2016 may not have been the year for standout, single tracks, but it certainly showcased some of the best soundtracks that match their game perfectly. Beyond that, the sound design throughout many was absolutely superb, immersing you in the game entirely. Presentation is becoming more and more important in games, with many developers understanding that great sound goes a long way in how gamers soak in a game. I’d only expect this category to get better every year.
Here’s the list of nominees (and here’s a list of all nominees for all categories):
- Dark Souls III (Game Page)
- DOOM (Game Page)
- Final Fantasy XV (Game Page)
- No Man’s Sky (Game Page)
- Stardew Valley (Game Page)
Without further delay, here’s what you, the readers, chose and our list of winners for the Best Soundtrack/Sound Design Award for outstanding audio, from sound design to original scores.
Reader’s Choice – DOOM (Our Review)
The sound in DOOM is one of the biggest, if not the biggest reasons, DOOM felt like … well, DOOM. The music ups your heart rate like nothing else and matches the mess you’re making on screen. The guns are satisfying, the demons demon-y—it’s got it all. So there’s no surprise it was the big winner here, taking in more than 50% of votes.
Third Place – Stardew Valley (Our Review)
By Krista Noren
Stardew Valley was successful for a multitude of reasons, and one of them was certainly the game’s calming, retro-styled soundtrack. Impressively composed single-handedly by one man developer ConcernedApe (Eric Barone), there are 70 tracks that last just a bit over two hours in their entirety. These tunes manage to pay homage to the series that influenced its creation while also sounding entirely original.
Each track fits the purpose it’s given, such as the track named Cloth when it plays as you explore the mines, helping add a somber, explorative feeling to what’s going on in the game. There’s also the traditional Harvest Moon-esque Nature’s Crescendo with its bright, peppy composition getting players in the mood to farm. A lot of the tracks initially start with a few simple beats and then slowly incorporate other sounds as they crescendo together into the main melody. Pelican Town manages to capture the slow-paced atmosphere of the game’s farm life, from the banjo-like twangs of the beat, to the peaceful refrain of the synth-xylophone. It’s all very soothing. Another standout piece from the soundtrack titled Tropicala is a charming and nostalgic song that has a nice amount of energetic ambiance to it. It’s very upbeat and exudes a Summer-y vibe, which is perfect, seeing as Tropicala is one of the game’s Summer themes. Each of the 70 tracks manage to feel cohesive, flowing smoothly from one piece to the next as the hours in the in-game clock tick by. Players will be hearing these 70 tunes quite a lot throughout the many hours of content in Stardew Valley, yet the tracks are varied enough to refrain from being grating or sounding repetitive.
And while the music of Stardew Valley fits very well in the game’s context, it also works fantastically well on its own. The music is catchy enough to listen to continuously throughout the day and relaxing enough to be played in the background while studying. The overall quality of the soundtrack definitely warrants its #3 position on this list.
Second Place – Final Fantasy XV (Our Review)
By Shaun Joy
When it comes to music, the Final Fantasy series may have some of the most iconic. From Final Fantasy VII‘s battle theme to the prelude to Final Fantasy I, almost every game has some great music that has found its way into my playlist. Final Fantasy XV has a selection of all those classic series’ music for you to play on your road trip and adds its own fantastic soundtrack on top of it. Somnus (Instrumental Version) may be the best single piece of music I’ve heard this year, as the strong tones of a single string instrument sets the tone for an emotional yet striking set of notes. Stand your Ground gets the blood flowing to have you face against all sorts of beasts. And then you’ve got the iconic Chocobo Theme that screams melachony as you blissfully ride off to your next location. But what really sets this apart is how it alters the speed/tone based on what you do. If you have the game, try speeding up and sprinting while listening to the music. You’ll notice the music change, and the game alters itself based on how you’re playing. It’s pretty fantastic.
But it’s not just the music. Every fight is complemented by the sound of swords clashing against your enemies. Casting a blizzard spell brings the chills as you can hear the wind pick up, like a January night in the depths of Siberia. It’s of course helped by the banter back and forth between the brothers in arms, as they call out enemies and yell at each other while they fight together. And whether you choose the Japanese or English voice actors, both of them really work to give each of the characters their personalities.
All in all, Final Fantasy XV brought its A game when it came to presentation, and the music/sound design is a big part of that.
Winner – DOOM (Our Review)
By Robert Grosso
While “Rip and Tear” has become the prayer for the ultra-brutal this year, the song of the same name has become the battle cry. DOOM bedazzled many with its arena-battle approach and back to roots gameplay, but all of it was accented by a soundtrack that emitted the hardest of core beats upon the ears of the faithful.
This, of course, is not entirely surprising. The Doom franchise has a long history of heavy guitar riffs and demon-rhythm shredding to contend with, but 2016’s Doom turns the tunes to 11 by introducing a hardcore industrial sound into the mix. Rip and Tear is a track highlight, but Ultraviolence, Flesh and Metal, and Welcome to Hell are further standouts in an already excellent sounding game, giving us one of the best video game soundtracks of 2016.
DOOM is no slouch when it comes to capturing the sounds of brutality either—the bits of fleshy viscera squishing with a hard crunch of your fist, to the familiar rhythm of the chainsaw tearing into demon flesh and bone. From a purely technical standpoint, Doom has never sounded more brutal before, befitting for the ultra-violent mandate it set before us.
What did we miss? What did we get wrong? What did we get right?