The end of the year tends to bring with it lots of work. Lots of articles to write, lots of games to gush about. And one of the fun ones every year is our countdown of the best game music of the year. We'll be going over what we felt were the ten best soundtracks to grace a PlayStation console in 2020.
Okay so we’re cheating right out of the gate, here but the scores in question are good for the same reason. We all know what Star Wars sounds like; we’ve heard it a thousand times. So how do you evolve that formula? That’s the question these composers had the answers for. Gordy Haab provides us with a brilliant core theme for Squadrons that is utilized across the entire score. Meanwhile, Wilbert Roget II and Cris Velasco delivered a bevy of brilliant new melodies to Vader Immortal. For something with such a defined sound, we got a lot of new great music for Star Wars this year.
A lot of the news we’ve been hearing about Cyberpunk 2077 these days isn’t exactly positive. It’s been one gaffe after the next since the title’s launch. While it’s pretty safe to assume the title will eventually look like the game CD Projekt RED promised to fans, one area that is already spectacular is the music. Featuring a brilliant original score from a bevy of composers, Cyerbpunk 2077 also has a huge number of tracks by fictional groups. These even include contributions from artists like Grimes and Run the Jewels.
A bizarre, totally unique experience from Thunder Lotus Games, Spiritfarer sees you shuttling the dead to the next plane of existence, and the game has the perfect soundtrack for such a task. A touching, oftentimes tear-jerking experience, the music is able to match the game's incredible writing blow for blow. Max LL returns after having scored both of Thunder Lotus’ previous titles, Sundered, and Jotun. Spiritfarer’s score represents a new high bar, with this infinitely touching, meditative score for one of the most curious titles of the year.
The PS5 pack-in game from Sony’s newest mascot, Astro’s Playroom is likely the most infectious soundtrack on this list. Both able to get in one’s head, as well as play to the strengths of the game, Kenny Young’s score for this walkthrough PlayStation’s history is magnificent. While the music does an excellent job of providing each world in the game with its own unique sound, GPU Jungle rules the roost, with a brilliant disco-inspired track that will never again leave your head once you hear it.
With an unparalleled dedication to authenticity, Cuphead has one of the most memorable and unique aesthetics that a game has ever had. So it should come as no surprise that the music is every bit as magnetic as the game itself. Studio MDHR's breakthrough smash success took a little longer to reach the hands of PlayStation gamers, but both the game and the insane jazz/ragtime music of Kristoffer Madigan were worth the wait.
Perhaps the biggest surprise when putting this list together, the full-on remake of the first Mafia title has a bewilderingly incredible score. While the original title already has a great soundtrack, composer Jesse Harlin somehow manages to elevate things to an absurd level, offering one of the most filmic scores we’ve experienced in a game in a very long time.
Music is a powerful tool for establishing tone in games. And perhaps nowhere is this better evidenced than Cardboard Computer’s surreal masterpiece. The impossible locations, the mysteries loaded with unease, the alarmingly mundane locales. All of this is defined in large part by the music of Ben Babbitt. Between Babbitt, as well as collaborators The Bedquilt Ramblers, and in-game band Junebug, there’s a huge mixture of sounds. This allows the game to excel on multiple fronts, offering up beautiful covers of traditional folk numbers, stunning ambient tracks that are more texture than song, and even some surprisingly excellent synthpop.
The first of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic titles has one of the greatest game scores of all time, a pretty tough act to follow. Luckily, returning composer Gustavo Santaolalla and newcomer Mac Quayle were more than up to the task. While the addition of a new voice to the sound direction makes it ever-so-slightly more uneven than the first game, The Last of Us: Part II still has an incredible score. Both composers seem to focus on different areas of the game, which allows for a much broader soundscape than the first title had.
Sucker Punch’s samurai open-world game is quite the experience. With such an incredible dedication to its vision, the game excels at just about everything it attempted. Staggeringly beautiful, the game is one of the nicest looking games on the PS4, full stop. One of those keys to capturing that vision comes from the music. A beautiful, impressive, and largely unique score, Ghost of Tsushima delivers a soundscape we don’t get to hear often in games, and composers Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi do so flawlessly.
1. The Pathless
The number of times this composer has appeared on these lists of ours is staggering, but that’s just how good the music of Austin Wintory is. With a versatile toolset and an impressive array of divergent sounds to his name, Wintory yet again flips the book on what to expect from him. Teaming up with Giant Squid once more – after making an incredible score for ABZÛ – we get to hear a greater emphasis on percussion, and both most surprisingly and uniquely, throat singing. The soundtrack for The Pathless is quite unlike anything we’ve heard before, and the final boss fight music is unbelievable.
And of course, it should go without saying, this is only a slice of all the incredible soundtracks that released this year, so to squeak in a few last scores worthy of mention, here are just a few of the final cuts that were made to the list: Final Fantasy VII Remake, Demon’s Souls, Persona 5 Royal, Doom Eternal, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Bugsnax, Hunt: Showdown, and the list goes on and on...
What did you think of game music this year? Do you agree with our picks? Which ones would you have preferred to see make the cut? Let us know in the comments, Unless it’s about NieR: Automata again. We’ve heard that one.