So…it’s that time of year, ladies and ghouls! We’ve all got our traditions for getting scared, be it spooky stories, haunted houses, or scary movie nights. However, for me, the truly memorable “horror entertainment”comes from video games. I’d like to share 6 scary video games that really left an impact on me that movies, or even newer games, have never been able to match.
Resident Evil: REMake
This one should be no surprise. Resident Evil has always been a mainstay in the horror genre and really needs no introduction. While the original became somewhat dated, the “REmake” updated the graphics and added some surprises to scare even series veterans.
You’re part of an elite police team investigating strange murders occurring in the woods. Quickly, you discover that the woods are infested with Zombies (humans as well as dogs). Taking refuge inside of a curiously placed mansion, you try to regroup with your team and while fighting off the undead. You don’t have enough weapons or ammo and your friends start dropping like flies as other….things…come out of the woodwork. Unable to escape or to call for help, the remaining members of the team need to go deeper into the mansion if they have any hope of surviving.
A “Shit My Pants” Story
One of the rules of the original Resident Evil is: Monsters can’t go through doors. When you choose to open a door, a short animation plays and you enter the next room. During my first playthough, I encountered a zombie in a bathroom. I dodged him and, thinking I was so clever for not wasting any ammo on him, left him behind in the bathroom. Never needed to deal with that guy again.
Outside the bathroom was a long hallway. Another zombie lurked here, dressed in a labcoat, but since I had to use this hallway a lot, I grew adept at dodging him as well. Again, saving that oh-so-precious handgun ammo!
Then, one fateful pass through this hallway….OMG! BOOM! WTF?!?!?! The bathroom door bursts open and the zombie I left behind shambles out. He got me and chomped me hard on the back of the neck. I shook him off and limped away, trying to make some distance so I could take him with my handgun.
I rounded the corner, the perfect place–GAHHH!!! Right into labcoat zombie’s arms. I watched in disbelief as the two zombies feasted on my corpse behind a GAME OVER screen, muttering “What? Zomb….can’t….doors….they can’t go through doors!”
I, at the time, considered myself a series veteran, and had grown incredibly comfortable with this tactic. I don’t think every zombie can go through doors, but the ones that can really catch you off guard.
A robust newcomer to the horror scene (compared to RE and SH, anyway), Dead Space has some deeply frightening situations. The game does a good job of mixing danger and terror. There are plenty of grotesque monsters to go toe to toe with in frantic battles, but there’s just as much creepiness oozing (sometimes, literally) out of the story and setting.
After a mining colony discovers a strange artifact, the colony, as well as their “Planet Cracker” ship the USG Ishimura, goes dark. Assuming it’s a communications issue, a small repair team is sent to evaluate the damage. However the team is too late and instead of helping, walks into the aftermath of the Ishimura’s descent into madness. Issac Clarke, the protagonist, also has a personal stake in the Ishimura; not only does he need to survive, but he is searching for his girlfriend, Nicole, who keeps sending him scrambled transmissions from the ship.
A “Shit My Pants” Story
So, the enemies in this game are called Necromorphs, which are essentially human corpses recombined into nightmarish creatures . While the first game makes it somewhat unclear of where the monsters initially come from, how they propagate is easier to follow. Necromorphs are mainly spawned by “Infectors;” these nasty, bat-like, human-flesh-winged creatures that stab some tentacle/proboscis thing on their face into the brain of human corpses. Then, the corpses recombine in a fashion that is just as violent as it is rapid. Not only is it gross, but if you find yourself in the presence of an Infector with a pile of bodies around, it’s incredibly dangerous and difficult to contain.
The game also make some thinly-veiled jabs to Scientology, depicting them as a
religion cult that has not only foreseen these events, but welcomes them. I remember distinctly walking to a room with a bunch of nicely dressed corpses arranged in a semi-circle. Each corpse had been carefully placed on a soft mat, the face covered with a ceremonial hood, which was really just a fabric bag, placed over the head and secured around the neck with a velvet rope. The cause of death was uncertain, but there was one obvious wound they all shared: a large spike or drill was driven through the bag and into the forehead of each person. The placement of the wounds were fairly consistent and the bodies were laid down in a comfortable and peaceful posture. Impossible to self-inflict. Essentially, I walked into a ceremonial suicide/transformation ritual. With a hole in the forehead, I’m assuming they knew how the Infectors operated and this was their way of “welcoming” them to their bodies.
