Since the age-old days of Pong, video games have come a long long way. Pixels are no more and gorgeous visuals are blown across massive HD screens, colourful and detailed enough to make your eyes bleed vigorously with joy. Storylines to deeply engross the player in a cinematic experience with plots as thick as any Oscar winning piece of cinema today. Tight gameplay that makes you feel so in control, whether a football player on the field or a Ferrari on the race track. But what else makes a gaming experience complete? The soundtrack of course. Since the humble days of basic ‘bleeps’ and ‘bloops’, music has become just as important and immersive as the previously listed factors. Since the leap from cartridge to CD based gaming, it has allowed room for fully licensed tracks to be used in video games. In no particular order, we’re about to take a look at some of the best use of licensed music in video gaming history.
Crazy Taxi Trilogy
Kicking off our list is Crazy Taxi by Sega. Originally released in arcades in 1999 and eventually ported to just about every console under the sun, Crazy Taxi is an open world racing game that sees the player get behind the wheel of a taxi and pick up and drop off customers in allotted time frames. As you can imagine, doing so as quick as you can prove to be a hectic affair. So what accompanies smashing up cars, dodging pedestrians and generally worrying your customers of their own well being? Punk rock of course. The soundtrack is not awfully varied, but when you’re speeding round the big apple, tracks from punk rock giants The Offspring and Bad Religion are all you really need. Delightfully, typical hit singles are ignored and album tracks from the likes of Ixnay On The Hombre and Americana are used, which are fast and furious, much like the game itself and compliments the on screen action perfectly.
Sticking to the racing theme, next we have the Wipeout series. Wipeout is a futuristic racer that allows the use of ridiculous high speeds and brutal weapons to help the player to achieve the number one spot on the final podium. Visually, the game represented a kind of retro-future look with blocky grey buildings and neon coloured lighting. It was the 90’s after all. So as you can imagine, the only possible music choice for this game was techno and house music. Wipeout was one of the first games to incorporate electronic music into popular gaming. Mainly composed by developer Psygnosis’ in house team CoLD SToRAGE aka Tim Wright, Wipeouts breakneck speeds were accompanied by hard hitting electronic music that was so popular at the time. With the likes of The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers contributing to the soundtrack, there was no need to look no further for hard-hitting beats. Each platform had a different soundtrack and some versions of the game allowed the use of the disc to be popped into a stereo, enabling the player to listen to the soundtrack without having to boot up their console.
WWE Smackdown vs Raw series
Over the years the WWE has steadily become an enormous global brand. Dubbed as ‘sports entertainment’, this soap for men spawned a very successful game franchise along with the show. Although wrestling games date back as early as the Nintendo Entertainment System, it really took it’s stride with the WWF Smackdown series. Obviously we get the memorable entrance music from all your favourite superstars. From Triple H’s dramatic walk to the ring accompanied by Motorhead to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s chaotic and often speech interrupting glass smash opening courtesy of Disturbed. However trailing through the games many options and stipulations can be time consuming. Table match? Royal Rumble? Tag Team Partner? Well whilst you decide, tracks from Zebreahead, Powerman 5000, Three Days Grace and Breaking Benjamin are sure to get that testosterone flowing. There’s not a great deal of variety but do you really need anything other than big riffs and even bigger chorus’ when you’re preparing for battle?
The smash and crash racing Burnout series has been around since 2001, but it wasn’t until 2004 when EA replaced Acclaim in publishing duties and much like the rest of EA’s sport esque franchises’, finally gained a licenced soundtrack. Burnout 3 kick-started the trend featuring giants from the rock world going hand in hand with smashing up your opponents on the track. This included The F-Ups, Yellowcard, The Futureheads, Fall Out Boy and Motion City Soundtrack, well and truly captivating the pop punk and indie bands heard on the radio at that time. Later sequels shook up the soundtrack with a little more variety starring The Chemical Brothers, N.E.R.D, Adam and The Ants and even pop princess Avril Lavigne.
Deciding on an EA sport franchise for a top soundtrack is a task much more difficult than initially thought, however we’re turning to the land of maple syrup and mounted police for a spot of everyone’s favourite Canadian sport, Ice Hockey. If there’s anything EA do right (these days) it’s certainly soundtracks, however what makes NHL stand out from the rest is much like the WWE soundtracks, adrenaline pumping rock tunes. Not only this but it’s consistent. Usually there’s a few stinkers in FIFA for example that don’t do much for the vibe, but NHL keep the tempo of the action filled sport up and the atmosphere at an equal high. Take your pick over the years from the likes of Paramore, Autopilot Off, Black Tide, Anberlin, Dropkick Murphys and The Black Keys just to name a few. There’s also a selection of stadium rock anthems just to add to the arena sport feeling including Electric Light Orchestra, Scorpion and Europe. There’s even a bit of Nickleback in there too if that’s your thing….
