Thu
Oct 31 2013 2:00pm
Gaming Roundup: A Celebration of Video Game Horror

As many of us prepare for an evening full of candy and horror movies, or perhaps a night of drunken, costumed debauchery, we here at Tor.com wish to humbly offer up a third option: the horror video game. The genre has come a long way over the years, and while it’s true that horror is an intrinsically personal and somewhat variable experience, at this point in time there’s a little something out there for everyone. So, what better way to spend the Halloween Edition of the Gaming Roundup than with a list of our favorite scary games?

Theresa picks: BioShock

A beautifully-realized game changer, BioShock was made for late night gaming sessions. Meeting my first harlequin splicer was probably one of my scariest moments in gaming ever. Exploring the gardens of Arcadia, you see a distant figure crying for help, beckoning you to follow him through the lush flowers until he lures you into a deserted corner… and rips apart into a fine red mist, only to re-materialize right behind you. This was only one of many moments the game lulled you into a false sense of security, only to scare the crap out of you again and again. And yet BioShock remains incredibly replayable.

 

Pritpaul picks: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Frictional Games makes its first appearance on our list via Amnesia, and for good reason—their 2010 surprise hit was a breath of fresh air in a somewhat stagnant time for the genre. You wake in a castle in 1839 with no memory of why you’re there—only that something is hunting you. You have no means of defending yourself—only a lantern to light your way and your legs to allow you to flee whatever misfortune may find you. Bearing extended witness to the castle’s horrors or spending too much time in the darkness drains your sanity, causing hallucinations and making you more vulnerable to monsters. In short, Amnesia is pure atmosphere, and one of the scariest gaming experiences you can have.

 

Theresa picks: Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh (aka Phantasmagoria 2)

While not as technically sound as its predecessor or Sierra’s other big point-and-click adventure franchise, Gabriel Knight, this macabre game was banned in several countries for its violent and sexual content. Being a fan of Clive Barker, I thought I could handle the massive amounts of S&M and demonic possession. I was wrong. For its day, Phantasmagoria 2 really pushed the envelope

 

Pritpaul picks: Clive Barker’s Undying

A lost classic of the early 2000s directed by Clive Barker, Undying puts you in the shoes of Irish paranormal explorer Patrick Galloway in 1923, paying a visit to his friend Jeremiah Covenant on the coast of Ireland following receipt of an urgent letter. Turns out Jeremiah’s estate is bad news, as a curse has claimed (then resurrected) his four siblings, and it’s up to Galloway to set things right. The game blossoms into a wonderfully balanced mix of magic, demons, ghosts, and violence, pulled together by some wonderful storytelling by Barker, but poor sales figures make it a woefully underappreciated horror classic.

 

Theresa picks: Dead Space

Weird death cults, reanimated corpses, Zero-G, and long stretches of creepy silence makes Dead Space a near-perfect horror/sci-fi hybrid. Engineer Isaac Clarke must cut his way through mutilated zombies infected by exposure to a mysterious alien artifact. And I do mean that literally—Isaac’s main weapon is a plasma cutter that must be used to systematically dismember opponents’ limbs. It’s a brutal reminder that space exploration doesn’t always elevate our species or impart us with noble scientific wisdom. Sometimes it leads to pure, random cruelty at the hands of our alien overlords.

 

Pritpaul picks: Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil 2, created by survival horror master Shinji Makami, furthered the genre as significantly as its predecessor. Set in the thoroughly infested Raccoon City, in the wake of the sinister Umbrella Corporation’s misguided experiments, the game introduces franchise icons Leon Kennedy, a cop having the worst first day ever, and Claire Redfield, a college student searching for her brother Chris (a protagonist of the first game). RE2’s visuals, puzzle-solving, artwork, character design, and gory deaths make it a mainstay on the list of all-time horror classics.

