Thursday, June 16, 2011

Licensed Music in Games: Where Did It Go?

I am very much a child of the 90s. I grew up on the original PlayStation, and during that time, there were plenty of games that were notable not only for the game itself, but also for the soundtrack. One game serves as a reminder, or perhaps a symbol, of this bygone age: N20 - Nitrous Oxide. For those of you who have not heard of this title, the gameplay is pretty much Tempest 2000 on acid.

Having never done acid, this is about as close as I've ever been.

The game was fun, but got repetitive after a while. One of the real highlights, however, was the soundtrack, composed in its entirety by The Crystal Method. The soundtrack fit the game like a glove, and still stands out as one of the game's main selling points. Between 1997 and 1999, it was pretty much required by law for PSX racing or vehicular combat games to feature Rob Zombie in some way or form. Zombie was featured in the soundtracks for Twisted Metal III and Sled Storm, as well as composing some of the soundtrack for Gran Turismo 2. He was also a playable character in Twisted Metal 4. Then, there was the Wipeout Series, which consisted entirely of techno tracks by groups like Future Sound of London, Cold Storage, and Paul Van Dyk, who also happened to be in the Sled Storm soundtrack.

My point is, licensed music was all the rage, so what happened to it? It seems like after the Sixth Generation of consoles, licensed music in video games had disappeared altogether, except for rhythm games, sports games and the occasional racer. There may be some games that feature licensed music, such as Alan Wake's intermissions and Brutal Legend, but those are few and far between (VALVe's Portal and Left 4 Dead games some of the sole exceptions). Now, I'm not knocking original soundtracks; Dead Space just wouldn't be Dead Space without an orchestra playing the lowest pitches they can, and the amount of detail and effort put into the Halo and Killzone soundtracks is staggering. But there was something charming about those days, something oddly compelling, knowing that if a game was adrenaline-soaked fun, it'd have the soundtrack to match, maybe even one of your favorite bands of the time.

Yeah, maybe those times are relics of the 90s and best left in the past, but even so, sometimes it's just fun to open the Guide/XMB/Music player of your choice and blast some good music, rather than all of these epic soundtracks which are commonplace today. I know plenty of people that do that, even for games with soundtracks like Halo. I do know that I certainly wouldn't mind hearing some Carcass in the next ultra-violent zombie apocalypse shooter, or maybe even some good, old-fashioned Rob Zombie in the upcoming Twisted Metal reboot. It'd be fun.


  1. Sports games have licensed music.

  2. EA really did well with the Rugby and Fifa series' music. I remember being amazed by how good the Rugby 06 music was specifically. And Feeder's Buck Rogers in GT3. But yeah, I guess they've decided that most kinds of games are better off with their own soundtracks with loads of instrumentals to portray moods instead of actually having a few songs that seem just thrown in to appease the rest of us. Unless the player is constantly going through menus, it probably wouldn't fit most often.

  3. NHL 10 has one of the best sports game soundtrack I've ever heard.

  4. Also, Zombie hopefully did at least 1 song for the new TM game.