Portal - Still Alive, the credits sequence
I know GLaDOS tried to kill me time and time again, but after exploding her tiny ball emotions, I started to feel bad. I was going to miss her. The credits were salt on the wound. Despite revealing her most sinister side in the final battle, she charms her way back in with an earnest, if not a tad sardonic, song about how she’s still alive and didn’t really need you anyway. Beneath the death threats and murder attempts, it’s hard not listen to Still Alive and wonder if maybe, just maybe, GLaDOS is going to miss us too.
Bioshock - Sander Cohen’s paranoid outrage
Once the player arrives in Fort Frolic, they’re stranded by eccentric Rapture artist Sander Cohen. He forces the player to take pictures of three very dead ‘disciples’ to be placed on a final piece through which he’ll be eternally remembered. Upon taking the third photo, Cohen experiences a bout of paranoia and accuses the player of being a doubter. He throws a spotlight on you, sends some splicers your way, and kicks off a song over the loudspeaker: Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker. It’s a darkly humorous scene, utilizing the juxtaposition between what you’re doing—killing monstrous humans—with the magnetic spotlight and a classical dance ballad. The music lends a sick beauty to your actions. Suddenly, every connection between your wrench and a Splicer’s skull is graceful instead of gross, imbued with the abstract influence of Tchaikovsky’s score.
Euro Truck Simulator - Cruising to some actual European radio stations
There’s undoubtedly a bunch of math going on under the hood in Euro Truck Simulator. Simulators strive to emulate real scenarios, so there’s a whole lot less wiggle room to make mistakes. If one thing feels slightly off, the players will know. Which is why it’s surprising that one of the most valuable components of Euro Truck’s simulation has nothing to do with insane physics calculations or precise chassis modeling. The ability to add streaming radio stations may seem like a simple gimmick, but it does as much heavy lifting as anything else when it comes to true blue truck driving mise en scène. The zen-like trance possible from system mastery is heightened by the tangible connection to the real world. Committing yourself to the road and spacing out is one thing, but finding your favorite station and belting out The Final Countdown whenever it comes on seals the deal.
Braid - The last level and its song being played backwards, then correctly
A super acute listener might start to ‘get’ Braid right when its last sequence begins. The damsel in distress appears to be getting chased by a big, burly bad guy. He laughs menacingly and sends a wall of lava your way. The princess appears to aid you in your escape, flipping switches on the floor above you that open the path ahead. But layered beneath the scene is a song that sounds like it’s playing backwards. Once you reach the far right of the level, the entire sequence rewinds—or is it forwards, as it actually happened? The song sounds normal and seems to indicate so. Were you helping the princess or harassing her? It’s a clever, gut punch of a revelation that uses mechanics, narrative, and music to clue you into what’s coming.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - When your MVP anthem plays for everyone
Last year, CS:GO was updated with music kits that replace the vanilla music with short pieces composed by an assortment of artists. The most expressive and interesting aspect of this update is the MVP anthem that gets broadcasted to everyone in the game if you’re awarded the title. While there aren’t a boatload of kits to choose from, they’re all fairly different and you’re likely to find something that suits you. But if you find a kit you truly adore, nabbing that MVP status is made all the sweeter when you know a crowd of strangers is listening to your victory fanfare.