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5 Games with the Best Sound Design
Nothing in video game audio happens by accident.
That’s an uphill struggle game designers face. Video games live and die by their immersion, but designers can’t rely on spontaneous sounds like a movie director can.
They have to make conscious choices to create a subconscious experience. It’s no wonder gamers and journalists love to study the psychology of video game sound.
In this post, we’ll look at five of the best soundscapes in video games.
Who said space couldn’t be noisy?
Elite: Dangerous is a fantastic example of how sound design can add to the physicality of a game. Everything about Elite’s audio adds weight to your environment and builds the lonely atmosphere of outer space. Sounds are deep, bassy, and satisfying.
Your ships’ engines roar and rumble. Activating your Frame Shift Drive slams your ship into lightspeed. And in hyperspace, eerie rumblings indicate the presence of something lurking nearby…
All the while, you’re accompanied by a clinical female voice. But her artificiality only inflates your loneliness. With a wireless gaming headset and a joystick, it’s like you’re crossing the expanses of space yourself.
The best video game sound isn’t always about landscaping.
In Overwatch’s case, sound is a key part of the gameplay. Every weapon in the game makes a distinct sound. There are also more overt examples like the sounds of Ultimate abilities.
Overwatch’s soundscape trains gamers to react. Listening is as important as your eyes and reflexes. It features a dynamic sound mix that accurately reflects positioning.
The most experienced Overwatch players play the game on a whole other sensory level, which is a testament to the quality of its design.
Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2
Left 4 Dead might be an oldie, but you can trace most of what we said about Overwatch directly back to it.
Like Overwatch, Left 4 Dead’s sound design is an integral part of the game. It even provides full closed captions for the hearing impaired. The game gives you so much audio feedback you could almost play it with your eyes closed.
The soundtrack only drives this point home. The average player can identify the game’s Special Infected by their sound effects. A truly experienced player will learn to “spot” these guys by their soundtrack leitmotifs alone.
It’s easy to underestimate how important sound can be to a faithful adaptation.
Can you imagine Star Wars without the sounds of lightsabers and TIE fighters? The developers of Alien: Isolation nailed this principle.
Almost every item in the game makes a noise that can be traced back to something from the movies. You’re kept appraised of the alien’s position by bangs, clanks, and the rattling of vents.
The game’s audio serves two main purposes: recreating the atmosphere of the movies and cluing you into the presence of the alien. To make things worse, it’s not always clear which is which…
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If CD Projekt Red has a defining design feature, it’s their attention to detail.
Unlike the other entries on this list, the Witcher 3 team was tasked with creating sound for a large, seamless world. Everything from the babbling of a stream to the coo of a wood pigeon is artfully blended into the world.
When Geralt uses his Witcher’s senses, he enters a world where the distant cries of monsters become more distinct. This ramps up the game’s atmospheric horror.
We also love the soundtrack with its mournful Slavic strings.
Video Game Sound Is Psychology
The smartest game designers know that great video game sound comes from understanding player psychology.
It’s no coincidence that a few entries on this list also made strong Game of the Year candidates.
Want to take a deeper look at gaming? Be sure to check out our other articles!