Video games have taken on a life of their own. They can show us things that we could never dream of, giving us compelling and visceral narratives that books and films couldn’t necessarily offer the gaming community. But while these experiences are endowed with a unique quality in regards to gameplay and graphics, there is an aspect that is at times overlooked, which many games hinge their entire livelihood upon. For many titles, music defines the game. After all, an entire genre has been built around the concept. But, music titles aside, I’m talking about games where the soundtrack serves to immerse the player into the game, drowning them in the universe that the developers created. When this is accomplished, it significantly enhances the experience of the game itself, propelling a title that may have just been good to amazing. Thus, I present the top ten video game soundtracks of the Xbox 360.
10. Gears of War 2
Regardless of the cheesy dialogue or the macho way Dom kept searching for Maria, from the introduction on throughout, the music constantly sets the mood in a way that helps the game along. Look at it this way, being the middle child of the sure-to-be ‘Gears Trilogy’ this has to take on a darker and far grimmer tone than the soundtrack of the original. The humans are beset on all sides by the Locust Horde and essentially stand to lose the war, entire cities are being sunk into the surface of Sera by a giant bloody worm and the Coalition of Organized Governments just had to sink their base of operations and last refuge for the sake of trying to halt or destroy the enemy that is ravaging them unto extinction. Suffice to say, you won’t really be finding a lot of chipper and cheery themes throughout the score of Gears of War 2. This is music that conveys elements of battle and the sorrow that goes hand in hand with such gruesomeness and it does it exceptionally well.
9. Street Fighter IV
Say what you want about this song, but it has a timeless quality to it the same way Street Fighter does. Oddly enough, it stylistically causes me to recall the 90’s more than anything else and makes me think of Street Fighter II, which ultimately I think is what Capcom was going for as it all just flows together very well artistically. Across the rest of the title, you’ll find an exceptional soundtrack throughout that, while does at times seem like standard fair, constantly surprises and stands out, seeping through despite this being a fighting title.
8. Beautiful Katamari
Since the first game premiered on the PS2, I’ve always enjoyed the subtleties of this title that cause it to be a very different gaming experience while still running parallel to being exceptionally fun. Conversely though, as one of the quirkiest titles you’ll ever play, it was always surprising to me how enjoyable the soundtrack of this game genuinely is. While never becoming oppressive or stealing the show from the gameplay, it has a decidedly poignant stance, serving to really flesh out and create an atmosphere around the player that is both fun and memorable.
7. Geometry Wars 2
Anyone who has played this game can positively attest to how incredible this soundtrack is and while being a mere XBLA title still stands as one of the most addictive titles in recent memory. Each different mode that you can play has it’s own theme, but what really stands out is the newer, remixed version that gamers who played the original have come to know and love. Upon hearing it for the first time, I was absolutely hooked and there was no going back for me. To this day, I still keep the soundtrack on my iPod and the new theme for Retro Evolved still serves as my ringtone, while that would be nothing to really bat an eyelash at it only serves as a reminder of the fact that this soundtrack is so ridiculously damn addictive.
6. Fallout 3
Now everyone who knows about Fallout 3 is aware of the song that plays over the trailer by the Ink Spots. The people who have actually played Fallout 3, which should be everyone if you ask me, will easily remember the song Butcher Pete. I don’t know how many times I left the radio on just for the sake of hearing it. Not so much out of the obvious that it is a brutal and gruesome song, but because it always made me laugh at the image of a person wandering through the Wasteland of DC listening to this song, skipping past corpses or killing a Super Mutant or of course, slaughtering the entire population of Megaton.
Probably one of the finest orchestral soundtracks I can think of, Bioshock has a musical quality to it that would enable those who don’t even have the slightest interest in video games to sit back and truly enjoy the audible treasure of your journey from the surface, down through Rapture and back up again. Even with all the elements of this title that make it a phenomenal game, the music pushes it that extra mile and makes it a complete experience.
4. Modern Warfare 2
At first suspect of the choice to have Hanz Zimmer compose the music for the title, those doubts quickly evaporated as I booted up the game for the first time. Even the menu screen of the game has memorable music in that it blends together into this romp that is at times more action film than video game. With scenes reminiscent of films like The Rock, it is easy to see that Zimmer was in an environment where his musical talents could easily flourish and in the case of Modern Warfare 2, I can assure you that without a doubt they do.
3. Halo 3
I’m not bashing the ODST or Reach soundtracks by choosing their spiritual predecessor, however, that was a completely different game in several aspects from the experiences delivered by the trilogy following the Master Chief. While I’ve had my reservations over time, feeling that as the series progressed, musical stagnation would become the order of the day, but I’ve been repeatedly surprised. Despite utilizing the ability to remix and thus make what was old seem new again, it always bears that same distinct Halo flavor that compels a player to jump into a group of Covenant, even on Legendary. Little music can make you feel like a badass who can save the universe, but when the end of the world comes, I’ll be sure to have this playing on repeat.
2. Batman: Arkham Asylum
There really was a lot to love about Arkham Asylum and not just because it was one of the surprise hits of 2009. Really, I was just as surprised as everyone else when I played the demo and then the full game, realizing about halfway through that the awesome fun I was having wasn’t going to bloody stop. From the gameplay to the ambient environment, everything about that damn game makes you feel like you’re Batman stalking through Arkham Asylum. It still boggles my mind how insanely fun and visceral this game is. Overall though, what completes the experience is the music. From fighting a group of thugs to a boss battle with Bane, all of it really makes you feel like you’re wearing the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight. Even during segments where it seems like old Bats is going to have himself a good old fashion nervous breakdown is compelled by the audible ambience. While I digress, I leave you with this, if you haven’t played Arkham Asylum yet, I can’t recommend the overall experience highly enough.
1. Mass Effect
If you haven’t played Mass Effect, you’re already missing out, but the music is simply an experience unto itself. As I’ve stated in the past, Bioware knows what they’re doing when it comes to weaving an epic RPG title, be it science fiction or fantasy in nature. But with Mass Effect, they truly outdid themselves. From the main menu the soundtrack has a relaxing undertone to it that is shocked away when you enter into a combat situation. Additionally, the underlying music is ever-present throughout the course of the overall narrative and is intriguing in that it really comes into its own multiple times. Truly a soundtrack that could easily be recognized on its own, very much like Bioshock, these stellar sounds truly invoke the spirit of Mass Effect, propelling the player into the crafted experience that Mass Effect 2 easily carried on.