Horror can take a lot of shapes and sizes for people, but one of the most disturbing is body horror, which depicts terrible things happening to the human body. Examples can include normal people mutating into monsters that are unrecognizable in both body and mind, to terrible mutilations that leave the body disfigured from its original form.
Body horror is gross and horrific, which is why it happens to be included in a lot of different video game franchises to make the player scream out in disgust, turn their stomach or put enough fear in them so they’ll never get caught by the monster again.
It might seem like a cheap way to induce a reaction from the player, but when our bodies are so important to our way of perceiving the world, seeing something terrible happen to someone’s body can cause a visceral experience. We’ve curated 10 examples of games that managed to create some of the best examples of body horror in gaming so far and have us playing it safer in their worlds.
10. Ghouls – Fallout
From the very beginning, ghouls have been a staple of the Fallout series.
Ghouls are people who have been exposed to a dangerous amount of radiation and have managed to remain alive, often in one of two forms: the feral ghouls similar to a zombie that will run you down at the first sight, or those that still cling to their humanity and are consciously human. Both variations have extended lifespans, leathery skin, and rasping voices.
The ghouls who are still conscious of their humanity are often ostracized in the Fallout world for their appearance. Society doesn’t trust them, partly because they look similar to the ghouls that hang out in abandoned parts of the wasteland. Even though they may still be people at heart, they’re still treated as something inhuman.
9. Stroggification – Quake 4
Quake 4 finally answered an age-old question: “How are the Strogg created?” Were they always like that or did they undergo some enhancements when they decided to join the military? Well, in the Strogg Medical Facilities, you find out exactly what happens to these creatures to become the lethal fighting force they are.
The player is captured at the beginning of the level, strapped down to a chair, and placed on a conveyor belt. It’s like being driven through a cattle shoot where blood coats the metallic walls, and there is nowhere to turn. At each stage of the process, you are forced to watch what will happen to you in mere seconds, which only heightens the tension.
The process starts with a giant needle being jammed into your abdomen while a Strogg comes up and hits you with another needle and quickly runs a circular saw across your chest. The process then removes your legs, installs armor and new prosthetics, and inserts programming into your head. The entire operation is incredibly invasive and chilling as the person’s screams in front of you act like a prelude to each chilling modification. And the bare metal walls with sharp objects facing every which way will offer no comfort to you.
8. Richard Tragger Torture Scene – Outlast
If there is one thing that Outlast does best, it’s putting you in the midst of the action. Richard Tragger initially presents himself as a friendly disembodied voice but is soon confronted with the truth. Tragger is just as mad as the rest of them and even more sadistic. Of course, the player should have been more wary of his intentions, but what other choice did they have at the time?
After capturing the player, Tragger will wheel them by his other victims that he is experimenting on. Before finding themselves in a bathroom where Tragger carries out some of his operations. Here the player can finally get a good look at their captor. Tragger’s skin is so taut that it looks like his muscles are showing and scars litter his body. The man is nearly naked and pulls out a huge scissor-knife contraption from a urinal before he begins slicing off Miles’ fingers.
After the player’s vision returns to normal, all they see is the blood pouring out of their hands. It’s a gruesome scene that is only bolstered by the blood, bugs, and guts that cover the entire floor; a constant warning that the player needs to get out of Outlast’s asylum or suffer further mutilation.
7. Headcrabs – Half-Life
Arguably the most recognizable Half-Life enemy is the headcrabs, their homage to the face-huggers from the Alien franchise. They’re tiny little crab-like creatures with a massive mouth on the underside, and will jump on people’s skulls and take over their bodies. The host body completely loses all their own will and becomes zombie-like.
The level Ravenholm in Half-Life 2 sees these zombie creatures as the main enemies as they’ve taken over the town, but they can be found in many of the abandoned or less populated sections of the world.
The meandering presence of the infected is only a reminder of all the people who were caught unaware by these parasitic leeches. And just because these little buggers aren’t on a person, it doesn’t mean they aren’t any less menacing as they jump around and try to take over Gordon Freeman’s body too. If it weren’t for the fact that there was an alien race controlling all of human society, these zombie crabs would be a world-ending threat.
6. Special Infected – Left 4 Dead 2
As fun as the Special Infected in Left 4 Dead can be to play as, they really are some of the most disgusting examples of developers warping human bodies into something terrifying. Each variant of the Special Infected have their own abilities that stem from the changes in their physiology.
