Home » Sean O’Brien’s Soundtrack to 2012

Sean O’Brien’s Soundtrack to 2012

Sean offers his choice picks from the what he considers the cream of the video game soundtracks from the gaming year that was 2012.

There’s music in all of it.

By the end of 2012, there will be lots of things that can be said about the year in gaming, but, I’m beginning to think that, for me, this will have been the year of the soundtrack. Each year has seen plenty of great game music, but 2012 has been particularly strong in this corner.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to celebrate these soundtracks, and share a few tracks with you. Some, you’ll surely have heard already, others perhaps not so much. However these artists each put a ton of effort into their work and deserve some extra recognition. Listening may even entice you to play these games, if you haven’t already.

Music is an integral element of an audiovisual art form. It can create and destroy moods; help a viewer establish a time and locale as well as creating tension and relief:

Max Payne 3 – “Tears” by Health


Throughout Max Payne 3, the soundtrack by Health travels with Max across Sao Paulo, hitting energetic highs, and, crushingly depressing lows. It’s often ambient during the quieter moments, allowing the player to calm down a bit, before entering tense gun-battles with some of Brazil’s grimiest criminals. This track comes late in Max Payne 3’s story. By this point Max has been to every corner of the hell that is Sao Paulo, and at this point in the game has absolutely nothing left to lose. “Tears” kicks in right at the start of the game’s best mission. All that stands between Max Payne and his final foe, is an airport full of security guards, all looking to take Payne down. The fights that follow, combined with this track, make you feel like the ultimate bad-ass.

The Walking Dead – “Alive Inside” by Jared Emerson-Johnson


Despair is a pretty hard concept to get across through music. It can be done in a very cheese-ball way; the kind of thing often found in military shooters. This specific track has shown up at least once in each episode of The Walking Dead, and, every time, it matches the moments perfectly. It often comes in right after one of the series’ more damaging moments, i.e. when you get to Macon in the first episode. “Alive Inside” is a piece of music that emphasizes the idea that permeates The Walking Dead: what’s done is done, grieve and move on. There’s the very slightest feeling of hope present in this track, which is almost immediately followed with the realization that that very hope will soon be crushed.

Fez – “Adventure” by Disasterpeace 


“Adventure” is one of the early tracks in Fez, and, the name couldn’t be more appropriate. Fez, as a whole, was one of my favorite adventures I went on this year. It’s just such a cute little game. The 8-bit-inspired soundtrack by Disasterpeace accompanies the retro-visuals of the game perfectly.  “Adventure” inspires the player with a sense of wonder at the start of a new day, much like how Gomez finds himself at the beginning of Fez.

Mass Effect 3 – “Leaving Earth” by Clint Mansell


Epic. It’s the only word to describe this song. Mass Effect 3 was meant to bring the massive space opera trilogy to a close, and, aside from some ambient music, this is the first full song that plays after the opening sequence. Earth has been devastated by the Reapers, and, Shepherd is forced to evacuate, watching Earth become overwhelmed by the enemy. It’s a haunting piece of music, and, as it swells, it becomes a song of hope and sacrifice, two concepts which the Mass Effect series have focused on throughout the trilogy. It’s quite fitting for the moment, and, sets the mood for the rest of the game. Those familiar with Mansell’s work (he was the composer for such films as The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream) will find it easily recognizable. It still gives me shivers every time I listen to it.

Hotline Miami – “Miami Disco” by Perturbator


Hotline Miami is nasty. Everything about the game, from the plot and dialogue, to the gory and psychedelic visuals, to the neon-lit, blood-splattered setting of a 1980’s Miami is gross and, oddly exhilarating. The entire soundtrack to this game is pretty flawless, but “Miami Disco” stands out as the track that encapsulates everything about this game. Just listening to it out of context, conjures up images of a cocaine-induced murder-spree set against the backdrop of a 80’s dance party. It’s perfect.

Journey – “Apotheosis” by Austin Wintory


As I mentioned on our thatgamecompany podcast, Journey affected me in ways that no other video game has until now. For myself, everything about Journey was masterful, and the (newly Grammy-nominated) soundtrack is, in my opinion, one of the game’s most important assets. Throughout the game the music goes from large and crushing, to exhilarating, to soft and quiet while always carefully matching the moments and story beats to perfection. This song in particular comes in at the end of the game, during Journey’s most transcendent moments, and, you’d be hard-pressed to not have a lump in your throat while listening.

Dyad – by David Kanaga


As the official soundtrack isn’t available yet, this is the only thing I could find on YouTube that isn’t just a walk-through  This particular track itself doesn’t appear, as a whole, in the game, but, many of the sounds in it do show up throughout, and the video ends with a brief (as well as old) clip of gameplay to give you an idea. Dyad’s music is hard to describe. Sure, as a genre it’s electronic but, in terms of how you listen to it, you play the music as much as you play the game. Dyad basically is music. The game’s composer, David Kanaga, who also worked on the current indie darling Proteus (of which, you can read our own Darren Forman’s excellent preview of) has a very interesting take on how to compose music for games – the idea that literally everything you do with the controller has a musical note or sound attached to it. It’s the idea that music is all around, in everything we do. It’s masterful. Entirely culminating in the game’s final level “Eye of the Duck”, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. Dyad is best played with a nice set of headphones on and, in the dark. Treat yourself.

It’s been a fun year for games, but, for me, I think 2012 will most be remembered for it’s soundtracks. There were a whole lot of songs out there that I’m not singling out here that were just as worthy. Feel free to post your own stand-outs from 2012 in the comments section and let’s celebrate this year’s best gaming soundtracks.


  1. Great article Sean. Some truly great music and you nailed the four that immediately come to mind for great soundtracks for me in Mass Effect 3, Journey, The Walking Dead and Mass Effect 3, but of all those it really is Tears by Health in Max Payne 3 for the reasons you mentioned, after everything you’ve been through, everything you’ve seen and done, one mission left and that kicks in, the level of ‘Badassery’ you feel is on a whole other level to the rest of that game.

  2. Great article, the Mass Effect 3 piece is my favourite piece of music of this year. It fits the scene perfectly and is probably the highlight of the game for me as I was shocked how dark the beginning was.

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