GOTY 2017: Best Music
This year we've brought back our category awards to recognize achievements in specific areas of game development. There are 10 awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners!
Best Music: Pyre
Supergiant Games | July 25th, 2017 | Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows
Runners-up: Nier: Automata, Cuphead
Even if you don’t know the name Darren Korb, you almost certainly recognize his musical signature. As Supergiant’s resident composer, he’s overseen the company’s soundtracks, from the frontier-trip-hop twang of Bastion to the gritty, crunchy trip-hop beats of Transistor. (Yeah, ok, so he’s into trip-hop. Who isn’t?)
Each of these games featured both truly stunning visuals, with rich color palettes that leap off the screen, and strong, fundamental game-design mechanics keeping things together under the hood. But nothing defines Supergiant’s entire vibe the way that Korb’s soundtracks do. And with Pyre, Korb produced not just the strongest soundtrack Supergiant’s released to date: it’s also the most essential game soundtrack of the year, interwoven with the experience in so many nuanced and crucial ways that it raises the bar for what music can do in a game.
There are so many great things about this soundtrack, like the broad range of genres explored in each opposing team’s theme songs, but I’ll just highlight a couple things:
The role of the Lone Minstrel, Tariq, as a character in the game: Tariq is a mysterious figure who journeys with the Nightwings. At a few pivotal moments in the game, he (voiced by Korb) breaks out his lute and sings a song that expertly sets the tone for your scenario. A bard following your team and singing about their travails and the world at large is an ancient literary device, but it’s almost completely unexplored territory in games. It works extremely well here.
“Bound Together,” the ending song: This, for me, is the crux of Pyre’s soundtrack. Korb and longtime collaborator Ashley Barrett sing a powerful duet that plays over the ending credits. This song serves as the game’s epilogue—its final statement.
This song shares the fate of each character in your team in lyrical form, and—here’s the really cool part—each character’s stanza is altered based on whether they were liberated or remained behind in the Downside. The lyrics also adapt to the gender pronouns that the player chose for their avatar (he/him, she/her, or they/their).
The end result is a beautiful, sprawling, and affecting ballad that’s seamlessly fine-tuned to honor your individual experiences with the game. The choices you made, the way your characters developed, and how you chose to represent yourself are all interwoven seamlessly into this closing song. It wasn’t just a nice touch: it was a massive and deeply moving surprise—one of the most-poignant moments in any game I played all year.
This was a tough category to judge; just look at our runners-up. Nier: Automata had some of the most beautiful and otherworldly compositions, sung in made-up languages that are hauntingly familiar and audio engineering that crescendos and decrescendos seamlessly with the flow of the game—even simulating 8-bit instruments at the drop of a hat. And Cuphead’s original soundtrack is both memorable and extremely faithful to its source material, sounding every bit as authentic and faithful to its era as the visuals.
Still, Pyre wins this category by being essential to the unfolding story, the characters’ journey, and the imperfect choices and broken landscapes they traverse. It’s absolutely unforgettable, brilliantly woven into the experience, and points toward a new standard in game music composition. — Nick Cummings