Video games have been causing unexpected undergarment changes for decades now. Not just horror games, there’s plenty of games that have some pretty horrific scares in them that aren’t traditional scare mongers.
In the run up to Halloween, I decided to take a look back at some of the moments in video games that gave me some very personal heebie-jeebies. Remember scares are subjective, so what may scare me, may not scare you. In fact, where I can, I have attempted to explain what makes each scare frightening, or effective.
So, here’s 10 of the scariest video game moments of all time. There’s no order, so take these as they come. It’s by no means a definitive list, so if your favourite isn’t listed, then why not tell us about it in the comments?
Minor spoiler alert in place.
1. ‘Nothing inside’ – Silent Hill
Silent Hill is often spoken about as the greatest horror game of all time. However, today it feels that its sequel is spoken about more often as it is, admittedly, a better all round game. Silent Hill hasn’t been played as much by modern horror fans either, as getting past its blocky, blurry aesthetic is a little difficult, but let me tell you: they’re missing out.
My favourite game of the series, Silent Hill contains one of my favourite shocks, though one that is much less iconic than others in the series. While exploring the Otherworld Midwich Elementary School, a banging sound can be heard coming from one of the nearby lockers, which is a call back to an earlier scene where opening a locker causes a cat to leap out at you, giving us all a good old ‘Lewton Bus’.
When blood is seen oozing from the Otherworld doppelganger locker, the worst is assumed. Naturally, when asked ‘Do you want to open the locker?’ the answer has to be yes. The locker is empty. Phew. Then when you attempt to leave the room, a body sudden falls out of a locker in front of you. Over 20 years later, I still remember the sudden, unexpected fright.
2. ‘Beware of the dog’ – Resident Evil
One famous one that we’ve all experienced is those darn Resi dogs. Their jumping through the window is such an unexpected and panic inducing moment, it makes you wonder why you didn’t see it coming. In reality, the setup for this scare is near genius. The old school Resident Evil games didn’t really have the mood lighting of their remakes, and many areas were well lit, not making for an especially scary locale in retrospect.
The ‘dog corridor’ is especially well lit, however. The area where the scare takes place has two table lamps and two ceiling lights; you might say it’s too well lit. The corridor also has a comforting feel to itL light coloured carpet, with wood paneling on the walls and a cream and light pink patterned wallpaper adorns the walls. This entire corridor lures you into a false sense of security.
It feels homely and safe. That is until a rabid zombie dog leaps through a window. There are a few reasons why this is so unsettling. One is the speed of the dogs: after fighting lumbering zombies, their speed is utterly shocking. You’re running away from the window they break through, which, thanks to tank controls, means you can either slowly turn and fight, or keep running for your life.
Also, the window is directly in-between you and the player, and the camera is at a low angle. When the dog bursts through, he directly separates you from the player character, sending shards of glass flying towards the camera. This psychologically works against you as you’ll subconsciously feel you have less control over the player character due to the actual obstacle separating you. That is why the dog corridor is one of the best jump scares ever.
3. ‘Meeting Lisa’ – P.T.
P.T. needs no introduction. Probably one of the most talked about demos of all time, the fact that P.T. would not lead to a full game caused anguish amongst horror game fans. P.T.’s influence cannot be denied, however, as it made such an impact on gamers and developers alike that it has influenced literally hundreds of games and copycats since. Some good, some awful.
P.T. has a thick, heavy atmosphere. The feeling of dread clings to you as you round every corner. The fact that its setting is an eerily familiar suburban household just ramps up the terror. Creeping around the house in the dark is something we’ve done as kids at one time or another, and it’s amazing how different and intimidating the dark can make familiar surroundings feel. P.T. plays on this wonderfully to make the house come across more like a character in the game, but the atmosphere is nothing without a terrifying antagonist. Enter Lisa.
Lisa is the ghost of a woman haunting the house she was murdered in, you presume. When you first meet her, she manages to be familiar to those who experienced ghosts in Silent Hill, but also new and fresh. She stands twitching and shaking manically halfway down a darkened corridor, watching you perhaps? Then a blink of the lights and they go out, your first view of Lisa obscured. Walking past where she should be sees the lights blink to life, but she’s gone.