Having encountered Infectors and corpses before, I took no chances and did something that deeply disturbed me. I went to each corpse, and because I couldn’t afford to spend the ammo, stomped the head and limbs into a bloody pulp, leaving very little for the Infector to “infect.” After dismembering the bodies, I dragged each one of a nearby bathroom and piled them up. Every time I encountered dead bodies, I did this over and over again . I know it’s just a game, in horror games, it’s very easy to get desensitized to violence and death. In Dead Space, every corpse I came across put me on edge, just like if I had found in in real life. And believe me, there’s a lot of dead bodies in this game, so I was constantly stressed. That, and the act of brutally defiling human corpses really left me with a sickening feeling.
Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill has always been the Yin to Resident Evil’s Yang. While the gameplay and monster-slaying is similar, Silent Hill has always been so much more…disturbing. The story is aimed at mature players; when I was younger, I remember the game not having much of an impact on me, mainly because I played it too quickly and failed to bask in it’s terrifying glory. The story has a lot of regret, anguish, and even some repressed sexuality (though only mildly or implied); if High School Freshman Cody was able to fully understand those concepts at that point in his life…well, you might be reading about me in a crime report instead of my blog, if you catch my drift.
After the first game, Silent Hill becomes a place where dreams come true. But only the evil, twisted, shrouded-in-darkness kinds of dreams. No one simply visits or stumbles on Silent Hill these days, they are called. James Sunderland receives a letter from his wife, Mary, asking him to meet her in their “special place,” which just so happens to be, you guessed it, Silent Hill. The strange thing is….Mary’s dead. She has been for two years, and James misses her dearly. Unable to resist both grief and curiosity, he decides to answer the letter in person. James’ memory of Silent Hill was in the pre-“shrouded in fog and unnatural darkness” days. Ironically, James’ journey through the strange and grotesque gives him hope…if a place like this can exist, then maybe Mary IS alive.
A “Shit My Pants” Story
Well…this one is a bit different, and I have two! And they’re more concepts than actual stories, but whatever. Despite the creepy as hell (as hell?…or Hell!?!) setting and the terrifying creatures stalking you through the fog and the dark, there are two things that really stand out to me.
Firstly, Pyramid Head. Holy shit….wtf is that thing? Most gamers know who he…it…is, but not very many people understand. Sure, he comes after you and you have to fight him, or course, but you never actually seem to hurt him. During your first encounter, he just kinda…stops fighting you. He doesn’t run, he just meanders away. In that encounter, you can’t hurt him enough to warrant his attention, even if you wanted to. That terrified the shit out of me for some reason…most monsters in these games are one-track minded. They see you, then attack you until they succeed or die.
Not Pyramid Head, though. He’ll screw around with you for a while, but he’s too busy doing…well…it’s hard to tell what he’s doing, but he’s clearly not your average monster. His actions indicate a purpose or intelligence, not only within him, but also in whatever gives him commands. Without giving too much away, he’s almost a shepherd…he could easily kill you, but instead, Pyramid Head painfully prods you along. If he found you praying for a quick death, his job is to ensure the opposite happens. At least, not until you’ve served your purpose.
The second thing that got under my skin is this cryptic message in the picture below.
…which, if you visit later in the game, turns into this…
These messages are completely missable, but are also completely unexplained. The creepy thing is…they’re also not completely random. Holes, from this point on, become a recurring theme throughout the series, even in this game. The second message is more direct, but who wrote it?!?! The fact that someone left a message directly for James in a place he has no guarantee of visiting…I dunno. I’m not the only one who’s creeped out by that; there are discussions on this topic going on to this day.
An oldie, but a goodie. Clock Tower is essentially your typical slasher movie in video game form. You’re chased by a gnarled hunchback of a man that hobbles along with a gigantic pair of scissors. Of course, weapons a few and far between and, at best, merely distract him so you can run to a different hiding place. Essentially, he’s Jason Voorhees; invincible, slow, bloodthirsty, and relentless. The PS1 visuals are ghastly outdated and the game has some of the most “UGH” boring moments ever, but if you can get over that, this game is a ton of fun. Not only did the game have branching stories and multiple (if somewhat lame) endings, but the way the events play out in the game are somewhat random. Just because a hiding place worked on one playthrough means it’s going to work on another.
