Games with memorable sound design

I couldn’t even find an old thread to necro about this, so here goes…

I recently picked up some serious headphones for my computer, to be specific the Beyerdynamic 1990 pro going into a USB DAC/AMP. After a long history with cheap gaming headsets and mid-forward earbuds, moving to high-end(ish) headphones has led to a dramatic improvement in the separation of instruments, the breadth of the soundstage, and the detail that there is to appreciate in instruments and vocals. I am really enjoying going through my music catalogue and hearing things with what feels like a fresh set of ears.

Probably due to the quality of the equipment I was using in the past, I have never really appreciated sound design in videogames. In competitive multiplayer games sound could be something I pay close attention to, but only to assist in winning rather than something I was able to appreciate on its own. More often than not, for singeplayer and stategy games I will barely pay attention to sound or even mute it so I can play my own music while playing.

So I am wondering, are there games that you feel had particularly good sound design? Whether it be an amazing in-game soundtrack, or fantastic sound effects, or the fact that it was able to put sounds together in a way that added to the atmosphere or the energy of the game, I am interested in all aspects. I am hoping to revisit some games in my steam library, or purchase new ones, that have the potential to help me better appreciate this aspect of game design.

Thanks in advance for any contributions!

Elite Dangerous, for all its problems, has amazing sound design. Amazing.

Elite Dangerouns has one of the most amazing sound designs I’ve ever encountered. Try a few videos, but else look at this

edit: Lol

Jinx! You owe me a Coke!

Now as for soundtracks, I’m PC-biased, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find better than Fantasy General, Emperor of the Fading Suns or Interstate '76. Amazing games elevated even further by their soundtracks.

Alien vs Predator 2 (the 2001 game) had pretty incredible sound design, adding a lot to the atmosphere. Still holds up today - and better than many modern games because sound generally ages well.

Anvil Of Dawn (1995) also has an incredibly well-made soundtrack and sound effects.
Just listen to the music, effects (the death screams! Just beautiful! Especially considering the year. There’s some blood/corpse/slime monster in the game and I can still hear its wobbling sound):

America’s Army Online, back in the day. It was based on UE1 and the sound precision was out of this world. I bought my Audigy 2 ZS at the time, along with mid-tier Sennheiser headphones just to be able to pwn noobs even harder (which I did). It was better than having a wallhack.

I’ve been using higher end headphones ever since, HD595 for about ~12-14 years now so I can really tell when games have good sound. Unfortunately this is becoming rarer and rarer, especially in AAA releases. Multiplat AAA online shooters are especially atrocious, in the newer Battlefield games it was nearly impossible to tell which direction or elevation the footsteps were coming from, just horrible audio precision overall.

I remember loving the sound design of the first Dead Space, kept me freaked out.

I revisited Thief Deadly Shadows a few weeks ago and thought they did a great job with the audio. I’d be picking a lock and would know exactly when to break off and hide before someone entered the room.

Nier and Nier Automata both have amazing soundtracks that really add to the experience. I loved the soundtrack of Metal Gear Rising Revengeance as well. As you beat the hell out of a boss the music becomes more developed, really got me hyped up every time.

The new Final Fantasy VII Remake has a fantastic soundtrack and they implement it really well.

In my opinion the game is too old to play and have any fun with now days, but Diablo 1 has the best sound design ever.

Also Deus Ex, which is still great to play.

And Thief.

How has nobody mentioned Subnautica yet? That soundtrack still gives me chills when thinking about it, and I haven’t played it for over a year.

I recall the Bioshocks being pretty good, in particular number 2. Atmosphere, sound effects, and music all top notch and mesh well into the narrative.

Yeah, I’m playing Modern Warfare at the moment, and while the audio in general is very good and atmospheric, the audio precision of the footsteps is completely broken.

As for military shooters, I think maybe Insurgency: Sandstorm has the best audio. Punchy and satisfying gunshot sounds, great ambience, and working footsteps. Extremely impressive, especially for a fairly small indie company.

I remember some monsters that threw their own arms at you in… Quake? Not sure which game it was. That particular sound made my hair stand on end…

Also the beeps of the motion detector in Aliens versus predators.

I think high-quality headphones really bring out how poor audio quality really was in games made more than about 15 years ago. I’m not saying that the audio design was poor, but the technical limitations, limited budgets and perhaps even inexperience lead to me having to say… that a lot of the games mentioned above absolutely are not worth considering for this. Certainly anything from the 90s and even early 00s is a write-off, pretty much without exception.

I know, I know. We all get a little tingle from the Deus Ex theme, but c’mon, MIDI? I’m fond of a chiptune myself but I’d never hold it up as an example of high fidelity audio. It was always just a hack to get around the fact that wavs were huge and disk space severely limited.

I came across this video for the upcoming C&C remaster last week which really illustrates what I mean regarding the technical quality:

So, to the original point; games with really great audio design and execution. Insurgency Sandstorm, mentioned above, is utterly top-tier in the military shooter category. For an older game, which I otherwise consider to be pretty terrible, I have to say the audio in Half-Life 2 was a masterwork. The dread and wonder in Subnautica is driven significantly by the audio and soundtrack.

Oh, I also definitely recommend getting Dolby Atmos, as annoying as it may be at times (it disables itself for me every time I reboot, grr). The spatial positioning tech is amazing, utterly blows the free windows one out of the water. First time I tried it I booted up Vermintide 2 and just stood next to the waterwheel in the keep, spinning round and round. Try the free trial, you won’t regret it. If it works. :)

Most of my favorites have been mentioned already, but a surprising one for me is Grim Dawn. I’ve been playing these days with a new pair of headphones and the ambient sound is amazingly well done. It didn’t even have to be this good, but I lost count of how many times I thought there was a bird just outside my window, or checked the window to see if it was raining, to realize it was all in the game. Pretty impressive stuff, really.

Honorable mention goes to the first game that got me to pay attention to proper sound design: Heroes of Might and Magic 3. The way it switched the soundtrack gradually as you changed from one region to the other, the little sound effects like the sound of water getting stronger as you approached a fountain… it was really well done and well ahead its own time in many ways.

I also feel like I should mention Monster Hunter World. And Duskers.

After setting Dolby Atmos up in the app, do you need to do more than confirming it’s set in your headphones’ properties?

image

Subnautica and The Long Dark are both pretty great at delivering the correct atmosphere.

No, but I usually double check that it’s still set by right clicking the taskbar volume icon:

volume

That should be it. Though it’s definitely worth double checking in-game to see if there’s a ‘headphones’ mode in the audio config. Not that it has anything to do with dolby per se. But probably for the best.

No doubt it’ll be one of those things that works better with some titles than others.

The World of Warcraft soundtracks have all been excellent. I often listen to them while I am working.