Music is a significant piece to any video game – hell, to life itself. When properly situated, excellent music direction can enhance any given experience a thousandfold. Legendary composers like Nobuo Uematsu have the ability to sell games on name alone. Outside of compositions, however, lurk the murky waters of licensed music. Often found in larger title or triple A games, licensed music can set the tone of the narrative with relative ease. But as we’ve seen with the recent retail elimination of Alan Wake, a tremendous survival horror game, due to the expiration of music licenses, adding licensed music to games can be tricky. Still, in honor of Alan Wake, here is our top 10 licensed songs in games.
10. “Mad World” – Gary Jules
Gears of War 3
Despite its overuse in heart wrenching moments in film (and video games), “Mad World” has become a sort of cult classic in the musical world. Used in both the trailer and as an instrumental during Dom’s final moments, “Mad World” fits the atmosphere and heartbreaking final seconds before Dom’s ultimate sacrifice. The music is doubly effective as it works over a muted echo of the gunfire and explosions of the exposition. Even worse, Dom was a fan favorite of Gears of War players, so his devastating death (even though it saved his comrades) became more emotional in lieu of Gary Joules’ “Mad World”. RIP, Dom.
9. “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” – Aerosmith
Saints Row IV
The opening of Saints Row IV is the pinnacle of testosterone induced action sequences. It’s satirical take on the male fueled explosion / battle scenes is hilarious enough, but as your protagonist fights his/her way through a group of terrorists, you come face-to-face with a huge missile set to destroy the United States of America. Since you’ve missed preventing its launch window, you must climb the in-flight rocket and sabotage it mid-air. Whilst dismantling the bomb, your entire group of comrades (most of whom know you and some you’ve only recently met) give you a sort of eulogy as a send off. Perhaps in homage to Armageddon, Aermosith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” kicks off as you and the missile exit the launch site.
8. “Stand By Me” – Florence + The Machine
Final Fantasy XV
A clever remake for a clever opening sequence, Florence + The Machine created an excellent rendition of “Stand By Me” for Final Fantasy XV. “Stand By Me” is a song about lovers sticking together, but it translates well into the bond of friendship between Noctis and his three closest friends. Knowing where the finale of Final Fantasy XV’s journey ends, “Stand By Me” takes on a particularly stronger meaning. It’s not unusual for the Final Fantasy franchise to incorporate vocals into songs (“Eyes on Me” or “Suteki De Na”, for example, were great), but it isn’t often that they feature a song like “Stand By Me”. In any case, it’s an excellent fit for an excellent game, and it empowers the narrative as a result.
7. “Take On Me” – A-Ha
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Well, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain features an incredible amount of great licensed music. Scattered throughout the game, Snake can pick up various cassette tapes that contain numerous classic tracks. On his 80’s cassette tapes (the likes of which “You Spin Me Round” or “The Final Countdown” can also be found), Snake comes across a-ha’s classic “Take on Me”, one of my most iconic 80’s jams – and one that I feel really fits the odd alternative world of Metal Gear Solid. Not only that, but with Kojima’s Konami fallout and the future of MGS in question, “Take on Me” feels the most appropriate selection for the game. Plus, who doesn’t love that song?
6. “Rave On” – Buddy Holly
The best part of the Mafia series is its use of era specific music and radio stations (and cars, scenery, etc.). Perhaps the single most memorable licensed song for me, personally, of all time is Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”. Driving through the 1950’s inspired streets of Empire Bay is wonderful on its own, but cruising in your boat cars to Buddy Holly? Near perfection. In the case of Mafia 2 (all of the games in the series, really), licensed music is used to create a believable and breathing world, and “Rave On” takes its spot at the top of those tracks in doing so. I probably spent more time cruising through Empire Bay jamming to these songs than I did committing fictitious crimes.