Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Favorite Scary Videogames

Posted on October 26, 2011 at 1:10 AM

While I'm still putting together something for later this week for the final days of October, I wanted to take a moment and rundown a few of my favorite scary games...even if they're not straight-up "horror" titles. While movies have lost their touch in terms of scaring me, because we're most passive and watching, games have taken up the mantle as the best medium to be scared by. It's all thanks to immersion and placing the player directly in the middle. Now, it's no longer watching a character try and're the one escaping. Here's some of my personal favorites, even if some aren't entirely horror titles.

Actual Scary Games

Silent Hill 1 and 2

I still own both of these games, and I still haven't beaten either. The entire idea of Silent Hill, from the gameplay to the scenario and setting, is just fantastic. It plays right on my favorite aspects of what is scary: it's what you don't see that's often so frightening. It's the lack of knowing what's behind the door, not when the door bursts open and a monster comes out. Both of these games balance that so well and, despite some questionable voice acting, are incredibly well told and written. Silent Hill 2 in particular is far more than just "guy goes to scary town." Hell, I would even consider that game to be the best written horror game in gaming. It's that good...and shows how far off the movie version of these games were completely off.

Enemy Zero

One of the first PC games I think I ever played, Enemy Zero (originally a Saturn title) is still fresh in my head. It hasn't aged well. At all. But in 1998 it was the scariest game I'd played up to that point. I think it's because I wasn't really used to first person games yet and the idea of having no weapons and running around trying to listen for invisible aliens in a ship with bad lighting just didn't sit well. This video pretty much shows you what it's like. As you'll notice, no music and a heave focus on sound.

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Mansion of Hidden Souls

I was one of those idiots that bought a Sega CD and, like a lot of idiots that bought a Sega CD, I was impressed by what is pretty much an unimpressive ability: full motion video. People loved this shit back then, you saw it everywhere. Usually it brings up the live-action FMV style, such as Night Trap or Sewer Shark. If done smartly, though, you could make a game that fit it all in seamlessly and make a good game. Myst, for example, implements FMV seamlessly.

Of course, I didn't have a computer at this time, so a Sega CD was what I got and regretted about three months later after the three good games got boring (just to point out, this one wasn't one of them, it's a mediocre adventure game at best). Mansion of Hidden Souls was both new, and something I hadn't played before therefore had nothing to gauge the quality of. It's about a mansion and investigating a mystery. It's also known as "that butterfly game." In hindsight, it wasn't really meant to be scary I don't think, but it did create a snese of mystery and dread. Just the idea of going into a strange place and having to figure out a mystery is pretty scary, I suppose, but this one actually did it pretty well and the look of the mansion is still ingrained in my head very's a video, actually.

...I do wonder, though, if my memory is giving more praise to the game than it probably deserves. I haven't played it in years, but I remember I found it pretty frightening as a teenager. Games like this were pretty common back then, I know I didn't get to play "D" until much much later and by then I suppose I had become a bit bored with the whole thing as did the rest of the world seeing as how this genre is pretty much dead now.

It was a time and place, I suppose...

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Call of Cthulhu is just a smart, intelligent first person mystery. It's not a shooter. Keep that in mind. Instead, you have to run around and hope you don't get scared shitless and lose your mind. You can't be involved in anything that might "disturb" you, but that's easier said than done as you try to investigate the mystery of the port town of Innsmouth. The recent indie hit, Amnesia: Dark Descent, takes a lot of cues from it (and is damn good in its own right and is something I need to get to playing more of). Great atmospheric tension from beginning to end.

Clock Tower

An old PSone game (actually the second Clock Tower game) and one of the very first survival horror games and it was one of those that got really intense at just a drop of a hat. I suppose a clumsy interface doesn't help in trying to get away from Scissor-Man. Yes, that's his name. He's an insane man with some very large scissors and he will randomly pop in in rooms, making for the whole game to be rather unpredictable. It's entirely about getting away, not killing him, and solving puzzles to escape.

Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2

Yes, only the first two. Though Three had some great moments, it wasn't one of my favorites, and Resident Evil 4 is great in atmosphere, but not something that particularly scared me. The first two, though, had a great blend of atmosphere and jump scares to get you uneasy. I especially like the Resident Evil remake on Gamecube, which I still consider the crown jewel of the entire franchise and what survival horror is all about. The first two, though, scared the living crap out of me. It was then I realized that, though horror movies might lsoe their impact, games always seem to find a way to be frightening for me because they plop you right in the middle of it.

Other than that remake, I didn't fine any of the other Resident Evil games particularly tense or scary. Maybe a few moments here and there, such as running from the villagers in Resident Evil 4 or trying to figure out what the hell was going on in Code Veronica, I probably  need to play that one again. It just got an HD redo, which was what I was waiting for.

