The best musical moments in PC gaming

Her Story - Discovering the music clips

In Her Story, you’re asked to search through an old database of interview clips, the subject of which is a murder suspect. The only way to find more clips is to search using keywords that might shine the light on secondary characters or curious lines of inquiry, and it’s likely the average player won’t see them all. Hidden in the mire are two clips of the suspect exercising her musical prowess. Hardly necessary to piece together the mystery itself, the song serves as intriguing character color. The song also carries some themes that hit a bit too close to possible suspicions to ignore. Maybe it’s just a song. Then again, maybe it’s not.

The Cat Lady - Accidentally cutting your arm off

Not many adventure games are so suffocating that I’ve required multiple breaks because of the subject matter instead of the puzzles. The Cat Lady deals with themes of depression, suicide, and violence and it’s all overtly visually represented—an unrelenting torture movie (think, Inside) set against the surreal, psychological backdrop of Silent Hill or Jacob’s Ladder. The game is very much in the latter camp at first, a slow dissolve of realities. It’s all intentionally subdued, because once the ‘The Arm Scene’ rolled around, I jumped out of my seat in simultaneous horror and amazement. Some music kicks in that in any other context I might find hokey, but it serves the sudden shift in tone perfectly. And so, one of the best horror scenes in gaming was cemented.

Left 4 Dead 2 - The Dark Carnival finale

Dark Carnival is one of the best L4D campaigns for the way it builds on the fiction of the musical finale. The Midnight Riders, a Platonic 80s hard rock band, were set to put on a show for the carnival goers. As it happens, the zombie apocalypse forced a schedule change. Throughout the campaign, graffiti, character dialogue, and other environmental tidbits clue the player into who the Midnight Riders are and what people think about them. They follow the washed up stereotype of a band whose glory days are long gone. As made evident by the finale, they now lipsync live shows at rural fairgrounds. The survivors have to kick off the stage pyrotechnics and audio to get the attention of a helicopter, which is just one of the Midnight Rider songs on blast. It attracts the horde of course, but smashing waves of zombies over the head with electric guitars amid pyrotechnics to the tune of a good Motorhead approximation? Pretty cool.

Bonus: All I Want For Christmas (is to kick your ass)

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - Doing almost anything to 80s radio

The first time I heard Sunglasses at Night was in GTA: Vice City. My friend David and I were driving motorcycles into walls at high speeds. Never have the 80s been more perfectly represented. OK, not true, I wouldn’t know since I only clipped the tail of ‘89, but Vice City felt like a distinct time and place, even if it was lampooned and exaggerated. Sure, there was plenty of neon and white suits and cocaine, but what sealed the deal was the soundtrack. Flock of Seagulls might come on as we drove the city at night, and what was formerly a mess of colored polygons would suddenly sharpen into pop culture’s Miami.

Tales from the Borderlands - The Episode 2 introductory credits

Every game in the Borderlands series has thrown a catchy tune into the introductory credits while some kind of comic drama unfolds underneath. It’s always been fun and sets the tone, but not until the second episode of Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands did I think, damn, this is cool. And you actually get to play the scene. Through the combination of choice camera work, likable characters, a good song, and interactivity, I felt like it was the first time Borderlands’ identity crystallized in a positive way.

James Davenport

James is stuck in an endless loop, playing the Dark Souls games on repeat until Elden Ring and Silksong set him free. He's a truffle pig for indie horror and weird FPS games too, seeking out games that actively hurt to play. Otherwise he's wandering Austin, identifying mushrooms and doodling grackles.