‘Metal as fuck’ is a modern colloquialism used to indicate whether an object, idea, or action is verifiably rad. But calling something metal means much more than ‘cool, but edgy’. It’s a phrase that should be reserved for only the raddest and the saddest of shit, to be wielded precisely—break glass in case of impossible geometry.
Which is why I want to avoid easy picks for our professional take on which PC games are the most metal. Any game can have skulls and Satan, and sport cool hats that say “Metal” on them. But a true metal designation comes from something beneath the surface.
True metal is emotion that swells infinitely into a dead signal, a raw, sustained wall of noise that blots out everything else. Metal can also the the total inverse, a complete lack of emotion and the struggle or fascination that results from wrestling with the meaning of existence. Metal can be triumphant and transcendent, a screaming chorus against oblivion. Metal is also sometimes just some people screaming passages from Moby Dick, which I endorse. With that in mind, here are our picks for the most metal PC games, and some companion albums to get you into a similar headspace. Mute the trailers and play their song to hear and see for yourself.
Companion album: Moonlover by Ghost Bath
While the art looks right out of children's storybook, Neverending Nightmares is a blunt exploration of depression and suicidal thoughts. Designer Matt Gilgenbach would know—the game was inspired by his personal experiences with mental illness. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful tale, but finding that light requires tip-toeing through one eerie location after another, while getting harassed by monsters and extremely graphic visions—like, some seriously awful stuff. You’ve been warned. But it’s this plain, honest approach to mental illness that makes Neverending Nightmares so metal. Metal as fuck. It’s a game that addresses something very real and personal without flinching, taking a long soak in darkness to exfoliate the soul.
VVVVVV + MMMMMM
VVVVVV’s vanilla form isn’t quite metal. It brushes against psychedelic rock with such bright coloring, but there’s something transcendent in overcoming its difficult platforming challenges. It’s not quite metal on its own, but a second, officially sanctioned soundtrack by the original composer SoulEye just pushes it over the edge. created as a collaboration between SoulEye and guitarist FamilyJules7x. After seeing a metal cover medley of VVVVVV’s tunes on YouTube, SoulEye reached out and immediately went to work on a louder, brasher, more triumphant recreation of his original songs. Even better, with every download, he included a mod file that inserts the MMMMMM compositions into the game. It’s the only way I can play it anymore.
Yankai’s Triangle is an eerie, psychedelic puzzle game about spinning triangles to form triangles so you can keep making triangles. Some of them have eyes. Some make squishy sounds. Some of them whisper. 100 puzzles in and little has changed, but I’m still going, hypnotized by the rote act of spinning shapes. If I didn’t need to eat or sleep and didn’t need to work, I might be content spinning shapes forever. A pointless existence? Nah, we’re talking triangles here.
The Cat Lady
I’ve never played a game as bleak as The Cat Lady. You play as Susan, a woman who commits suicide and is transported to a strange nether world where the ‘Queen of Maggots’ makes her immortal until she rids the world of five psychopaths. It’s one hell of an opener, but nothing about the game is pleasant. Susan is severely depressed, and interfacing with a character that wants nothing more than to die, while tasked with murdering murderers—well, it’s an uncomfortable journey through terrifying, true aspects of human experience. The Cat Lady reflects some of the darkest metal out there, trashed up in the slightest by a scribbly, industrial aesthetic that prevents it from being too dour to play. It’s still sad as hell, offers little in the way of hope, and doesn’t care much about how much fun you’re having. In other words, it’s metal.
American Truck Simulator
Peak solitude is best experienced on dead silent freeway in rural Nevada. I know the mountains are out there, but I can’t see them. Tiny lights flicker on and off in the distance, either the occasional porch light or a blinking LED on some strange power station. If I tell myself I’m driving on a highway through the ocean, or nothing at all, I’m there. The experience isn’t painful or aggressive—it’s wonderful, and a bit overwhelming. Look at all that darkness. Look at everything we can’t see. Just make sure to stay under the speed limit. Fee notices crowding the screen take me out of it.
The game is set in an abyss and you shoot daggers out of your fingertips against an endless stream of flying skulls and abyssal centipedes. Devil Daggers is PC gaming’s cursed arcade cabinet, so oppressive and indifferent to the player it feels evil. It’s an FPS that feels dangerous to play and impossible to conquer. There’s nihilism in throwing yourself against the demonic horde time and time again, only to gain a few more seconds or inch up the leaderboard. To what end? None. Just more demons, more darkness, and infinite, guaranteed failure. But buried beneath all the failure is a graceful, entertaining shooter. Hold onto the fun. Never let go.
