The hits keep on coming. Videogame music is still in an infinite boom, with tons of excellent soundtracks and scores accompanying an equally impressive slate of game releases this year.
In 2019, we saw new takes on dynamic scores that Mickey-Mouse the action in Untiled Goose Game and Ape Out. There were sweeping orchestral scores to underline big stakes in epic adventures like Shadowbringers and Ni No Kuni Remastered. The PC also got a bumper crop of head-boppers that work as well in a club or workout playlist as they do in-game.
Here's our favorite PC game music of 2019, wrapped up in a podcast and Spotify playlist for easy listening. If you like what you hear, consider picking up a couple songs, albums, or some merch from each artist.
Outer Wilds | Andrew Prahlow
Going in, I didn’t expect Outer Wilds to have so close a relationship to music. So much is defined and enhanced by the soundtrack: each planet has its own tone, your fellow explorers are tracked across the solar system by the distant sounds of their unique instruments on your locator, and even the alien writings you spend the game decoding trill melodically as you read them.
But most importantly of all, certain tracks mark stages of the game’s 22 minute time loop. There are tracks on there that send a shiver down my spine even now, because in my mind they’re still the warning klaxons of the solar system ending and my time running out. It’s an absolutely gorgeous body of music, combining folksy charm with grand swells, but what makes it linger with me is how boldly it elevates the game it scores. —Robin Valentine
Machinarium Remixed | Floex, Orbital, Jim Guthrie, 65daysofstatic, C418, Baiyon, Ed Critchley, DVA
This pile of Bohemian, head-bobbing beats is actually a multi-artist compilation, but it manages to remind us why Floex, who does almost all of Amanita Design's music, is one of our favorite composers in games over the last decade. The Czech musician's organic-electronic compositions stand out for their originality. —Evan Lahti
Katana Zero | Bill Kiley, LudoWic, DJ Electrohead, Tunç Çakır, Justin Stander
Drive sure changed everything, didn't it? We're going to have a Hotline Miami OST every year from here into oblivion. I mean, I'm cool with it. Katana Zero has those drippy synth melodies, punchy beats, and sleeps in a sultry ambient bed. I see pink and blue when I close my eyes, my wheels gliding over rain slicked streets, and, most importantly, I feel cool as hell listening to it even though I am very much not cool. Magic. Start with Sneaky Driver.
Check out the remix album too. The Irving Force KZ theme mix riiiips. Double-pedal drums and such. A free ticket to lightheadedness. — James Davenport
Pathologic 2 | Theodor Bastard
Eerie, primordial stuff. Low strings, bells, chimes, gongs, guttural yelps and whistles and growls—Theodor Bastard is the perfect accompaniment to Pathologic 2's dreadful, dying world. Hello darkness indeed. —James Davenport
FF14: Shadowbringers | Masayoshi Soken
La-hee! Enough said. —James Davenport
Disco Elysium | British Sea Power
Yeah, it took me by surprise too, but give Cleaning Out the Rooms or Red Rock Rivera by British Sea Power a listen. Sound familiar? The band put together the sound track, a combination of new and old tunes chopped up and rearranged for a new world. BSP's songs sound far away and very tired, but there's some mystique and light in each composition, even if they feel like they're about to collapse.
An official soundtrack hasn't been released yet, but these disparate bits will do for now. —James Davenport
Devil May Cry 5 | Kota Suzuki, Yoshiya Terayama, Hiromitsu Maeba, Steven McNair, John R. Graham, Casey Edwards, Cody Matthew Johnson, Jeff Rona
The DMC5 soundtrack makes me want to put on my big jeans and crack some glow sticks. It's all fuzzy guitar riffs and chunky beats, like the Doom (2006) soundtrack at the goth rave. It's super, super dopey, but you can tell everyone involved is having a blast. I'm all about that energy. —James Davenport
ALL THESE THOUGHTS RUNNIN THROUGH MY HEAD
ARM ON FIRE, VEINS BURNING RED
FRUSTRATION'S GETTIN' BIGGER
BANG, BANG, BANG - PULL MY DEVIL TRIGGER!!
