The decision to run a horror-themed section of content for the month of October seems a bit short sighted for someone like me, who tends to avoid horror like the plague. Aside from big hitters like Dead Space or modern Resident Evil games, I’m too much of a coward to muster up the courage to face the really scary games. Outlast, Amnesia and others will likely never be in my wheelhouse, as I opt for some less spooky games instead.
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to being terrified, as developers decided it’d be a good idea to add jump scares to games: moments of brief terror designed to elicit a huge response from the player. Usually reserved for horror games to scare the player something rotten, there’s been more than a few moments throughout gaming history where jump scares have made the move over to non-horror games, which is like 100 times more terrifying. With that in mind, here’s the 10 best (or worst if you’re a big baby like me) jump scares in non-horror games.
1. BioShock – Look Behind You
We’ll open the list with the most contentious choice, considering there’s a debate on whether or not BioShock should be considered a horror game. There’s more than a few good reasons why it should be considered a horror game, with its creepy atmosphere and mutated enemies offering terror for a lot of players, but it’s sometimes hard to notice all that when you’re setting Cyclone Traps down to launch splicers into the air, turning BioShock into a slapstick comedy.
It never gets old.
However, there’s one moment in particular, one that seems to have been replicated across all BioShock games, that is undeniably a horror jump scare. At certain points, you’ll be led into dead ends to pick up loot or complete tasks. When you turn around, you’ll find a splicer looking to get up close and personal with your face. Haunting.
2. Jak & Daxter – Lurker Shark
If you’d expect any Jak & Daxter game to have some kind of spooky jump scares, it’d be Jak 2 & 3, which leant harder into edgier characters, story and tone. Dark Jak feels like a horror movie villain premise anyway, so having him dole out some scares would have made sense, but no. It’s the first game, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor’s Legacy, that seared itself into the memories of many a scarred game, all thanks to one bastard of a shark.
Wherever there’s deep water in The Precursor’s Legacy, the shark lies in wait for you to venture, at which point the shark will swallow you whole in one go and send your ass back to the most recent checkpoint. Gamers tend to be curious by nature, so to be punished for it like this is kind of shocking in its own way. The shark was conceived as a way to enforce level boundaries to stop players from going too far in the water, but as certain videos online have proved, you don’t need to be in the deep end to fall victim to the Lurker Shark.
3. Batman: Arkham Knight – Man-Bat
The Arkham series, despite mostly being a narrative-focused beat ‘em up, has dabbled in horror here and there. One of the most notable moments (and mild jump scares) takes place in the first game, Arkham Asylum, where Scarecrow drugs you and forces a fourth wall break where you think the game has crashed. If you were like me, and borrowed the game from a friend, that moment was arguably more terrifying than the developers intended, but let’s talk about a dev intended jump scare.
In Arkham Knight, you’ll happen upon a side-quest where Man-Bat, the unholy fusion of both man and bat, will start flying around Gotham City looking for you. If you happen to perch certain gargoyles nearby, Man-Bat will be waiting for you, and he will give a fright that’d make the most hardcore of horror games feel tame by comparison. Fortunately, you can attack him while he’s flying around to avoid the jump scare entirely, which you better believe is how I approached that mission.
Not today, Man-bitch.
4. Minecraft – Lots of Things, Actually
Picture the scene: it’s a peaceful time on your little block based farm. You’re just chilling out, doing a spot of fishing and hanging out with your friends, when you hear that faint but recognisable sizzle that lets you know that things are about to go sideways in a heartbeat. Before you can even react with anything other than panic, a creeper has just exploded, taking you, your friends and half your house out along with it. Enjoy rebuilding all of that, nerd.
For as serene and joyful as Minecraft can be, there’s a lot of reasons to be scared while playing it, but for me, the most “jump scare” related reason concerns the game’s sea temples. When you get into close proximity to one, an Elder Guardian will flash up on your screen before hitting you with the mining fatigue debuff. For players not expecting to be close to a temple, their first experience with this phenomenon will no doubt be a nerve wracking one.
5. Metroid Prime – The Metroids Themselves
This might be more of a personal one, but Metroid Prime absolutely terrified the living crap out of me as a kid. You spend the majority of the game playing through as normal, exploring a hostile planet, finding upgrades and murdering some space pirates and other enemies along the way, until you happen upon a secret laboratory that just happens to be where new Metroids are being developed.
