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The Sound Architect’s Top Audio Picks of 2017!

Every year is packed full of exciting releases across all creative industries, and 2017 was no exception. Games, film, TV, and more all showed numerous examples of innovation, experimentation, talent, forward thinking, and bold decision making, and audio continued to prove itself as a worthy facet of our media. With plenty to see, and hear, the team here at The Sound Architect explored our fair share of what these industries had to offer, and so here are our top picks for audio in 2017!

Sam Hughes – NieR:Automata

Nier: Automata won a lot of people’s hearts this year, and I am no exception. With its hauntingly beautiful score by Keiichi Okabe and post-apocalyptic, dystopian environment, it has a lot of unique and incredible audio moments. Keiichi Okabe’s score is just excellent. The ethereal, flowing melodies that sound familiar, yet eerie and strange, compliment the aesthetic of a world consisting of only androids and machines, without human life.

The use of robotic vocal processing, industrial sounds and repetition, really hit home the mechanical elements of this world. Combined with an interesting orchestral and choir blend alongside such digital and inhuman sounds really makes for a fascinating listen. Most of it I can’t even explain why it’s so amazing, but have a listen to the soundtrack, you will not regret it. Some of my favourite tracks include This Cannot Continue, Amusement Park, and Machine Village.

The whole sound experience for me is very reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid, especially when it comes to UI and interactions sound effects. With it coming from a Japanese studio, Platinum Games (Developers of Metal Gear Solid: Rising Revengeance), it’s not that surprising that there are these similarities in terms of approach. Despite some occasional repetition, I loved how polished everything sounded, and how much it really drove home the clinical, android driven universe. I won’t go into too much detail but keep an eye out for my review coming soon. The performances of Kira Buckland as 2B, Kyle McCarley as 9S and Cherami Leigh as A2 were brilliant (honourable mentions to Ray Chase, Greg Chun, Eden Riegal and D.C. Douglas) and I loved their characters. Nier: Automata was an all-round hit for me this year and I encourage you to play it, hopefully you’ll love it as much as I did.

Katie Tarrant – Cuphead, Blade Runner 2049, Baby Driver

Unable to narrow it down to a top pick, I found myself equally in love with a few things last year. Whilst 2017 was indeed full of many fantastic achievements and releases across the board, the game that truly captured my heart was Cuphead by StudioMDHRCuphead is the most unique, challenging, and downright beautiful game I have played in a long time, and made for the perfect coach co-op with my brother. Its vintage sound, glorious soundtrack (that is my official driving music), and stunning visuals pushed the bar of what can be achieved with a small team to one of the highest points its ever been. Audio company Sweet Justice did a stellar job in ensuring the audio brought everything together as a cohesive whole, and composer Kristofer Maddigan truly knocked it out of the park with his debut(!) video game soundtrack.

I made it to the cinema a few times throughout 2017 and saw many fantastic films, including DunkirkThor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and many more. However, the two films that really stuck with me in terms of audio had to be Blade Runner 2049 and Baby Driver. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 was a fascinating hybrid of sound design and music, all combined in to one soundscape that thrived in solidifying the film’s world for me. This relationship was so tight that there were many moments where I was unsure whether the ambiences I was hearing were the product of sound design, or music. In many ways, it was relaxing because for once rather than analysing, I just absorbed it and let myself fall into the narrative.

Along similar lines, Baby Driver made a bold but incredibly effective move with their combination of music and sound design. With a film that revolves around music, it was hard to imagine them doing anything but, and yet it still exceeded my expectations. The editing was tight, the sound was punchy, and the music choice was standout. It created a heart-racing vibe throughout the entire film and never once dipped in dynamic for me.

Andrew Overfield – Distant Worlds Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary Concert

2017 had many audio highlights that I was truly blown away by. Many have already been mentioned in my colleagues recollections so I’ll gather my own little gem of the year. Whilst not quite a specific game or film, my audio highlight of the year had to be the experience I had at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary concert.

It was truly an amazing experience amongst friends and flooded in nostalgia from the opening notes of the main theme to the final crescendo and standing ovation. The acoustics in the Royal Albert Hall were, as always, perfect and the atmosphere was one of those moments you want to cherish forever. I’m highlighting this pick to help encourage more people to go out and see more live video game music. It’s still a relatively small community, but with the following it has, it is on the horizon to grow bigger and bigger with more and more events popping up each year to celebrate the untold beauty of the some of the games we’ve loved over the years.

Knowing that each and every one of you in that theatre or concert hall has their own specific memories attached to the music being played at that very moment is a very special and unique way to celebrate video game music, and is something I highly recommend.

