As Halloween weekend comes to a close, you might be feeling a bit of sadness at the prospect of all the spooky fun fading. Don’t fret though, because Halloween isn’t over yet, and neither is all the scary fun. Here at Third Coast, we’ve compiled a list of the scariest moments we’ve had playing video games, and we’re here to share them with you. So grab some Halloween candy and explore our favorite frightening game moments. Then, if you dare, scout the Halloween sales on Playstation, Xbox and Steam’s Halloween sale (starting today) and spend some time reliving the horrifying moments we mentioned. Third Coast gamers Antal Bokor, Marielle Shaw, James Brod, Matthew Bucher and Allison Manley share their favorite scares below.
I came across Penumbra a few years after it came out, and I’m not sure exactly what drew me towards it. It immediately gave me an eerie, found footage sort of vibe, like I discovered something forbidden, or even cursed. Penumbra’s inherent jankiness really helped drive that impression home, but if you’re willing to suffer through some clunkiness you’ll find a truly unsettling, extremely atmospheric and compelling game about a man trying to find his long-presumed dead father in a remote underground facility in northern Greenland. Brave creatures, fight your deteriorating psyche, solve physics-based puzzles, and uncover horrific mysteries. Developed by Frictional games, known for Amnesia and Soma, Penumbra is a survival/psychological horror that will haunt you.
Tomb Raider (Series)
I may have already mentioned I was hooked on Tomb Raider from the very first game, but what needs mentioning in a list of scary games is that there are some truly terrifying moments in those first three Tomb Raider games. Some are by design—like the incredibly creepy last two levels of the original game, where the walls pulse and strange aliens abound—but others happened more organically. I remember being engrossed in a complicated puzzle in the midst of a lush jungle in Tomb Raider III only to nearly die of a heart attack when a tiger would suddenly ambush me, destroying my moment of quiet contemplation. Perhaps the scariest thing I remember happening in any Tomb Raider game I’ve played though was during Tomb Raider III, when a giant Shiva statue came to life in what had previously been a peaceful puzzle room. The legacy continues, too, as Shadow of the Tomb Raider turned out to have some very frightening foes in the depths of its cave systems.
Not a conventional horror game, Subnautica is perhaps the game that scared me the most on this entire list. When I reviewed it last year (link to review) I mentioned its scarier moments, and even after putting about fifty more hours into that game since I reviewed it and even knowing all of its secrets, I still feel uneasy in its depths. There’s an extremely primal fear throughout as you are introduced to an underwater food chain that places you somewhere in the middle. Star Trek-like technology helps surviving under the oceans possible, but not necessarily easy as uncovering its mysteries puts you closer to some of Subnautica’s more terrifying creatures and environments.
Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear is great because it’s a first-person psychological horror game featuring classic works of art mixed with grotesque uses for body parts… but it’s also got a LOT of great jump scares. Throughout the game (set in an artists’ manor), a lot of the paranoia comes in constantly-shifting hallways, many of which have words written on the walls and over the doorways. In one of those hallways, the wall above the door says “DON’T LOOK BACK.” When you see that, you just have to turn around, right? Let’s just say that if you play the game, you probably don’t want to. Unless you want to change your pants.
I’d heard of the Dead Space games for years, and I’d always been interested. Resident Evil 4 in space, and gorier? Sign me up. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Dead Space is a horror game for people who don’t like feeling completely defenseless, without sacrificing the teeth-grinding anxiety that horror games give you in spades. It has plenty of satisfying weaponry, which is perfect when you’re going up against some of the most disturbingly scary creatures in any horror game I’ve played, because when every enemy you face looks like it was ripped right out of The Thing (which is a must watch for horror movie fans), you know you’re going to have a bad time. All of this is brought together with a setting that feels like Alien but scarier makes Dead Space a must play for fans of the horror genre.
The Evil Within
Legendary director and developer Shinji Mikami, best known for his work with Capcom and the Resident Evil Series, helped not only create the modern survival horror genre—but he also helped redefine it with Resident Evil 4 in 2002. When Evil Within came out, I think people were expecting another genre defining game. Instead, we got a mind fuck that is worthy of cult status. Gritty and rough around the edges, Evil Within is like playing through a horror hodgepodge. Taking cues from Silent Hill and the Resident Evil series, The Evil Within plays like the nightmare you would have after binge playing as many games in those series as possible. With a story that jumps from setting to setting without much explanation (until the end), increase the sense of hopelessness. And if that wasn’t bad enough, even on “Normal” difficulty The Evil Within can be pretty difficult, and checkpoints can be pretty sparse adding another layer fear in the form of lost progress. The sequel (see our review here) is a lot more conventional to modern horror standards, and while it never felt as gritty as the original, is also worth a look.
