PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Andy Kelly

Idon’t like noisy games. The ones where some­one is con­stantly prat­tling on in your ear about your next ob­jec­tive, or some for­get­table orches­tral score is blar­ing over every­thing. It’s nice when a game just de­cides to shut up for a while, be­cause as some­one who pri­mar­ily en­joys sin­gle­player games – and, this may be re­lated, an only child

– I love be­ing left alone.

Some games do lone­li­ness re­ally well, and it’s par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive when it’s threaded into the story. In Campo Santo’s fan­tas­tic de­but Fire­watch, pro­tag­o­nist Henry hikes deep into the Wyoming wilder­ness to es­cape his trou­bles. You do spend a lot of the game con­vers­ing with fel­low watch­per­son Delilah, but there are long stretches where all you hear is the wind in the trees, twigs crack­ing un­der your feet and birds chirp­ing.

Am­bi­ent sound de­sign is an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated as­pect of videogame de­vel­op­ment, be­cause it’s some­thing ul­ti­mately de­signed to go un­no­ticed. But in the likes of Fire­watch, Dear Es­ther, Ev­ery­body’s Gone to the Rap­ture, and other slow-paced nar­ra­tive games, stop­ping and just lis­ten­ing to the world around you, soak­ing in your sur­round­ings, can be enor­mously im­mer­sive – par­tic­u­larly if you have a good pair of stu­dio head­phones.

A rich sound­scape also height­ens the feel­ing of be­ing iso­lated, es­pe­cially in some­thing like the bru­tal, bril­liant sur­vival game The Long Dark, whose Cana­dian wilder­ness is ab­so­lutely haunt­ing. This is an­other game built around the con­cept of lone­li­ness, of re­ly­ing on your­self in a cold, un­car­ing place. This might be why the story mode, where you can in­ter­act with sev­eral NPCs, isn’t as com­pelling an ex­pe­ri­ence as the sand­box.

alone time

When one of The Long Dark’s bliz­zards rolls in, you’re of­ten forced to run for shel­ter: a cave, say, or the re­mains of an old cabin. And as you hud­dle next to your camp­fire, the wind scream­ing, a blan­ket of white on all sides, you can’t help but be swept up in the mo­ment. Now imag­ine that sit­u­a­tion with some an­noy­ing NPC side­kick buzzing in your ear, or an­other player be­ing an­noy­ing, and you can see why some­times it’s bet­ter to be left alone.

This is also why I pre­fer off­line sur­vival games. In some­thing like ARK or Rust, there are al­ways other play­ers sprint­ing around, usu­ally be­ing a nui­sance. But when you crash land on that planet in Sub­nau­tica, your lit­tle es­cape pod bob­bing up and down in a vast, alien ocean, you re­ally do feel lost and alone. Even in DayZ, where player in­ter­ac­tion was, let’s be hon­est, the only rea­son to play, some of my favourite mo­ments were spent on my own, hik­ing deep into the moun­tains of Ch­ernarus on a hunt for sup­plies.

On­line games can be lonely, too. I al­ways play Elite Dan­ger­ous in Open Play mode, which means you can run into other pi­lots. But the sheer scale of the galaxy means, once you get away from the com­mon start­ing ar­eas, it’s un­likely you’ll ever see any­one. But that makes those oc­ca­sions when you do run into some­one in some dis­tant, back­wa­ter sys­tem all the more spe­cial. I’ve shared brief, beau­ti­ful mo­ments with other play­ers in these sit­u­a­tions – usu­ally just a fleet­ing hello – be­fore we in­evitably part ways again.

lost in the plot

An­other prob­lem with noisy games is it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to ab­sorb the story. Be­tween cutscenes, con­ver­sa­tions, ra­dio chat­ter, au­dio logs and other plot de­liv­ery meth­ods, it’s of­ten a lot to process. That’s why qui­eter, slower games – the ‘walk­ing sims’ of the world – are so ef­fec­tive when it comes to nar­ra­tive. As you ex­plore that big, omi­nous Ore­gon house in Gone Home you can re­ally ab­sorb the story and, im­por­tantly, do so at your own pace. You aren’t be­ing force-fed a story: you’re pick­ing leisurely from a buf­fet, and that gives you the time you need to process what you’re see­ing and hear­ing.

Think of all the times you haven’t been able to en­joy some­thing be­cause of the pres­ence of other peo­ple. Id­iots talk­ing in the cinema or at a gig; tourists self­ishly hog­ging some­thing you want to see; peo­ple chat­ting in front of the bread aisle when all you want is a gra­nary loaf. Some­times peo­ple just ruin things, and the same ap­plies to videogames. So I’m thank­ful there are vir­tual places where peo­ple are an af­ter­thought, and it’s pos­si­ble to en­joy some qual­ity time alone, away from it all.

am­bi­ent sound de­sign is an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated as­pect of videogame de­vel­op­ment

RIGHT: In the far reaches of Elite’s mas­sive galaxy, it’s rare to en­counter other play­ers.

RIGHT: Sur­vival sim­u­la­tor TheLong Dark was de­signed around the player feel­ing iso­lated.

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