Fatal Frame Games

I've played two of these, and you'll have to forgive me as I don't really remember which is which as they are all essentially the same, but I do know one thing: the few I've played scared the crap out of me. It doesn't sound scary on paper: you go around and take pictures of ghosts. Seems stupid, doesn't it? This is one of those that grabs you really when you're playing it. You truly become lost in this world and, thus, the entire concept begins to make sense. You forget it's just a game. It plays off that "out of the corner of your eye" type of fear. What was that? Did I see what I think I saw? Should I go down those stairs or through that door to find out? So simple and so effective.

Not Scary, But Awesome

The Splatterhouse and Castlevania Games

Not really intended to be scary, but rich in everything we love about scary things. Demons. Vampires. Werewolves. Ghosts and possessed masks. Dracula. Death. These games weren't necessarily scary, but they have everything about horror plopped into them.

The first Splatterhouse was actually one of the first games I remember playing in the arcades and the second game was one of my favorites on it the Sega Genesis (and one of the first games I played on that as well). The gore-fest and literal "splatters" that happen is still something I can remember well. There's no greater sense of satisfaction than hitting some squishy-thing with your twobyfour and having it splat against the wall. The first one had itself a pretty decent story too, but I only know that now thanks to the internet. I was never able to enjoy it at home due to not owning a PC or Turbographix 16. The third one is the black sheep of the bunch, but the style is still there. It's just a bloody good time. That's enough for me. Really some of the best arcade style gaming on the Genesis.

Then you have the Castelvania games. My history with that goes back far. The first I played was Simon's Quest and, like a lot of people, I had no idea what the friggin do. I did love the atmopshere, though. Then along came the third one, Dracula's Curse on the original Nintendo system and it was just fantastic. Solid story. Classic style gameplay like the first (which I played shortly after) and multiple characters. Castevania IV on the SNES might essentially be a remake of the first game, but it's a damn good one. Fantastic graphics and control. Bloodlines for the Genesis wasn't bad either, but I never really got into it. Maybe I was spoiled by the fluidity of Castevania IV and the rather stiffness of Bloodlines seemed dated.

Rondo of Blood was when the series really picked up again. You can play that online somewhere, I know I have a copy. Anyways, it was just amazing in style. It had cinematics. It had amazing graphics. The Gothic look really shone through. The look was really mastered, though, with Symphony of the Night, the game that changed the entire franchise. Symphony is my favorite Castlevania game. Though I loved the classic platformer approach of the previous ones, the ability to "explore" really seemed a perfect fit for the series. You're all over a massive castle and I always had a desire to make sure I checked every single corner of every single section. Plus, the Castle really felt like a complete castle. You had hallways and laboratories, basements and catacombs, towers and chapels and the every-annoying library where you could meet up and buy stuff with the librarian.

After that one, I really hadn't played much of any others. The series really went to handheld exclusivity and, to be honest, I didn't really like some of the artistic designs I was seeing. It was less gothic and more anime, and that doesn't seem right. I hear the gameplay is as good as ever, though, and many have expanded nicely on what Symphony of the Night created. I do want to play the newest one on the PS3. I played it at E3 a couple of years ago and loved the art style and classic gothic sensations it was evoking. Maybe I will soon, I'm sure it's cheap these days.

Games That Aren't Necessarily Scary Games but Scared Me or Had "those" Moments



I didn't really know where to put this one, some consider it a flat-out horror game, but most of the scares comes in the first couple of hours so the game really isn't scary in the long run, especially when you start become a God and mow down enemies.  But those first few hours is when it really knows how to fuck with you. It knows when you're looking at just the right moment to have a shadow scurry across the wall or a voice in the distance call out to you gently. You can hear the scampering of splicers and god forbid for the lights to out for even a second and, the next thing you know, you're surrounded. Bioshock is, still, one of my top three or four games of the past few years because it just really knew how to get inside your head.

Super Metroid

For the Metroid titles, it's all about that sense of isolation and despair. These games plop you on some unknown planet and have you, literally, running around in the dark trying to find your way out. They utilize minimalism when it comes to their presentation, especially when it comes to music. Sometimes there won't even be any music at all, just a low hum or silence with only your footsteps hitting the ground. Super Metroid in particular is like the opening parts of the movie Alien as you explore this unknown and strange place with a constant sense of dread around every corner.

Ecco the Dolphin Games

Man...I don't know. Don't ask me to explain. It's just the unsettling nature of the game's world, I suppose. It's quiet and mysterious, almost therapeutic with the ocean and waves and diving to the depths of the ocean. Then you're talking to fish and stuff and always running out of air...then some tornado takes you to another world and you're flopping around in tubes and shit. It's hard to describe how bizarre and, to me at least, troubling these games are. I've played all of them but simultaneously haven't played any of them that much.

The First Game to Actually Scare Me

Wolfenstein 3D

Yep. It was the first of many things when it came out, but it was also the first game to really scare me. I was at a friend's house and his family bought their first computer, with it two games: A Leisure Suit Larry title and this puppy. Nothing funnier than a kid screaming at every door that opens and then firing his gun with no direction all over the place, spraying bullets at anything, as he runs and gets away. I think my playing of this prepped me for Doom, because I didn't find Doom scary at all (though a better game) even though it should have been.

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