You press a button, and the beat drops. Forward you fly, straight into the perilous unknown, beats pushing against your eardrums as you push back against the controller. Tempo and harmony swim together in your brain, and you lose yourself in the rhythm of play.
2012 has been a fine year for video game music. The finest in recent memory, I’d argue. We’ve seen soundtracks of every shape, size and tonal colour, compositional collections complementing games that have incorporated harmony and discord in ingenious, exciting ways.
Granted, my affinity for this year’s music is at least in part because it was the year I started running Kotaku Melodic, and so my awareness of all things musical and video gamey has been at an all-time high.
But as the list below demonstrates, this year was something special any way you look at it. It was a year in which game design and music composition moved ever closer, where composers and instrumentalists played vital roles in development teams, and where game-makers demonstrated a greater than ever understanding of themay things video games and music have in common.
Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the best video game music of 2012.
Gravity RushPleasure QuarterGravity Rush
Hotline MiamiLone SurvivorHotline Miamifilthy
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy UnknownXCOMDeus Ex: Human Revolution
Botaniculaweapons-grade joyfulnesshugeDVAhuman voicesBotanicula
Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3flattens the competition
Jason Schreier:Xenoblade ChroniclesXenoblade
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3
It’s fitting that a large number of musicians was required to tie Mass Effect room together: The series has seen a number of composers over its five-year run, voices that always managed to combine into a cohesive whole. Best of all, the Mass Effect 3 sound designers even managed to contribute, weaving the music from past games into the ambient sound of several scenes, knitting together a aural tapestry that transcended backing tracks. This piece, “An End Once and For All,” was the only one I could choose as emblematic of the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack. It’s the rare piece of video game music that sounds exactly as grandiose as its title claims, and it achieves that not with the synths for which the series became known, but with a solo piano, eventually augmented by an orchestra. We’ll miss you, Commander.
Fezspecificare laced with hidden symbols and secrets of their own
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4Persona 4 GoldenPersona 4presentareGoldenP4
JourneyJourneyprofound experience for me
Journey‘s score has been widely celebrated, and is the first game soundtrack nominated for a Grammy award. Every accolade it gets is deserved, not simply because the music is good (it is), but because it’s uniquely informed by ThatGameCompany’s design, and as a result stands as Journey‘s beating heart. Noble cello themes and resonant alto flute melodies evoke the seemingly endless loneliness of the desert; our slack-jawed wonder at the sheer scope of this endless basin of life. Soundtracks like this come along once in a great while; we may not hear its equal any time soon. But that’s OK. These compositions aren’t going anywhere, and thanks to them, Journey will remain a classic for many years to come.
So there you have them: Kotaku‘s picks for the best video game music of 2012. Of course, we may have left off your favourite, so I hope you’ll all share your favourite tunes from the year in the comments. (I thought we had a great collection in our reader’s choice post last week.)
For now, let’s just take a moment to plug in some headphones and reflect on a fantastic year in music.