This game is actually a sequel to Clock Tower on some old ass gaming system that J Cody probably has. After surviving and defeating the deranged, and maybe even demonic, Scissorman, Jennifer is trying to live a normal life as best she can. Several years later, he returns, stalking her and anyone else she confides in to help solve the mystery of who he is and how to stop him. Cunning and relentless, Scissorman shows up in the most unexpected of places. While searching for a place to hide, you may find that he got there first and is simply waiting for your guard to come down. While running, you never quite manage to get far enough, the sound of metal sheering and scraping from his gigantic scissors just around the corner.
A “Shit My Pants” Story
Haha…oh man, it’s hard to pin one down. As I mentioned previously, this game has a very strong random element to it. Scissorman lurks just as much as he pursues. I don’t know how many times, while trying to scope out potential hiding places, he popped out and attacked me instead.
I guess my favorite “soiled pants” moment would be during my first playthrough. Back in those days, If I ever got stuck on a game, I had to get up and physically walk over to a computer (ughh…so unthinkable these days) and wait for a GameFAQs guide to load. After dodging the Scissorman several times while stuck in an empty college dormitory, I was unsure where to go and what to do. I was also using up all the contextually sensitive weapons and hiding places, so I knew he would eventually get me. I had to get out.
I had this nasty habit I picked up from Resident Evil where, if I was in a safe spot, I could just put the controller down. Generally unconcerned with my competition time, there was no real consequence to leaving the game on without pausing.
Well, that’s a problem when Scissorman’s around because if you stay in one spot too long, he WILL find you. Not realizing this while browsing the lengthy FAQ document, I hear the music pickup and the telltale “Shink! Shink! Shink!” I, quite literally, screamed some profanity while sprinting to my bedroom and diving to the floor, grabbing the controller. Scissorman came into the room a split second after and attacked me. After some wild button mashing, I got lucky and pushed him off. At this point, I’m fairly certain I invented some new curse words while I waited for my slow ass character to go out the door. I don’t remember if I managed to escape the dormitory or not, as I was probably in shock. I’d never encountered a game that did that before.
I think I spent over a year trying to play through the first two games. Partially because it was difficult to find the time to get the “gaming environment” right, but also because I am a coward. I don’t know how many times anxiety got the best of me and I just shut the game off. Now, I will say, you have to allow this game to scare you. If you play in the middle of the day in a well lit room with a bunch of your friends, the game might actually be quite stupid and boring. However, if you play in the dark, alone (or with a buddy who won’t start watching Double Dream Hands, true story!) and leave your back exposed, you’re setting yourself for success (or terror)!
Since all the games in this series are very similar graphically and in gameplay, I’m referring to the whole series as one game. The focus of this game is on stealth and exploration. The first game gives you a the option for some awfully clunky melee combat, but you’re best served pretending it doesn’t exist.
You’re Philip. You get a mysterious letter from your long-lost father who gives you a set of very specific instructions: “take this safety deposit box key, go to box and remove contents, destroy contents.” I paraphrased it, but that’s essentially how it goes. So, doing as he says, you find that he has maps to a mysterious abandoned bunker in Greenland, as well as some very cryptic documents that you can’t decipher, but indicate that he was a part of a secret society. So, of course, rather than destroy the documents, you go investigate and get trapped. Big mistake.
You initially get trapped in an abandoned mine, slowly making your way through to a refurbished WWII bunker which was converted to a secret laboratory. They uncovered a dormant virus which they were studying for their own purposes, but lost control of it. Infection not only means decaying into a walking human husk (not really a zombie in this instance), but losing your mind to the collective consciousness known as the Tuurngait.
“If we are lucky, then by the time you receive this, I will be dead. If fate frowns, we all perish.”
A “Shit My Pants” Story
Well…let’s NOT count the times I turned the game on, played for two minutes, then shut the game off like a coward.
