The game uses a rather high-quality audio engine, has no sound settings except for volume, and calculates the output for as many channels as are specified for the playback device in the Windows control panel.
In the 2.0 mode, when 3D sound technologies like Creative's CMSS-3D or ASUS’s Dolby Headphone are turned off, there is but a slight hint of front-to-back positioning but the distance towards the sound source is not reproduced at all. The tonal balance is shifted towards high frequencies: there is a lack of bass and sound pressure. The sound is flat and unexciting whereas the additional processing on the sound card is harmful in this mode, adding an artificial echo. For example, turning on CMSS on the Bravura puts every sound farther away but does not improve their positioning in space; the voice in the intro seems to be speaking into a glass jar then. Turning on CMSS on the Prelude in the Audio Creation mode also provides some distance towards the sound sources but the attack gets even worse than before. You can play the game at such settings but with little comfort because the sounds are hollow and you don't hear much from your back: the sound sources are all distributed in front of you or at the sides, producing a very odd effect. Turning on Dolby Headphone on the Xonar makes the sounds hollow, too. It becomes easier to localize sound sources in front of you but there is absolutely no positioning of sounds from behind. The sound gets too flaccid and unexciting overall. The Virtual Speaker Shifter option solves these problems but doesn’t improve the reproduction of distance; it produces too many low frequencies while high frequencies are muffled.
Switching the sound card to eight channels makes the game’s sound richer: the attack improves and the sound gets more detailed, high frequencies get more sonorous, and there are more low frequencies. The overall result is similar to the above-described DH+VSS but with better timbres and more details. For example, gunshots produce an echo in between buildings.
The Bravura with enabled CMSS did excellently with the intro clip (except that the high frequencies were somewhat screechy), but the in-game sound lacked depth. For example, the din of a crowd could only be heard from the sides. Besides, the background music was reproduced with a wheeze which was not so conspicuous with the other sound cards.
The Xonar with DH produces a better spatial sound even in the game menu and creates an atmosphere of horror from the very first sounds, even before the menu. The intro clip has more bass, but only due to the suppression of the rest of the frequency range. The bass itself isn't stiff. The in-game sound isn't impressive: the high frequencies are muffled, details are lacking, the different sounds are not as distinct as necessary, and there is an overall impression of a closed space. The surround effect is good, though. The sound sources are all accurately positioned in space and the distance to them is reproduced correctly. VSS brings back the lost details and saturation, adds more spaciousness by moving the closest sounds farther away, but the distant sounds are suppressed more than necessary. Still, this variant is the most exciting and scariest of all: there is a lot of low frequencies, the sounds are detailed, it is easy to orient oneself by ear.
The Prelude with CMSS boasts pure high frequencies which I couldn’t get from the two other cards even when the text was being printed during the game’s loading a level. The sounds are even richer and more detailed than with the Bravura both in the intro and in the game itself. The 3D positioning is as good as with the Xonar. The distinctiveness of individual sounds is amazing: they are perfectly identifiable even from a long distance and are positioned correctly. Numerous voices do not mingle into a mess.
Thus, it is the Prelude that gives this game the best-sounding voice. To be exact, it is the X-Fi audio-processor in gaming mode (its performance is definitely worse in the other modes). Its junior cousin in the Bravura card is only good with the intro clip but produced an unrealistic in-game sound with a lack of details. The Xonar in DH+VSS mode takes second place but switching its sampling rate to 48 kHz in the Windows control panel and to 192 kHz in the ASUS Audio Center brings a significant improvement in the clarity of high frequencies and makes the Xonar as good as the Prelude.
This is a rather old, yet engaging game that presumably uses OpenAL. Thus, it is the sound card that is responsible for delivering the required number of audio channels. Without turning CMSS-3D on, there is absolutely no 3D positioning of sound sources and you get a dizzy impression of being right in the middle of a high-traffic thoroughfare. The only sound setting available in the game menu is the choice between hardware support and software emulation.
The Bravura does not ensure realistic 3D positioning. Like in Prototype, there is a lack of depth. You hear sounds closer than necessary and their perceived positions are unstable when the player is moving and turning around. There are a lot of loud echoes in closed environments, yet you get the feeling of a closed environment even when you are outdoors. The buzzing tone in the sound suggests a high level of intermodulation distortions.
The Prelude is far more realistic. Its high frequencies differ dramatically from those of the Bravura in this game: the ringing of the metallic mesh, the slaps of hands against the pipes and walls, the falling drops of water are all rich and natural. Distances are reproduced more correctly but 3D positioning of sounds is unrealistically precise whereas the background music is clicking in your head. These problems can hardly be the sound card's fault. In a closed environment the street sounds can be heard without the required fading-out. Once I didn’t hear the noise of water after automatically loading a control point but the wind was wailing at twice its normal volume.
The Xonar D2 has almost the same 3D positioning as the Prelude but the changes in the perceived position of sound sources when turning around are more sudden and somewhat jerky whereas the sound itself is more hollow and close to the Bravura’s in quality. The wind is louder. There are no reverberations in closed environments. Some sounds stop abruptly. There are odd sounds occurring occasionally when your character is running or hitting something. The Xonar would be better than the Bravura if it were not for the excessive amount of such artifacts in its sound.
To my surprise, choosing Generic Software in the game’s sound options not only corrected all the downsides of the Xonar but even pushed the realism of its sound to a much higher level. The sound got far more detailed, spacious, and clear, especially when I switched the Xonar to a sampling rate of 48 kHz in the Windows control panel and in the card’s own Audio Center. Don’t think I’m crazy or anything. Of course, I checked out the Generic Software option with each of the three sound cards and could only hear the sound deteriorate. However, the Xonar behaves differently from the Prelude and Bravura that can change the sound output mode right from the game. The Xonar reacted to the setting only after quitting the game. If the Hardware mode is selected when launching the game, the change of mode doesn't provoke any changes in sound. But if the Generic Software setting is selected...
The wind is whistling in your ears, you hear your breath, the sound of your steps, and the rustle of your clothes clearly, yet not obtrusively. Every sound around you is pure and ideally positioned according to the visuals. The echo is less hollow and, to my taste, more natural than with the Prelude. The Xonar was even better in reproducing the game atmosphere than the full-featured X-Fi of the Prelude, but the competition between the X-Fi and Xonar in games is a separate story. Let’s return to the Bravura.
Summing up the gaming section of this review, I can tell you that the Auzen Bravura turned to be rather weak in games because its software CMSS-3D implementation is far inferior in quality not only to the namesake technology of the sound cards with the full-featured X-Fi audio-processor but also to the 3D sound algorithms of the Xonar series products. Of course, EAX 4 and OpenAL are the Bravura’s advantages over simple integrated audio cores but mainboards with Creative X-Fi MB2 technology can already boast EAX 5 and the advanced sound processing algorithms called THX TrueStudio Pro.