Your hair: Spiked. Your shorts: Cargo. The stuff flowing through your veins: Mountain Dew (Code Red). That’s right: it’s the early 2000’s and you are a cyber commando. Mom isn’t home and your newest GameFly rental has just arrived in the mail. What will you find when you pop that sucker in the disc drive? If there is one universal guarantee in the sixth generation of console gaming, it’s that you will be greeted by an absolute banger from your favorite post-System of a Down “alt”-rock band.
Action games during this era came in all shapes and sizes, but thanks to the guest musical appearance, they could at least share a sound. Did it matter if the featured track clashed with the tone of the game, or even with the rest of its soundtrack? Hell no! As long as the song made you feel like you were in a Naruto AMV, it was doing its job. It’s hard to say who exactly publishers were trying to appeal to with this trend—by all indicators, their target demographic was limited to the cast of HACKERS—but it’s without question that a perception of “gamer culture” was birthed from it.
Sadly, the brightest flames burn only half as long. The image of the gamer bro largely went the way of the dodo by the end of the decade, and with it, all the sick middle school anthems that spawned it. However, that doesn’t mean there’s anything stopping you from sliding in a classic and treating your ears once more to the death throes of the record industry. So kick back, unwind, and treat yourself once more to the greatest hits of your iPod Mini’s library.
The Song: “Immortal” – Adema
The Game: MORTAL KOMBAT: DEADLY ALLIANCE
The Year: 2002
MORTAL KOMBAT: DEADLY ALLIANCE was a game of firsts. As both the first 3D Mortal Kombat and the first entry developed exclusively for consoles, not arcade, DEADLY ALLIANCE brought the series more in line with franchises like Dead Or Alive and Tekken. It proved to be a successful move, giving the lone American fighter the shot in the arm it needed to compete with its much more popular Japanese counterparts. DEADLY ALLIANCE also jump-started the trend of trawling the streets for the most wild rock band you could find and using them to crank your game up to the X-treme. Adema had only released a single self-titled album the year before, but that was enough to convince Midway to commission a single from the group to promote DEADLY ALLIANCE. The result can only be described as a masterpiece. “Immortal” is the Rosetta Stone of Gamer Grooves, the first proof that a beat-em-up could also have sick beats. The legendary music video, included in the game’s bonus features, depicts the members of Adema being transported to Outworld and fighting Scorpion over a field of lava, presumably before getting their spines ripped out by the fire-breathing ninja. Tragically, the band would split apart the following year and not regroup until 2017, but it wasn’t a complete bust; following the recording of “Immortal,” Adema was able to play the song live at E3 2002, the hottest venue in town. They also gained enough notoriety from “Immortal” to have their track “Everyone” featured in the soundtrack for Paul W.S. Anderson’s film adaptation of RESIDENT EVIL. If those aren’t legacies all musical artists should aspire towards, I don’t know what is.
The Song: “With My Mind” – Cold
The Game: PSI-OPS: THE MINDGATE CONSPIRACY
The Year: 2004
One of the greatest games that nobody played, Midway’s PSI-OPS: THE MINDGATE CONSPIRACY was a gore-soaked homage to METAL GEAR SOLID by way of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Nick Scryer is a psychic secret agent who can possess enemies, fling them from ledges with telekinesis, or cause their heads to explode by, um, thinking real hard. Taking full advantage of the new Havok 2.0 physics engine, PSI-OPS was a trailblazer in player/environment interactions. You know what else set PSI-OPS ahead of the curve? This music video for the single “With My Mind” that nu metal group Cold composed for the game. Not content with being a one-hit wonder, Midway continued to lead the pack in getting dope-ass alt-rock bands to help promote their titles. While the song can’t claim to match the utter insanity that was “Immortal,” “With My Mind” still goes in hard. The single never made it onto any of Cold’s albums, but in true Midway fashion, the band did play it live at E3 2003, and really, you can’t ask for more than that.
The Song: “Blurry” – Puddle of Mudd
The Game: ACE COMBAT 5: THE UNSUNG WAR
The Year: 2004
The lone Japanese title on this list, ACE COMBAT 5’s musical cameo is also arguably the strangest. Composer Keiki Kobayashi’s scores have garnered no small amount of acclaim from game critics over the years, and have been defined by his standout orchestral arrangements. In ACE COMBAT 5’s case, the player is treated with several dramatic performances by the Warsaw Philharmonic, an apt pairing for the 12-odd hours of schmaltzy melodrama and massive battles that permeate the campaign. It should be obvious, then, that this is all ushered in by one of the phattest guitar riffs to come out of a backwards snapback. Before you even see a title screen, you are met with a cinematic montage set to Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry.” Wes Scantlin’s angst-ridden, post-grunge powerhouse starts out mellow before opening up into what could be described as “knockoff Nirvana,” and while neither half really screams “fighter jets,” they definitely got 11-year-old me psyched for . . . something. The best part is that nothing else in ACE COMBAT 5’s soundscape even comes within lock-on range of sounding like “Blurry,” making its inclusion all the more delightful.