This game had a somewhat unique physics engine; think Half-Life 2, but if you wanted to open a door or a drawer, you had to “grab” it with the mouse, then pull it open by dragging the mouse. This allows you to either throw doors open in a wild burst, or slowly crack it open. Highly immersive. Anyway, at one point, I was sneaking out around the hallways of the bunker and around the corner comes a monster carrying a flashlight (?!?!?!) and spots me. I see the beam bobbing up and down as it hustles towards me, so I booked it. I ended up running into a small storage closet with a bunch of crates, and old mattress, and some other decrepit junk. Only one way in or out, so I decided to barricade the door with the junk. Doesn’t work…it’s growling at me while trying to push the door open so I “grab” the door and push against it. Between my pushing the door and the junk barricade, I think I’m safe because I can “game the game”; essentially, since the monster can’t actually “see” me, I’m hoping it will “forget” where I was. But after several minutes of this, it’s still just as determined as ever. In a last ditch effort, I picked up the mattress and fell back to a corner. The same thing happened…it kept pounding on the mattress until I let go and, unsuccessfully, tried to make a run for it.
I know it sounds kind of lame, but that was an incredibly terrifying and disturbing event. Not only was the monster not demonstrating “video game” behavior, but there was no way I could escape. What was I going to do? Keep waiting? Hope to be rescued? Starve to death? I had to, essentially, commit suicide, which normally isn’t a big deal in games. I’ve done it plenty of times while trying to beat timed challenges or something of that sort. That was the first time I had ever been trapped..safe, but trapped…and had to make the decision. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but at the time, it was fairly disturbing.
Ah…Fatal Frame. I’ve never been brave enough to go back to this one. I got close to the end, but never actually finished it. Other than Penumbra, this has been the only game (that I remember, anyway) where I turned it on, played for a couple minutes, then immediately shut it off. It does a great job at playing with your perspective. While, you generally play in 3rd person view, defending yourself requires you actually face the ghosts coming after you and look at it in a 1st person perspective. It’s terrifying.
The game centers around the Himuro Mansion (NOTE: WTF this a real place?!?!?), which was host to many disturbing and dark rituals in its prime. Now abandoned and in ruins, the mansion plays host to Miku as she searches for her lost brother. Despite being in a decrepit state, the evil in the mansion is just as strong as ever. Tormented spirits inside attempt to claim Miku for an unfinished ritual. Trapped with only a mysterious camera to defend yourself, the mansion itself starts to transform as the ritual draws closer to completion. The camera is able to pacify and resist the spirits for a short time, but is also terrifying to use. You must watch as the spirits descend on you, clicking the shutter at the right moment. Too early and it has little effect, too late and well…let’s just say it’s not pleasant.
A “Shit My Pants” Story
F*** this game. Seriously. But in a good way.
This game just exudes creepiness (or at least it did in the PS2’s heyday) so I’m not going to share any story in particular. I will, however, show you a video of the most difficult part in the game for me. Not difficult because it’s hard to play, but because I simply wasn’t brave enough to play past that point. It took me a while to find it and the link will start you off 7 minutes into the video, so please forgive the compromise. Don’t watch it in the dark…or do…but be warned. It gave me the creeps in the middle of the day.
[embed width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/lT0tEGpbiKg&start=420″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>/embed]
Nope-nope-nope-nope-nope. Like I said before, F*** this game!
So…after telling all these stories, I began to notice some patterns about why I was spooked by these scary video games. There seemed to be four concepts the games played with to frighten me:
Vulnerability (how safe I think I am)
Expectation (what I think can, or can’t happen)
Agency (did I put myself in this situation, or did the game put me here?)
Consequence (what happens if I open the door? What if I don’t? Will I matter it?)
I’ll save the deeper explanations for another day, but by tweaking those concepts, the game is almost forcing me to make an emotional investment in what’s happening, be it gameplay or story. To me, monsters and darkness isn’t necessarily scary…there’s plenty of horror games I’ve played that didn’t make the list. Mastery and manipulation of these concepts is really how a game gets under your skin.
Anyway, if you haven’t, give these games a try (just in time for Halloween!). To me, they’re classic games that any horror fan needs to add to their library. Lucky for us, some of these scary video games (Resident Evil and Silent Hill 2 notably) keep getting the “remastered” treatment and have been appearing on newer formats, ready to ruin more sets of underwear!
Happy Halloween, Suckas!!