8 games headphones were made for

Whoa there, hotshot! This ain’t no celebration of videogame sound design – we’ve done that. 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,” 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.


  • VermithraxDagon - April 14, 2011 12:39 a.m.

    I'll definitely go with Silent Hill 2, Doom 3 and add Condemned: Criminal Origins to the list.
  • MediocreDinosaur - April 11, 2011 7:29 p.m.

    Time I won't ever give in No matter how hard you pull me in I know gravity ain't an excuse I just wanna make things a little more smooth. Majority is still asleep Tired of these dreadful dreams Now let me shout I'll wake you up Let me wake you up. Yeah. TWEWY. <33 You are almost forgiven for forgetting to put it in the Top 100 Games list.
  • TheLastRGP - April 10, 2011 4:40 a.m.

    I bought a pair of Turtle Beach PX5 to play at night, and man, they do make a difference when playing COD or BFBC. I even played them with Dead Space, and it scared me senseless.
  • lozarian - April 8, 2011 10:26 a.m.

    I'm surprised elite beat agents isn't on this list - it's impossible to play without the music, but is also perfectly sized for tube/bus journeys, and nobody wants to hear you fail the jamiroquai bit for the nineteeth time on their way to work.
  • Spybreak8 - April 8, 2011 6:04 a.m.

    To tell you the truth I like to use headphones most of the time but I game at night. I have a sweet pair of Sonys but they just broke! :( I believe Mass Effect 1&2, Bioshock 1&2, Gears of War 1&2, Halo Reach, DiRT 2, RDR, The Orange Box, Doom 3, Deadspace 1&2, and Dragon Age 2 are great games to play while wearing headphones mostly for good music but also great sound design.
  • Bianchi - April 8, 2011 1:57 a.m.

    Re4 is also cool with headphones, like when the regenerator and iron maidens come close, it scares the shit out of you xDDDD and you can hear spanish people swearing at you xDDD
  • Seabread - April 7, 2011 11:54 p.m.

    What? no manhunt? you can only hear starkweather thru the headset on 360. totally immersive.
  • Overlord153 - April 7, 2011 8:02 p.m.

    No wonder Neku always wears headphones in WETY. He must be always listening to the soundtrack.
  • AltairFoggz - April 7, 2011 7:13 p.m.

    You want to play Dead Space with headphones!
  • BurntToShreds - April 7, 2011 4:44 p.m.

    The TWEWY soundtrack IS on iTunes, just FYI. Sometimes, I wish they made it to where the same two J-Pop songs didn't play all the time. I want to hear some Transformation and Junk Garage, dammit.
  • BaraChat - April 7, 2011 12:25 p.m.

    I've never played a game with headphones, even if I play some competitive online FPSs. But since I auto-mute everyone as soon as I enter a lobby, I don't think it'd be of much use, except for not waking up my wife when I play late at night. In fact I always thought that the TV audio produces better atmosphere (because it's in the whole room) than simple headphones. So I've never been interested in headphones.
  • philipshaw - April 7, 2011 11:08 a.m.

    Great list and I do play most portable games with headphones
  • Benjamin333 - April 7, 2011 10:33 a.m.

    Can't believe I left off Amnesia and its actual 'wear headphones' advice! Thanks for the comments, people. Glad you're all enjoying the feature. You guys have a point about certain games I left off (most DS/PSP games have surprisingly good audio when heard through headphones). To me, ALL horror games are far too effective at scaring you silly with headphones. This feature would've just turned into me listing them and describing my various levels of intimidation.
  • sirdilznik - April 7, 2011 10:14 a.m.

    I completely agree with festafreak. Amnesia: The Dark Descent has some of the best (and creepiest) atmospheric sounds out there and as stated they even tell you to play using headphones (and with the lights off) in the instructions.
  • Deckard5627 - April 7, 2011 8:23 a.m.

    nar man, headphones for silent hill 2, you think bioshock is creepey. Trust me, try this.
  • CitizenWolfie - April 7, 2011 8:15 a.m.

    Manhunt - if you played it with earphones, the Director would be talking in your ear as if you were the main character. As well as the ambient sounds of general lunacy and depravity it made for a creepy experience
  • jmcgrotty - April 7, 2011 7:41 a.m.

    Jesus Christ, guys! He was kidding when he said "The World Ends With You" in the list. No one really plays that crap. I only hope that those who agreed were "playing along" in the joke. And headphones in a FPS are useless and ridiculous. Why the hell would you play any game where you have to listen to other *I deleted a very long string of insults against anyone who plays FPS games online*... Quit being idiots, little kids.
  • ThatFanInThePeacoat - April 7, 2011 7:34 a.m.

    festafreak totally beat me to it - Amnesia: The Dark Descent!
  • NanoElite666 - April 7, 2011 6:51 a.m.

    Headphones are a must for the likes of the Golden Sun games and Advance Wars Days of Ruin, as those games feature fantastic soundtracks that cannot be properly appreciated via just your GBA's or DS's speakers.
  • The4X - April 7, 2011 5:23 a.m.

    Get your dirty ears of Masha!111

Showing 1-20 of 49 comments

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