It’s that time of year again! The one with the pumpkins, the kids demanding free sugar and everyone dressing up as The Joker. Reckon there will be a good number of Harley Quinn’s appearing this year too thanks to Suicide Squad. Anyway, Halloween is probably the best time of year to look at games that will scare the bejesus out of you for one reason or another.
The usual rules: I have to have played the games, one game per series, and these are my opinions only! If I’m honest, this was quite a hard one to narrow down. Do keep in mind, that what one person finds scary my not bother someone else at all. Fear is very subjective, so if you think one of these games is about as frightening as a puppy then that’s fine. Just know that the puppy in question might have tried to rip my throat out.
Alone in the Dark
The granddaddy of them all. One of the first (if not the first) 3D survival horror games terrified me as a child. I can’t remember how I came to own a copy of it, but I suspect it may have been a copy copy. At the time I hadn’t played anything quite like it. I’d played Doom and so forth, games that had horrific elements, but nothing that could be considered a genuine horror game. The feeling of vulnerability for most of the experience was something new that I wasn’t prepared for.
Right from the start you can be killed if you’re not careful, as monsters will burst through the window and up through a trapdoor resulting in a fight you’ll probably lose first time around unless you block them using nearby furniture. From that point on you’ll realise the death can come from anywhere very suddenly (don’t even think about opening the front door) even once you’ve managed to acquire some weapons to defend yourself. The story of a madman’s obsession with the occult is very engaging and all sorts of text will fill you in on the insanity that came about in the mansion. In many cases, the horror comes from the writings of the previous occupants of the house: the horror is often that which you don’t see, but exists within the imagination. The game is very Lovecraftian in that sense. It’s just a shame that the franchise has landed on hard times for the past decade or so.
A very different kind of survival horror this, and not only because it’s set in space. Much of the horror you experience is very much in your face, with grotesque creatures leaping out at you, clawing at your face until you can put them down by removing their limbs using a host of weapons and equipment. After a while this starts to lose its effect which should be a negative. The developers though were smart enough to realise this, and used your expectations. Suddenly vents were bursting open, but no Necromorphs (the monsters of the game) would come out. Clanks would be heard up ahead, but there will be nothing there. The way the game plays with what it has previously shown you helps keep up the tension.
Similar to Alone in the Dark, this game makes use of text logs to give you background to the goings on on the space craft, with stories of religious groups sacrificing themselves to the creatures due to an alien influence. It’s here that the game allows itself to develop its horror into a different style. The madness caused by this influence is effecting the protagonist as well, making what he is seeing become more and more unreliable. This is explored rather well in the follow up. The less said about the third game though, the better. Dead Space and its direct follow up are worth a play at any rate. Give them a go if you haven’t already.
This is a bit of a niche one, but my god is it unsettling. A horror game with a very bizarre art style, looking entirely as though it is made of a pencil scrawls. The majority of horror on display here is a combination of body horror and unsettling environments. The game begins with you waking up in bed and exploring the house in the dead of night (slowly, side-scrolling style), only to suffer an unpleasant demise. Almost immediately, you’ll wake up in bed again, in a slightly different version of the house, ready to explore again. The house becomes more and more corrupted as your deaths mount up, leading to disfigured babies, sinister ghosts hiding just out of view and an exploration of a brutal hospital.
The look of the game is quite unique, and its way of handling death is rather interesting. The game features multiple endings based on the choices you make, although the first time you play through you may not even realise there were any choices. This mostly boils down to you going to places you didn’t know you were allowed to access. Hidden rooms and such. The only really downside is its relatively short length and the fact it’s a bit of a walking simulator (if you consider that a negative). You can die in the game, resulting in replaying some sections, but that’s uncommon so you can get through the game in about 90 minutes. It’s quite a creepy experience whilst it lasts though; any longer and I think the impact would be lost.
Silent Hill 2
I bet you all knew this one was coming. Certainly one of the scariest games I ever played, to the point that I stopped playing it and came back to it over a year later. I’m not even sure if I could explain now what it was specifically about it that made it so scary. Was it the grotesque creatures? The brooding, constantly unsettling atmosphere? The simultaneously sinister and heartbreaking story? Most likely a combination of the lot. This was, and to an extent still is, the greatest survival horror game ever made as far as I’m concerned. The horrifying monsters aren’t there just because something unpleasant was needed to add to the fear, or to have something leap out at you suddenly. They serve a purpose to the story, tapping into the mindset of our protagonist.
The protagonist, James’, feeble combat abilities made you feel constantly vulnerable to the horrors (that were sparingly used I should add) of the titular town. The uncertainty of what was happening and why he was trapped in this evil environment. The soul crushing revelations towards the end. Everything here combines to make something truly special, and at the same time, deeply unsettling. There are scenes in this game that have stayed with me to this day. And I don’t just mean that damn dog…
I struggled to settle on which game to put here. I decided to go with the one that caused my wife to yell “OH ****!” at the top of her lungs one evening after the baby had gone to sleep. Not the best moment for that exclamation, but oh so amusing. The outcry was the result of my slipping along a corridor, only to have a hulking great Xenomorph slither out of a vent 3 feet in front of my face. It mercifully didn’t notice me, but the shock of going from moving quietly to a huge murder-beast being inches from my nose was quite a surprise.
The best part of all, was that this moment was unscripted. Throughout the game, you (as Ripley’s daughter, Amanda) are trying to escape a space station which is home to murderous robots, a few scared surviving humans, and an alien. But from the moment the alien first appears, you will be hunted. It can appear at almost any time, whether you are prepared or not. The constant tension from knowing that is what this game is all about. You can find and construct (because game must have crafting these days) weapons and items to protect yourself, but that Xenomorph will not quit. It’s hard to describe the panic that sets in when you’re fighting a group of survivors that want you dead, only for the alien to turn up to the join the party. Do you use manipulate it to kill your adversaries at the risk of your own demise? Hide in a locker and wait for it to blow over? Try to scare the alien away with fire? How about slipping away with a smoke bomb or noise-maker? All these options are viable, but one wrong move will result in a grisly death. The tension rarely lets up, and always being moments away from death is terrifying.
Also, those robots freak me out!
Some honourable mentions. I really struggled to narrow this list down so there are a few to include here! Siren: Blood Curse was a damn scary game thanks to its atmosphere and feeling of vulnerability. The “Sight-jacking” mechanic allowed you to see through the eyes of the creature hunting for you and really added to the tension. Project Zero/Fatal Frame worked in a similar way in terms of feeling vulnerable, only you couldn’t see your enemies unless you stood still and looked through the lens of your camera (which doubled as your weapon). Bloodborne i a different kind of horror, but every monster you faced beyond the initial humanoids were grotesque. Huge, living boxes filled with corpses, half human half insect hybrids, and don’t even get me started on some of the bosses. Tons more too! Call of Cthulhu, Layers of Fear, SCP Containment Breach and heaps more! If you need a horror gaming fix this Halloween, pretty much any of them will do the job.
How about you? What game gives you the shivers? Is there one I should play this year that you think I may have missed? Let me know! I’m always after a good horror game. Evil Within is lined up next…