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.


  • festafreak - April 6, 2011 8:16 p.m.

    Amnesia: The dark Descent! The game even says to put on headphones before you play.
  • PlainLikeVanilla - April 6, 2011 8:23 p.m.

    Glad to see some love for The World Ends With You.
  • Corsair89 - April 6, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    The Ar tonelico series needs headphones. Not only is the sound track absolutely stunning, but there is so much sexual innuendo in the dialogue and sexual moaning in the middle of battle, that people who hear it will think you're watching p0rn.
  • FrozenImplosion - April 6, 2011 8:37 p.m.

  • fatdog12300 - April 6, 2011 8:39 p.m.

    What about elite beat agents?
  • NatDaGamer - April 6, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    @festafreak i agree with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, that game is s*** scary with a pair of sennheisers, but as for TWEWY, the music on that game is actually amazing!! mind you, i can sorta relate to the whole hipster/outcasts from most other people thing. there's only a small group of us at my school, like 10 or so :(
  • Lemurian - April 6, 2011 9:20 p.m.

    no mass effect 2 seriously play that with headphones on its a completely different experience you can feel the whole emptiness of space vibe and the loading screens are actually enjoyable
  • TheWhiteLight - April 6, 2011 9:27 p.m.

    Rez is another good one.
  • ithurtstopoop - April 6, 2011 9:30 p.m.

    fine list except for rock band 3, everyone wants to hear me sing Amy winehouse and i mean EVERYONE!!!
  • NG14916 - April 6, 2011 9:53 p.m.

    TWEWY really does have one of the best game soundtracks ever. It really adds to the mood. More soundtracks should have voiced tracks. My favorite song on the soundtrack is probably Emptiness.
  • majrf22 - April 6, 2011 10:12 p.m.

    quite true, the first time i played farcry 2 with headphones i was looking around wondering where the bugs were.
  • Mamudo - April 6, 2011 10:15 p.m.

    TWEWY is my favorite DS game also one on my favorite soundtracks and I played that shizz with headphones on all the time.
  • Robx - April 6, 2011 10:38 p.m.

  • kjdubz22 - April 6, 2011 10:45 p.m.'s like you're there one on one with GlaDOS and you get to hear everything he/she/it says to you.
  • terdferguson - April 6, 2011 10:59 p.m.

    One first person shooter series that stands out with sound is the Battlefield series. First time I played with the "War Tapes" setting on was amazing.
  • HankVenture - April 6, 2011 11:18 p.m.

    If I didn't have a hospital bill to pay, I would sooo go get some. Great article!
  • obviouslyadouche - April 6, 2011 11:36 p.m.

    World ends with you, Best ds game
  • ViolentStCannon - April 6, 2011 11:54 p.m.

    lol @ the RB vid
  • DamnHippy - April 6, 2011 11:54 p.m.

    My mother heard the maria sharapova grunts, nuff said
  • twewy13 - April 7, 2011 12:29 a.m.

    i always play TWEWY with headphones...i'm still not tired of those songs

Showing 1-20 of 49 comments

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