Sound designers are the unsung heroes of game development. We enthusiastically discuss visuals, music, and game design, but we don’t often celebrate audio. So, to give these sonic artists their due, here are 30 of our favourite noises from PC games. It’s a mix of classic, recognisable sounds and newer stuff that has tickled our earbuds.
Doom – Doors
Literally just a door opening, but one of the most recognisable sounds of a door opening ever. Also heard in Star Wars and Doctor Who.
Splinter Cell – Goggle activation
Sam Fisher’s goggles are, in hindsight, a bit daft. But the sound they make when you activate them is weirdly satisfying.
Final Fantasy VII – Boss death
It’s pretty much the same as a regular enemy death, but they make it slightly longer to let you really savour your victory.
Metal Gear Solid – Guard alert
One of the most panic-inducing sounds ever. Someone in the office once had it as a text alert and I accidentally choked them to death.
Transistor – Activating a terminal
I don’t know why I love this sound, but I do. There’s just something sonically appealing about it. I should be a music journalist.
Half-Life – Healing
The soundtrack to a brief moment of respite from the various horrors of Black Mesa. I feel healthier just listening to it.
Papers, Please – Loudspeaker
I’ve always found this garbled voice from Papers, Please really unsettling. It really adds to the game’s gloomy, impersonal tone.
Mass Effect 3 – Reapers
It sounds like that sound from absolutely every movie trailer, but gives the Reapers an air of unstoppable, mechanical menace.
Quake II – Super Shotgun
It was a close call between this and the one from Doom, but Quake won out. It just sounds so damn powerful, like a handheld AA gun.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – M1 Garand
The metal CLINK of the clip ejecting from this rifle is the main reason I want FPS developers to fall in love with WW2 again.
Rocket League – Goal
Whenever I hear this I instinctively punch the air and cheer, like some kind of idiotic Pavlovian response. The sound of joy.
Portal – Portal gun
Valve had to come up with the perfect sound for a gun that doesn’t exist, and they absolutely nailed it. They’re clever like that.
Dark Souls – Bonfire
The reassuring crackle of a bonfire in Dark Souls means you’ve found safety. You can almost feel the warmth when you hear it.
Batman: Arkham Asylum – Grapnel
I’ve always loved the sound of Batman zipping around with his grapnel in the Arkham games. There’s a nice tactile feel to the sound.
Mass Effect 2 – Launching probes
The THOOM of a probe launching after Tricia Helfer’s ‘probe away’ is hypnotic. I’m getting weirdly nostalgic about scanning now.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – AWP
Just listen to the power in that. Counter-Strike’s deadly sniper rifle sounds every bit as powerful as it is, and seems to echo forever.
Elite Dangerous – Sidewinder engines
Elite is a masterpiece of sound design in general, but the Sidewinder’s little engines spinning up is one of its best sounds.
BioShock – Big Daddy
The groan of a Big Daddy is one of the most BioShocky sounds there is. It sounds kinda like an elephant with a bad hangover.
XCOM – Overwatch trigger
When you hear the telltale sound of an overwatch trigger in XCOM you’ve either done something amazing or made a horrible mistake.
Dishonored – Blink
Dishonored’s coolest power is also one of the best-sounding. I love its eerie, soft whisper as you flit around the level unseen.
Fez – Treasure chest
An homage to Zelda’s famous treasure chest sound, hearing this is one of the greatest pleasures in this amazing-sounding platformer.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – iDroid
I love the clicky sound of Big Boss activating his iDroid. It sounds like an old Walkman, reinforcing the game’s retro-futuristic style.
Alien: Isolation – Motion tracker
The distorted lo-fi bleep of the tracker in Isolation is terrifying, especially when it speeds up, indicating the alien’s approaching you.
Fallout – Vault opening
The sound of adventure. When you hear this you know you’re about to emerge into an exciting, unexplored new world.
Star Wars Battlefront – Thermal imploder
DICE’s sound design is always incredible, and Battlefront’s thermal imploder is one of their finest sonic creations.
Silent Hill 2 – Radio
This unnerving crackling means there’s a monster nearby, which is never a good thing on the foggy nightmare-streets of Silent Hill.
Final Fantasy VIII – Limit break
The satisfying magical SHWEEE that heralds the imminent outburst of one of VIII’s epic limit break moves. Never a bad sound.
Half-Life 2 – Strider
The enemies in HL2 are creatures enslaved by the Combine, which might explain the weird, anguished cries of the striders.
Life is Strange – Rewind
A suitably creepy, otherworldly sound that’s heard when you’re using Max’s unexplained timey-wimey rewind powers.
Devil Daggers – Restart
An awesomely demonic sound from this insanely fast-paced indie shooter that could have come straight out of an id Software FPS.
And that’s it! There are, inevitably, loads I’ve idiotically left out or forgotten about, but I’m just one man with an increasingly poor memory. Share your own favourites in the comments below and let’s have a fun sound party.