The best horror games give you all sorts of reasons to jump, gasp, and wonder why that shadow in the corner of your room is moving. It might be an unexpected knocking sound on a bathroom door, or a dog suddenly jumping through the window.
The truly memorable ones, though, aren’t the sudden jump scares. The best ones inform the rest of the game, keeping you on the lookout for the next time they appear, or they train you to look for them in other games. Joey Davidson, Ron Duwell, and Eric Frederiksen all know fear, and they want to share it with you.
Joey’s pick comes from BioShock.
Truth time? When it comes to playing scary games, I am a complete baby. I can’t handle them. I love scary movies, and I really enjoy the ambiance of a good, creepy location. But, when I actually have to slink down tight corridors with only a flashlight, I get incredibly nervous.
It’s the tension mixed with immersion that does me in. I fall for the tricks these games play, hook, line and sinker. They get me with everything. Even cheesy jump-scares have me freaking out.
With that said, the scariest game I loved playing from start to finish was the original BioShock. Look, I know BioShock isn’t exactly a scary game. For some, it’s a walk in the park. For me? Terrifying.
Rapture, the splicers, the Big Daddies, the Little Sisters and the crazies in between added up to the perfect blend of nightmare fuel. Irrational Games did tension and drama so well in BioShock that, despite being scared like a little child, I wanted nothing more than to push through to completion.
My reward was one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever encountered in gaming.
The moment comes early on in BioShock. As you’re made to explore the medical area, you’ll find three separate dental clinics. Painless Dental is what holds the surprise.
You’ll walk into the operating room of Painless Dental and find everything surprisingly intact. The place is clean, relatively speaking, and the only nuisance to be found is the constant steam that builds up from a broken ventilation pipe.
Explore the OR and you’ll find a few lootables and a desk. Approach the old dentist’s desk and you’ll be surrounded by steam from the vent once more. Only this time, you’ll turn around to find a mad dentist not even a foot away from you.
It sounds cheesy, but the build up leading to this singular moment is intense. Couple that with the ambiance from the room and the zany dentist, and Irrational made one of my favorite scares. It actually convinced me that I’m never safe in Rapture, no matter how calm and clean things seem. It made Fort Frolic and its areas packed with statues incredibly creepy.
As for the dentist himself? Walk in the park. Zap ‘em, whack ‘em, shoot ‘em, whatever. He falls like a normal splicer.
Ron’s pick comes Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Zombies? I kill them by the thousands. Mutated aliens? Nothing a handful of power tools can’t handle. Vampires? Aren’t they teenage romance idols now? Ghosts? I mean…even Luigi knows how to handle them.
We’ve reached a peak in video games where we’ve exploited all the great horror icons to the point where they are just not that scary anymore. However, there is one real world monstrosity that video games have not really truly explored yet. Let me introduce you to the true terrors of the world.
Yes, alligators and crocodiles. These evil beasts creep beneath the water with only two things on their minds, food and murder. Thanks to a trauma I received as a baby, born two hours from the Everglades, I subconsciously fear these beasts like nothing else and often wake up in sweats because of nightmares they cause me. Even that picture gives me the shivers.
Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 5 both feature gaming’s most infamous sightings of nature’s most violent homicidal maniacs, and the odd crocodile might turn up in the streets of Tokyo Jungle, but zombie alligators are cheap and every animal walks the streets of the ruined Tokyo. True unabashed man vs nature, man vs the most fearsome of beasts in the wild has yet to really be done in a video game…except by this guy.
Yes, Hideo Kojima. Much like a man who loses his arm to a gator lying in wait in a Florida golf course water trap, the worst happens in places you least expect. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes Snake back to nature, forcing him to live off the elements in a bid to survive the harsh Soviet wild.
Not even 15 minutes into the game and Snake finds himself in a swamp. Ugh. He continues through the sticky ground…heads towards the enemy base…peers around the corner…takes another ste…WHOA!!!
Forgive a teenager for not realizing that Eastern Europe is home to angry alligators, but my shorts were not happy with me after that. Resident Evil 5 at least gives you a few seconds to react to the oncoming eyes, but cruel mother nature is not so kind to Snake. The alligator takes Snake down, he wrestles with him, he stabs him, he gets his gun and finally puts two through the alligators skull…battle won..barely.
Snake patches himself up with the new medicine mechanic and continues his tread…WHOA! There’s another one?!? Should Snake escape, you finally realize that PMCs and electrified Russians are hardly the biggest threat this game will throw at you. It’s the most effective introduction to a video game of all time. Snake has to use stealth the pass even the most basic forms of nature…let alone the deadliest.
Keep in mind this was before fans were spoiled with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence’s controllable camera. I didn’t have the option to zoom in for a closer look.
Not a lot of people know this, but Metal Gear Solid 3 is secretly the best in the series. The only problem is I am too terrified to get past that first 15 minute barrier to really play it again…ugh…walking through that swamp puts a stealth action game leaps and bounds beyond even the most horrific survival horror game, proving that real survival against real foes is infinitely worse than fictional survival against a figment of your imagination.
As a long-time Silent Hill fan, there are lots of scary moments to choose from. The mirror room in Silent Hill 3, the first appearance of Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2, the opening sequence of the first Silent Hill; all are great candidates.
The best scares in the Silent Hill games aren’t the jump scares, but the moments of wrongness, obscured by a rusted chain link fence or witnessed through a crack in a closet door. Just about everything in Silent Hill is scary, but those moments are what leave their mark on fans of the series. Those are what keep us as devoted, loyal players, even as the series continues its downward slope into terrible obscurity.
Behind the scenes of the Otherworld in Silent Hill 3 is a mysterious being called Valtiel. Heather, the main character of Silent Hill 3, never interacts directly with him, but sees him frequently. Valtiel is one of the best symbols of what Silent Hill is for me. He’s never a monster Heather can fight or harm. He is just out of the way, doing something, sometimes it’s something obviously horrible and others it’s as simple as just turning a valve. He makes it clear with this simple action that there are things going on that you can’t see, adding to the feeling that Silent Hill is alive and conscious, and he is part of its plan.
I can’t wait to see if he’s back in Silent Hill Revelations, which comes out soon. I know better than to think it’ll be a good movie, but seeing Valtiel moving on camera sends a real shiver down my spine.
More than the jump scares, it’s things like this that really scare me. I’m not going to pretend like I don’t jump and scream at those moments, but they aren’t the ones that make me uncomfortable, and they aren’t the ones that make me want to leave a lamp on when I go to bed. They take root, and years later you don’t want to think about them.