If there’s one thing to always look forward to at the end of the year, it’s lists. As sure a thing as death and taxes, countdown lists may just be one of the most fun inevitabilities out there. The one offer this time is a glimpse at some of the best PlayStation music we heard in 2021. While it’s impossible to touch upon every soundtrack worthy of recognition, we’ve compiled what we think are the best of an already bright bunch. With a variety of sounds and compositional voices to explore, let’s dive in.
One of the first true next-gen experiences for the PS5, the latest Ratchet & Clank title knocks it out of the park across the board. The game combines the expected brilliant gameplay the series is known for, some truly jaw-dropping visuals, and — easy to overlook — a phenomenal soundtrack. Mark Mothersbaugh, perhaps best known as co-founder of Devo, brings his robust composing chops to the Ratchet & Clank franchise, having previously worked on other iconic PlayStation franchises like Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. The result is a bombastic score that bounds all over the place — much like the characters in the game — while retaining the synth elements you’d expect of a Mothersbaugh score.
A visually creative puzzler, The Pedestrian has a sneakily good soundtrack. The creative signage that gives way to a number of clever puzzles is backed by a surprisingly playful jazz soundtrack. Composed by Logan Hayes, the score captures all of the rapidly evolving and varied emotions one can expect to encounter in the title’s city setting. While much of the music is energetic and bustling, the music leaves plenty of space for breathers. Calmer ambient pieces litter the soundtrack, providing a really lovely change of pace just when you most need it.
The zany, colourful world of Velan Studios’ dodgeball title needed an equally vibrant soundtrack, and that’s exactly what it got from the soundtrack by The Soundlings. The duo crafted different in-universe bands, each with a unique identity for different parts of the title. This variety provides a lot of versatility to the music, as well as allows it to stand way out in the field of sports game music. Where else can you go to jump between electro doo-wop and surf rock at the snap of a finger? The listener is presented with a wide array of sounds that confoundedly, infectiously, fit together.
The realisation of this Skyrim mod turned full experience is truly a wonder to behold. An intriguing world of philosophy and danger, The Forgotten City also happens to have a doozy of a soundtrack. Exploring the ancient Roman ruins touched by the “golden rule” is an interesting enough experience on its own, but adding the incredible soundtrack from Michael Allen makes it all the better. Equal parts mysterious and hauntingly beautiful, this is a soundtrack that will stick with you well after you’ve departed that lost city for the final time.
It should come as no surprise to see a Persona title on the list. One of the defining traits of the franchise has long been the music, and this spin-off title adds to that legacy. While it is deeply disappointing that Persona 5 Strikers isn’t a football game, this Dynasty Warriors crossover packs a punch. And look no further than the incredible score from Atsushi Kitajoh, Gota Masuoka, and Ayana Hira. The game does an incredible job of taking Shoji Meguro’s work from Persona 5 and reimagining it for a different experience. The title plays around with some melodies from the original game, sure, but it also extrapolates the general sound of Persona 5, pushing it that next step further.
A brilliant point-and-click adventure title, Röki has gorgeous environments. These environments, though striking on their own, are definitely elevated by the soundtrack. Some of the best moments to be had in the title involve traipsing about listening to the incredible score by Aether and soaking in the scenery. While the music is great at accompanying the experience in all situations, no matter the tone, the ambient pieces are especially great and worth the price of entry on their own. It’s so easy to get lost in the beauty of the game, soaking in the views that, before you know it, you’ve been idling for 10 minutes, just listening to the world.
What would a list like this be if we didn’t talk about the latest from Supergiant Games? Unsurprisingly, Darren Korb delivers a knockout of a soundtrack. This is by far the heaviest to date from Korb, straying into full-on metal at times with face-melting guitar work and all. It pairs exceptionally well with the frantic, satisfying gameplay of the title. Plus, the game has plenty of room for calmer music, as a great deal of the game is spent in conversations surrounded by the luxury of the world of the dead. Plus, there are of course the vocal tracks in which Korb collaborates with Ashley Barrett, a staple of a Supergiant soundtrack. These provide some of the most memorable moments in the score, but punctuate important moments in the story as well, further cementing their importance.
Deathloop is a game absolutely dripping in style. A fun, retro vibe is interwoven with schlocky time-travel massacres, all wrapped up in the incredible gameplay Arkane is renowned for. But one of the things that best sells the believability of the world Colt Vahn finds himself in is, of course, the music. Composed by Tom Salta, Ross Tregenza, and Erich Talaba, the soundtrack is… There’s no better way to describe it than “cool”. Taking a lot of nods from 60s/70s exploitation-era films, the soundtrack just has this infectious swagger to it that makes the most mundane of encounters in the game riveting. While invigorating the title with a retro sonic aesthetic, the game still takes time to play around with other sandboxes, like giving each of the eight “targets” in the game identifiable themes. Plus there’s just so much music — the official soundtrack is two and a half hours — and you’ll likely recognise most of it just from playing. To have that much music easily identifiable all packed into one experience is a staggering accomplishment.
While Alan Wake may have been out for over a decade, it didn’t hit a PlayStation console until 2021. After all this time, the soundtrack absolutely remains one of its greatest assets. The music of Alan Wake works on multiple fronts. First we have an incredible score from Petri Alenko that spectacularly captures both sides of the town of Bright Falls: the bright, chipper small town in Washington, and the ominous, twisted abode permeated with darkness. But Remedy is also a master of licensed music, effectively incorporating the likes of Roy Orbison, David Bowie, and Poets of the Fall into the game. And if that wasn’t enough, Poets of the Fall also wrote multiple original tracks for the game, masquerading as Old Gods of Asgard, a band most PlayStation gamers are probably familiar with from the Ashtray Maze sequence in Control.
There are an endless number of reasons to gush about the incredible experience that is Disco Elysium: The Final Cut. The stunning art direction, the best-in-class writing, the mechanical depth. However, one area deserving of that extra little bit of attention is the music. It’s not easy to write a score for a game with such narrative complexity. The music needs to suit a variety of moods, a variety of decisions. But the score from British Sea Power — now just Sea Power — is able to deftly navigate the story of your amnesiac detective with a truly great, almost neo-noir score that offers the perfect accompaniment for your wanderings through the city. The score crams in just as much mystery and intrigue into the game as the writing. And much like the writing, it’s not above getting playful when the situation calls for it. A true wonder to behold.
As we mentioned above, it’s pretty much impossible to give recognition to every single score deserving of it. Some honourable mentions must go out to Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Resident Evil Village, It Takes Two, Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, A Short Hike — the list goes on and on. Trimming the list all the way down to just 10 is a painful task, sure to leave out many folk’s favourites. At any rate, let us know yours in the comments section below.