With Halloween coming up, I thought it only fitting to have a horror-based post. But despite my love of horror movies, I haven’t actually played a lot of horror games. I’m interested in them & like to watch other people play them, but they can be too intense sometimes. You can’t cover your eyes during a game like you can during a movie. Well, you can, but you won’t get anywhere. So instead of doing the typical countdown of Top Scary Games, I instead thought it would be fun to write about my most memorable scary moments in games. This isn’t a countdown or even a list of games that I think are the scariest ones ever made. Instead, this is a look back over my gaming “career” & reminiscing about the scary moments that have stuck with me the most.
Just a quick disclaimer: I’m only going to have moments from games that I’ve actually played. Feel free to leave a comment about memorable scary experiences you’ve had, but don’t ask why I didn’t include such-&-such moment.
So my very first “scare” from a game wasn’t even from game intended to be scary. It was also one of the first games I ever played. Given that few of the first games were actually scary, you’re probably asking which one it was. Well… It was Paperboy. Yes, I got scared by a game where you play a boy delivering newspapers. But in my defense I was only a kid & it only happened once. This was way back when I first started going to daycare & they had an Atari for a while to keep some of the older kids occupied. (Come to think of it, this was where I played my first videogame ever. It was Q-bert.) Anyway, in case you’re too young to remember this game, the goal is to deliver papers while avoiding bizarre neighborhood obstacles. Like storm drains… & the Grim Reaper (not even joking). But sometimes an old lady will run after you, trying to hit you with a rolling-pin. The first time this happened it scared me so badly I literally ran away. Now this would merely draw a chuckle from me, but back when I was an innocent child, unjaded by the likes of Child’s Play, Halloween & Friday the 13th, it was pretty scary. So as lame as it may sound, Paperboy will go down as the first game to ever scare me.
Moving on from one of my first games ever to one of my first PC games, we have Doom 2. Having grown up with games like the Mario & Donkey Kong Country franchise, Doom 2 was like nothing I’d ever played before. It was both my first FPS & legitimately scary game. I don’t think I need to explain why I consider the entire game memorable. While it wasn’t my first gory game (that honor goes to the arcade version of Mortal Kombat) it definitely marked a change in the game industry. Everything about the game, from the enemies to the level details, was scary. But I played it & I loved it.
The original Doom 3 also had some memorable scares, but the best one for me was in Alpha Labs Sector 2 West, where the entire level is pitch black & you have to keep a scientist alive so he can carry a light. I clarify the original version because the BFG Edition lets you use a flashlight & gun at the same time. The original didn’t, so you had to choose between seeing or living in a lot of cases. Hence why I spent most of the game walking around in the dark with the chainsaw out. People criticize the game for its darkness & monster closets, & it’s true that some of these jump scares get predictable, but they work. The game just isn’t as scary when you can see everything & shoot it. The Alpha West level made me so tense. Even though I generally don’t like levels that are pitch black, because if I can’t see anything I can’t be scared, I thought it was well done & one of the most memorable parts of the game for me.
If you don’t play flash games, you’ve probably never heard of Exmortis. But you should. It’s a good browser-based point-&-click horror game that is creepy in its own right. You wake up in the woods & find an abandoned house. While searching for clues about where you are & how you got there, you start to unravel the gory details surrounding the house & your role in it. But what makes this memorable was actually a scary & funny moment combined, & it requires a little explanation. As an emergency dispatcher, one of the best things about my job is that, so long as there’s nothing going on, I can do whatever I want. This includes playing internet games. It was during one of these slow times that I was playing Exmortis. I had to stop at one point to answer EMS & while keying up on the radio I was also looking at the game. And of course, right at that moment a ghost popped up on the screen. Now, I’m not usually a screamer, but as I already had my mouth open to talk, I nearly screamed. I kept thinking, “Don’t scream. Don’t scream.” The last thing I wanted was EMS to think I was being murdered in the office. It still makes me laugh.
Indie games love horror, & a good example of one available on XBLA is Decay, a four-part horror-adventure game. I did a review for it early in this blog’s history, & there were several great scares in it. But the most memorable for me was in Part 2 when you have to beat a game of Break-out on the computer to get a code to progress. When you get close to winning, the face of the creepy doll that follows you throughout the entire series pops up in the monitor’s reflection. It scared me so bad I lost the game just to get away from the screen (thankfully it doesn’t come back). One of the best parts of the game, in my opinion.
Even non-horror games can have scary moments to stand out even more because they’re so different from the tone of the rest of the game. The Ravenholm level in Half-Life 2 is a perfect example. I mentioned in a previous post that I hate anything that resembles a zombie, & the fast Headcrab zombies are the worst. Not only is the scream they make terrifying, but so is the way they run & lunge at you. The atmosphere is so tense in this section that it’s like playing a completely different game. It’s so different from the rest of HL2, but that’s what makes it so memorable.
Another memorably terrifying moment in non-horror games is the Oceanside Hotel in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Despite dealing with vampires & other supernatural, there’s no part of this game that comes across as scary… until you have to clear out this haunted hotel. The entire quest is incredibly creepy & well done. Random objects fly at you, ghostly images run past your field of vision & a little girl whispers to you (because let’s me honest, few things are creepier than a little kid). But the part that scared me the most is when you go down into the basement to start the generator so you can use the elevator. As you enter the generator room, you can see a figure approaching you through the pipes carry what looks like an axe, but when you run around the machine to where the figure is, it’s gone. This made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Horror at its best.
Sound plays a huge part in any game’s atmosphere, but especially so in horror games. Being a very auditory person, the right sound effects can affect my experience immensely. Ever watched a horror movie with no sound? It’s not nearly as scary. In terms of sound design, I think Silent Hill 2 is phenomenal. From the music to the sound effects, everything is designed to scare the crap out of you. But the most memorable part for me was in the stairway in the hospital when James goes to the basement. The sound that plays in this section (& this section only) I can only describe as a pig squealing. It scared me so badly that I nearly cried. I had to get out of that section no matter where it led me. There are other great sounds in the game, like when Pyramid Head appears on the roof, but that sound is what I think of when I people talk about sound adding to immersion.
So those are the most memorable scares I’ve experience playing video games. Feel free to comment on your own memorable experiences. And have a Happy (& safe) Halloween.