Soundtrack may not be the first of the idols that great gaming aspires to. When you are giving ratings for titles these days first and foremost is usually (to our annoyance) graphics. Story will get a mention as well as generally how fun the game is to play. But like Ringo Starr, while the soundtrack isn't the most important part of the band, without some good work everything will fall apart.
One of the latest Free on Gold games for Xbox 360 is Assassin's Creed IV - Black Flag. I'm quite miffed with myself that I didn't pick this game up before, thinking it would just be another standard Assassin's Creed game which I'd get bored of within five minutes. How wrong could I have been, the gameplay in itself offers a wide amount of variation to keep me interested and I adore this title. Possibly my favourite thing about the game though is getting on the open ocean and hearing the lads on deck pipe up with one of a large number of sea shanties.
It goes to show, I think, that a lot of attention has gone into the sound in this game. They could easily have left you sailing along with a few choice phrases from your salty crew and the lapping of the ocean against your hull, but they didn't. They took the time to record and program in a fair few shanties for your boys to sing, and you can collect more as you go through the game.
With this, as well as the general hustle and bustle (and even more singing) when you get into towns and around the taverns, AC IV has one of the best soundtracks I've heard since Dead Space (which actually won two BAFTA awards for it's audio) . This might seem odd to some, with dead space having to music to speak of, but we also have to remember that the "soundtrack" of a game isn't just about what music plays at certain points, but the entirety of the sound quality and consistency throughout the title, including the voice acting.
We've come a long way since the (admittedly epic) 8-bit chip sounds in the 80s where we were getting excited because it you listen really hard it almost sounds kind of like somebody saying a couple of words, and now to make a good soundtrack for a game is roughly similar to doing the same for a big budget film. Harder, I think in some respects as in a game you have to also try and write or choose music that your user will be able to listen to for hours on end without it getting on their nerves. It's not easy.
Now, the sounds you hear can do anything from making you tap your feet, making you laugh, and in a few titles build up so much tension it's better for you to wear your brown trousers. Though most reviews these days will put graphics up at the top of the review food-chain... I would always say that the soundtrack is equally, if not more important. It may be in the background in most games, and the job of any good soundtrack it to blend seemlessly with the other aspects of the game... but you'd miss it if it were gone.
Anyway, I'm back off now to sail the waves with a hearty crew of privateers. Sing up lads, hoist that mainsail, we're underway!
ALL HAIL THE COMPOSERS!