If you're still reading after that title pun, congratulations and thank you. Anyway...Ever since playing Spec Ops: The Line I've been thinking about licensed music in games and what it can add to a game.
As I said in our Spec Ops podcast, hearing recognizable songs in the middle of gunplay was probably my favorite part of the game. Here's a video of "Hush" playing during an early encounter:
I recognized the song, but it was completely out of its normal context. Within the game, Walker and his squad mates are also feeling the weird dissonance: psychedelic rock is playing while they're fighting for their lives, which helped link me to the characters. Something about it made me a little more wild eyed and battle seemed more chaotic. The normal generic guitar riffs or Hans Zimmer pounding were nowhere to be found in this strange place.
I took a quick stroll down memory lane to find some recent examples of great licensed music in games.
"Power" in Saints Row: The Third
In a game that is basically an exercise in indulging the ultimate power fantasy, this track feels right at home. Furthermore, Kanye's brash persona and love of catchy hooks fits right in with the Saints' swagger. What other song would you rather hear when skydiving out of a plane onto the roof of a building?
"Here's to You " in Metal Gear Solid 4
In a way, it's fitting that a cover of a Joan Baez song about two (likely wrongly) convicted Italian-American immigrants with anarchist leanings. Is it an allusion to Snake, who is metaphorically killed by a system that has doomed him from the beginning? Is it another critique of the tendency for leaders to exploit fear, xenophobia, and violence to maintain power? Is it some sort of meta-commentary or absurdist joke? Or does Kojima truly not realize how ridiculous he is? All these questions can be asked of the Metal Gear series as a whole, so I think it's a pretty great use of the song.
"Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," in Red Dead Redemption
When it comes to Western tropes, Red Dead Redemption always seems to have its cake and eat it too. It touches on almost every single genre convention out there but still manages to exist as more than a cliche or an homage. Much of this is do the systemic story: the game's open world tells an implicit story about the endless cycle of violence begetting violence. The end is inevitable and it's hammered home by one of the most classic cowboy songs in the book, but it's an hauntingly honest one. In fact, I'd recommend listening to full version as well:
That's a handful of recent games with licensed music, but I'm sure I'm missing some great examples. What are some of your favorite games (past or present) with licensed music?