The 10 greatest video game soundtracks ever

Various classic video game covers
(Image credit: Bethesda/Activision/Rockstar/EA/Midway)

Gaming remains one of the entertainment industry's most formidable markets. Untouched by piracy, unflapped by pandemics and able to consistently exist at the cutting edge of the very latest technological advancements, the numbers behind some of the video game world's biggest sellers are consistently eye-watering and show no signs of slowing down.

Each generation of consoles bring with them a new wave of classic titles, but behind every truly great video game is an absolute banger of a soundtrack that not only helps shape each game's inner world, but can stand alone on its own merits. There have been countless brilliant OST's underpinning legendary games across the decades - here are our picks for the ten greatest of them all.

Metal Hammer line break

Streets Of Rage (1991)

The definitive side-scrolling beat-'em-up, Sega's trailblazing Streets Of Rage series established many of the fundamental conventions of the genre that'd carry through the 90s. It also established that game soundtracks could absolutely slap, courtesy of a propulsive techno score written by Yuzo Koshiro that'd prove influential not just to the gaming industry, but to electronic music itself. While other games had produced iconic themes, Streets Of Rage firmly established just how much a truly great soundtrack could add to the atmosphere of a great title.

Mortal Kombat (1992)

Yes, we all know that absolute beast of a theme song, recorded by Lords Of Acid offshoot The Immortals and made, well, immortal thanks to its use in the 1995 film adaptation, but the original soundtrack for the most infamously violent fighting game of the 90s is world class in its own right. A masterclass in the art of crafting a genuinely atmospheric backdrop that elevates the action on screen, Midway's crown jewel boasted a soundscape that dripped with tension and brooding menace. 

Doom (1993)

Influenced by metal bands of the time such as Slayer, Pantera and Megadeth and determined to produce the kind of backing tracks that'd do justice to the violent, hellish intensity of its namesake, Robert Prince ensured that Doom's music would be every bit as influential as the game itself. It turned an already iconic, bloody shoot-em-up into a four-hour extreme metal music video. Over two decades later, Mick Gordon would channel Prince's work into Doom's eighth gen console makeover, turning the original's 8-bit-adjacent blueprint into a full-on heavy metal assault. 

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (2000)

A game franchise so jacked with killer songs that we dedicated a whole article to ranking its best soundtracks, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is as central to millennial rock culture as baggy jeans, spiky hair and Kerrang! TV. While it's hard to beat the original for the amount of young gamers it introduced to pop punk, metal and alt rock, we have to give its sequel credit for expanding the series' repertoire and boasting a soundtrack that featured everything from Public Enemy to Powerman 5000. We're still annoyed we never quite nailed a 900, though.

Silent Hill 2 (2001)

One of the most legendary survival horror games of all time, Silent Hill 2 featured an even more layered plotline, multiple endings and, of course, the introduction of the franchise's most iconic character, 'Pyramid Head'. Akira Yamaoka's masterful score helped to elevate the often unbearable suspense lying at the heart of Konami's smash hit sequel; explaining that he wanted to evoke real emotions in the game's players, he made use of everything from twanging guitar and swathes of gloomy strings to grizzly sound effects and, crucially, moments of painfully empty silence. It resulted in a soundtrack as memorable - and eerily beautiful - as the game for which it was produced.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)

Featuring more than nine hours of music, Vice City fully embraced its 80s setting by ordering in an absolutely stacked roster of decade-defining anthems, running the gamut from vintage heavy metal to classic pop to early hip hop to everything in between. Wanna cruise along on a moped blaring Billie Jean? No problem. Fancy gleefully lobbing grenades from your car while blasting a bit of Raining Blood? Sure thing! Up for dodging speeding police cars while bopping to The Message? Easy. The in-game DJs and hilarious call-ins added an extra level of authenticity to Vice City's seven radio stations, ensuring you had the perfect soundtrack to cause absolute mayhem with. 

Saint's Row 2 (2008)

Anyone labelling Saint's Row a poor man's GTA were miles wide of the mark: THQ's open-world, gangland romp was a brilliant game in its own right. Its sequel was also excellent, and featured a superior soundtrack to its predecessor (apparently due to a much bigger licensing budget). That meant prime cuts from the likes of Deftones, Paramore, Panic! At The Disco, Kelis, Run DMC, Crystal Castles, LCD Soundsystem, Lamb Of God, Trivium and dozens others. Hell, even Mozart got in on the action: the in-game radio station 102.4 Klassic included hours of classical compositions. Throw in the ability to make your own mixtape from the songs available and you had the perfect audio experience to soundtrack your journey through the crime underworld.

Brütal Legend (2009)

The most metal video game ever made offered no apologies for the target audience it was so shamelessly swinging for, but with a game Jack Black as its plucky protagonist and cameos from Lemmy, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford and Lita Ford, it was clear Brütal Legend's heart was in the right place. Luckily, not only was the game itself great fun, but the soundtrack was unbelievable, boasting classic cuts from right across the metal spectrum. Over 100 metal anthems were built into the game: Ozzy, Motörhead, Slayer, Anthrax, Mastodon, King Diamond, Cradle Of Filth, In Flames, Carcass, Rob Zombie, Saxon...the list of names involved were dizzying, making Brütal Legend an essential purchase for any self-respecting gamer with a penchant for riffs.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

Influenced by traditional Nordic music, the work of classical composer Tchaikovsky and Howard Shore's remarkable work on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Jeremy Soule created a score every single bit as engaging and epic as the world in which Skyrim takes place. Booming drums, searing orchestral flourishes and dramatic, chanting male choirs bring Tamriel to life in spectacular style, even helping to influence metal bands over a decade after the game's release. When a song sung entirely in a made-up language is packing over 40 million streams on Spotify, you know it must be special, such is the power of the game's most famous track, Dragonborn.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)

Viewed by many as the greatest video game of its generation, Rock Star's magnificent follow-up to its open-world Wild West classic was mind-bogglingly big, unbelievably intricate and colossal fun. It also featured one of the most compelling storylines of any game in recent memory: we won't spoil it for those yet to play, but if that death scene doesn't move you, you're a cold-hearted monster. The game's music was similarly epic, featuring a gorgeous original score by Woody Jackson that gave authenticity to Red Dead's environment, as well as an excellent, Daniel Lanois-produced original soundtrack featuring guest spots from Willie Nelson, Josh Homme and D'Angelo. It made for a backdrop that could flow from earthy realism to cinematic grandiosity at the flick of a joystick.

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.