While Metroids are creepy in their own right anyway, adding that extra third dimension to Metroid was all those little parasites needed to become full on Alien homages. As soon as you see a Metroid break their containment field, they’ll lunge right at Samus’ head like a Facehugger, which is absolutely horrific, especially when you’re a 9 year old who decided on the GameCube for Christmas because Nintendo is more fun.
That’ll teach me, I guess.
6. Gone Home – Cross
Walking simulators might not seem like a great place for jump scares, though The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’s mid-game mineshaft section would agree to disagree. Ethan Carter’s jump scare might seem out of place, but there’s a sense of unease permeating throughout the entire game, so it feels at least somewhat appropriate. However, there’s a jump scare in Gone Home that’s quite a bit more sinister.
Exploring your family home after some time away, you find a host of secret passageways, journal entries and lore that give you an idea of what’s happened to your family in the time you’ve not been there. In one particular moment, there’s a cross sitting on the side, and interacting with it will cause a lightbulb to pop immediately. Exploring an empty house on a stormy night is spooky enough already, but this moment likely sent many players over the edge.
7. Sonic The Hedgehog – That Damn Underwater Music
Most jump scares are visual led, but I’m willing to make the case for an audio only scare. In a world where you’ve “gotta go fast”, the scariest thing in the world is being forced to slow down, which is why Sonic’s underwater levels are terrifying in their own right. You’re so used to bombing it through a level at high speed that being underwater feels like you’re being held back, begging to be released from your aquatic confinement.
If that wasn’t bad enough, SEGA made the brave decision to amp the tension up to a ridiculous degree, as when Sonic is close to losing all of his oxygen, a genuinely terrifying ditty that can best be described as auditory anxiety starts to play. As soon as the music starts, you’re filled with this urgency to either find an air bubble or reach the surface, but the amount of panic the song triggers likely means you’ll fumble your controller, fall over your shoelaces trying to pick up and break your neck on the nearby furniture. Game over.
8. Mortal Kombat 9 – Krypt Monster
Oh god, I’m pretty sure I still have nightmares about this one.
Since Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Mortal Kombat games have featured a Krypt where players can purchase new items like costumes, concept art, fatality combinations and more. Mortal Kombat 9 was no exception, but NetherRealm decided to add a little bit of spice to this version, as at random times, a creature lovingly named the Krypt Monster will flash up on screen accompanied by a blood curdling scream. It’s basically the gaming equivalent of that one viral video with the red car. You know the one.
Since Mortal Kombat 9’s foray into jump scares, NetherRealm seem to have adopted it into the Krypt’s core identity, with Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11 evolving the Krypt to feature more explorability and more jump scare encounters. Those MK X giant spiders are no joke, but with NetherRealm embracing this aspect of the game, they feel less like surprises. Meanwhile, MK9’s monster genuinely took a lot of players off-guard, myself included.
9. #IDARB – #boo
We’ve covered #IDARB before in our forgotten multiplayer games list, but it’s here too for one very important reason. While the core premise of #IDARB is a competitive multiplayer game with teams trying to score in each other’s goal, the key gimmick (and the reason why the name includes a hashtag) is that it included social interactions. Tweeting at @idarbwire with the session’s code and a “hashbomb” triggers different scenarios to occur.
There were plenty of fun ones, including #bomb, which naturally turned the ball into a bomb, or #genesis, which caused the #IDARB logo to appear on screen in the SEGA font. Lovely stuff, until everyone realised that tweeting #boo would cause a jump scare to appear on screen for every player. When it first happened, most players would be somewhat spooked by it, but then it typically happened 17 times per match, and at that point you become numb to it.
10. Apex Legends – Revenant
Apex Legends is no stranger to the old jump scares, at least when it comes to the Halloween events. If ever there was a time to inject a little bit of spooky into the game, it’s October, and strapping the scares to a specific holiday means it’s easier for me to avoid the game and not get scared. See, I’m clever, but even doing that won’t save you from one specific jump scare involving the robotic Revenant.
Revenant is basically the game’s resident edgelord, even though Caustic originally held that title. During the lobby screen, if you have Revenant selected, one of his idle animations sees him sprinting full speed at the camera, which isn’t too bad in all honesty. However, the moment absolutely scared the crap out of this dog, so I’m including it. Hot take, but the world could use more cute dog videos.
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