I went into The Forest preparing to be scared. I knew it was a sort of Descent-esque survival game, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much horror would be involved. Try as I might to convince myself that the terrifying mutations that exist in the forests where my plane crashed weren’t real, the sounds they made, the way they hunt in packs, and the particular combination of twisted body parts they’re made up of had me legitimately terrified for almost the entire first half of the game. Adding to the fright factor, the monsters’ attack patterns are erratic—sometimes they’ll charge straight for you in groups, but sometimes they’ll fake you out, letting out a crazy sort of laughing sound as they do. Once you start exploring the caves, you’ll find newer and deeper horrors, with bloody limbs you’ll need to brush past, empty camps where things went terribly wrong, and the knowledge that just around the next bend you may encounter something you can’t get out of. While I eventually conquered my paralyzing fear of The Forest’s citizens and was better able to face off with them, I still can’t shake that uneasy feeling every time I load back into the game.
Not strictly a horror game, its risk/reward mechanics can create some stressful moments—but more than that, Bloodborne is absolutely chock full of horror style. Werewolves, giant insects, and even eldritch horrors abound in a game that is just as horrifying as it is difficult. Arguably the best game in the Souls series, Bloodborne reinvents as much as refines the Souls series in a way that even Dark Souls 3 couldn’t completely match
System Shock 2
When you think of evil video game AIs you might think of GLADoS, but the first think I think of is Shodan. While GLADoS had a sort of plucky wackiness to her evil, Shodan was ruthless and terrifying. Not satisfied with sending her zombified, mutated and cybernetically enhanced minions after you, Shodan also enjoys taunting you as you fight for your life, as seen in the above reveal rant from the original System Shock game. While the original System Shock is a cult classic that has been re-released over the years (with Nightdive Studios even working on a complete Unreal engine-based remake) I personally found System Shock 2 to be the scarier of the two, but they’re both great atmospheric games—and the spiritual predecessors to the Bioshock series.
Going into Bioshock, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d picked up a PS3 a year or two after its initial release and was going back and trying to play the games I’d heard everyone raving about. I didn’t expect to be taken in by the game, but as soon as I emerged from that initial bathysphere ride into Rapture I was hooked. And scared. The lonely corridors paired with the cheerful 50’s dance classics set the mood perfectly, and it was all downhill from there, from the terrifying masks on the bunny splicers in their bloodied dresses to the Scripture quoting, hymn singing others gone mad and waiting to tear you apart. All this without even mentioning the terrifying stomping and hissing of Big Daddies lurking nearby, or the inherent scariness of the Little Sisters who accompanied them and their high-pitched shrieks. Bioshock had me so entirely immersed in its world that I still think of those frightening depths today.
Raw Data is one of the few VR games that really manages to feel like a “full” game. It can also be really terrifying. Sure, we’ve seen a lot of horrible things in games, as evidenced by the stories you’ve read in this article so far alone. But when you’ve got the headset on and you’re in a dark laboratory corridor where there’s been a containment problem and robots in various stages of disrepair start attacking, it’s a whole new sort of fright. The worst ones for me were the ones that slowly slithered on the cold tile floor only to leap into your face at the last second. Even with weapons at the ready, I felt ill-prepared for their glowy red eyes and cold metallic skin so close to my face I could almost feel it.
Resident Evil 2
When Alien: Isolation came out to rave reviews, I was super psyched to wash my mouth of the bitterness that was Aliens: Colonial Marines and finally embrace a truly good Alien game. And then it was so scary I couldn’t beat it. I played it for several hours, reveling in its retro-futurism and its recreation of a 1980s Alien world—one that believably sat between Alien and Aliens. But then I ran into that damned xenomorph, some primal childhood fear reared its head, and I was paralyzed. My mom used to warn me that watching the Alien franchise would scare me, but I certainly did not listen. After imagining there was a slickly oily, acid-blooded creature waiting to kill me with its razor claws and extending, stabby jaw for the majority of my life, facing a moving and thinking manifestation of my childhood fear was too much. I never beat Alien: Isolation—because it scared me too much. But I vow to return someday…just not today.
We hope you’ve had fun with this list of our favorite scary game moments. If you’ve got your own favorite moments to add to this list, leave them in the comments!
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