I wrote this post yesterday and apparently it never actually published. I have added parenthesis to the opening to account for this.
Happy (belated) Halloween, nerds! It’s the (day after the) time of year when we take immense pleasure in scaring the shit out of ourselves, so I figured I would share a list of my favorite scary games with you. This isn’t necessarily a ranking, because I am bad at picking favorites. Just know that I think all these games are scary as shit and quality experiences to boot.
Resident Evil Remake
The original Resident Evil revolutionized the horror genre in gaming. Nobody forgets rounding the corner in the hallway to find the very first zombie in the series feeding on a corpse. The game’s fixed camera, horrifying monsters, and scarcity of resources made it an unforgettable experience. The remake stayed true to all of that, and is the best version of the iconic game.
Not many video game settings are as memorable as the crumbling underwater city of Rapture. What was supposed to be a utopia for people who were tired of the politics and bureaucracy of the outside world has become a horrifying tomb for the residents. Those who haven’t died by the time you get there have become Splicers; citizens who have had their minds ruined by ADAM, a drug of sorts that alters DNA to grant powers. Stay on your guard if you come across anyone who isn’t a Splicer, though. They may not attack you on site, but they are probably twisted in their own unique way.
Coffee mugs and office chairs never seemed too threatening to me until I played Prey. It takes place on a derelict space station where some of your enemies, known as Mimics, can take the form of pretty much any ordinary object. Even if you get good at spotting these imposters, you still have to be on the lookout for possessed humans, machines, and other straight-up brutish alien lifeforms. In additions to being a great horror game, it has one of the best opening sequences in recent memory.
Compared to some, I was a latecomer to the horror game scene. The first true horror game that I finished was Doom 3, and boy did it steal some sleep from me. While I consider all the other Doom games to be more action-oriented, this one had a heavy emphasis on the scares. Much of the game was spent in dark corridors with things going bump somewhere out of site. Your only sense of security came from a flashlight that couldn’t be equipped at the same time as a weapon. Talk about blind firing…
While most horror games give you a means of killing your enemy, the goal of this game is hiding and escaping. That’s not to say there are no weapons to use, but even the most effective tools in this game serve to temporarily repel the alien at best. Get spotted by the Alien and you have a tiny window to take action and save your skin. Let your guard down, and you’re probably dead. The mostly-empty space station that serves as the game’s setting is incredibly effective at establishing a sense of… being alone? I dunno. There’s probably a better word for it…
This isn’t so much a game as it is an interactive movie. It’s the standard setup of a group of teens spending a night in a cabin in the woods. Naturally, things start to go very wrong, and people start (probably) dying. Depending on the choices you make throughout the moviegame, the plot can turn out one of countless ways. You can finish the game having saved everybody or nobody, and thanks to the game’s constant autosaving, every decision and action is permanent. There’s no loading the last checkpoint to save that character who just got killed off. In terms of the actual horror, there are a few pleasing twists, constantly haunting atmospheres, and plenty of jump scares. The credits will roll and you’ll want to start again and aim for another outcome.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Of all the games on this list, this one is perhaps the most underappreciated. The first game in the series was a solid experience for an Xbox 360 launch, but this improved on pretty much every aspect. You play as a retired alcoholic cop, which is admittedly a pretty tired plot point. However it’s the way it plays into the story that is interesting. Are you seeing psychological demons or real monsters? If they are real, how will you deal with them? More often than not, you’ll be using blunt weapons rather than firearms to fight your way through the missions, which include an abandoned doll factory and a mountain lodge where you’re hunted by a massive grizzly bear.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The original Resident Evil may have been a fantastic game, but that doesn’t mean all of them were great. After RE4, the series began to take a baffling turn, ditching the horror elements it was known for in favor of action. It came to a boiling point with Resident Evil 6, which wasn’t received well by fans (to put it lightly). Luckily, the series underwent a huge course correction and once again embraced survival horror. But it wasn’t just a rehash of the old formula. The dark corridors and unsettling atmospheres were back, but they were taken on from a first-person perspective this time around. This design choice was a gamble, and it paid off. RE7 is one of the best horror games in years.
The Evil Within 2
The first Evil Within game was a great start to the series, but there were a lot of shortcomings you had to look past to really enjoy it. The controls and shooting were meh, the graphics were subpar, and the main character was about as boring as a character could get. Luckily, the sequel fixed almost all of this. Sure, the protagonist was still a husk of a human being, but a lot of care was put into the story and supporting characters. I loved (to hate and be terrified of) every one of the villains, from the freaky four-headed woman thing to the psychotic reverend. The creepy humming ghost of a woman who haunts you throughout most of the game made for some of the most terrifying sequences in the game.
Dead Space Series
I would like to have a moment of silence for this series, as it was put on indefinite hold before the developers were shut down.
Though I didn’t rank these from 10-1, the Dead Space games would stand a good chance of winning if I were forced to choose a definite favorite horror series. The graphics were damn good and the weapons were clever inspirations of imagined space engineering tools, as the protagonist is an engineer rather than a badass soldier. Now, I know Dead Space 3 wasn’t nearly as scary as the first two, but overall, this franchise is horrifying. Not only do you have plenty of creepy atmospheres, noises, and corridors, but you face terrifying enemies called Necromorphs. They were all once human, and they aren’t just standard zombies. They come in many different mutated shapes and sizes. There are even monsters that used to be babies and toddlers. Talk about creepy. To take these guys down, your best bet was severing their limbs, making each encounter tactical rather than a festival of bullets.
Rest in peace, Visceral Games. This truly was an amazing series.
Honorable Mention: Jurassic Park (Sega Genesis)
This wasn’t a horror game. It was, however, a survival game that I played when I was a wee lad who jumped at just about everything. You could play this game as either a Velociraptor or Doctor Grant. Playing as Grant was a horrifying ordeal, as Velociraptors could shred you to shitty little pieces and you had to tranquilize T-Rexes and sneak past them while they dozed to progress.
Fuck this game. I love it.