(Just had to get that out)
Sayonara Wild Hearts | Daniel Olsén, Jonathan Eng
You'd hope a game that effectively functions as an interactive visual album and celebrates pop music would include some good pop music. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a bouncy, bubbly montage of hooks and pristine melodies, like if you shaved the creepy edge of Hannah Diamond (she's great) and went for something a bit more human, or if you replaced Carly Rae Jepsen's brain with Windows 95. —James Davenport
Red Dead Redemption 2 | Woody Jackson
Woody Jackson imbues iconic western music with a dose of creaky industrial energy. Electric guitar often leads over rumbling percussion, one food in modernity, while flutes and whistles interject to say the old west is here to stay. I'm afraid to say it isn't—the restrained pace and volume of each track still sit perfectly fine under the action, but it feels like the energy and optimism of the old west is running dry. Familiar and fading, a somber score for adventurers spending their last burst of energy. —James Davenport
Apex Legends | Stephen Barton
Legends' theme melody is simple and catchy, a couple notes that evoke the celestial frontier in a far flung future. It's nothing particularly amazing on it's own, but once you start sky-diving at the start of a match, a reinterpreted version of the tune kicks in, turkey-basted with urgency and drama. I hear those notes and have a pavlovian response now. Shit's about to pop off. —James Davenport
Hypnospace Outlaw | Jay Tholen
Here's the pitch: someone made a soundtrack for a fictional version of the internet at the turn of the millenium. And then they made a bunch of songs created by fictional artists and advertisers from the era. Hypnospace Outlaw is the wildest bundle of game music this year, featuring ambient midi soundscapes, dated DIY EDM, and moody dark web drones. It's so much fun. —James Davenport
The Outer Worlds | Justin E. Bell
I haven't come across many games with opening theme music that stop me from clicking the start button, but Justin E. Bell's "Hope" did just that. It starts with a combination of hesitation and excitement, like a wide-eyed child exploring something new for the first time, scared but in awe. About a minute into the song, flutes glide into the mix, fluttering those fears away as we open our arms and embrace the unknown.
Violins flurry, drums roar, and that's the moment we bravely take flight to wherever it is we're going. The hairs on my arms and neck stood up straighter as the music built to a crescendo. "Hope" is such an appropriate name for The Outer World's main title, because that's the exact feeling the song evokes before you head on the most epic journey of your lifetime. —Joanna Nelius
Ape Out | Gabe Cuzzilo and Matt Boch
Ape Out puts you in the role of a conductor of your own improvisational jazz group. You play as a gorilla trying to escape from the confines of a high-security test facility and, understandably, you're a little pissed off about that. Your violent and chaotic actions are accompanied by a reactionary jazz ensemble and what you do completely controls how they play.
As you smash a glass window you'll hear a crash of cymbals, storm through the level full speed and some bongos will rapidly keep pace with you, get caught in a mass of gunfire and drums will punch through the soundtrack. It's a layered, wild frenzy of destruction and music that leaves you with its rhythms ringing in your ears. —Rachel Watts
Forza Horizon 4 | Various artists
Once every two years or so Microsoft emails me a new drum and bass playlist. I tell Microsoft, please, you know I don't like drum and bass, how did you get this email, also, did you get another neck tattoo? But the playlist comes affixed to an open world game about driving expensive cars through fields and off cliffs. Besides dropping acid in a desert with an estranged cousin, virtual car madness is the only context where drum and bass makes sense in my life. Forza Horizon 4 keeps the tradition alive. —James Davenport
Untitled Goose Game | The Goose
While the goose of Untitled Goose Game has a honk that startles the residents of the sleepy village it has decided to abuse, it’s also quite musical. Stick a jar on its beak and you can jam away, still underappreciated, but at least entertained. The honk can be a battle cry, but it can also be extremely catchy. —Fraser Brown
Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch Remastered | Joe Hisaishi
Finally, with the release of the remaster this year, PC players too can luxuriate in one of the best RPG soundtracks ever. Courtesy of film composer Joe Hisaishi and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, it’s a beautifully evocative score, investing your every step across Ni No Kuni’s landscape with a swelling drama. —Robin Valentine
Wolfenstein: Youngblood | Martin Stig Andersen and Tom Salta
Nazis are bad, and bad things should be done to them. But Nazi disco is actually pretty great. I read somewhere that the watery synth-pop tunes found on those weird tri-gear cassettes stashed throughout Wolfenstein: Youngblood are an ironic reflection of the Nazi state's ability to co-opt but not create, which I suppose is reasonable if you want to be that way about it.
But they're also really catchy songs. Not that I'd expect any of them to top the charts in the real world, and I might be more inclined than most to get my bop on to Viktor and Die Volkalisten because I'm of that particular era, but I really, and totally unironically, like this stuff. Easily my pick of the year. — Andy Chalk