The Song: “Still Waiting” – Sum 41
The Game: OBSCURE
The Year: 2004
The appropriately-titled OBSCURE was Hydravision’s cooperative survival horror that released in Europe in the tail end of 2004. Playing out like an even gorier interpretation of THE FACULTY, the game saw five high schoolers hunted by monsters after being trapped on campus overnight. It had great ideas, decent execution, and the incredible misfortune of hitting the North American market mere months after the second-coming-of-Christ that was RESIDENT EVIL 4. It’s a shame, because despite its flaws, OBSCURE is one of the more balls-out experiences in the genre. A lot of that has to do with its madhouse presentation, beginning with an intro cinematic featuring the whitest basketball game ever rendered accompanied by Sum 41’s “Still Waiting.” It’s the best first impression a game could hope to leave on a player; though thoroughly unlikeable in their own unique manner, each of OBSCURE’s playable characters become inextricably tied to the Canadian quartet’s skate punk stylings to the point where you can’t help but love them. Tragically, the licenses to the soundtrack were lost by the time the game was remastered and released on Steam, but you can still find them in their original glory online.
The Song: “Cinglés” – Enhancer
The Game: OBSCURE
The Year: 2004
Not to play favorites, but when your survival horror game prominently displays “music by: Sum 41 & Span” on the box, you’re in it to win it. That being said, neither of those bands are responsible for this next composition. Each language version of OBSCURE was impressively repackaged with its own region-specific soundtrack—Sportfreunde Stiller featured prominently in the German edition, and Da Whole Enchilada’s “Supersonica” plays over the Spanish version’s credits. It’s Hydravision’s native French version, however, that steals the show here. Upon completing the game, players unlocked the music video for French nu metal group Enhancer’s “Cinglés”. And what a video it is! The numerous BMX-mounted members of the band terrorize an otherwise quiet suburb, destroying produce, stealing monster trucks, and even dynamiting a neighbor’s poodle. The song also rocks with a beat so hard you could smash your Volcom-decaled guitar apart on it. I couldn’t begin to tell you what the multiple freestyle interludes are alluding to, but I’m totally there for the sentiment. While region-coding makes it next to impossible for US gamers to truly appreciate the song in its ideal format (a 480p video in the game’s “Extras” menu), it’s refreshing just to know that something this goddamn loud exists in the world.
The Song: “I Stand Alone” – Godsmack
The Game: PRINCE OF PERSIA: WARRIOR WITHIN
The Year: 2004
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME was a critical and commercial darling when it released in 2003, with gamers everywhere praising the time-travelling spin on a classic franchise. Despite its success, Ubisoft decided one reboot wasn’t enough, so just one year later they threw the series in for another cycle. WARRIOR WITHIN was decidedly edgier and darker, sporting an M rating from the ESRB for its bloody decapitations. The Prince’s New Groove was more reminiscent of an off-the-wagon Shadow the Hedgehog than Persian royalty; more importantly, he looked exactly like the kind of person you’d bump into backstage at a Godsmack concert, which is fitting considering how prominently the band features in WARRIOR WITHIN’s soundtrack. While “Straight Out Of Line” plays over the credits, it’s the recurring use of “I Stand Alone” as the theme for the Dahaka, an unstoppable beast that pursues the Prince throughout the game, that gets the spotlight here. If the JAWS theme was meant to instill terror in anticipation of the titular shark’s attack, the chugging riff of “I Stand Alone” was more of an indicator that you were about to see a ROCKET POWER episode’s worth of stiffly-animated parkour. Funny enough, the song was originally written to promote Dwayne Johnson fantasy epic THE SCORPION KING, so if you ever find yourself needing to establish a Middle Eastern monarchy, make sure you get Sully Erna on the line to compose your anthem.
The Song: “Blow Me Away” – Breaking Benjamin
The Game: HALO 2
The Year: 2004
Marty O’Donnell might have left the single biggest impression on the Halo franchise. In addition to having a pivotal role on the narrative direction of the original trilogy, he is also responsible for that unmistakable Gregorian chant that is “the Halo theme.” What’s a master of the medium to do for his follow-up act? Bring on a bunch of rock bands, of course! While O’Donnell still handled the bulk of composing duties, a significant portion of HALO 2’s soundtrack featured original tracks from the likes of Incubus and Hoobastank. It was Breaking Benjamin’s “Blow Me Away,” however, that stole the show. While Breaking Benjamin was no stranger to having their material featured in shooters, “Blow Me Away” was the first time the band wrote something specifically for a video game, which explains why the lyrics sound a lot like a play-by-play of a Team Slayer match on Zanzibar. The song only appears in-game once, within a single room, and as an instrumental variant at that, but that did little to diminish the moment as one of the most beautiful sequences in the history of art. And unlike literally any other single commissioned for use in first-person fracases, “Blow Me Away” actually did pretty well commercially, standing as one of the band’s more recognizable tracks. If you’ve ever watched a poorly-edited frag compilation on YouTube, it isn’t hard to see why.
