Fright is a natural emotion, often compared to laughter in how random and unexpected it can be. Perhaps it's a form of escapism, allowing yourself to be frightened by things that couldn't actually happen to you, so you don't have to worry about everyday issues.
Whatever the reason, it's something that people enjoy experiencing, which is never more evident than it is in the holiday Halloween. Whether it be through dressing up in costume and running through the night looking for candy, or sitting at home and watching some scary movies, never is the emotion of fright more celebrated than it is on this day.
Horror in video games however, is a different story...
The difference between video games and horror in movies is that in a movie, viewers are detached from the characters and they can take small comfort in the fact that the events that are taking place are happening to someone else and not them. In a video game though, players are directly controlling the would-be victims, and the players have to push the characters into whatever's going to harm them. In a way, they are experiencing these horrors firsthand, which adds a whole new level of fright through interactivity if done correctly.
It would be incredibly difficult to make a list of scary moments from the entire history of gaming, and chances are, some moments that scared us in our childhoods are not be as terrifying anymore. So instead, we've made a list of terrifying moments that are still fresh in the minds of many of today's gamers. They aren't in any particular order so just sit back and enjoy ten moments from modern video games that can be considered terribly terrifying.
WARNING: Some of the videos seen here, in addition to being scary, can get rather bloody and gory. If you are not at least 17 years old, it's probably safer to just not read this and find something else to do.
Dead Space: Regenerating Necromorph
The Dead Space series proved that the folks at EA could make a decent IP when they really wanted to. The thought of being trapped on a spaceship with horrific monsters that want to eviscerate you and devour the remains is certainly a horrifying one, especially to anyone who's seen the Alien movies. The necromorphs are even worse in the fact that they can "infect" humans and create more of their own kind, leaving the player completely isolated and literally the last one alive on the ship.
This one moment, though, really helped emphasize just how badly the odds were stacked against the protagonist. The player sees a couple of necromorphs in stasis, so they already know they're there for a reason. Then, after a conversation, one of them breaks out and attacks. The player takes it down then tries to escape while the downed monster begins regrowing its limbs.
Bioshock: Dentist's Office
Bioshock received a ton of praise upon its release for being a genuinely scary game, and for good reason. Being trapped miles underwater in an abandoned city filled with deranged mental patients wanting to kill you would certainly be terrifying for anyone. It didn't help that players had the option to do some genuinely horrific things to make the game easier.
The scene in the dentist's office worked because it made the player ask a lot of questions. While wandering around, some weird smoke comes down, obscuring vision. Then it lifts and - that dead body wasn't there before. The player wanders around some more, picks up some items on a desk, then the smoke comes down again, it lifts, and nothing happens. Turning around slowly... Splicer!
Alice: Madness Returns: Intro
American McGee's Alice was one of the few games based on the classic Alice in Wonderland that actually tried to be as disturbing as the original story was meant to be. Despite the belief to the contrary, the story by Lewis Carroll wasn't as cheery and colorful as the animated Disney version portrayed. Alice: Madness Returns continues that thought process, focusing on the sheer insanity of the titular character and going out of its way to creep players out.
The intro cinematic is a good way to encapsulate everything that Alice the game is about. After recapping what happened in the first title, it shows an very calm, gentle scene of Alice on a boat with the White Rabbit. But then... well, just watch.
Limbo: Second Spider Encounter
Limbo is an indie downloadable title that received tons of praise for being an incredibly dark and depressing story (read our Limbo review). The gamer plays the role of one lost and scared boy, all alone in a world that wants him dead while he desperately tries to find his sister. It's genuinely depressing and often scary, especially because it's hard to see the path ahead and just about anything can kill you in one hit.
If a gamer is even slightly arachnophobic, then they wouldn't want to play this game, as the main opponent is a giant spider. Like everything else, it can kill the player in one hit, but one scene has it actually trap them and wrap them up in its webbing to eat later. The player manages to break away and now has to hop around, trapped in a cocoon of webbing. They continue along the path, slowly rolling a boulder along while hopping around and... don't stop it's right behind you!
