We're spoiled. Tons of games with great music released this year, tunes that support and elevate the feeling you get from a flawless platforming performance or the adrenaline rush from emptying a room of supernatural cultists. The best game music sets the mood and helps your imagination fill in the blanks where simple graphics or a necessary ocean of UI cannot. We'll never have time to play or hear everything, but out of 2018's innumerable glut of great games, here are the soundtracks that stuck with us.
We've also asked a few friends to help out with our choices, and some you might recognize as composers our our personal favorite soundtracks of the year. Because who knows music better than the musicians that make it?
Read and listen below, and if you hear something you like consider heading to the linked composer pages and picking up a soundtrack or two. And if we're missing something, be sure to share your favorite game music of 2018 in the comments.
This year really seemed like a banner year for composers emerging in the indie scene with amazing soundtracks inspired by the same generation of game soundtracks I grew up with. (Also worth noting also is Jeff Ball's wonderful work on Timespinner, which riffs off Michiru Yamane's work on Symphony of the Night with tons of Jeff's own wonderful writing.) The game that really caught my ear the most, however, was the soundtrack to CrossCode by Deniz Akbulut. It pulls from a ton of different inspirations, drifting somewhere between SNES/PS1 action RPGs and Phantasy Star Online's brand of combining orchestra and synths.
It wasn't until I heard some very specific samples borrowed from one of my own personal favourites, Chrono Cross, that I was like "aha"! The male chorus sample that comes in during the track Bergen Trail immediately stood out as a cut straight from my own origins. Between that, the beautifully written fretless bass parts, and energetic upbeat combat tracks, the whole OST is chock full of things that make my ears happy. —Lena Raine, Celeste composer
I'm usually one to champion underrated game soundtracks, but this year I'm going with the super obvious and say Lena Raine's Celeste score was my absolute favorite. It's intricate and polished, just like the game itself, and it carries an astonishing amount of emotional weight. Each dynamic layer is added at just the right time. This soundtrack is so brilliant, I've found it's made me rethink my own approach to game music. —Ben Prunty, Into the Breach composer
Composer: Niels Bye Nielsen
Hitman 2's OST has a mixture of good elements from the franchise. They threw proper amounts of dark ambiance, symphonic tension, and electronic elements all in a bowl, and then added a sense of charm and humor to it. I think it came out really well and it surprised me how much I enjoyed it. It's a step in a great direction. —Andrew Hulshult, Dusk composer
Into the Breach
One of the reasons Into the Breach is a great shortform strategy game is because it prioritizes mood over cumbersome storytelling. The soundtrack does most of this heavy lifting, expressing the seriousness of the Vek menace and the simultaneous urgency and futility of your whack-a-mole mission to suppress them.
The music reflects the grind, determination, and struggle of playing Into the Breach over the many timeline jumps that are your roguelike runs. The closest it comes to outright optimism are in the cowboy guitars of tracks like Pinnacle Robotics, Blitzkrieg, and Rusting Hulks, where there are echoes of StarCraft's Terran Theme twang. Even the victory fanfare that follows a mission is restrained, a few drums and a violin melody accompanying point-accumulation SFX, as if to say: "One city saved, 10^23 more to go." —Evan Lahti
Far Cry 5 - Hammock Reinterpretations
The original Far Cry 5 soundtrack is good. It's a mashup of bluegrass, hymnal, and industrial sounds that serve the theme and action just fine. But Hammock's official reinterpretation of the soundtrack is truly great. These masters of ambiance crank up the reverb and remix the cult's hymns, resulting in the soothing, uplifting, blissful sound of assimilation. I didn't think a song called "Keep Your Rifle by Your Side" could move me to tears, but here we are. —James Davenport
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Composers: Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, and Piotr Adamczyk
With Przybyłowicz, Stroinski, and Adamczyk at the helm, these tunes sound like they could've featured on The Witcher 3, no problem. No surprise, either. They all had a hand in The Witcher 3's music, and Thronebreaker's largely follows suit, with some added edge. The wailing vocalists are back, and this time they growl and scream on the best tracks. It's basically metal backed with strings, aural energy that makes fighting a Manticore made of cards much scarier than it would've been otherwise. —James Davenport
Amanita Design teamed up with experimental noise group DVA for another charming, playful, and catchy collection of songs that characterize Chuchel as well as any goofy animation or point-and-click gag. Tracks swing between synth, plucked strings, and eccentric electronic arrangements that sound like something Aphex Twin's weird kid sibling would make. Chuchel yammers throughout, singing or speaking along, making what I'm sure are some convincing pro-cherry arguments. There's even a song dedicated to Chuchel's morning routine, called 'Chuchel's Morning with Cherry Toothpaste.' This is Amanita and DVA goofing off with great results. —James Davenport
One of the best FPS games of 2018 doesn't just play like the best shooters of the '90s, it sounds like them, too. Hulshult's Dusk soundtrack is an ode to the grimy industrial synth tracks and crunchy metal bangers that made all those old shooters feel so arcane and empowering. Paired with Satanic cultists, gothic imagery, impossible geometry, sprawling levels, bunny-hops, and an imperial milk stout for the best results. —James Davenport
Far: Lone Sails
Strings and horns, baby. Far: Long Sails loves a long build, coming in soft as you roll along an empty expanse, peppering in more strings as the landscape grows darker or lighter or overrun with the carapaces of humanity's last stab at industry. I'm not sure all the factories and mining were a great idea, and the somber tone of Far's soundtrack mirror the quiet devastation.
But when you stumble across signs of life or overcome a terrible storm, the music swells with hope. Horns blare playful melodies while strings and piano carry the traces of that optimism into the darker songs. When the wind is howling and the horizon dims and you're nearly out of fuel, the music might get mysterious or violent, but there's almost always the hint of a happy melody lurking somewhere in all that noise. —James Davenport
Final Fantasy 15
Composer: Yoko Shimomura
Final Fantasy's music always dazzles me, and FF15 has the weird distinction of some of its music being left over from a game that was cancelled years ago: Final Fantasy Versus XIII, once destined for the PlayStation 3. Indeed, you'll hear several tracks from the game that would eventually turn into 15 in these early trailers. In a mostly empty world, the music does so much to bring FF15's setting to life, with multiple catchy battle themes, great travelling music, and the occasional absurd operatic music to herald the arrival of a summon creature.
Final Fantasy's quality as a series is variable, but the music is always fantastic. I bought the entire soundtrack. I spent so long watching those early Versus XIII trailers that the music is infused with a weird nostalgia for me, reminding me of a time where I was more invested in Final Fantasy than pretty much any other game series. FF15 isn't FF at its very best, but I still love it. The music is at least 25% of the reasoning behind that. —Samuel Roberts