There are a lot of elements that go into a successful horror game. From the scary monster that’s under the bed to the lore behind the nightmare, everything needs to be carefully considered. But arguably the most important factor in a video game is the setting that the scares are taking place in. For that reason, the most important element isn’t how the player can interact with the world, but how the world portrays itself to the player. The setting in horror games can make or break everything
These worlds need to be carefully crafted to meld seamlessly with the lore and gameplay. Arguably more so than in other genres because the worlds need to be realized enough that the player is both intrigued to look under the bed and terrified every second the camera pans down. That’s why we created a list of some of the more horrifying and memorable locations in horror. So, if you aren’t too scared, take a look at some of the best settings in horror games throughout the years.
10. Beacon Mental Hospital – The Evil Within
Beacon Mental Hospital is where it all begins for The Evil Within. Kicking off with an investigation into a mass murder, Detective Sebastian Castellanos is leading the investigation when he is knocked unconscious and hung up like a piece of meat while the first psychopath of the game can be heard mashing up some sort of meat.
From the first few minutes, the hospital is just a bloodbath, and everything inside feels like it is trying to kill the detectiveL Saws coming out of walls, chainsaws being swung at him, menacing meat hooks, and lumbering foes. There is no sense of safety here for the player, and when they finally exit the hospital, it becomes clear that there really won’t be another safe moment for a while. Stepping into Beacon was like stepping through a portal where the world was hell on the other side.
What’s even worse, this hospital is returned to late in the game. When the player finally comes back to the grimy hallways of the hospital, there’s a lot more to uncover and to fear, but all you can think about is the first scary minutes that nearly left you dead at a meat carver.
9. Freddy Fasbear’s Pizza – Five Nights at Freddy’s
While the games might have jumped the shark in later entries, the original Five Nights at Freddy’s remains an iconic indie horror game with a simple premise and a location that has left people very uncomfortable around members of Munch’s Make Believe Band.
Though the security room is what people might think of first with its Freddy poster, continuously spinning fan, and fast food leftovers, it’s the view that people get from the security screens that are where the true horrors usually lie.
Everything looks like it should be set up for the next day’s events: party hats on the tables, chairs pushed in, and streamers hung around the room. The animatronics that people expect to stand still are slowly popping up around the pizzeria until they reach the security room doors. What should be a child-friendly location has been turned into a house of horrors, and this game has probably ruined a number of birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese throughout the years.
8. Medical Pavilion – BioShock
The original BioShock is known for its horror elements, especially since the games that followed it began to remove much of if not all of the fear factor. The focus shifted, but there was a time where places like the Medical Pavilion could make you jump out of your seat as a doctor turned the lights out and hid somewhere in his morgue just to pop out and begin hitting you when your back was turned. The Medical Pavilion is covered in photographs of Dr. Steinman’s patients who he mutilated for his twisted idea of beauty.
The used surgical equipment that is often posed next to these images gives it an extra level of grotesque interest. Exploring this area has the player navigating dark hallways where the twisted Medical Pavilion staff lay in wait, hoping for the moment to corner the player. It comes to a head when Dr. Steinman himself is found in his OR, and he shows Jack his latest operations. Several women hang from operating tables, mutilated beyond recognition. The Medical Pavilion reinforces that Rapture is not a utopia under the sea, but only a stone’s throw from Hell.
7. Himuro Mansion – Fatal Frame
Himuro Mansion is a haunted location done right. The mansion is inspired by East Asian architecture, which is something we don’t get to see very often in our horror games in the west. Often, the paper walls feel like a ghost will float through them at any point, and the wooden posts seem as if they give little to no safety for the player. Pulling off a haunted location can be a tough task, but Himuro Mansion manages to come across as legitimately creepy with little safety for the player.
The stairs, walkways, and shrines all feel like they’re waiting to reveal the paranormal that are just out of sight. It’s made even better by the fact that this setting is based on a real urban legend from Japan, which all adds to this feeling of exploring a legitimately haunted mansion. The game itself explores the lore and will reveal itself as the player explores further into the mansion and manages to capture spirits on film. No Luigi’s ghosts here, only the tormented souls trapped to roam the mansion grounds because of the evils that transpired there.
6. Mount Massive Asylum – Outlast
The original Outlast used its setting of Mount Massive Asylum as a torture horror house for the player. From the moment they enter, there is never going to be an easy way out.
The asylum might be made up of all sorts of psychopaths and mentally ill patients, but it always felt like it was a fight against the confines of the asylum, rather than just against Chris Walker or Richard Trager. Fires are burning, people are screaming, and everyone seems like they could snap at any moment. There is no safe place here.
