The noises that erupt from the throats of bad videogame people alert us to position, state of awareness or impending attack. They’re functional. But sometimes, long after the monsters have returned to patrol, those guttural utterances and chattering mandibles can leave a hook in the brain. Something to remember them by.
You can hear a horrible cross-section of these sounds by playing some of the best zombie games on PC.
You think you’re fine, a regular citizen of the world. And then the screech of a garden gate triggers the shotgun strafe response you tend to save for Doom’s flaming skulls. The stifled after-dinner burp of an aunt dislodging a piece of gammon has you jogging backwards out of boomer blast radius. And it’s too late to unstick the frequencies from the inside of your skull - to go back to who you used to be.
One day we’ll have, I’m certain, an Onomatopoeic Dictionary of Enemy Noise, a practical reference guide for the use of spelunkers, clinicians, and hobbyists alike. Until then we’ve got this list - perhaps one A4 sheet’s worth of frightening reminders and dire warnings. Let’s pray it’s enough.
You can click through the images to hear each offending creature, if you're sure that wouldn't make your life irreparably worse.
Beheaded Kamikaze (Serious Sam) - “aaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAA”
The title of one nightmarish ‘90s point-and-click adventure springs to mind - I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream. In the case of Croteam’s Kamikaze’s, it’s no head, bombs for hands, but a voice box in tip-top condition. The one-tone opera of a single assailant would be alarming enough if they didn’t come in waves - a chorus of angry Ronnie James Dios, their roars blending uncomfortably in harmonic dissonance. A crime committed in sound design.
Robot (System Shock) - “Your memos are never good”
SHODAN was gaming’s original rogue AI, the malevolent matriarch who seized control of Citadel Station and mutated its crew. Her penchant for manipulation extended even to the mumblings of her malfunctioning robots. The precise wording is open to interpretation, but those ‘borgs hit the player where it hurt: right in the office ego. As your face was dismantled, your last thoughts would drift back to a cubicle on Earth, where your internal missives were consistently uninformative and everybody knew it. Hell.
Zombie (Minecraft) - “Grolsch”
Notch’s opus is famously light on lore. Though their turquoise t-shirts hint at a former existence as players, Minecraft’s zombies reveal nothing of their motives when on the offensive. Are they compelled mindlessly? Is it brains they want? Only when they take damage does it become apparent what they’re after: grolsch. Dutch premium lager. As the sun comes up, the zombies set alight and chant together, until death. Grolsch. Grolsch. Grolsch. Yet, and I’ve checked the wikis, there is no crafting recipe for beer. Haunting.
Boomer (Left 4 Dead) - “Burrr, bu-re-he-hu-uhh / Burreh-oh, burreh-breeth / Blueeeerrrgh”
This is why you don’t let the Minecraft zombie get what he wants. The boomer is you, in the closing moments of a boozy night out. Audibly heavy with... something - drink? gibs? - his belly is tender like a well-cooked pork chop, delicate like a matchstick tower. A gentle nudge with a rifle butt away from ruining somebody’s shoes, and you can hear it in his spluttering and retching. The serial kebab abuser of sonic horror.
Headcrab zombie (Half-Life 2) - “Cordon bleu / Ohhh, ahhhhhyaaaa / Yeah man, by lightning”
Oh sweet Gordon’s cashmere socks, we’re not messing around now. Zero laughs to be found in this entry. You can pitch a human voice up or down, left or right, flip it and reverse it, but there’s no mistaking the abject terror of a real analogue person like you or I. Muffled but seemingly still conscious beneath the tickly embrace of a malicious crustacean, these men sound profoundly unhappy - and more so in reverse.
Arch-Vile (Doom) - No known translation to mortal tongue
You could compose an entire list from nothing but the howls and gurglings of id’s monster menagerie. But the Arch-Vile is the only one our Ben has written a tribute to, in vain attempt to appease the original skeletwat. Its charging-up ‘alert’ noise sounds like the drowning of Mickey Mouse, or the moment a mobile phone achieves sentience. It is more evil than the augmented fourth banned by the Renaissance church.
Here ends our handbook to the most disquieting soundbites in enemy design. May it serve you well. Feel free to recount your own audio traumas in the comments.