BY ADAM BONANNI I know everyone’s gearing up for their super Halloween movie mash this weekend, but even more rare than finding a good horror movie nowadays is picking up a truly scarifying game. Sure games really have no qualms about turning up the violence, as most do, but it takes a certain restraint and nuance to pace the player along in a tense and uncertain manner, to mess with their minds and make that guy sitting at home in his nice comfy couch with the controller feel truly unsafe. How exciting is it to give a person the reins to a character who’s sole mission is to descend into a hellish adventure? This isn’t a movie; if a player’s wits aren’t fast enough, their character can easily be overcome and face death. Nerve-wracking much? The kind of interactive guided experience that a video game can offer is totally suited to horror, and some games take that experience to a whole new level of Hell. The following is a list of the Five Scariest Games Of All Time:
DOOM – Easily the most antiquated game on this list, Doom is best known for revolutionizing first-person shooters and bringing violence in games to a media sensationalist high kind of level. First person perspective means your character’s eyes are your own, and for many people, this was the first time they had been brought face to face with such demonic creatures. Imps, lost souls, and zombified remains of your fellow soldiers jump out and attack from all sides. The levels, to put it nicely, are a labyrinth-esque mess of flickering lights and claustrophobic corridors, and never before in a game have I felt so disoriented and hopelessly lost. Through all the violence and jump-out scares, the environments are a chilling mash up of sci-fi laboratories and Gothic design that don’t shy away on the pentagram per square foot ratio. For such an early example of a horrifying game, this one’s still surprisingly effective
RESIDENT EVIL 2 – If Doom raised the hairs on some, there was no telling what Resident Evil would do. Representative of a different kind of horror, one where the characters are just trying to scrape by with peashooter ammo against a zombified town of significantly stronger and faster mutants, it was a chilling test of survival. Resident Evil 2 absolutely nailed the formula after the monster success of the first game, and even given the freedom to roam around an entire city or barricade yourself inside a police station, nowhere in Raccoon City felt safe. Death came frequently and in ghastly spectacles, mostly attributed to the cinematic looking but confusing way the environment was framed. Of course, the game blew it towards the end trying its darndest to draw back the curtain on what caused the viral outbreak, effectively destroying the mystery, but since I have yet to see a Resident Evil game that doesn’t fall into this totally avoidable trap, let’s just give it credit on where it does succeed.
SILENT HILL 2 – Alas, this is one I haven’t played even halfway to completion (regrettably), so forgive my superficial remarks on a game that warrants a significantly deeper evaluation, especially since it gets so many things right. The one thing that always gets me about this game is the creatures. Those damn creatures that can only be described as moving mannequins convulsing in a horrifically unpredictable fashion. Walking down a hall, you might come across a frozen mannequin that wasn’t there before, and jump out of your seat as it springs to life and starts attacking you. There’s such variety and nuance to their appearance and animations which makes them such memorable foes (oh my god, the nurses). And that isn’t even touching on Pyramid Head. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
PENUMBRA – This game is a truly special one. Your character is thrust into the bleak arctic wilderness, alone, and has to seek refuge in underground mines. Once he finds out he’s not alone down there, that’s when the blood starts pumping. Right from the beginning, the game lets you know you’re not the marine from Doom, running around with 14 flavors of rocket launcher strapped to your back, and the only way to survive against this unnamed threat is to be sneaky. You find a shaky flashlight early on, and that’s about it. Oh but you can’t use it, because wouldn’t that let every little creature know you’re down here? You’re forced to think every one of your decisions through because your wits are your only weapon and once you give yourself away, it’s a quick and messy game over. The environment is absolutely decrepit and in constant threat of caving in, and mix in the soft but menacing footsteps of a creature pacing around the room searching for food, getting ever closer to finding out your position, and this one might keep you up in bed for weeks.
FATAL FRAME 2 – Sequels, sequels, sequels. Actually, this is one thing that games do better than movies, because a sequel is a chance to fix up some things that didn’t work the first time around instead of trying to repeat the success of the original, but I digress. Fatal Frame 2 is the granddaddy of all horror in gaming. Never before have I seen horror conveyed in the style of film so seamlessly presented in a game. It’s Wicker Man meets The Ring; two Japanese twins stumble upon a ghost town where they are mistaken for the twins expected to be used for a ritual to seal the gates of Hell. The only way to exorcise the ghosts is through the Camera Obscura found early in the game, so expect some up close and personal time with their twisted visages. You play mainly in third person, and as you’re running through the town, you might catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye of the inhabitants flickering between realms. The ghosts are masterfully rendered and even the common ones give me goosebumps. The most abhorrent are the ones when you can tell how they died; the woman covered in blood and cuts or the apparition floating around the town with a white kimono and a broken neck. This is one that needs to be experienced, and nothing I could say could do it justice. Play it with the lights off!