Sonic Adventure series
Taking a quick break from sports and racing, let’s head back over to camp Sega and everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog. Prior to the release of the Dreamcast console, the Sonic The Hedgehog series had taken a turn for the worse and the mascot needed a serious revamp. It took a while, but finally Sega found a transition from 2D to 3D for Sonic that actually worked. This new era also introduced the world to Crush 40. This project was brought to life by Japanese video game composer Jun Senoue. With his success working on previous titles during the Mega Drive era, Senoue was selected to be the main composer and sound director of Sonic Adventure. With himself on guitar and Johnny Gioeli from Hardline on vocals, this side project became Sonic The Hedgehogs own personal rock band. Stand out tracks include Open Your Heart, Live and Learn and Escape The City and although they are quite cheesy, these songs are catchy with a certain feel good factor behind them. Crush 40 from here on went on to write songs for further Sonic games, released full length albums and played a couple of live shows for the hardcore fans. We’d also like to mention that Senoue can’t half rip a solo or two also!
It was only a matter of time before we reached the late 00’s craze of rock rhythm based games, and for this list we’ve chosen Rock Band. Let’s face it we can’t all be rock stars, but the Rock Band series allowed you and a group of chums to pick up those instruments you’ve always wanted to play and hit the stage and rock out. Rock Band was the first to take the rhythm game one step further and pioneer the drum peripheral and microphone.
The reason why we’ve picked Harmonix’s incarnation over the Guitar Hero series is the down to the pure longevity and variety of the series. Not only did Rock Band pack more songs onto each disc, the amount of DLC available was quite impressive, and when looking back still is to this day. In total over a thousand tracks were available in total so as you can imagine, every possible base is covered. Megadeth? Go for it. Snoop Dog? Why not? Shania Twain? You got it. Even dad can get up off the sofa and play us a bit of Roy Orbison. There’s literally a little something for everyone. In later sequels, a pro mode was introduced which simulated a much more accurate and true to life experience of playing the instruments for real. Trainers were included in the game from the Berklee College of Music to ease gamers into the style of playing real instruments.
Dance Dance Revolution series
Sticking to the rhythm game phenomenon, we’re turning our attention to a game that requires an entirely different skill base, that being a dancing one. It was near impossible to pop round a friends house during the early 00’s without stumbling over the flat plastic monstrosity with wires that was the dance mat, and this was all thanks to Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution series. Originally released in arcades, DDR swept the nation and got punters up on their feet and grooving the night away. The concept is simple: dance along to the song by stomping on the corresponding arrow that appears on screen. However in practice is much more difficult than expected. Although despite this helped break down the barriers of video gaming’s image of nerdy teens binge eating fast food and playing all hours of the day. As produced by Japanese developers Konami, much of the soundtrack features an array of J pop in its initial Japanese release. However much like Rock Band, the variety of artists available in its many versions is quite impressive despite it primarily consisting pop music. Featuring the likes of Girls Aloud, Britney Spears, David Bowie and Pink, the player can feel like the worlds next music icon. Even media giants Disney and Nintendo jumped on the bandwagon with their own instalments, including tracks from High School Musical and Nintendo’s back catalogue of remixed retro tunes.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater series
When thinking of awesome soundtracks and pure childhood nostalgia, there’s no need to look much further than the daddy of extreme sports games that is the Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise. Nothing quite represents the late 90s and early 00s than skate culture. Although overtaken and laid to rest in later years by the more realistic Skate series, its soundtrack is unmatched. The rebellious attitude and alternative nature of the sport is supported by its ‘fuck authority’ esque soundtrack, whether this be 90’s and 00’s punk from the like of Lagwagon, Milencolin and The Bouncing Souls or the hip hop beats of Jurassic 5, Ozomatli, and Dub Pistols. High profile games such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater are a great tool for these artists to promote themselves. Zebrahead themselves in interviews have noted the importance of being featured on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 soundtrack. Later sequels allowed the player to customise the soundtrack by selecting and removing the different genres and also individual tracks altogether to build their own ultimate personal skate playlist.
Grand Theft Auto Series
Rockstars sandbox game extravaganza was always going to be featured on this list, but can you really blame us? Grand Theft Auto has evolved at an alarming rate since its first first top down shooter incarnation on the Playstation and PC back in 1997. Over 15 years later and the over world has become a massive playground in which almost anything is possible. Accompanying this immersive freedom comes the soundtrack in radio form when driving vehicles around the map, and the choice is insane. Most of the games in the franchise are set periodically, for example Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is set in the mid 1980’s, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is set in the early 1990’s. Already you can imagine the kind of musical picture we’re painting here. However what makes this games soundtrack even better is the variety of radio stations in game that each represents a certain genre of that time period. From country to classical, all bases are covered and everyone can be pleased. San Andreas’ Radio X boats the likes of Soundgarden, Ozzy Osbourne, Depeche Mode and Faith No More. Vice City on the other hand broadcasts Flash FM for a dash of power pop featuring Hall & Oates, Michael Jackson, Go West and Lionel Richie. Skip to the most recent release Grand Theft Auto V and tune into Radio Los Santos for contemporary hip hop hits with A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar and The Game. Throw in the likes of celebrity DJ’s hosting each one (including Axl Rose, Cara Delevingne and danger zone man himself Kenny Loggins) and you’re in for an all round good time. Even when the music stops, you’ve got the ever-witty radio ads to fill the gaps.
So that’s it! Our top 10 games with licenced soundtracks. Of course there’s a whole boatload of games with fantastic soundtracks that haven’t quite made the cut (Who could forget the SSX series and Brutal Legend?!) Don’t agree with our list? Or maybe we’ve inspired you to dig out some of your games consoles. Either way, let us know your thoughts!
Written By: Liam Ruane