Willy McCarter – ARMS

By now, I am sure it is no secret that I am huge fan for anything Nintendo related and with nearly all of my reviews glancing over releases for the Nintendo Switch this year I felt it was only a treat to end on a pick for the same platform. Barely a year old, the Switch has had a number of physical and digital game releases, but a game that really took me by storm was the new beat ‘em up fighting game ARMS.

Coming from a generation of titles such as Tekken, Mortal Kombat & Super Smash Bros, ARMS delivered a great addition to the fighting genre. Developed by the same team behind Super Mario Kart 8 (–), ARMS for me had that unique Nintendo-like sound design that is both immersive and complimentary towards the setting of the game’s Pixar-like visuals. Set in a universe of shiny anime androids wielding slinky arms and different abilities, ARMS was my near-instant pick for 2017, due to its huge range and use of beat ’em up intensive yet fun cartoon violence through sound design.

The biggest part of this game that immediately drew me in was the powerful Olympian theme tune! Consisting of layers of big vocals, huge brass ensembles and upbeat heavy drums, it was only the best way to get the player hyped up and get straight into battling. Playing through each arena, I discovered a similar style that got more intense depending on the progress of the fight, making for great dynamic gameplay. Overall, it was another top delivery of magnificent musical style from Atsuko Asahi  and Yasuaki Iwata.

Jordan Killiard – Horizon Zero Dawn & Uncharted The Lost Legacy

2017 has been a busy year for me, so in a way it’s easy to pick my out my favourite audio of the year! The top of my list has to be for Horizon Zero Dawn by Guerilla Games. Ever since I saw my first robot dinosaur back in 2016, I was itching to play this. The soundtrack by Joris de Man, The Flight and Niels van der Leest is immense (you can stream the entire soundtrack on Spotify) and the clever way each composer writes for the different aspects of the game world is genius. I was lucky enough to attend a talk with Joris, and Jo & Alexis from The Flight last year and the work involved in bringing it all together is such a magnificent achievement!

My second pick for 2017 is Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. While the game itself does feel, as described by one reviewer like “the middle 6 hours of an Uncharted game”, that’s no bad thing in my book. The series continues to be a masterclass in attention to detail. Everything sounds perfect – the sound design, VO, atmos and Henry Jackman’s soundtrack. It’s an absolute joy to listen to, and continues to set the benchmark against which all others are judged for me! 

Kyle Worrall – South Park: The Fractured But Whole

My top pick for audio in 2017 is South Park: The Fractured But Whole! But why? Because it is an enjoyable RPG experience filled with exciting Marvel/DC inspired super hero music that sets the tone for the games combat-heavy story, while simultaneously parodying the current cinematic climate through its use of typical instrumentation and ideas. These ideas include the fast-paced string arpeggios and low brass blasts that you would see in films such as Captain America.

The sound design for the game is varied throughout due to the variety of actions the player can take and to the game offering ample opportunities to change abilities. This stops the attacks from becoming annoying, while simultaneously empowering the player with an element of control regarding their abilities, making their choices more important within the game. The voice acting and writing, largely performed by only four voice actors, is diverse and covers a range of topics. These topics both reminisce the funnier highlight moments from the show, while providing humour and intrigue to a plot that shines through it. Overall, an enjoyable and well-humoured play that sounds good to boot. However, beware the fart sounds, they may become stale after a while!

Jake Basten – Cuphead

There was a wealth of choice for top audio this year, with NieR:Automata, Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe all in the running for me, but Cuphead is the one that stands out above the rest. Cuphead was my most eagerly anticipated game in 2017. I spent absolutely ages following the game’s development and was transfixed by the hand-drawn art style. With my deep love for cartoons even to this day, the Looney Tunes-esque style of Cuphead is right up my street.

As mentioned above, the sound design was created by audio company Sweet Justice, and it is hilarious and bang on the money. Its cartoony sound effects, convincing nostalgic voiceovers, and DixieSwing score by composer Kristofer Maddigan; all treated with a heavy dosing of audio techniques that filter and age the sounds to fit the 1930s-time period. The sound of this game fully immerses the player and makes us feel like we are truly controlling a cartoon from the Golden Age. While the run-and-gun and boss battle objectives of the game are something that all gamers will be familiar with from their early gaming years, the mixture of styles between the art and sound is something that I have not experienced before in a game. My praise goes to Studio MDHR, Sweet Justice Audio, Kristofer Maddigan, and everyone else involved for creating such a unique and compelling game.

We hope you enjoyed our audio round up for 2017! Stay tuned for another jam packed year of reviews, news, interviews, and more!

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Katie Tarrant
Hello! I'm Katie, a 23 year-old composer and sound designer. I graduated from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2016 and am currently working at Rare as a junior audio designer.

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