Singularity: Sewer Level
A gamer could be forgiven for not thinking that Singularity is a scary game at first glance, especially since it was labelled as just an average shooter upon its release. The theme of travelling through time doesn't necessarily mean they'll run into some unnatural monsters, but gamers would be surprised with some of the things that appear in this game.
The player starts off by shooting some random bugs, no big deal. But as they move further down the tunnel, they see visions of other soldiers being killed by some gigantic mantis thing. That, and the messages on the walls that say "it still lives after all this time" and "it can smell you" definitely tell the player that they're about to be just like those soldiers...
Batman Arkham Asylum: Killer Croc's Lair
While Arkham Asylum isn't an all out horror game, it definitely has plenty of horrific elements to it. Considering players are wandering through the titular asylum in the dark, battling many of Batman's classic foes, and hoping to survive encounters with the numerous crazies still wandering about, it stands to reason that not even being the Dark Knight himself can be enough of a comfort for the player.
Killer Croc's lair isn't necessarily a traditional "boss fight," but it definitely excels in causing tension. Players can only move at walking speed through the sewers. They run too fast, Croc will hear and he'll kill. If players fall into the water, Croc will kill them. To make matters even worse, at random times he'll pop out of the water and come charging after them, from any direction, and if they don't react fast enough...
Condemned 2: Black Lake Lodge
The Condemned duo of games don't often get mentioned among the games that really provide the good scares, which is a shame, because they can be very terrifying. Having to battle crazed human beings who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time can not only be horrifying on the surface, but the fact that they aren't really in control of their own actions can make things horrifying for the player, since the player has to kill them.
One of the more scary scenes of Condemned 2 didn't have to do with crazed human beings, but instead a bear, A very angry bear that hunts the player down with the goal of ripping them to shreds. It was a perfect example of what made the Condemned games good, in that it took more realistic dangers and forced they player to face them. And it's safe to say that no one wants to have to run through an abandoned log cabin from a bear.
Heavy Rain: Ethan's Finger
While Heavy Rain has been criticized for either being a glorified movie with some gameplay, or just one long quick-time event, one can't deny that the story that it tells can be genuinely scary (and awesome - read our Heavy Rain review). It touches on a lot of fears: the fear of a psychopathic murderer, the fear of the elements working against you, the fear a father has of losing his child. They all appear in this one game and can result in some very gruesome moments, depending on how you choose to play of course.
The main character, Ethan, has to perform a series of dangerous tasks for the Origami Killer, or his son will die. The worst task of them all is when he has to cut off his own finger, and the player has to make him do it. That's where the unique gameplay actually helps the mood, because they have to force Ethan to do the job, and they're given plenty of ways to do so. Not only is it horrific for the characters, but the fact that it's put in the hands of the players to perform self-harm just to progress is very disturbing.
(Protip: don't use the scissors. Just don't.)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent: Morgue
What makes Amnesia: The Dark Descent such an effective horror game is that the player isn't some beefed-up muscle man with fifty different guns, or a supernatural half-demon killing machine. No, they're just an ordinary dude with no means to defend himself, his sanity slowly slipping away, and monsters from beyond the void wanting to tear you limb from limb. That's a kind of horror that doesn't appear in games as often as it should.
The morgue scene is horrifying on multiple levels. It starts off with making the player do something terrible in drilling a hole in a corpse's head, for the sake of harvesting a vaccine. Then, once they've started to recover from doing that and are ready to move on, monsters begin breaking through the door - run for your life!
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: Nuke
This may seem like an odd moment to put on the list, but it's scary in a way that's very different from the others. The player's in a chopper, making an escape from a war-zone, believing the fight is over. Then they overhear something on the radio, something they don't expect. The player brushes it off though, because it's probably just a mistake. And then...
What separates this moment from the others is how visceral this moment was, especially demonstrated through a first-person perspective in a shocking never-before-seen fashion. It makes the reality of warfare a nightmare, something most games fail to do.
Share your favorite video game horrors!
Have a safe and happy Halloween, everyone.