It’s that time of year again. It’s time to dress slightly uglier than usual, eat huge bags of sweets because there were only two trick-or-treaters, and play the creepiest video games that make you feel pretty uncomfortable if you’re alone, and with all of the lights out. It’s time for us players to find out what happens when our games begin playing their own little games with us.
Here, to celebrate the crème de la crème of the creepy, is a short selection of some games to make those hairs stand on end.
1. Layers of Fear
There is a certain art to messing with a player’s mind, and Layers of Fear displays this art in abundance. Playing from behind the eyes of an artist descending into madness as he strives to complete his masterpiece, the player watches as residence in which the game is set changes and warps, with gruesome hallucinations leading into the revelation of terrible and chilling secrets. Secrets tied directly to the very character you are controlling. A psychologically haunting title that captures the essence of true horror, and twists it before your very eyes.
What can be added to a game in which you guide a faceless boy through a colourless, dark forest to make it even more disturbing? A giant, hungry spider of course! Limbo is what you think, as a child; is going to happen to you if your parents leave you behind in ASDA when you’re having a tantrum. With no hand-holding, no combat and some pretty unpleasant ways to fail, Limbo is a grim and nightmarish experience that plays upon the merits of ‘less is more’. Environments are fundamentally simple, which directs the player’s attention excellently, and crafts a tone that reverberates throughout the entire game. Did I mention the giant, creeping spider?
3. Dead Space
Easily one of the horror classics of the last decade; Dead Space takes the core aspect of survival horror and paints it with a film of greasy, metallic science fiction. The unfortunate Isaac Clarke, little more than a humble starship engineer, finds himself stranded in the belly of space on a crippled ship, with only the grotesquely reanimated remains of it’s crew for company. What’s more, fear is everywhere. Fleshy scratching in the ventilation ducts, nauseatingly mutilated bodies and shadows moving and twitching just out of sight. Tense space-walking sequences and anti-gravity environments slap on a new dimension to the unease, and Isaac’s deaths are so drawn-out and violent that you can almost feel the pain of being systematically mangled to death by alien zombies. What’s worse – Isaac doesn’t even speak in Dead Space. He only screams, muffled by his glowing helmet. Dead Space crafts an awful experience that plays well upon the feeling of being alone, where everything is watching you – even the dead.
The Fallout series, today one of the most celebrated RPG experiences of all time, is known for it’s stylish retro-futuristic take on a world destroyed by nuclear war. It’s known for Brotherhood of Steel soldiers clad in enormous Power Armour suits, with gatling lasers and portable nukes. It’s known for it’s cinematic VATS combat system and it’s large open world. If we roll the clock back to 1997 however, we’ll encounter the very first, isometric installment in the series: Fallout.
The fact that it seems extremely basic and simple by today’s standards seems only to amplify the sense of unease the player can easily receive from Fallout. The short introduction, emulated well by Fallout 3; pans out slowly from a fuzzy television, playing The Ink Spot’s ‘Maybe’ until a vast, ruined city is in view and the TV falls eerily silent. Environments are sparse, gloomy and dark and the game shows little mercy to the hapless Vault Dweller as he/she explores a burned and dead world. Far creepier than it’s modern siblings.
5. Alien: Isolation
Sometimes, it feels as if the flashlight just makes the situation worse. Alien: Isolation has been credited for bringing the fear back to the iconic Xenomorph, a franchise monster on the verge of becoming about as scary as a giant stop-motion gorilla, and it does so with some marvelously clever techniques to keep the player uncomfortable. As I said, one of the most realistic flashlights in gaming is handy for guiding Amanda Ripley through the darkness of Sevastopol Station, but sometimes; you just don’t want to switch it on. You don’t want to know if the Alien waits for you in that claustrophobic, darkened vent. You don’t want to see if it’s in the next room, or on the ceiling. Because, thanks to the Alien’s excellent and unpredictable AI, it quite possibly is. Always vulnerable against a lone monster you cannot kill, Alien Isolation knows how to make you feel powerless and afraid.
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