Dark Souls 2
Companion album: NO by Old Man Gloom
Every Souls game is metal, but Dark Souls 2 puts on a clinic. Some of its set pieces feel more tongue in cheek than the other games (see the ghost ship in No-man’s Wharf), but if that means we get to fall hundreds of feed through a tear in time and space onto a throne room suspended in a chaos realm before taking on an ancient king and his cronies with a litany of soldier friends at our back—it’s straight up Paradise Lost fan-fiction—then I don’t mind some cheese on occasion.
Fill out the soundscape with metal instrumentation and Darkest Dungeon’s narrator will fit right in. He’s already the vocalist to your dungeoneers’ inevitable demise, commenting on the impurity of the land and describing enemies with sticky, odorous prose—so why not? He’s right though, about how awful everything is. Darkest Dungeon’s unforgiving turn-based combat will build a pile of corpses to heaven in no time. Go ahead, climb it. There’s nothing up there.
The Banner Saga
Darkest Dungeon doesn’t give a damn about the player, but The Banner Saga sets up interesting, sympathetic characters and then proceeds to not give a damn about them. You just get to see their lives get progressively worse through the medium of grid-based combat. Congratulations, you just beat the level—oh, and by the way, you’re starving and everyone you know is dead, including the gods. So where do you want to allocate those stat points?
Chugga-lugga-lug. No, I’m not drinking chocolate milk, I’m drinking blood. Hell yeah! It’s the sound Doom makes, chugga-lugga-lug, both in the soundtrack and the sound of demons turning to gristle beneath DoomGuy’s fist or a light red mist from direct super shotgun buckshot to the general face area. Doom is a self-aware montage of blood and pulpy demonic imagery, an ode to angsty trapper keeper doodles and a reminder that, damn, church is boring. Instead, go to hell. Doom is loud and fun and dumb in the first five minutes and all the reading is optional. You’re going to have the insides of a demon splashed all over your mug—and into your mug, if you have one handy like I always do. Drinking blood is metal. Do it. Drink blood.
“Drinking blood is metal. Do it. Drink blood.” — James Davenport, 2017
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods contains and addresses: witches, rural decay, the failures of capitalism, existentialism, and pizza. It’s metal. If you’ve ever seen your favorite food place’s windows boarded up with a sign that says ‘Going out of business!’ hanging from the front door, then you’ve experienced metal. Metal is sad, but true. Metal kind of sucks, really. So why play or listen to anything intended to be such a bummer? For some, it’s a helpful exercise that helps them overcome feelings of listlessness in tough times. Everything is slowly weathering away, including ourselves. Might as well hang out with our friends, break shit, eat some hot pies, and chip away at the man. There might be a happier ending somewhere down the line, but this isn’t it. Not yet.
Metal often addresses transcendence, a means to escape our plane of existence, though not always literally. At the very least, good metal is a temporary vessel through which you can perceive the world in a new light, from above or far below. And Second Life has it right there in the name, a new world, a new life. But what truly makes it the most metal MMO is that upon shedding this mortal coil and Logging In, you’re not necessarily granted a clean slate. You’re bombarded with everything that every was and ever could be rendered in 3D engine from 2003.
Second Life is a better life for many and a horrifying mirror for others. If you want to be a tall rabbit who fucks, you can. If you want to be a beauty blogger, you can. If you want to be a Chad and raise your seven sons in a quiet suburb, you can. It’s the time stream continuum compressed to exist on server farm. It contains the most primitive forms of good and evil, the big bang happening all at once, history remixed, terror, love, joy, unicorns with boobs—Second Life is more metal than we can comprehend.
I’ve already : “I’ve been waiting for a game to bend my arm past my elbow for years now. That’s Thumper’s specialty, using the familiarity of a traditional music game ‘note highway’ to make the player feel anything but groovy.” If it wasn’t obvious, ‘awful’ is a compliment. Thumper is sustained discomfort in music game form, condensing the sense of tumbling down a hillside and barely staying fully conscious into a small metal scarab flying down an cosmic highway. It leaves me feeling exhausted and tense, but better prepared to face the pain again.