I have a penchant for some of the most scariest horror games out there. Real scary horror games – not the “boo, did I scare you?” type of juvenile ill-conceived ripoffs that have trashed the horror game landscape, but the ones with an unnerving etch of images that were slowly built up throughout the adventure that force you to look down while passing by mirrors or feel your back hairs raised at the slightest noise during bedtime. For those kinds of games, I look for an atmosphere along with an ingenious mix of ambient noises and an original twisted story that will screw with you psychologically. For the sake of Halloween, I decided to take a trip to memory lane and pull some games off the shelf just to see which ones still scare the bejeezus out of me. Even by today’s standards, I consider some of these games pretty demented. Some are creepy while others are downright disturbing. Here are my top 13 scariest games I’ve played to date:
12. Bioshock (360/PS3/PC)
While other games take place in desolate towns, this one takes you into a ruined undersea metropolis that has no other reference except for maybe Atlantis. The game starts off in a plane crash and slowly but surely you’re whisked in to the world of Rapture – a formerly utopic world carefully controlled and now decimated by science. Each corner you peer into has you witnessing these eerie events where people perform these disturbing acts of what seems to be random violence. Some scenes are just to gruesome to even write about. The audio in this game is superb and somewhat gives you that claustrophobic feel that Rapture may flood at anytime. Most of the story is also conveyed through the radio transmissions by some random supporter and you’ll find that there has been alot of genetic tinkering going on. At the heart of the story is a powerful, corrupting substance called ADAM, which makes all this genetic mess possible and allows you to get your first plasmid power – shoot lightning out of your fingertips. While having powers sounds more comforting, how you get them gets a bit disturbing thanks to a large glowing syringe you shove into your arm. And you do it often. Bioshock is a compelling work of interactive fiction that takes you through a really warped ride.
11. Penumbra (PC)
Penumbra was uniquely conceived as the 2nd game of a three part series by Swedish developer Frictional Games. This first-person adventure gives players an interesting method of interacting with the game world. Instead of just randomly clicking on things to interact with them, you must move your mouse to manipulate them which gives them weight and characterto your actions. Clicking, holding a door while moving your mouse forward to open the door inward in-game gives the game a different kind of feel that draws you into its warped world. Throw in dark hallways, otherworldly Lovecraftian horrors, and a tense atmosphere and you’re bound to be disturbed by this one.
10. Resident Evil Remake (Wii/PS1)
I’m very well acquainted with this series and while other recent contemporaries have been great scares, the original Resident Evil stands as a classic that’s still playable by today’s standards. While more recent games of the series offer white-knuckle action wrapped up in a decidedly lengthy gory adventure, the original was deliberate and inspired by other pioneers but has honed it to a point where each camera angle is designed to be an anticipated scare. It obviously wasn’t for the squeamish to play this gory, mature-rated game but it takes pages of cult-hits like Alone in the Dark during the glory PC days and still stands as a good horror survival that has helped launch a plethora of horror games into the mainstream audience.
9. F.E.A.R. (360/PS3/PC)
There’s very few games that screw you up even when playing as one of the military’s top-secret task force. It has a very distinct feel in that it elevates first-person shooter combat to cinematic levels. Playing F.E.A.R. is like battling through a John Woo movie with The Ring front and center as the main plot. It’s one of those games where you can kill foes with a swift drop-kick but still feel uneasy about turning around the next corner. The game uses many of the same kinds of visual tricks to scare you that you’ve probably already seen before in a movie, like the split-second appearance of a ghostly apparition when you least expect it. F.E.A.R. takes the “less is more” approach when it comes to building tension. There are stretches in F.E.A.R. when you don’t battle anything, and it’s unsettling to search abandoned office buildings, finding nothing more than pools of blood or the voicemails left by family members trying to contact their loved ones. Good stuff.
8. Dead Space (360/PS3)
Dead Space came at a time when I thought the horror survival genre was reaching it’s peak. What makes Dead Space a remarkable game is how it stands out from its competitors. It doesn’t come up with a new perspective or original battle systems. Instead, it ups the bar with visual presentation, innovative combat mechanics, fright factor and an engaging story. And, of course, the incredible sound design. Throughout the halls of the Ishimura space station, you are stalked mercilessly by the Necromorphs, and while you can’t always see them, you are constantly surrounded by the menacing noises they produce or the eerie pitter-patter they make as they crawl through the ventilation shafts. You’ll occasionally hear the distant screams of Necromorph victims or the creepy singing of a mentally unbalanced survivor, and environmental effects such as those generated by the sudden release of a burst of steam will keep you on the edge of your seat. The most impressive use of audio in Dead Space takes place in a vacuum: any sounds that originate outside of Isaac’s helmet are muffled and barely audible, while those from the inside, including his breathing and grunts of pain, are amplified. Dead Space is one game that should be played with a party wanting to watch with the lights off.
7. Condemned 2: Bloodshot (360/PS3)
If you have kids around, do NOT play this game in front of them. Moments in Monolith’s gruesome and demented first-person horror adventure game have you impaling rioters, crushing the heads of the homeless in a gigantic vise, and forcing the faces of far freakier foes into toilet bowls. Every one of these actions is accompanied by blood-spurting visuals, shouted expletives, and the slimy sounds of entrails splattering onto the floor and walls. How is this scary? The game plays like a really good slasher flick. The game’s finest hours comes with its ability to create a thick, dreadful atmosphere, and peak off with a shock and a scare like the doll factory level, in which exploding dolls wander around, threatening to detonate any time. If you’re looking for disturbing, headshaking moments with some unpredictable scares along the way Condemned 2: Bloodshot is to be scared and shocked with.
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