 

Theresa picks: Left 4 Dead 2

The first installment of the zombie shooter franchise set the post-apocalyptic stage with its creepy abandoned cities and ravenous zombie hordes, but its sequel upped the scares with a Louisiana setting showcasing foggy swamps, rural towns slammed by a hurricane, and a decayed New Orleans. And two words: ZOMBIE CLOWNS. Add the multiplayer “Survivor” mode where you and your friends are swarmed by wave after wave of the undead until your team expires and you’ll know true fear when you hear the dreaded music signifying an incoming Tank.

 

Pritpaul picks: System Shock 2

A brainchild of game developer extraordinaire Ken Levine, creator of BioShock and major contributor to the first Thief, System Shock 2 (1999) was a sci-fi horror game truly ahead of its time. You play as the sole survivor of a starship infected by an alien virus spread by a race known only as the Many, eventually taking on one of gaming’s all-time greatest villains, an evil Artificial Intelligence named SHODAN. System Shock 2 takes its place on the horror classics list due to its seamless blending of RPG elements with FPS gameplay, a tight, intense story, and an iconic villain, all of which combined to leave thousands of fans clamoring for any hint of the existence of System Shock 3.

 

Theresa picks: Alan Wake

Maybe better named Twin Peaks: The Video Game. A writer retreats to a cabin in the Pacific Northwest and soon after, his wife disappears and events from the plot of his latest novel come to life. It’s an old horror trope, but utilized in a clever, self-aware narrative, using the literal forces of light to battle darkness-possessed lumberjacks. As your battery supplies dwindle and your main line of defense— a simple flashlight—starts to flicker, your pulse races as you make split-second decisions to flight or flee. Bonus points for the ominous dirge of Nick Cave’s “Up Jumped the Devil” playing on a radio in a deserted trailer.

 

Pritpaul picks: the Penumbra series

Frictional Games makes its second appearance on our list via their episodic Penumbra series. A unique blend of survival horror, FPS, and adventure gaming, the Penumbra series revolves around Philip, a physicist investigating a letter received from his supposedly dead father, shortly after the death of his mother. Penumbra’s tense atmosphere and psychological approach to horror, combined with the game’s focus on exploration, puzzle-solving, and melee combat, make for a horror gaming experience you won’t soon forget.

 

Honorable Mentions: Doom 3, Silent Hill 2, Fatal Frame, Outlast.

Over to you, Dear Reader. What are some of your all-time favorite horror games? Let us know below, and have a fantastic Halloween!


If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

32 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Silent Hill and Myst were two games that scared me so bad, I couldn't keep playing.

I watched my stepbrother as he played RE2, and his reaction on that scene where the Licker pops through the windows was priceless, and what YouTube was invented for. Too bad this was before then.

Even better was the slow creeping pace he used for every future hallway segment.
Ian Blandford
2. welshlad
I love the Silent Hill series. Just finished SH:Downpour which at times I had to leave alone because of the creepiness of it.

But nothing in the later games will ever match the sheer horror of the disconnected phone ringing in Silent Hill 1, with your daughter begging for help at the other end.
Emmet O'Brien
3. EmmetAOBrien
There must be an honorable mention to Pathologic for brilliant ratcheting weirdness, vicious moral dilemmas, a terrifyingly difficult set of game mechanics that rely on you figuring out "exploits" of sorts mapping far too well onto those moral dilemmas to be accidental, and existential gut-punches, particularly the realisation, if you've played through as one of the intially playable characters and done well enough that other principal characters are also there at the end, of what a different range of options appear to be available with the character you unlock by playing the game through once. (The interface being incredibly frustrating, and the weirdness of the available translation from the Russian, add to the experience to an extent - and judging by the far superior translation from Russian of the later Icepick Studios game Tension: the Void existential/weird/poetic is intentional - but unfortunately the existing translation of the unlockable character is over the edge into unplayable, and the fan re-translation project was moving galcially slowly last time I checked.)
Walker White
4. Walker
Alan Wake was such an underrated game. Too bad it was largely a money loser for Remedy.
Brent Longstaff
5. Brentus
Glad to see SS2, Penumbra, Alan Wake, and Undying make the list. I'd also recommend Thief: The Dark Project's undead levels and Thief: Deadly Shadows's Cradle level. Those weren't really horror games, except when they were.
Pritpaul Bains
6. Kickpuncher
If not for time (and readability), we would've made this list twice as long, believe me!