Don’t worry, you get a much closer look at her later. Before long, Lisa suddenly appears square in the centre of the screen, killing you. Humans are designed to use the face as a prime means of recognition, which is why people see faces in everything, from Amazon boxes to faucets. Finding a face where there shouldn’t be one (i.e directly in front of your own) is an alarming thing for us as a species, which is what makes Lisa’s final appearance absolutely terrifying.
4. ‘Just a short back and sides’ – Clock Tower
Clock Tower is a forgotten gem amongst gamers here in the west. That’s not a surprise, though. After a strong first entry in the series, the second and third titles were met with mixed responses at best, and a spiritual successor called NightCry received poor reviews when it was released in 2016.
Clock Tower was so good because it was totally different to anything else on the market at the time, and now I think of it, different to anything that has come since. Clock Tower is a point and click horror game, and takes on many of the stapes of the point and click genre. Exploring and searching for items are a big part of this experience, but it also has something called ‘panic mode’ when your character will become uncoordinated and hard to control, often tripping and falling through sheer panic. This is what comes into play when you meet the Scissorman.
Scissorman is no hulking monster — he’s human, and stands only a few feet tall. He carries a huge pair of scissors much larger than him, which he uses to murder his victims. Scissorman looks totally different to how you expect a video game villain to be, but the terror as he slowly stalks you through Clock Tower’s mansion, teamed with the panic mode, make the encounters particularly jarring.
It doesn’t help that Scissorman is invulnerable. He can be slowed, but the only way to get away from him is to find a hiding spot.
5. ‘The Hotel Room’ – Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was the first of many disappointing Lovecraftian video games from the last 20 years. Direct Lovecraft games were fairly rare, but as video game technology improved the scope of games, it became easier to create the cosmic horrors that Lovecraft described.
Lovecraft fans naturally picked up this game, and it is remembered fondly, even if it isn’t necessarily a good game. Many fans remember one particular set-piece, which just so happens is one of the best horror moments ever. When you arrive at and venture around, the unfriendly port town of Innsmouth, it becomes apparent that outsiders are not welcome here, but here you are so you stay at the local hotel.
Sleep brings nightmares that the locals are coming to get you, and you awake to find that they bloody well are. This fantastic set-piece is filled with dIt
s anger and the need to make quick decisions to prevent the locals getting to you, almost like a non-combat version of a similar scene in Resident Evil 4.
Dark Corners then delves into the next couple of hours of gameplay with no way to defend yourself, and only stealth to keep you alive. Sadly, shortly after you get a gun, the game devolves into a so-so first person shooter. But for a while, we had a great time with Dark Corners of the Earth.
6. ‘REX HAS SEEN YOU’ – 3D Monster Maze
For a certain generation of gamer, the words ‘REX HAS SEEN YOU’ popping up on screen should send you into an uncontrolled panic. 3D Monster Maze feels very much like the unholy baby of Saw and Jurassic Park. For some reason, you’re trapped in a maze. For some reason, there’s a T-Rex roaming around. Get out of the maze.
This insanely simple concept made for what has been described as ‘the original survival horror game’. The game appeared first on the Spectrum, and used some nifty tricks to give the impression that you’re walking around a 3D maze in a first-person perspective. The aim of the game is to find the exit, all while being stalked by Rex.
Rex is a T-Rex. At least he’s meant to be — he looks more akin to a creepypasta Barney. But what makes the game truly frightening is the updates you get along the bottom of the screen, informing you what Rex is up to. Sometimes you’ll just get ‘REX LIES IN WAIT’ or ‘FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING’. But if Rex catches sight of you, you’ll see the horrific words ‘REX HAS SEEN YOU’, which will no doubt bring on a full panic. Worse is ‘RUN REX IS BEHIND YOU’. Full on childhood trauma right here.
7. ‘The Lost World’ – Tomb Raider
It’s hard to describe to modern gamers how often Tomb Raider could press your fear buttons. Drowning, sharks, spiders, ancient demons and even a hellish doppelganger all appear in the first couple of entries in the series. Tomb Raider also had a trick up its sleeve: reactive sounds. Music or sound would trigger when an enemy was spawned or something was happening, and all too often it’d happen outside of the player’s view.
