Listen to the best PC game music of the year so far

We're not even halfway through the year and there's more head-bopping, heart-squeezing videogame music than we can keep track of. But we tried anyway, scraping through our libraries (and beyond) to find what we consider the best tunes of the year so far. Headphones and/or the sub-woofers in you kid's car are definitely recommended. 

If you like the music, be sure to let the artist know—maybe buy a few records on vinyl, invite some friends and family over, get a cheeseboard way above your budget going, and let a track like South Mountain Royal Jelli direct the evening. 

Oikospiel

David Kanaga
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Oikospiel’s soundtrack is 100 percent intertwined with the game. Watch Kanaga’s GDC talk from a few years back to see what I mean—and no, you probably won’t understand, but that doesn’t really matter. Just know that Kanaga is a genius composer, treating 3D models and game mechanics exactly like he does music, because really, they’re all the same. Also, hell, Celine Dion has never sounded this good.  —James Davenport 

Night in the Woods

Alec Holowka
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For the sheer breadth of the soundtrack alone, Night in the Woods is worthy of praise. Individual characters and locations all have their own motif, and that’s just Volume 1. In Volume 2, things get dark. Motifs change with the in-game seasons where things get super sad and hazy for Mae, our favorite protagonist cat. Over the first two volumes, the soundtrack ranges from quiet and sweet to dark and mysterious with music for parties in the woods and city hall theater. But the real kicker comes in Volume 3, which is the soundtrack from Demontower, a whole game within the game. It’s a rad old school throwback that inspires headbanging of the metal and head-against-keyboard variety. —James Davenport

Nier: Automata

Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi
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The first time I entered the resistance camp in Nier: Automata, nestled among some felled skyscrapers in the game’s ruined city, I stayed for more than an hour. And it wasn’t because it looked good, or because there were lots of NPCs to talk to and items to purchase. It was because of the music. Nier: Automata is widely praised for its score—and count me among the people who think it’s among the best I’ve ever heard—but ‘Peaceful Sleep’ is something else. Its prettiness belies an overwhelming sensation of grief, which only properly sets in after you’ve left and returned to the camp a couple of times. The rest of the soundtrack is sublime too, especially this and this, demonstrating that even the most barren, unremarkable video game landscapes (because let’s be honest: Nier isn’t a looker) can be rendered otherworldly by the right music. —Shaun Prescott 

Thimbleweed Park

Steve Kirk
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The opening tune to Thimbleweed Park tells you exactly what kind of game it’s going to be. A cheesy, mysterious guitar hook invites you in and the elevator music convinces you to stay. Every character and location has a distinct theme, recalling everything from synth pop to a pixelated Hans Zimmer. There’s drama and jokes abound in Thimbleweed Park, but they would feel hollow with such a diverse, playful score. —James Davenport  

Tumbleseed

Joel Corelitz
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Tumbleseed is a brutally hard roguelike with a deceptively adorable appearance and a soundtrack that’s shockingly good. Every track exudes the 80’s, sounding closer to the soundtrack for Drive than you’d expect out of a brightly colored marble maze game. Frankly, it’s one of the few things that kept me from throwing my controller across the room while playing. —Tom Marks 

Crypt of the Necrodancer - Aria Awakened

FamilyJules
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Holy shit. The most prolific game music guitarist on YouTube (FamilyJules) teams up with one of our favorite composers (Danny Baranowsky, of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac) for this tsunami of guitar solos. There are a bunch of official, album-length covers of Crypt, including this killer chiptune remix, but Aria Awakened is the only one that will melt your headset. Start with Trial of Thunder. —Evan Lahti

C:\Windows\Media

Austin Green
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We loved Austin's rock covers of Windows 3.1 midi songs so much we interviewed him about making this short album earlier this year. They're wonderfully peppy. It's hard to listen to these songs without cracking a smile and tapping a foot. And they're also deeply nostalgic for anyone who remembers the early days of PC midi music. Hear Canyon.mid and be transported back 20 years. — Wes Fenlon

Yooka-Laylee

David Wise, Grant Kirkhope
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As a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie Yooka-Laylee left a lot to be desired, but in terms of music Playtonic knocked it out of the park. Veteran Rare composers David Wise and Grant Kirkhope both contributed to a score that sometimes outshines the game’s own inspiration. Not every song is a masterpiece, but there’s a lot of nostalgia to love in this game’s soundtrack. Plus, it gave us this gem. —Tom Marks

Outlast 2

Samuel Laflamme
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Most of Outlast 2 consists of running and hiding, and Laflamme’s score has the percussive highs and lows to keep your heart rate steady whether you’re chilling in a barrel or a god-fearing murderer is nipping at your heels. But underscoring it all are light, sometimes hopeful string accompaniments. There’s a pathos in Outlast 2’s score that speaks to the humanity at the center of the conflict. After all, the bad guys are just looking for salvation. They’re scared too.  —James Davenport  

Hollow Knight

Christopher Larkin
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This soundtrack meets Hollow Knight’s gorgeous animated art and silently assembled mythos right at the top. It’s epic, if I’m able to reclaim the word, and whimsical, the perfect accompaniment to an intense boss battle or quiet, solemn exploration. Give Crystal Peak a meditative listen, then go loud with Dung Defender. —James Davenport  

Flinthook

Patrice Bourgeault
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I hesitate to call Flinthook’s soundtrack simple, but it knows exactly what kind of game it’s playing for. Flinthook’s OST is swashbuckling chiptune majesty, an onslaught of fast, fun, victorious bleeps and bloops. It plays like a cheerleading squad combined with a wholesome, but slightly too competitive, dad screaming at you from the sidelines that hell yes, you got this, that’s my hook-swinger right there.  —James Davenport