Whoa there, hotshot! This ain’t no celebration of videogame sound design – we’ve done that (opens in new tab). Here, rather, are the games that come alive when piped through headphones directly into your brain. After all, brilliant audio will sound even brilliant-er when it’s loud, bassy and in dangerous proximity to your ear drums. But it’s not always about the music; sometimes you’ll want to slap on a pair of headphones during the most unconventional soundscapes – like say a pair of women in tight shorts GRUNTING VERY LOUDLY. Got your attention? Grab your best cans (not those) and read on…
You’ll want headphones for: Bioshock
Reason: You like being utterly terrified
There is perhaps no other game filled with more creepy, incidental, ‘right-behind-you’ dialogue than Bioshock. In the game’s downtime – when you’re not busy freezing deformed enemies with ice from your left hand then shattering them with your right – you’re creeping through shadowy passages made all the more uninviting by eerie whispers from Splicers out to carve you up.
Above: Footsteps, sloshing water and subtle instrument cues demand a closer listen
Headphones double the tension and quadruple the atmosphere (if atmosphere can indeed be quantified). Your ears will prick at every mumbled threat, bowel-bothering Big Daddy rumble and the faintest groans of your underwater apartment as it struggles to keep out 10,000 leagues of sea. And for those who don’t mind years of sleepless nights and a psychiatrist bill the length of the Channel Tunnel, you might even play Bioshock this way for more than five minutes without getting so terrified you resort to playing Peggle. With the lights on.
You’ll want headphones for: Left 4 Dead
Reason: You want to know of your impending death three seconds in advance
In addition to keeping unsavory noises to yourself, headphones can also give you a huge tactical advantage. In horror-shooter Left 4 Dead, sound-cues are important; a Boomer’s presence is preceded by a sickening gurgle, and just like in real life you can tell a Smoker is around the corner by all that hacking and wheezing. These cues aren’t always easy to hear, especially over your mate’s cries of terror.
Above: Here they are in isolation. Learn them well, so you can pick them out among the sounds of 100 screaming monsters
Plug in a pair of headphones and you’ll have almost supernatural levels of perception. Like a psychic savior, you’ll clearly hear even the most distant screech of a Hunter and be able to warn your mates of approaching zombie danger. With your now hyper-alert hearing, no horde will be too large, no Tank too enraged to take down. Except on Expert mode, ‘cos that mode is shitting hard.
You’ll want headphones for: Any competitive FPS
Reason: You want to even the odds
Speaking of tactical advantage, a decent pair of headphones is so useful in any online shooter – Halo Reach, Black Ops, Bad Company 2 etc. – it’s almost cheating. We actually feel a bit dirty for recommending them, but when you’re contending with a lobby full of team-killers, griefers and that ever-present nuisance, the snotty brat, we consider it our duty.
Above: A rather cool examination of CoD’s subtle sounds
Most shooters today take on a new dimension when heard through a good pair of Turtle Beaches or Sennheisers. Emptying a clip in Reach and listening to each shell ping off the floor is good; actually emptying it into a man and hearing the now-meatier thud is better. But best is how headphones help your situational awareness, with peripheral gun fights echoing around you and enemy footsteps combined with their huffing and puffing allowing you to pinpoint their position with your eyes closed. Just make sure to open them when you start firing, as that’s where we make our mistake.
You’ll want headphones for: Virtua Tennis 3
Reason: You don’t want weird looks
Your parents, spouse or sibling always walk in at precisely the wrong moment. It doesn’t matter there’s only one sex scene in the whole of 8 Mile. Someone’s going to walk in on it and think you’ve been watching a well-lit urban porno. Sadly, this problem is a direct result of ‘Sod’s Law’ and will never be solved… though in certain situations headphones can help. This is one such situation.
Above: Maria Sharap-Oh!-va is best kept to yourself
Play a mere round of tennis in Sumo Digital’s sports jolly and instead of the spiffing, gentlemanly conduct the words ‘round of tennis’ suggest, you’re met with animalistic sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in 8 Mile (…parts of it). Especially Sharapova’s aggressive “Omphs” and “Ahhs,” (opens in new tab)which when taken out of context, could make easily offended grannies explode. Avoid having to guiltily explain just exactly it was you were playing by slapping on a pair of headphones. Game, set and match, Sod’s Law.