up" from The Matrix soundtrack.

9: Lemmings
The music technology of the era wasn't quite up to CD standards, and not all the pieces were original, but they brought the lemmings' personalities to life -- and gave the game a personality. This one is a classic with a per-level score that is pure Lemmings, and earns it a place at #9.

8: Project Gotham Racing
Aside from being the place where I first saw the Mini Cooper (and many other cars I never knew existed), this is where I was introduced to the Chemical Brothers' Galaxy Bounce, and the Doves Catch the Sun; two of a slew of songs that set the tone (no pun intended) for this awesome title for the Xbox.

7: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
I remember a summer day, driving through Miami in my Ferrari, switching radio stations and listening to classic hits from the 80s from Roxy Music, Foreigner, Judas Priest, Cutting Crew, Toto, Jan Hammer, Mr. Mister, and many more. Miami and the Ferrari were simulated by my laptop, but the summer weather was real, and the songs were so perfectly matched to the experience that it was like stepping back in time.

6: Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine
LucasArts does it again in 2001! Best use of scripted music sequences in a game. The implementation of the soundtrack plays like a movie, with the interactivity of a game. Some of the "ah ha!" sequences are simply breathtaking. With John Williams' inspired orchestration from the Indiana Jones movies as the starting point, this one was already well on the path to success, and the implementation resulted in one of the first truly successful "realtime movies."

5: Warcraft II

Just say "Warcraft II" to any fan, and it's either the awesome voices ("Ready to work!" or "Zug zug!") or the music that will immediately come to mind. Warcraft II would have been a great game with no music at all - but with this soundtrack, it is one of the best ever.

4: Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Taking the gameplay born in Dune II to the next level, Westwood put together Command & Conquer: Red Alert. And, once again the score completed the game. Check out CnC Series, Hell March at the bottom of http://www.frankklepacki.com/ as a great example. One of my favorite moments during the game awards ceremony at the Computer Game Developers Conference in 1996 was watching the gameplay footage from Red Alert - the gameplay, the visuals, and the soundtrack!

3: Jedi Knight
Although the soundtrack owes much to the movies, it's the way the pieces are integrated with the game that really resonates perfectly with this title. Each track is perfectly selected to match -- or set? -- the mood of the environment. In 1977 (or shortly thereafter) I dreamed of being able to play a computer game that captured the feel of the movie - Jedi Knight succeeded spectacularly, in large part, because the music completed the experience. Released in 1997, this is another game I'd call a "realtime movie" -- you're in control every step of the way, but it feels like you're watching...err...playing a movie. But, is it any surprise, given their heretage, that LucasArts Entertainment would be one of the first companies to successfully repeat this gameplay experience?

2: Unreal

In my original 9/12 post, I left Unreal off the list. Driving home last night, one of the Unreal tracks on my iPod played, reminding me that I'd missed one of the most important games on my list. This is a game that is perfectly three parts - visual experience (best environments and characters of it's time, gameplay experience (FPS all the way, with great mix of story, combat and exploration), and aural experience: full 3D sound effects to create a truly immersive environment -- and a music soundtrack that was second to only one.

1: Outlaws
And, yet another from the LucasArts folks - a FPS western / sleeper hit released in 1997. I ignored the reviews, and passed it by on store shelves, but was fortunate to eventually pick it up for free as part of a bundle included in a SoundBlaster Audigy(?) sample the Creative Labs guys sent us. I loved the story, the gameplay, and the levels - and even came to appreciate the art style - but the thing that totally nailed the game for me was the spectacular The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-inspired soundtrack by Clint Bajakian. I loved it so much that after playing the game for several weeks I headed to Best Buy to pick up a boxed copy of the game. Brilliant!

So, there you have it.... what's your Top 10 ...err... 11 List?

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