Here are my personal nominations for game soundtrack of the year, and my reasons behind doing so:
Dead Space 2, by Jason Graves
Jason managed to write music for a game that doesn't remotely sound like it came from one. The amount of music I've heard in my life, and I'm so rarely blown away these days, particularly in terms of new classical music (I'm such a traditionalist at heart, really). But Jason's score for DS2 is hauntingly beautiful. If you feel as though the term "hauntingly beautiful" is overused, or worse, undeserved of a game soundtrack, listen to the piece called "Lacrimosa." The story behind the creation of this piece is perfect; it was borne out of extra time in the studio. Jason knew there might be extra recording time so he wrote a string quartet. For a horror game. And it's gorgeous. Another (highly) recommended track: "Welcome to the Sprawl." Recorded at Skywalker Sound; Performed by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra & Quartet San Francisco. Jason Graves Music, Inc. JG017
Resistance 3, by Boris Salchow
Boris hails from Germany, but might as well be Russian (I hope that's not offensive, Boris!). I say this because he sounds like a direct descendent of Tchaikovsky. He's got that thing that Russian composers have... that ability to write deeply tragic-sounding and moving melodies that draw you into the passion of the story.
It's not unusual for composers to use themes, rhythms, scales or anything else at their disposal to symbolize aspects of drama, and I love how Boris chose to musically depict the enemy with the octatonic scale. I don't expect very many people to know what that is (in jazz, we call it the diminished scale), but it's pretty rad to use for the Chimera in the game.
There is a lot of combat in this game, but my favorite musical moments are the moments where Boris is allowed to write lamentations (sometimes tucked away within combat music). Once the original soundtrack of Resistance 3 is released, check out these tracks: "Life in Haventown" and "Into the Fog."
Lord of the Rings: War in the North, by Inon Zur
Oh Inon. I wish they would say, "Hey, Inon, can you make that two minute piece into a twenty minute piece?" I'd listen. One of my favorite things about Inon's music is its construction. This man constructs a brick house, and then decorates it so very beautifully. I have a degree in music theory, so it's in my veins to listen to the structure of a piece of music. I listen for things other people never notice, and it drives me nuts half the time. But what I hear time and again in Inon's music is solid and so thoughtful. Unfortunately, the game itself can't withstand the same praise, but the music shines like crazy. In "In the Footsteps of Kings," listen for some gorgeous clarinet writing (and playing). Recommended listening: "In the Halls of Valor," and "In the Footsteps of Kings." Oh, and the polyrhythms at the end of "Echoes of Angmar" are pretty awesome too. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, performed by The Philharmonia. Find it on Water Tower Music, #39271
You can subscribe to episodes of Top Score from Classical MPR on our website, and on iTunes. The episode featuring our conversation with Inon Zur about Lord of the Rings: War in the North will be available the week of December 19, 2011.