The Song: “Getting Away With Murder” – Papa Roach
The Game: MECHASSAULT 2: LONE WOLF
The Year: 2004
As in all titles falling under the BattleTech license, the demise of a battle ‘mech in MECHASSAULT 2: LONE WOLF is accompanied by a cataclysmic nuclear meltdown and a deafening explosion. Anything within a half-mile of one of these mushroom clouds gets incinerated in a show of destruction that puts even the most chaotic modern shooters to shame. Unlike any other BattleTech game, LONE WOLF’s apocalyptic blasts are not the loudest noises you’ll hear while playing. An uncut recording of Papa Roach’s single, “Getting Away With Murder,” features not once, but twice during boss fights in LONE WOLF. As the only song on this list that was fully incorporated, lyrics and all, into actual gameplay sequences, you can bet things got hairy when the audio levels had to compete with incessant machine gun fire, radio instructions, and the aforementioned nuclear meltdowns. “Getting Away With Murder” heralded Papa Roach’s evolution from nu metal to hard rock, and that move clearly resonated with developers: the song was later featured in MX vs. ATV UNLEASHED, as well as a “clean version” in GRAN TURISMO 4.
The Song: “Use Your Fist And Not Your Mouth” – Marilyn Manson
The Game: COLD FEAR
The Year: 2005
Contrary to the legend uttered under hushed breaths at recess, Marilyn Manson never removed his rib cage so he could perform fellatio on himself. That being said, I would believe it if it came out that Manson made a deal with the devil to put out one of the baddest gamer grooves out there. Like “Getting Away With Murder”, Manson’s “Use Your Fist And Not Your Mouth” slammed hard enough that multiple games decided to feature it in their soundtracks. SPAWN: ARMAGEDDON was the first to get in on this action in 2003, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use 2005’s marginally more popular—and decidedly better-reviewed—COLD FEAR as my example here. Set upon an adrift Russian freighter overrun with all kinds of ghoulies, the game was tense, gory, and fairly innovative for its time, albeit a little rough around the edges. Unfortunately, COLD FEAR joined OBSCURE in the “French Survival Horror Games Released Within a Year of RESIDENT EVIL 4” Club, so it’s easy to see how this one plummeted down to Davy Jones’ Locker. COLD FEAR’s over-the-shoulder zombie shooting admittedly pales in comparison to RE4’s, but if it holds anything over Capcom’s juggernaut, it’s easily Manson’s black-collar banger used in the ending credits.
The Song: “Clones” – Ash
The Game: STAR WARS: REPUBLIC COMMANDO
The Year: 2005
You’d think with an entire catalog of original scores by the esteemed John Williams at hand, no Star Wars game dev would ever have to worry about throwing together a soundtrack. At the time of STAR WARS: REPUBLIC COMMANDO’s release, there were five movies (and their music) from a galaxy far, far away that the game could have dipped its quill in. Instead, REPUBLIC COMMANDO opted to go for an original score, which isn’t terribly uncommon in the universe of Star Wars games, but a decision nevertheless that never ceases to baffle me. While the soundtrack falls largely in line with standard Star Wars fare, REPUBLIC COMMANDO turned to Irish alternative rock outfit Ash’s single “Clones” (get it?) for its promotional material. They were kind enough to reshoot their music video for the game’s release, splicing in gameplay footage of clone troopers and battle droids with the grungy band’s dilapidated warehouse thrashing. Visually, the two go together like blue milk and bantha burger, which is about right given how well the track complements the greater Star Wars musical canon.
The Song: “Gears of War” – Megadeth
The Game: GEARS OF WAR
The Year: 2006
Ask anyone what song they associate with the seminal cover shooter GEARS OF WAR and they’re liable to tell you Gary Jules’ “Mad World.” The game’s famous commercial has been referenced and parodied countless times, but if only more people knew about the real masterpiece attached to Microsoft’s other flagship shooter. Commissioned to record a theme for the game, Megadeth gifted us with the appropriately named “Gears of War.” It’s fairly standard instrumental metal fare, and wouldn’t stand out much from the whirring of chainsaws that proliferate the game. It wasn’t until Microsoft decided the song could use lyrics that Megadeth returned for the mother of all revisions. Backed by a brooding riff, Dave Mustaine repeatedly hisses the game’s title into the mic like it’s going out of style. You’d be forgiven for thinking the following lyrics are unrelated to the material they’re meant to promote, as “intelligent weapons” and “more sophisticated way(s) to end up dead” are a pretty far cry from a game featuring a gun called the Boomshot. Sadly, the updated version was completed too late to be included in GEARS, but fortunately, it was able to make it onto the band’s album UNITED ABOMINATIONS the following year.