What's the greatest single sound in a game?

(Image credit: Valve)

Forget graphics for a second because great sounds can have just as much impact as beautiful visuals in a game. Maybe it's the sound of a starship engine or some sort of sci-fi machinery, the noise of a cool weapon firing or a stirring level-up sound. It could be the sound a particular creature makes, or some bit of ambient audio—heck, even a sounds that play as you mouse-over a game's menu screen can be memorable long after you've finished playing.

That's our burning question this week: What's the greatest single sound in a game? We've listed and linked some of our favorites, and we'd love to hear yours in the comments below.

Jody Macgregor: Doom doors

I love the way doors in Doom creak open and shut. A lot of time in sci-fi you get this sudden swoosh of doors opening so fast you'd think workplace health and safety would be bothered by it, or doors that iris open neatly. Doors in Doom practically scream:

It's famously a stock sound effect from an archive that id bought a licence for, and so you can hear it in plenty of other places as well. I've spotted it in episodes of Doctor Who and Body Movin' by The Beastie Boys and there are heaps of other examples. It's just a real good, solid, mechanical sound. I want the doors in my apartment to make this noise.

Tim Clark: Destiny's Tranquility

I should probably respond given that this question was my idea, and everyone knew which direction I was heading in. Of course I could write you a shopping list of my most beloved sound effects tied to my favourite Destiny guns, but right now the one I can't get enough is Tranquility. It's a sniper rifle which sounds anything but tranquil. It's like a thicc metal door being slammed shut. The report is thunderous but also strangely hollow. It is a single clap from Zeus to silence his stupid children. I grin every time I fire it. 

Tellingly, there are other snipers in the game which have the same RPM and snappiness as Tranquility, but none which can compete with its aesthetics.The gun is festooned with occult-looking trinkets which glow when 'Nightmare' enemies approach, the scope is cool and clean, and the scuffed texturing speaks of a once lost weapon that has done some very bad things.

Andy Chalk: Doom Imp

Imps may be Doom's demonic punching bags, but I don't think I've ever encountered an enemy whose ambient noises so immediately snap me to attention. It's like an "Oh, shit" light switch: You hear that guttural throat-clucking and you know where's trouble ahead; then the deep throat hiss, and it's on. No other audio cue has even come close to having that kind of impact, and even now it can still kinda set me on edge. The Imp SFX and other Doom sounds are available in .WAV format here.

Wes Fenlon: "That was left-handed"

I know I'm cheating by picking a bit of voiceover instead of a pure "sound effect," but there's probably no two seconds of videogame audio more memorable for me than Command & Conquer's Commando quipping "That was left-handed" after shooting something. 

Close second: Also the C&C Commando, saying "I've got a present for ya!"

Evan Lahti

It's hard to beat Doom when it comes to SFX, but like Wes I have an indulgent nostalgia for almost all of Red Alert's sounds: the wind-up and crackle of the Tesla coil, the "Iron Curtain ready" alert or "unit lost" refrain from the game's announcer. RA1's voice lines managed to convey personalities that stick with me 20-plus years later. The Soviet infantry in RA1 conveys an intense attentiveness and politeness in its voice lines that you don't get as much on the Allied side. He also has the most amazing 'R' pronunciations in "Affirmative" and "Of course." It's not the over-the-top stuff you'd get from, say, Chekov in the original Star Trek, but this sharp, clear dialect that distinguishes them from the other faction. I still use the word "Acknowledged" in normal conversations 78% more than I should because I clicked on these little red sprites so many times as a teen.

Team Fortress 2's "hey, you're owning this guy" sound effect is pretty memorable too. Hard to think of another multiplayer FPS that took its main musical theme and extended the same, original instrumentation across the sound design, unifying it under a cohesive style.

Chris Livingston: Half-Life health charger

The wall-mounted health chargers and suit chargers from Half-Life are both great and memorable sounds, but the health charger wins because to my ears it actually seems to be talking. Singing, really. "It's heeeal-ling, it's heeeal-ling, it's heeeal-ling."

I always sing along with it while it refills my heath. Can't just be me, right? You all hear it singing too, don't you? 

Shaun Prescott: Menu select sounds in a lot of Japanese games

Normally I'll buy a new JRPG, play the always interminable opening section, faff about, get to the obligatory sewer dungeon and then drop off. Sometimes I think that actually I don't like these games. And then I remember: it's the bright pastel colours that draw me in at first, and then it's the gorgeous menu sound effects that keep me in for a while. Those crystal-like chimes that sound as you move through menu options, and then the slightly different crystal-like chime that sounds when you select something... those are ethereal to me, they're blissful, they trigger some deep indescribable yearning inside of me.

Alice Newcome-Beill: Betty 

Maybe not the best sound, but certainly a memorable one is your computer (Betty) from the Mechwarrior franchise, specifically Mechwarrior 2.  

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.