@1, 2, 5 - Silent Hill 1 and 2 are absolutely worthy candidates. Myst wasn't necessarily a horror game at its heart, but was so atmospheric in places that it certainly crossed over into horror territory. Same goes for the aforementioned Thief games!

@3 - Pathologic would certainly be on an extended cut of this list. Macabre, haunting, and several instances of pure genius coupled with, unfortunately, some very rocky playability issues. With that said, it's on sale for an excellent price right now ($2.49 I believe) over at GOG.com, and is absolutely worth experiencing, if anyone's interested. Amnesia, the Penumbra series, Undying, Alan Wake, and Phantasmagoria are all on sale there as well.
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
7. hoopmanjh
I didn't get very far into it (technical difficulties) but Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth had a suitably ominous beginning.

Also, don't forget Limbo, which had one of the more horrifying giant spiders I've ever encountered.
Kristoff Bergenholm
8. Magentawolf
Undying may have had a decent story behind it, but it was a terrible, terrible game.

Stuck! Locked! Jammed! Stuck!
Scott Silver
9. hihosilver28
Not a horror game, but I damn near pissed myself in Half Life 2 while playing the Ravenholm level... *shudders*

Seriously, when you heard the headcrabbed skeletons scream, I felt my bowels loosen as I very quickly switched to my shotgun.
Christopher Morgan
10. cmorgan
I'm going to also say Silent Hill. One of the only games to force me to turn it off because I was too terrified to deal. It may have been the bathroom in the school scene or it may have been lightning hitting our neighbor's house, we will never know.

In terms of creepy-ness. Parasite Eve for PlayStation really got under my skin. Heh...

There was also a game for Gamecube that was vaguly lovecraftian. It had a sanity meter and the lower it got the more it would mess with you. The game would act like it would turn off, would mess with the audio, would go back to the load screen. Was brilliant. One of the reasons I was so ready for the one part in Arkham Asylum. Can't remember the name though.
Alejandro Melchor
11. Al-X
My sister and I used to play horror/mystery games together. She loved the puzzle-solving and investigation, but tossed the control at me when things got into action/combat mode. We played Silent HIll 2 like this, but our favorite was Fatal Frame, set in a dilapitated feudal Japanese mansion, full of Japanese icons of horror, and a combat interface that contributed to the sense of weirdness, displacement and isolation.
Marie Veek
12. SlackerSpice
I see your Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and raise you Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem.

Also, slight nitpick about BioShock - they're called Houdini splicers, not Harlequin splicers.
Chris Nelly
13. Aeryl
@10, OOOH, Parasite Eve! I loved that game. Plus it taught me that the Chrysler Building is 77 stories tall!

But, yeah, Silent Hill, the first time you switch dimensions, while you're in the hospital, I bailed. The radio feedback was bad enough, and then the phone call.
Scott Silver
14. hihosilver28
@10, 13
What exactly was the play style of Parasite Eve? I remember seeing the cover of the game, but I never played it or knew anyone who had.

I've played the Silent Hill 2, but not the first one. I thought the second one was really creepy, but I was expecting a little more. That said, the part with the blind nurses was pure nightmare fuel. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem on the other hand...I quit that after about 45 min. It was way darker than I was anticipating. Which shouldn't have shocked me considering the title of the game. :-)
Robert Dickinson
15. ChocolateRob
Which of my horror games to play -

Silent Hill 1, 2, 3, 4, Homecoming, Origins, Downpour, Shattered Memories.
Fatal Frame 1, 2, 3.
Dino Crisis.
Resident Evil 1, 2, Nemesis, Survivor, Code Veronica, 4, 5.
Bioshock.
Soul Reaver.
Forbidden Siren.
Parasite Eve 1, 2.
Alone in the Dark, The New Nightmare, Inferno.
Clock Tower 3

Hmmmm?