This would lead to trepidation when rounding the next corner, not knowing what you’d stumble into next, and in the original Tomb Raider, they had a doozy waiting for us. In the Lost Valley level of the Peru stage was a huge T-Rex, looming into view from around a corner. What makes this enemy great is its size: while large enemies in games are standard these days, in the early days of 3D shooters itwas a pretty special encounter indeed.
The fact that rex appears so close to you when it first appears leads you to panic, and the original Tomb Raider doesn’t always make it obvious where to go or what to do. The great thing about the T-Rex that it doesn’t reappear, making this a one-off, unexpected boss
8. ‘The Staircase’ – Resident Evil 7
Resident Evil 7 represented a return to form for the lagging series. Since the fourth entry, the games have seen a continual decline in quality as they shifted away from proper horror to action-horror to just plain old action. The fifth and sixth entries were forgettable and the less said about Operation Racoon City, or dare we say it, Umbrella Corps, the better.
The Baker household is a wonderfully intimidating location as a sprawling and creepy, decaying old home. It feels oppressive, dark and very much lived in, making it feel very much like a real location, much more than any other in the Resident Evil universe to date. There are plenty of scares to be had in the opening hour of the seventh game in the series, but the one that sticks in my mind is the stairs.
After exploring the house and finding Mia, you quickly discover that she’s, well, not right. During one sequence, you’re at a loss over where to go next, so the only solution is to return to the basement that you came from, slowly descending the stairs into the gloom below. Then, out of the gloom, Mia appears, crawling up the staircase like Sadako’s half sister. A blackout sees Mia then suddenly appearing in your face, pushing you upwards with unexpected force.
It’s a great scare that utilises the old ‘face in your face’ scare that many games, P.T. included, use. It’s a simple scare but one which seems to affect most people. The staircase itself is a good mood setter though, it sets up an obvious jump scare, but an effective one nonetheless. Also, the fear of walking down into darkness is one that hits at something deep in our psyche, more on that in the next entry.
9. ‘The Water Part’ – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Many modern first-person horror games owe a debt of gratitude to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It’s under a decade old, and has, admittedly, been outdone by a number of more modern titles. But most of these modern first-person horror games have borrowed ideas, mechanics and scares from this 2010 horror classic.
Much like the staircase scene from Resident Evil 7, Amnesia plays upon our deep-seated fear of the dark. While in adulthood we rationally dismiss the dark as childhood folly, fear of the dark is a natural phobia which can be traced back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it helped us avoid becoming the prey of what lurked in the dark, which is why horror games all feel much more suspenseful in darkened environments.
Amnesia sees you hiding in the shadows from inhuman monsters that hide in the dank corridors of the Brennenburg Castle. Staying in the shadows is only partially useful however, as Amnesia forces you to break cover because remaining in dark places drains your sanity.
This all leads to a section of the game that I personally know as ‘the water part’. You’ll find yourself in a partially submerged tunnel, with a fleshy substance covering the stone walls. Before long, you’ll meet the water monster, but unlike other monsters in this game he’s totally invisible and can only be seen by his feet splashing in the water as he walks. It’s a completely unexpected moment that’ll catch you out, and is unlike any other encounter in the game.
10. ‘Xenomorph’ – Alien Isolation
The Alien series has done fairly well as a game franchise based on a movie series. For every Aliens: Colonial Marines, there’s an Alien 3, Alien Trilogy, Aliens: Infestatio; the list goes on. What the video games often miss out on, however, is the sense of horror that the original movie did so well.
Enter Alien Isolation. While there’s much more to the game than merely attempting to outwit a Xenomorph, it’s this aspect of the game that is the most alluring for fans of the series. What makes the Xenomorph frigentening in both Isolation and the original movie is the feeling of being prey. Much like the fear of darkness, the fear of being hunted is something that is deeply seated in our subconscious. The first time you have to hide from the Xenomorph is one of the scariest moments in modern gaming.
What also makes the Xenomorph a formidable foe is his ‘two brains’. To make the gameplay truly challenging, the developers elected to give the Xeno two A.Is. One A.I gives the Xenomorph clues to your location, while the other A.I uses these clues to try and nail down your actual location, and kill you dead. It’s a real high point for the series as a whole and easily one of the best Alien games ever made.