The Ten Best Video Game Music Soundtracks of 2020

COGconnected’s Game of the Year Awards 2020: Best Music

Music is an underappreciated component of games. If it’s done really well, it dramatically enhances the experience. The instruments and melodies blend perfectly into the visual design, bringing the whole thing into perfect focus. The beauty is, there’s no singular way of doing that. Here are our ten favorite video game soundtracks and scores from the past year.

10. Kentucky Route Zero

Composer: Ben Babbitt
Kentucky Route Zero is all about the journey, and Ben Babbitt takes the player through dozens of unique aural soundscapes along the way. At times, it barely even registers as music. Ethereal swells of sound and synthesizers become part of the world, deftly communicating the strangeness of each moment. Those harmonious themes give way to unsettling, discordant pieces when the plot requires it, building anxiety, or even tunes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Johnny Cash album. For all that semi-invisible background work, Kentucky Route Zero is also willing to give music the centre stage. Act 3’s magical performance of “It’s Too Late To Love You” has stuck with me all year, while Act 5’s “I’m Going That Way” put a perfectly unexpected bow on the entire journey.

9. Half Life Alyx

Composer: Mike Morasky
Half Life’s music hasn’t always gotten its due, thanks to how revolutionary everything else in the franchise is. But Alyx continues in the series’ proud tradition of hard-driving, dystopian electronic rhythms. Music is of crucial importance in VR. Because you’re inside a space rather than observing one, a deep connection to the sounds of the world helps connect the player to the world. In Alyx, it’s a subtle nudge in the back, giving critical moments a sense of urgency, while cranking up the player’s heartrate for creepier scenes. Much like in Kentucky Route Zero, Half Life Alyx blends environmental sound into the music, blurring the lines between the soundtrack and things happening around Alyx. It’s brilliantly done.

8. Streets of Rage 4

streets of rage 4

Composers: Olivier Deriviere, Motohiro Kawashima, Yuzo Koshiro, among others
The Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack is (rightly) considered one of the best in history. For a new installment in the series, DotEmu knew they’d need to absolutely nail the tunes. To do it right, they enlisted Motohiro Kawashima and Yuzo Koshiro – the legends who lent their talents to previous entries in the series – to work alongside industry staple Olivier Deriviere. The soundtrack they delivered is a 90’s arcade throwback full of catchy beats, wailing synths, and chiptune flair. It’s the perfect companion to throwback beat-em-up nonsense, and jives really, really well with Streets of Rage 4’s art style.

7. Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Composer: John Paesano
After winning our Best Music category in 2018 with Marvel’s Spider-Man, John Paesano returns for Miles Morales with another strong effort. This time around, the sweeping strings and horns fittingly share the stage with urban beats appropriate for Miles and his story. Miles gets his own version of the Spider-Man theme, and much like the last game the music flows between sections really well. Additional layers of music fade in and out depending on Miles’ current situation, and the way melodies are reused never lets you forget that you’re playing a superhero game.

6. The Last of Us Part 2

Composers: Gustavo Santaolalla & Mac Quayle
Gustavo Santaolalla has won Academy Awards. With that kind of pedigree, you may have guessed that The Last of Us Part 2 would have a great soundtrack. It does. And it’s not just the classical guitar main theme, either. Part 2 features some incredible atmospheric soundscapes that further build the immersion of the world. I’ve also got to shout out Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson for their in game renditions of Future Days and Take on Me. They’re both talented singers – do you have any idea how hard it is to sing worse because it’s how the character would sing? Well flippin’ done.

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