Best Music: Broken Age
It’s challenging enough to create a varied yet thematically-unified score for any video game, but this issue was multiplied by two for Double Fine’s Broken Age. The Tim Schafer-penned adventure has not just one but two protagonists, each inhabiting vastly different worlds from the other. Shay lives on a high-tech starship where his every need is catered to by a smothering computer system called “Mom,” while Vella resides with her family in the pastoral Sugar Bunting under the malevolent spectre of monster Mog Chothra. Various other settings are explored throughout the game as well, such as the cloud-city of Meriloft and the beachtown of Shellmound, each with its own completely distinctive backdrop. Yet composer Peter McConnell – acclaimed LucasArts alum and frequent Schafer collaborator – rose to the occasion magnificently, creating a soundtrack that not only captures the essence of each locale and the quirky characters who inhabit them, but also succeeding in musically intertwining the dual narrative structure.
With the occasional shift to jazzy numbers for mysterious moments, Shay’s sequences typically feature a child-like yet technologically-oriented feel: sounds reminiscent of a toy xylophone can be heard while perusing his bedroom, while a trip outside to the vastness of space is accompanied by distorted, electronic-sounding notes. Gameplay with Vella, however, tends toward mature-sounding tracks with an organic texture, mirroring the young heroine’s circumstances and mindset. Ethereal tunes accompany the action in rural Sugar Bunting, but marimbas play during scenes set in picturesque Shellmound. For both characters, the most cinematic or grandiose scenes are punctuated by sweeping orchestral scores. While the wonderfully varied music is a noteworthy accomplishment in its own right, performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and a group of San Francisco musicians, what elevates McConnell’s score to greatness is the way, especially later in the game, the tracks share instruments, moods, and themes, so that each tune is distinct yet retains a certain continuity when switching from one character to another. Such masterful attention to detail results in a soundtrack that perfectly complements one of the best adventures of the year, thus earning its place as 2015 Aggie Award winner for Best Music.
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Readers’ Choice: Life Is Strange
Where most games (at least, the better ones) rely on scores that play in the background, what makes Life Is Strange really stand out musically is the way in which it cleverly integrates an alternative rock soundtrack that sounds exactly like what Portland-area high schoolers would listen to. Max will pop in her earbuds for a cinematic bus ride through town set to song, while the massive Vortex Club party has its own DJ spinning for crowds of dancing kids. In helping to fully immerse us in the world of Arcadia Bay, the readers’ Best Music Aggie goes to an increasingly familiar recipient.
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