Top 10 First-Person Shooters with Immersive Soundtracks

by Dror Denishman

When we think about immersive environments, our first thoughts naturally go to the visuals. Strapping on the Virtual Reality (VR) goggles and going into the great unknown of distant galaxies, under the surface of the ocean, or into fantasy worlds that don’t even exist is definitely an amazing feeling. When you can use VR or augmented reality (AR) to walk into a painting, a historic event, or interact with someone on the other side of the world, it’s hard not to be blown away. But a part of the immersive experience that often gets overlooked is the sound effects and the music. Audio artists are just as invested in the total package as their visual counterparts, and anyone who has ever played a game on mute late at night in an effort to not wake up their spouse, roommate, or much more likely their parents, there is a huge dropoff in effect. First-person shooters have long been among the most popular video games and are now getting their turn at being the darlings of the VR gamescape. Here’s a look at the top 10 Immersive Soundtracks on first-person shooters.

#10 Quake

Before Trent Reznor was winning Oscars for scoring “The Social Network” and “Soul”, he was the frontman for Nine Inch Nails and dabbling in video game soundtracks, including this one, straight out of the mid-1990s. The soundtrack is ferocious and frantic, making you feel like you’re running for your life and that even a half-second bit of distraction is going to get your head ripped off by a demon from another world. 

#9 Half Life 2

Sixteen years later, it’s still a favorite around the world, from the crazy opening scene where you’re being directed in the finer points of garbage collection by an alien policeman. Kelly Bailey’s prints are all over the game - he did the soundtrack, all the special effects, and all the sound code for reverb effects and character speech, and is one of four facial models for Gordon Freeman’s face. The soundtrack races from setting to setting with a great drum beat that keeps you looking over your shoulder.

#8 Metroid Prime

It takes guts to reimagine a popular third-person scroller into a first-person shooter, but the evolution of this game has been a winner, particularly thanks to the 1-2 soundtrack punch of Kenji Yamamoto and Kouichi Kyuma. There are some real epic moments here, but the quieter ones are beautiful too, as Samus wanders the planet and looks across wide expanses, wondering what’s next.

#7 Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

A series that is usually pretty heavy handed with its content, touching on war crimes and despicable dictators, turns the corner here into a 1980s-esque action piece rivalling the work of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Power Glove, the Australian electronic/synthwave duo who named themselves after Nintendo’s legendary hardware, appropriately did the soundtrack for this game after getting notice for their track “Hunters” in the 2011 Canadian cult classic “Hobo with a Shotgun.”

#6 Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Human Revolution: Those Canadians are at it again! Michael McCann has a long track record of video game soundtracks, including Tom Glancy’s Splinter Cell and a pair of Deus Ex titles. He’s been nominated for awards again and again over the past two decades and five on the shelf, including one for this game. The game is a diverse mix of shooting, puzzle-solving, and stealth-mode sneakiness, and he is able to mix all three perfectly.

#5 Bioshock Infinite

This game was a real turning point in the genre, as the story outweighed the shooting, and that meant the music played a significantly larger role as well. After the first two games were set underwater, this one took place in a city in the sky that was moving at all times, which gave composer Garry Schyman a lot of really cool opportunities for both original music and some incredible covers, including the bleakest version of “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys that you will ever hear. 

#4 System Shock 2

There’s a name on the credits of this 2006 release that will make you nod your head and say “Of course,” the literal version of ‘before they were famous.’ The name is Ramin Djawadi, who two years later scored the soundtrack for Iron Man, and three years after that became internationally famous for his incredible work on HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, one of the most iconic TV theme songs of all time. The setting aboard an haunted spaceship is creepy enough, but the Matrix-esque cyberpunk shocks and jolts make it far worse (and better).

#3 Blood

Probably the most accurately named video game of all time, considering you can attack people with a shotgun, a stick of dynamite, and even a pitchfork, you roam the countryside killing ghouls or being the antagonist and killing everyone else. Daniel Bernstein and Guy Whitmore team up for the soundtrack, which has a lot of sacred, Eastern sound to it which just makes everything that much creepier.

#2: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

Dinosaur Hunter: Nothing says prehistoric environment like the tribal drums from Darren Mitchell’s soundtrack that populate this all-timer that will impossibly turn 25 years old in 2022. If you’re a collector, Mitchell has a private copy of the soundtrack he made in his home studio in Austin, TX, available on YouTube.

#1 Doom

The original and still reigning champion of all time. How many bars and restaurants in the 1990s had this as their prime-time soundtracks because of guys and girls relentlessly pumping the arcade version full of quarters all night? Robert Prince is the genius behind the original fast-paced shooter, and you can feel the influence of that era’s music - notably AC/DC, Alice in Chains, and Slayer - in the beats. Doom celebrates its 30th birthday in 2023. Time to get out your shotgun and rock out while ridding the world of those pesky cyber demons, right?