Video games are easy to consider a visual medium, with generations of consoles often boiled down to how big a visual leap they were over the previous generation. From 8-bit to 16-bit, from the dawn of 3D rendering to HD, and now to virtual reality and 4K. Yet sound is a huge part of what can make games so immersive and absorbing. It can drastically alter the tone and feel of a game, and in today’s Game of the Year awards, we’re dishing out Best Soundtrack and Best Audio Design.
Unusually for me, I initially struggled to think of a soundtrack that really stood out for me over the past year. There have undoubtedly been some fantastic soundtracks, but nothing grabbed me quite like last year’s winner in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Doom’s resurgent metal appealed to many a metalhead and fan of the ultra-slick shooter, while Thumper made for an all out assault of the senses with broad electronic soundscapes that compliment its abstracted visuals, the achingly atmospheric sci-fi infused math rock of No Man’s Sky, all of which contrast with Mafia III’s licensed soundtrack of classic 1960s songs. If you wanted music of a more classical style with a full orchestra, Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls III and The Last Guardian all delivered ably – The Last Guardian in particular is simply wonderful.
However, as we discussed the possibilities, sent each other links to examples, and collectively thought back on the year, one game emerged as a favourite.
Boss fights are often the climactic points of a game. It’s these moments that have your heart racing as the pressure mounts ever higher, the risks you have to take to win get bigger and bigger. The music backing them needs to be epic. In games where there are only boss fights, every track has to push you further.
Furi blends its genre-hopping boss battles and neon-infused graphics with a soundtrack from an ensemble cast of electronic artists, each of whom have their own particular style and sound. At times it can feel reminiscent of Justice, at other points, it’s 80s action film retro, and there’s still space for more atmospheric tracks as well. Most importantly, it works to match and amplify the style, tone and aesthetic of the game itself, pushing it to new heights.
Our particular standout tracks include Carpenter Brut – You’re Mine, and The Toxic Avenger – Make This Right.
Our 2016 award for Best Soundtrack goes to:
Runners up in alphabetical order
- Dark Souls III
- Final Fantasy XV
- Mafia III
- No Man’s Sky
- The Last Guardian
There’s much more to a game’s sound than its soundtrack. Every single noise and sound within a game is important to creating an utterly immersive experience. Sound design is an incredibly broad topic as well, ranging from recording the noise that a car engine makes, to finding appropriate analogues, like smashing watermelons to recreate the gruesome noise of a human head cracking, and then there’s the implementation of this within the game.
With the dawn of virtual reality gaming, audio becomes even more important, having a crucial role in tricking your brain into believing the world you can see and keeping you from becoming disorientated. Yet, it’s with more traditional video game audio design that we find our best candidates this year.
It wasn’t until we actually sat down to discuss audio design that Overwatch propelled itself to the top of the list. When engrossed in such an action heavy multiplayer game, it’s often easy to ignore the various sound effects that mesh together despite just how important they are to the overall experience.
In Overwatch, audio is yet another layer that can be used to a team’s tactical advantage. Each of the game’s playable heroes has their own unique cluster of sounds, from McCree’s revolver to the “swoosh” of Tracer’s Blink ability. Keeping an ear to the ground is key to putting together strategies on the fly. Being able to hear which character lay ahead will force teams to think on-the-fly, especially when it comes to ultimates. These table-turning powers are prefixed by a small line of dialogue, alerting nearby players that something big is about to go down.
Not only is it a deliberate part of the game’s design, the audio in Overwatch is also superb in terms of quality. Each weapon and ability becomes an extension of its hero, from the mighty swings of Reinhardt’s hammer to the dreaded buzz of Bastion’s turret.
Sometimes less is more, to the point that a deliberately open and almost cavernously empty space highlights even the smallest things. Inside is a game with an exceptionally minimalist soundtrack – one quite uniquely recorded using bone conduction to produce the sounds – which only accompanies the gameplay on certain occasions. The rest of the time you’re left with silence, the sounds of the environment and whatever effects you have on the world around you.
Running through corn fields causes them to rustle as you brush past the plants, packs of dogs send chills up your spine as their savage barking pierces the ceaseless patter of the boy’s running footsteps. When the subdued, atmospheric sounds of the soundtrack do gradually intrude, it’s often subtle and barely noticeable, almost as not to be there.
Let’s just say that the game’s rather unusual twist ending wouldn’t be anywhere near as dark and gruesome were it not for the excellence of its audio design.
Our 2016 award for Best Audio Design goes to:
Runners up in alphabetical order
- Battlefield 1
- Rez: Infinite