Locked doors, faulty fuses, barred-off elevators, and inconvenient detours through human sewage are only some of the things that the player will have to suffer through. It becomes a constant that the player is teased with the idea of leaving the asylum, only to be pulled further in by another unfortunate circumstance. The asylum becomes a prison, one that can stir in someone’s mind the terror they experienced during their residence there.
5. Silent Hill – Silent Hill
It’s common in horror games to get a location that’s a single building or spaceship. But to have an entire town that has been driven into darkness? That’s much rarer.
Silent Hill is an iconic location for its dark and foggy streets that hide potential horrors that are screaming forward from the past. The town was built on Native American holy lands and was supposed to be a place of respect and kindness, but the Europeans who came overtook it and chose to perform heinous crimes on its soil, including creating the asylum and prison where patients and prisoners would be tortured.
This was a breeding ground for evil, and that evil manifests in the environment and people of the town. Silent Hill plays with the perception of the player through the dark hallways of its buildings and the fog that riddles the streets. It feels like your head is always on a swivel, lest you risk running directly into an enemy or being caught off guard. The town of Silent Hill makes the player feel like there is no safe space as long as they are within the town’s property line.
4. Brennenburg Castle – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Feeling like it was taken straight out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Brennenburg Castle is a terrifying maze of dark corridors and rooms.
The main mechanic of Amnesia is how it uses darkness both as an ally and a foe by allowing the player to hide better in the dark, while at the same time causing them to lose their sanity. The castle itself plays beautifully into this as there isn’t going to be big ornate windows letting the moonlight in.
Instead, there is standard darkness in the top levels of the castle and advanced darkness in the damp dungeons, which makes it all the more difficult as you explore further into this gothic nightmare. You’ll want nothing more than to light every torch, candle, and lantern so you can see, but doing so will allow the Gatherers to spot you from a mile away — a balance must be achieved while you are searching the castle for supplies and clues. Brennenburg Castle needs to be explored top to bottom, but your hair will be grey by the time you see the light again.
3. Sevastopol Station – Alien Isolation
Sevastopol Station is like playing within the original Alien movie, as it retains that 1980s feel that made the space stations in the original two movies feel so unique, from the analog devices to whitewashed main atriums to the dark maintenance rooms lit by a single tripod work light with fog dancing across the player’s view. With plenty of walls, crawlspaces, boxes, and more, the environment was fine-tuned for the game’s structure.
It is a beautiful setting to explore, but once the Xenomorph begins tracking you, that scenic exploration becomes one of a panic search for your next keycard. The alien and space station seem to become one and the same as it uses the environment as much to its advantage as the player uses it to theirs.
What was once a nostalgic trip to the futuristic ideals of the past becomes one of sinking horror as the station reveals that it’s just a floating graveyard with a single caretaker maintaining the silence.
2. Spanish Village – Resident Evil 4
The Resident Evil series has a dozen great locations, but the one that remains horrifying to this day is the Spanish village from Resident Evil 4. Leon is dropped off on the edge of the small village and soon must fight the entire population of the town as they come at him like an angry mob, pitchforks included. This location, in particular, helps to emphasize the larger scope of Resident Evil 4 as the villagers seem to seep from every alley and doorway.
First-time players will often feel overwhelmed very quickly and will either fall back or duck into a house where they might lose their grip. The village is a proving ground for the new series direction, as well as a warning. Resident Evil 4 won’t hold back, and it will send some scaries at you from the start. A chainsaw-wielding maniac launches at you, and it’s only been about five minutes of game time.
When the dust settles, the village is quiet but no less depressing and horrifying as funeral pyres continue to burn from the villagers’ last victims and buildings lay in ruin. Nothing left to do but clean up and think about what other horrors may be lying ahead.
1. The USG Ishimura – Dead Space
The USG Ishimura is a planet cracker on a mining mission and reportedly in need of repairs. Dead Space was partially as successful as it was because the setting felt so fully realized. The Ishimura, from the moment you lay eyes on it floating in space, is a beacon of mystery, wonder, and horror.
The quiet ship, with its lights contrasted with the local sun in the background, gives you little reason to see it as a warm welcome. The levels feel distinct from one another, and even though there are moments where you return to sections of the ship, the changes to the layout, new routes, and variations in enemy patterns always made it interesting, if not a little extra fear-inducing.
Every vent and corner will have the player terrified about what is coming next. Even the sounds of the ship leave the player with goosebumps as the machinery seems to wail like it too is suffering alongside the player, or a wrench falls somewhere in the vicinity, the cause unknown. The Ishimura was home to some of the most horrific atrocities in gaming, so it’s no wonder that they brought a few locations back for the sequel and are even remaking it from the ground up. It’s a ghost ship that can’t stay dead.
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