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The Best Use of Licensed Soundtracks in Games August 6, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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For those of you who may have read my previous article on the greatest video game songs of all time, you’ll notice that I intentionally left out any songs that were used in games that had been licensed but were not developed specifically for the game itself. That was because I wanted to save that discussion for another time, and the time is now for me to bring it up.

So this is the list of some of the best uses of licensed music in video games. The songs may not have been made for the games but at times it feels like the games were made for the songs. These are in no particular order.

Rock Band

Lets just get the big one out of the way right now. The music of Rock Band is probably the gold standard for games. Each game in the series has had a phenomenal tracklist of modern hits and classic songs, and the new tracks have never stopped coming. Harmonix knew that when they created the game and had it revolve around an entire band that they needed to focus on some of the best songs that people would love to jam along to.

The game’s eclectic tracklist of good songs kept me buying every new version. The games would have songs ranging from The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” to “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, all the way to “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr.

You’ll also notice that I did not include Guitar Hero on this list. That is because with the demise of the license, Rock Band has been able to offer a huge amount of some of the best previously exclusive Guitar Hero songs, like “Through the Fire and Flames”. And unlike Guitar Hero, which has stopped releasing DLC, there’s no end in sight for when new songs will stop being released for download. It gives the player the message that if they don’t like the tracks currently out, they can just wait until next week.

Run Like Hell

This was an older game released for the Playstation 2 and original Xbox that I first became aware of during an early episode of Unskippable. While the game itself wasn’t particularly good, it had huge production values from A-List voice actor talent, a fantastic storyline, and four licensed tracks from Breaking Benjamin’s album Saturate.

Today, nobody would bat an eye for me to mention Breaking Benjamin, but at the time Run Like Hell was made Breaking Benjamin was still a relatively unknown band. However, their music melded perfectly with the atmosphere of the game. One of their songs would start to play during a frantic paced moment, like a boss fight, and could make an otherwise terrifying or tense moment turn into pure awesome.

In fact, the music video for the song “Polyamorous” was included as a secret in the game, and can be viewed by inputting a cheat code. If you want to view just how that process worked, I helped someone online a few years ago view it on her game, and she did a recording of herself trying to get it to work. You can watch that hilarious video here.

Infected

Ever wanted to fight zombies with a rockin’ soundtrack playing the entire time? Infected is the game for you. You play Officer Stevens, fighting a zombie outbreak in New York City in the days leading up to Christmas. I have no idea if the New York Bio Team gave Officer Stevens an iPod along with the Viral Gun he uses to fight zombies, but the player gets the full benefit of a complete library of licensed tracks, with which they can select their own playlists, pick their own favorite songs, or just let shuffle.

For me the best song to listen to when turning zombies into meaty chunks had to be the instrumental-only version of Ill Nino’s “When it Cuts” which I have not been able to find ANYWHERE. The game also included some music videos of the licensed tracks that you can watch without the need of a cheat code.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

When traveling through the jungle performing surgery on yourself and living off the land to survive, make sure to bring a good soundtrack with you. While Harry Gregson-Williams once again composed one of the most noteworthy game soundtracks of all time there were a few licensed tracks used in the game that got it on this list.

This game could have made the list for the title theme “Snake Eater” alone but for me what really moved me was the use of Starsailor’s “Way to Fall” during the game’s closing credits. After the huge twist in the game’s finale, so many emotions were going through my mind. I don’t want to spoil the game’s ending for anyone so you’ll have to play the game yourself if you want to find out why. As Harry Gregson-Williams’s score roused us at the game’s finale, “Way to Fall” was a great song to bring us down as we absorbed all the revelations and as we learned just what the game’s place was in the franchise and just who our protagonist really was.

Indigo Prophecy

The game developed by the same company that did Heavy Rain and are now working on Beyond, Indigo Prophecy was the first game that I played by those developers and I loved every second of it. During the game you were trying to solve a murder from multiple different perspectives, the police who are trying to solve just who did it, and the person who committed the murder, who is trying to discover why he had done it. Over the course of the game we also are privy to the lives of the main characters. We learn how they live, who they interact with and just what makes them who they are.

Indigo Prophecy also had several licensed songs for the game, including four tracks from Theory of a Deadman’s album Gasoline. In fact, some of the best moments in the game are punctuated by one of their songs. In a simple moment where the protagonist Lucas Kane decides to work out with a punching bag “No Way Out” starts to play. If the player performs the scene properly, the scene ends when Lucas ends up punching the large bag off its hook and across the apartment. Lucas, and the player both discover at that moment that Lucas is much stronger and faster than he should be.

Of course I can’t talk about Theory of a Deadman in Indigo Prophecy without talking about the song “Santa Monica” which was practically the theme song for the entire game. A wonderful song about a guy who’s girlfriend leaves him to try to become famous, the song punctuates every romantic moment in the game, as well as the ending credits of the game. I had never heard about the band before, but I remember going out to the store and buying Gasoline on CD just because of the game.

Prey

There was a very fitting use of licensed music in the game, and most of it could be listened to in the game’s first level. The game designers made the correct decision to let the player live out the protagonist’s last night, just before he and his family is abducted by aliens. As you walk through the fully interactive bar, you can play games like poker, blackjack, and slots, all the while listening to music from a wide assortment of classic licensed tracks on the bar’s interactive touch screen jukebox. Songs like “Barracuda” by Heart play first, but you can select from a pretty wide range of songs like “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” by Judas Priest and some great independent songs like “If We Could Be” by Railer which I have not been able to find.

But what I think really gets me every time is the use of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” somehow selectively being chosen to play during the moment of abduction. The song makes the scene so awesome you don’t even need more cowbell.

Alan Wake

Our returning champion from the last list, I couldn’t pass up mentioning Alan Wake again. While the game had a fantastic list of never before released songs performed by Poets of the Fall (credited as The Old Gods of Asgard) there were a ton of songs that the game licensed for the game which worked so well. The game also included songs by artists like Harry Nilsson, Poe, and David Bowie.

Several licensed tracks in Alan Wake have already made other best game song lists, in particular “Haunted” by Poe was chosen by Lisa Foiles for a list she did for The Escapist. However, there’s a different song in the game’s soundtrack that is what got it on this list. Knowing what we knew about the game as the credits started to roll, could there possibly be a more fitting song played for the credits than David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”? I would tell you why, but that would mean spoiling a very important revelation in the game, so you’ll just have to play the game for yourself and make your own decision.

Saints Row 2

While plenty of open world games like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto have provided the player with full radio stations to listen to as they drive around the game environment, in my opinion Saints Row 2 consistently had the best tracks out of all the open world games that I’ve played. At any moment in the game I could turn on any station and hear a song I liked, unlike other open world games where I would just end up sticking with the talk radio station.

While there wasn’t any options for a talk radio station, the game did provide an 80s music station, which featured such songs as “Sister Christian” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and given that the game’s narrative was about causing almost cartoonishly crazy things to happen in order to claim the whole city back for the Third Street Saints, having “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” playing in the background while literally taking over the world was quite fitting indeed.

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