I think I'll go with Alone in the Dark: The new nightmare (PS1 version which works on the PS3). Yes that terrible, terrible film was based on it but that's not the game's fault. I've not got it off the shelf since I first finished it, time to try it again.
Walker White
18. Walker
@15. ChocolateRob

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (prequel to Soul Reaver) has some amazing voice acting.
Robert Dickinson
19. ChocolateRob
@18 Walker

Oh I have (and love) the whole series (I'm even hosting a Legacy of Kain trivia quiz on the Square Enix Nosgoth forums) but SR1 is the only one that loosely qualifies for this list. Ravaged world, devolved bestial vampires, Towering undead fleshbag bosses, impalements, burnings. Melchiah is a truly creepy abomination, with rotting human arms grafted on as his fingers and his rattling, gargling voice.
BO1 is great and gory but in no way scary or tense.
I have all three bioshocks but again only the first has the right kind of horror.
NegativeQ
20. NegativeQ
@10 You are describing Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Chris Nelly
21. Aeryl
@14, If I had to categorize it, part Resident Evil, part Tomb Raider.

There was a big overarching plot I can't remember all the details of(it has to do with the spliced DNA of the original matriarchal ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve) and shit hits the fan all over NYC. Main character is a cop, you investigate the story(A LOT OF CUT SCENES AND PAGES TO READ, !!SCIENCE!!), lots of puzzles to solve and stuff to kill, upgradeable weapons.
Brian Carlson
22. images8dream
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is absolutely fantastic. That game creeps me out when i play it in the morning on a bright sunny day.
Dirk Walls
23. dirk
What game is that first picture from?
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
24. hoopmanjh
There are also some pretty terrifying bits in Metro 2033, and postapocalyptic Moscow is absolutely stunning. (Although you can't stop to admire it through the scratched lenses of your gas mask because your filter is almost exhausted and there are flying things hunting you through the ruins.)
NegativeQ
25. PJK
The first F.E.A.R. game had me sweating in fear whilst I was playing. The unexpected flips to the scary world of Alma and the incredible A.I. of your enemies really kept you feeling uncomfortable and on edge all the time.

The A.I. was so smart that whilst some of the enemies tried to keep you pinned down, the rest was sneaking their through the level to get behind you. That'll really set your nerves on edge, let me tell you!

And the WTF ending made me really crave the sequel.
Pritpaul Bains
26. Kickpuncher
@ 23 dirk - The lead picture is from Doom 3, one of our honorable mentions!
NegativeQ
27. Asgard10
I was going to ask why no-one had brought up F.E.A.R. That would have been my first pick
Christopher Morgan
28. cmorgan
@ 14. hihosilver28 Parasite Eve was kind of a JRPG style game. Turn Based combat, but modern setting. It also proved that Mitocondria, not midaclorines (sp) are the true source of magic.
NegativeQ
29. Maxwell31
The fact that, Silent Hill 4: The Room, didn't make the list is a tradgedy.

Other games I'd offer up are:
Sanitarium
Any Fatal Frame
Condemend
NegativeQ
30. harmonyfb
I thought Amber: Journeys Beyond (PC only, 1995-ish) was nicely spooky - you play a woman investigating ghosts in a friend's empty house - there are a few really creepy ghost events (such as rounding a corner into an empty room and seeing a looming male shadow, or turning suddenly to find that an empty mirror now has "GET OUT" written on it.)
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
I've finally thought of the SCARIEST GAME EVER!

Wet.

Really, wtf were the game mechanics on that damn game!
NegativeQ
32. Capac Amaru
Shadowman

Parts of Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

Eternal Darkness
NegativeQ
33. sertaki
Cosmology of Kyoto

http://tetelo.blox.pl/resource/cosmology_of_kyoto___hell.jpg - i think that pretty much meets our criteria.

Not a horror game by definition, but a strange mashup of horror/history/religion/philosphy in point and click style.
Live and die and live and die again - escape buddhist hell and reach nirvana - and witness all the mindfuck on the way.

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