Let’s define scary. Some people get intense mixed up with scary, or just overall creepy atmosphere over scary. A scary game should make you want to NOT play it; should make you want to shut it off, turn on lights, bring people in the room with you, or make you want to play it during the day. Let me give you a good example: BioShock is an example of creepy atmosphere, but overall not necessarily a scary game. Sure there are horror and creepy elements in the game, but I can play the game just fine in the dark and it doesn’t scare me. Yes, BioShock is intense and has some pretty insane fire fights, but that’s also not scary. Scary games also tend to be very memorable and each disturbing image is ingrained into your memory. I have played few games that scare me to this point and I would like to share with you five of them that have followed me throughout my gaming years, new and old these games are a must play for any horror fan.
Silent Hill – PS1
Okay, everyone always picks Silent Hill as scary, but for me it’s the first game. This was the first true horror game I played, and it in fact it was an accident. I had recently played Syphon Filter for PS1 and went back to the video store to rent it again. I had forgotten the name as my mother dropped me off and gave me the $5 to rent the game. There was no such thing as internet on cell phones back then let alone cell phones to call people. They were extremely expensive and rich people mainly had them, so I was kind of screwed. I knew it started with an S so I picked up Silent Hill as it had two words like Syphon Filter. I had never heard of Silent Hill before as it had just come out and I was only seven or eight at the time. I didn’t have game magazine subscriptions and I wouldn’t have the internet for another couple of years.
I went home and plopped the disc inside my gray PS1 (the original dark grey one) and booted it up. Of course it was NOT Syphon Filter, but I didn’t have a choice. Back then you were stuck with your game for the 5-7 days and had to deal with it. I started playing and had no idea what was going on, I was too young to understand the story or even any elements in the game let alone how to play a third person 3D adventure game. The first thing that disturbed me was the fog and never ending silence that was within. Running around town trying to find the daughter was a bit disturbing but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Everything else is a blur, but then I remember seeing the skinless dogs and that got me freaked out. I paused the game and called my younger sister in to sit with me until I beat them. I later remember going down an alley with bloody gurneys and I was starting to reach my limits. I finally the the pistol, killed the flying creatures and wound up in the school with the weird crying babies. That was enough for me as once I encountered this area I shut the game off and told my mom to send it back as it was too scary. Throughout the years growing up I tried the game again and started realizing other things like the difficult puzzles and combat which I didn’t really care about growing up. I have since finished the game about 7 years ago, but it’s still scary to this day despite being on PS1. Silent Hill set a standard for horror games that even it can’t live up to anymore.
2. Kuon – PS2
This was a more recent game I played, maybe five years ago, but I remember the atmosphere and sound effects being absolutely creepy. The old ancient Japanese town you wander around in and the monsters you fight were eerie and had me keeping the lights on, it’s not a particularly amazing game with clunky combat and poor controls, but the atmosphere alone is worth checking out. I don’t remember small details like in Silent Hill, but rather just an overall ominous feeling that I wanted to get away. Eventually the game became too much to handle in terms of bad controls and the game was getting too creepy to play as at the time I could only play games later at night. The pre-rendered cut scenes are truly something, and the monster and ghost designs were particularly well animated for an early PS2 game.
3. Soma – PC/PS4
Soma is a very recent game, in fact this year, but I have yet to be freaked out by a game in such a long time. It’s made by the same people as Amnesia (Frictional Games) and the horror elements are just so spot on here. The sounds effects, total darkness, and complete vulnerability which is a must in successful horror games. Not being able to fight or see makes things incredibly dreary and awful and several times I actually had to sleep with lights on because of the monsters in this game. Not only is the story one of the best in years, but the fact that knowing a monster is coming makes you feel true fear. I hated the sneaking levels because of how scary they were and I didn’t know how to get through them. Feeling around in the dark and hearing a monster run up behind you leaves you on the edge of your seat and running for light switches. There’s nothing scary than running from these things in Soma, hiding and thinking your safe, and then having it pop up when you turn around and make you scream and jump.
4. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth – PC/Xbox
This game is what got me into the H.P. Lovecraft mythos and it wasn’t just the story, the atmosphere and stealth in the game make for some seriously sinister nightmares. Call of Cthulhu is a very underrated game as it feels very dated today, but it’s one of the few games where atmosphere alone made the entire game scary. Learning about these Dagon cultists and having to sneak around them after knowing what they are capable of is something that can freak anyone out. The game instilled the same mechanic as Amnesia in which seeing disturbing creatures will make your character go insane and start hallucinating. Staring at a mutilated body for too long will make you go nuts and the sounds that go with it don’t help. The game is a trodding slow paced adventure that has few action sequences (as they are highly discouraged) and it just so tense at every corner you turn. Even if you don’t like the Cthulhu mythos this is a fantastic game to play on your Xbox or PC.
5. Amnesia: The Dark Descent – PC/MAC
Amnesia was the first game I had played since the first Silent Hill that truly scared me and that was a 13 year gap. Sure games were creepy or disturbing, but not one had made me shut the game off like Amnesia since Silent Hill. I played this at work in the dark a lot and I was in a small office out in the middle of nowhere with few lights and I had a view out my window of this dark nothingness. There were no cars where I worked and any noise made me jump, this was a situation that didn’t help. The slow pace and lack of combat helped change the way survival horror games worked and the the hiding mechanic is what scared me more than anything. Hearing footsteps around you coupled with being out in the open has you scrambling for cover and somewhere to hide like a little kid. I know I have two Frictional Games games in here, but I can’t help it, they are masters of horror.
With that said there are other games worth mentioned like Silent Hill 2, 3, and Origins, the P.T. demo, Metro series, Fatal Fame, Outlast, and a few others, nothing compares to these five for me. If you haven’t played any of these games I would assume it’s because you’re too frightened, but isn’t that the point?