Gaming and product placement go hand in hand. Whether it's images of Nathan Drake clutching a Subway sandwich in a TV ad or the strange exploits of Pepsiman on the original PlayStation, advertising firms have been fighting for a slice of the gaming pie for years. Although the most egregious examples are always the first to spring to mind, when done right, the inclusion of recognisable brands in a game can help bring a new level of believability to virtual worlds, and so here we’re going to explore some of the most tasteful, and tasteless, times real-world foodstuffs showed up in otherwise unrelated adventures.
Yakuza series - Branded booze
Despite predominantly taking place in the fictional district of Kamurocho, Yakuza is renowned for its wonderfully realised environments. It's easy to work up a virtual thirst while exploring. Fortunately bars and vending machines are ready to quench it, each flogging a selection of real-world beverages. The likes of Jack Daniels and Asahi beer, plus 7 Up and Mountain Dew for the teetotallers, are so seamlessly integrated among the generic sodas that it's surprisingly easy to miss such unabashed product placement.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - Calorie Mate
With notable appearances by the Walkman and iPod, Metal Gear is no stranger to product placement. Still, when it comes to the series' third entry, you would be forgiven for assuming its remote jungle setting would prove a barrier to in-game advertisements. That didn’t stop the inclusion of CalorieMate though, an energy bar consumed by Snake at various points in the story. The events of Snake Eater, set in 1964, occur almost 20 years before the product's debut, making for a distractingly anachronistic inclusion.
Crazy Taxi - Fast food
The perfect match: fast food and a fast game. We can only assume that this was the rationale behind the inclusion of various fast food restaurants in the arcade version of Crazy Taxi. These elements were preserved in its earliest home console ports, including the PlayStation 2 iteration, which saw players racing past a slew of KFCs and Pizza Huts on their quest to collect fares. Sure, the buildings' elaborate façades may stick out amid the map's otherwise plain architecture, but at least their distinctive shapes make for memorable waypoints while speeding around the city.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - Airwaves gum
Despite the cans of Axe deodorant littered around levels and the eye-catching posters for Nokia phones plastered to practically every surface, the most conspicuous bit of in-game advertising in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory comes from Sam Fisher’s love of Airwaves gum. He's constantly reaching into his pocket for a new stick, and this distracting addition sees entire conversations put on hold for obnoxious close-ups of Fisher masticating. Even when Sam's off-screen, the brand is inescapable thanks to a giant Airwaves blimp that dominates New York's skyline during cutscenes.
Final Fantasy 15 - Nissin Cup Noodle
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One of the more controversial entries to make this list, Final Fantasy 15's foray into the world of product placement received a polarised reaction from fans. For many, the game's collaboration with Nissin Cup Noodle (there’s no 's' on the end in Japan) was nothing more than an amusing extra, but others found the focus on this real-world snack detracted from the JRPG's carefully crafted fictional setting. Although the open world is practically jam-packed with Nissin advertisements on billboards, not to mention consumable Cup Noodle that you can use to restore health at camp, the bulk of the debate was framed around a certain side-quest.
Dubbed 'The Perfect Cup', this quest is triggered by a visit to the Cup Noodle wagon in the town of Lestallum and sees Noctis and the gang, Cup Noodle mega-fan Gladio in particular, seeking the best toppings for their steaming hot instant ramen and bonding over the experience as they consume their perfect concoction around the campfire. It may seem fairly innocuous compared to many of the other examples highlighted here, but the second piece of tie-in content, a downloadable Cup Noodle hat, is an entirely different story.
Arriving down the line as a piece of post-launch DLC, equipping this carbohydrate cap on one of your party members sees their entire head hilariously encased by a photorealistic rendition of Nissin's iconic cup. Although it was originally only accessible to players who picked up a limited-time Final Fantasy Cup Noodle in Japan, Square Enix has since made the accessory available globally for all to download.
Death Stranding - Monster Energy
From ghostly BTs to screaming Bridge Babies, the world of Death Stranding is absolutely bizarre. Perhaps the most inexplicable aspect of this surrealist post-apocalyptic delivery simulator, however, is the regular appearance of Monster Energy. Purportedly the courier's beverage of choice, Sam Porter Bridges carries a flask of it at all times. Stopping for a sip grants a temporary stamina boost, but, as anyone who has stopped for a refreshment break on a car journey will know, quickly fills your bladder and increases the need for a trip to the toilet.
If your supply ever runs low, Bridges' magic flask is even capable of transforming dirty river water into the delicious drink, with players encouraged to stand in puddles or stay out in the rain to replenish their personal stash. If all that isn’t enough to satisfy your cravings, there's plenty more back at base. An entire table covered with sealed cans is one of the few items of furniture on display every time you enter Sam's compact personal space between delivery jobs.
Given the complete decimation of the United States and the ruins of industrial cities that you encounter roaming across the map, it's more than a little unclear who is even manufacturing the stuff and keeping the brand alive post-collapse. Maybe this is the reason why the jarring (or should that be canning?) removal of the brand was included among the many changes made for the game's recent PS5 'Director’s Cut' re-release.
PaRappa The Rapper 2 - McDonald's burgers
With catchy lyrics like "the best burgers in town from all around" and "the line goes around like a merry-go-round", the McDonald's rap included with promotional demo discs for PaRappa The Rapper 2 sees the game's cast assembling quarter pounders in a bustling McDonald's restaurant, a reskin of the full game's burger level. Labelled the 'Happy Disc' and included with Happy Meals leading up to the game's launch in Japan, it came bundled with a second demo for Ape Escape and a lengthy live-action advert showcasing costumed apes roaming loose around McDonald’s branches in Japan.
Enter the Matrix - Powerade
Part of a wider campaign that saw cinemagoers bombarded with Matrix-themed Powerade advertisements, several urban maps from 2003's Enter The Matrix were dotted with neon-green vending machines stacked high with cans of Agent Smith’s favourite drink. Set alongside the events of the films, their prevalence is a little jarring at first but, given the extensive Powerade cameos awaiting series fans throughout The Matrix Revolutions when it was released later in the same year, it’s hard to argue that their inclusion isn't at least somewhat faithful to the world of the source material.
Parasite Eve 2 - Coca-Cola
When an army of bloodthirsty mutants is running amok, a glass of Coca-Cola is the last thing you'd expect to come to the rescue. Still, the brand's red receptacles appear as health items throughout survival horror classic Parasite Eve II. Although Aya, the protagonist, is seen gulping down litres of the stuff to regain HP between combat encounters, the overall implementation is subtle. Simply labelled 'cola' in the inventory screen, only the most eagle-eyed players are likely to spot the branding on the can's 3D model.
Fight Night Round 3 - The Burger King
It may seem odd to feature a fast food giant in a boxing title alongside the likes of Everlast and Under Armor, but if you want to become the king of the ring there's no better mentor than the potato potentate (who had a long, storied history of boxing sponsorship). By either entering a secret code on the character creation screen or coming victorious in a fight with Rey Mo in career mode, you can unlock the Burger King as a special trainer. Decked out in full regalia, the King provides a passive health bonus and support between rounds.
This feature first appeared in Play Magazine issue 16. For more fantastic features, interviews, reviews, and more, you can subscribe to Play magazine here .