The Boomer is bloated with the excess fluid in his body and its bile attracts normal infected, while the Charger’s one arm has grown obscenely large but left the other withered, so he focuses all his energy into one attack around that arm. Or even the Smoker, whose body now is more lean with oozing pustules covering parts of his face and body — his tongue is so long it even trails behind him.
They are all easily identified from the groans and cackles they make. A dark alley might seem safe until you hear the horrendous cough of the Smoker and need to search the rooftops for his putrid silhouette. They each have their own personalities around these features, and that only makes them feel like individuals, and it makes you wonder what kind of special infected you might become based on your own habits.
5. Orphan of Kos – Bloodborne
Bloodborne is filled with monstrosities that can make our skin crawl, but the one that still stands out to this day for its appearance is Orphan of Kos. What looks like a frail, decomposing skeleton ready to be pushed over by the wind is actually one of the most difficult bosses in Bloodborne.
The first time it’s seen is after it crawls out of the dead Kos that is lying on the beach, sliding through the guts of the creature as if it’s just being born. Bits of Kos trickle off the orphan like wet pasta, though the bones of Kos seem to hold onto the child for a little while longer. The creature even uses the placenta of its dead parent as an ax.
After spotting the player, they will fall into a blind rage and jump around with more agility than anyone might expect of such an emaciated creature. Even the attacks of the Orphan hit with a goopy sound, as if all the player is hitting is the soft tissue of a newborn. But this menace is anything but a child and will test the player’s knowledge of everything they have learned so far.
4. Cordyceps Brain Infection – The Last of Us
At first glance, this might seem like just another zombification entry, but the Cordyceps brain infection is a little more sinister than that. For starters, the infection will cause fungus to grow out of the infected person’s body while the rest of their physical appearance begins to rot.
The further along this infection gets, the more disgusting the individual will become as they begin to bloat, becoming more and more unrecognizable as time passes. A person’s appearance and their behavior will begin to change as the infection grows within them.
The individual loses their own free will as soon as they succumb to the infection and become “runners,” but even after they finally die, their body will continue to be used by the disease to create spores to infect more people. Even more horrifying is that this disease exists in the real world right now. Luckily, it only infects insects (and hopefully stays that way), but it certainly adds to the horror of the fictional reality.
3. The Flood – Halo
The Flood are a universe devouring parasite that can take over any host. They were so feared that the Forerunners were willing to wipe out the galaxy by building the Halo rings and sacrificing their own lives to eliminate them.
During the Halo games, there are several times where the player is forced to watch the Flood consume both friendlies and enemies. Captain Keyes becomes infected, which forces the player to extract codes from their former superior. The Prophet of Mercy succumbs to a Flood spore and is slowly taken over as the Chief watches.
But the most horrendous is in Halo 3, when spores drop from the rooftops and begin to infect a marine squad as the player watches helplessly. The bulbous Flood cysts start popping out of the marines’ skin from every pore as they slowly lose their humanity and begin to charge.
The Flood provide an existential crisis in the Halo universe and one that is constantly in the back of the player’s mind as they explore Forerunner installations, hoping the parasite isn’t lurking in the shadows.
2. The Necromorphs – Dead Space
There are few creatures as terrifying as the necromorphs in Dead Space. They infect hosts and transform their bodies into unrecognizable beasts bent on killing everything in their sight. Large knife-like bones will protrude from their arms, and newly grown tails and teeth will sharpen and grow to the size of rhino horns. It’s hard to believe that some of these creatures could have been human at some point.
It doesn’t help that these creatures can crawl around the insides of the ships and buildings to surprise their victims. They are incredibly tenacious and will stop at nothing to pounce on the unexpecting.
There is even an entire cult that worships them as the next step in evolution. These people have clearly lost their own minds and are only perpetuating a centuries-old lie that has allowed the necromorphs to persist.
1. The Baker Family – Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Rarely do we get such an intimate look at such a grotesque transformation as what the Baker family gave us in Resident Evil 7. From the moment that Ethan Winters enters the Bakers’ home, he will see first-hand the external and internal destruction that E-Type can do to people.
The Bakers are seen with cannibalistic tendencies, black veiny bodies, and terrible tempers. Over the course of the game, they will transform into even more monstrous forms of themselves, losing what little semblance of humanity they had left.
They will be burned, shot, and cut up, but they still keep going, developing long arms or giant sludge bodies as they insist on continuing forward. However, the most heartbreaking part is discovering that they became this way because of Eveline’s control — they were once good people whose only folly was being too kind. They are tragic characters, and that makes seeing their transformations all the more horrifying.
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