PC gaming's best trips to the moon

A screenshot of Destiny 2 guardians on the moon.
(Image credit: Bungie)

NASA has detected a tiny amount of water in the moon's Clavius Crater, which sits low in the southern hemisphere of the moon's sunlit surface. According to NASA, it's the first confirmation that water exists on the moon outside of the "permanently shadowed craters" at the poles. One hope, says the agency, is that the presence of this lunar water will help with "establishing a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade." (Though they'd better hurry before The Wonderful Company puts a bottling plant and pistachio farm up there.)

Earth's moon has featured more than a few times in PC gaming, and as the discovery has excited some curiosity on the PC Gamer team, we decided to take a look back at some of our favorite moon levels. Perhaps they'll prepare us for our future lives as water miners in the moon colonies. 

Destiny 2

On multiple occasions I have used the phrase 'sepulchral beauty' to describe Destiny 2's rendition of the moon, and given that there's nobody here to stop me, I shall now do so again. The peerless quality of Bungie's art team is probably the only aspect of Destiny that I've never seen serious complaints about (valid concerns about Hunter cloaks notwithstanding), so it's no surprise that, despite the spilled ashtray source material, Luna is a sensational looking destination to visit. Its monochromatic, haunting beauty is further underscored by the fact it provides the location of the Guardians greatest defeat: a massacre at the gnarled hands of Crota, the Hive prince.  

It's at which point that, yes, Destiny's moon parts company with the orthodoxy of current NASA thinking. In the game, the Moon has been shattered by the Hive (a creepy race of aliens), who have burrowed deep under its surface, constructing vast chambers of bone in which to worship their dread worm gods. When the moon returned to the game as part of the Shadowkeep expansion last year, it also added a vast Cathedral called the Scarlet Keep, and a fantastic dungeon called the Pit of Heresy. Essentially, in Bungie's telling, the moon is both a place of rare solitude and a planet-sized haunted house crawling with bone-clad aliens. Oh, and it also gave us one of videogaming's most infamously duff lines of dialogue, as delivered in the original alpha by Dinklebot himself. All together now: where did that wizard come from? —Tim Clark

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Call of Duty's space campaign was so-so by my measure, growling Kit Harington and all, but some of the space bits were genuinely cool. Starting a mission with the typical rough ride in a CoD military vehicle, except with the Earth hanging in the sky, is a bit of a trip. And once inside the lunar station, the easily-broken windows seem quite unsafe (a shutter system covers breaches only after everyone nearby has been sucked into the vacuum), but it's quite satisfying when a troop of bad guys go whizzing off into space. If it weren't still $60 I might recommend it. —Tyler Wilde

 Wolfenstein: The New Order 

To be clear, the good thing about this version of the moon is not the presence of a Nazi base, except in that it makes for a good level in which to shoot Nazis. Unlike Call of Duty, Wolfenstein's moon base doesn't constantly put a plate full of moon in front of you. There aren't any windows with a view outside at first, and a lot of the base is made up of self-sealing corridors, which is the sort of architecture you expect when there's a vacuum outside. Eventually, we're treated to a view of the moonscape through floor to ceiling windows, and then finally indulged with a trip outside, which is all the more special due to the restraint elsewhere. (Restraint isn't something Call of Duty has ever known much about, to be fair.) —Tyler Wilde

 Spelunky 2 

(Image credit: Justin Chan)

Of all the representations of the moon listed here, surprisingly it's Spelunky 2's moon that most embodies the "Moon's haunted" meme. A simple platformer set on the Moon's surface, Splelunky 2 asks us to accept that Earth's satellite features not just cavemen, a jungle abundant with life, and flowing lava (which I think implies the presence of tectonic plates?), but a full lineup of Halloween minions: vampires, ghosts, zombies, witch doctors, and turkeys, the moon's most fearsome bird.  —Evan Lahti

Lunar Lander

There have been lots of games about spinning in circles and tapping thrusters gently to touch down on the moon, but I've chosen the 1979 Atari version of the game to feature as it's the iconic one. There's a more modern, 3D version called Lunar Flight on Steam, and it's not bad, though I only played it for an hour before getting frustrated by my crap thruster maneuvering. I will not be the lunar equivalent of a truck driver when conscripted into the water mines. —Tyler Wilde 

Mass Effect

Though most of your time in Mass Effect is spent exploring the far reaches of the galaxy, the original game sent you on a moon mission to take down a rogue AI. It sounds cool, but it's a pretty forgettable mission that only gets referenced in passing throughout the series. Still, Mass Effect wins some extra points based on its accurate depiction of the moon: a large, mostly featureless swathe of wasteland that seemingly goes on forever. And, hey, at least the Mako's terrible physics makes a lot more sense in the moon's near zero-G environment. — Steven Messner

Portal 2

Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson acquired millions of dollars of moon rocks, ground them up into powder, and used them to create conversion gel, which can be applied to any surface to make it portal-friendly. (Unfortunately, while grinding up those moon rocks he breathed in a bunch of moon dust, which ain't great for human lungs.)

This entertaining backstory is fed to us during Portal 2, and serves as some excellent foreshadowing and a solution to the game's final showdown with the charmingly evil Wheatley. As a portion of the ceiling collapses, the moon can be seen in the night sky, and knowing moon dust works with portals, Chell fires a Portal all the way to the damn moon. The other end of the Portal sucks both Chell and Wheatly to the moon's surface, where Wheatley floats happily away into space (and where you can see the one of the Apollo landing sites). GLaDOS pulls Chell back to earth, saving the person she spent the first game trying to destroy. It's a ridiculous and exciting ending to a smashing game. —Chris Livingston

More moon games

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now. 

With contributions from