In a video game, localization of sound is essential for realism. An enemy’s footsteps come from behind you, an alien aircraft approaches from above, a gunshot emanates from a cluster of buildings. The more accurately your sound system or headphones can place those cues, the more authentic the gameplay will feel.
More speakers mean additional options for sound localization. That’s why 5.1-channel surround sound is better than stereo, why 7.1 is better than 5.1, and so on. The ultimate audio format for gaming is Dolby Atmos®. Rather than being reliant on fixed speaker positions, it’s an object-based system that allows almost unlimited placement of audio in a full three-dimensional sound field that includes height as well as soundstage width.
Currently, Microsoft™ Xbox™ is the only console that supports Atmos for gaming. Sony™ PlayStation® 5 doesn’t, at least for now. For games, PS5 has its own immersive format called Tempest 3D Audio, although it does support Atmos for streaming video or when using the built-in 4K Blu-ray player. There have been reports about future support in PS5 for object-based audio formats like Atmos and DTS:X™, but nothing has been confirmed … yet.
Here are six games that offer excellent implementation of multichannel audio, including 7.1 surround and, where noted, Dolby Atmos.
(Atmos-compatible when played on Xbox) Set in the city of Verdank, in the fictional Eastern European country of Kastovia, this first-person shooter is part of the massive Call of Duty franchise. It’s an online-only game that you can download for free.
One of the game’s two main modes is Battle Royale (Plunder is the other), in which you play against up to 149 other gamers in real time. The area in which the battle takes place shrinks continuously as the game progresses, ratcheting up the pressure.
Sound localization is crucial as you run through the war-torn city, trying to survive. The more accurately you can hear where sounds are coming from, the better you can defend yourself against (or attack) other soldiers, who could be lurking almost anywhere or even sneaking up on you. If the system you’re listening on is Dolby Atmos-compatible, you’ll have an advantage over your online rivals. Watch the trailer.
(Atmos-compatible) A third-person shooter with both single and multiplayer modes, Gears 5 is a sequel to Gears of War 4 and, despite the “5” in its name, is actually the sixth game in the Gears of War series, developed by The Coalition. Like the previous versions, Gears 5 takes place on the earth-like planet Sera, menaced by the Swarm, an alien race created by the Locust Horde. The main character is Kait Diaz, who searches for the truth about her Locust blood while fighting off the Swarm with her buddies JD, Dell and Marcus.
The soundtrack kicks it into gear right away, during opening credits that feature a haunting orchestral score interspersed with sound effects as you see lava flowing, creatures slithering, burning rocks falling and more. In the end, it segues into game action with the sound of a helicopter with Kait inside it, flashing by over lush tropical scenery.
The sound design utilizes both Atmos and, to a lesser extent, other surround formats to create a larger-than-life sonic landscape that fits the gorgeous visuals and pulse-pounding action scenes. Watch the trailer.
This game lets you roam the realm of Norse Mythology with the hulking warrior Kratos, son of Zeus, and his son Atreus. They encounter all manner of adventures and dangers as they try to fulfill the last wish of Kratos’s late wife: to scatter her ashes from the highest peak in the land. The main bad guy is Baldur, who is Thor’s half-brother. This third-person action/adventure features swords, bows and arrows and battle axes — even a giant serpent.
The God of War soundtrack offers a cinematic-style orchestral and choral score, and lots of massive effects such as booms and wooshes, augmented by unique Foley sounds, a multilayered voice characterization for the serpent and more. Its larger-than-life audio cues are most impactful when listened to in 7.1 surround sound. Watch the trailer.
This Western role-playing adventure, which has both first- and third-person gameplay, takes place in 1899, at the very end of the Wild West era. The protagonist is an outlaw named Arthur Morgan, who’s in the Van der Linde gang. The game features gunfights, fistfights and lots of action on horseback, all of which allow for plenty of captivating sound design.
The soundtrack boasts incredibly detailed natural sounds that add to the realism. The horse chases, for example, happen in surround sound, with thundering hooves coming from different areas in the sound field. Equally noteworthy is the musical score, which includes authentic Western instruments such as banjos and harmonica. Somewhat surprisingly, RDR2 does not support Dolby Atmos, even when played on an Xbox. Watch the trailer.
Continuing the treasure-hunting story from Uncharted 4, hero Chloe searches for the Tusk of Ganesh in India’s Ghats mountains, accompanied by her mercenary sidekick Nadine. Presented in the third-person perspective, this game offers an Indiana Jones-like vibe as Chloe and Nadine try to find the missing Tusk while fending off a warlord army. The protagonists use everything from martial arts to handguns to bazookas in their fight scenes, which provide plenty of impressive sound design.
In addition to sound effects, the game has a lot of dialog and a compelling score, both of which provide further opportunities for spectacular surround sound. Watch the trailer.
(Atmos-compatible when played on Xbox) This game takes place on late-21st-century Earth. Humanity has overcome the threat of hostile robots during the “Omnic Crisis,” thanks to super-soldiers created by the Soldier Enhancement Program, part of Overwatch, a multi-county task force. The game starts six years after the robots were defeated. Overwatch has been disbanded and the world is once again in turmoil, this time from terrorism and wars. To the rescue comes an intelligent gorilla named Winston, who seeks to rekindle Overwatch and end the threats.
Overwatch is an online, multiplayer, first-person shooter, for which you can choose which hero you want to be from a large selection. Because it’s purely sci-fi fantasy, there’s lots of creative sound design, especially when it comes to the non-human, enhanced human and robot characters. Watch the trailer.
There are several different ways to experience multichannel audio in games. The best is through an Atmos- or multichannel surround sound-compatible audio system with 7.1 or more discrete speakers. (Two or four overhead speakers are highly recommended for listening in Atmos.)
In such a setup, you’d connect the HDMI® output of your game console into an AV receiver like the Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A8A — a powerhouse that supports up to 11.2-channel surround sound and Dolby Atmos, as well as other formats.
Another way to go is virtual surround sound, which you can get by connecting your game console to a sound bar that offers this feature. For example, the Yamaha SR-C20A compact sound bar can reproduce 5.1-channel Dolby® Audio™ content, while the company’s SR-B20A model supports DTS® Virtual:X™ technology, which simulates surround sound through sophisticated digital filtering and time domain processing techniques to create the sensation of height.
In addition, some specialized gaming headphones offer surround sound support, and even stereo headphones can provide a convincing surround mix when connected to a console that offers a format like DTS® Headphone:X™, which Xbox X and S support for compatible games.
So if you don’t yet have an Atmos or multichannel audio system for your gaming, what are you waiting for? You’ll find the entire experience to be even more immersive and a lot more enjoyable.
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