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It’s almost Halloween, which means everyone is thinking about costume parties, candy, and their favorite scary movies. There are plenty of scary games too though, and we thought we’d get in the spirit of the season by talking about some of our favorites. Not all of these are necessarily horror games, but they at least have a spooky theme that reminds us of the season.
Final DOOM – When I was in grade school I used to rent a bunch of Playstation games from the Hollywood Video by my home. Even though I had played a little of Doom at my friend’s house, I wanted to see every level. I used a cheat code to jump around from area to area and was having a great time, but then I started to hear it—a booming noise like someone was slamming garage doors shut. Over and over again, the sound grew closer, but I didn’t see anything. I thought that maybe it was a glitch in the game. Eventually I opened a metal door and entered an open room with a giant doorway—too giant. The room was filled with ammo so I helped myself. I turned around and saw it. The booming sounds were footsteps made by what I would later know as the Cyberdemon. It was grotesque, huge and had a rocket launcher for an arm. That thing scared me for almost ten seconds until I realized I also had a god mode code.
Resident Evil: Director’s Cut – My cousin got out of school early for some reason. Since my aunt was working, my mom picked him up. Later in the day, they both arrived at my school to pick me up. My cousin surprised me with a rented copy of Resident Evil: DC and asked me if I knew anything about it. I had never played the original, but heard it received good reviews. When we got home, he played the opening and we laughed at the voice acting. He kept saying that the controls were weird but I didn’t pay attention. When he finally got used to the controls, he ventured into the side corridor past the weird pedestal. The zombie dog leapt through the window and scared him so bad that he tossed the controller at me and said, “You kill it.” I ended up spinning in circles until the dog ripped out my throat. The Resident Evil franchise as a whole freaked me out considerably, but that moment with RE: DC started it all.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver – One of my all time favorite games, LoK: SR took the vampire mythos into a unique direction and created a compelling and terrifying world. You had to fight these vampire lieutenants. Each lieutenant lead a tribe and each tribe evolved differently over the years gaining new abilities and adjusting to their surroundings. One of these tribes lived in a dark, abandoned cathedral. The tribe had evolved into a race of spider vampires that had multiple arms and cocooned human beings alive. I have a fear of spiders and solving the puzzles in the cathedral while fighting these monsters was complete hell. The lieutenant was the grossest of them all and would lay eggs during the fight. The stage was inside his nest which happened to have dead bodies in it. The claustrophobic rooms with the suffocating boss fight prevent me to this day from ever playing through Soul Reaver again.
Resident Evil – Although it borrowed more than a couple of ideas from the PC franchise Alone in the Dark, and although the Game Cube remake was an improvement in almost every area, it was still the original Resident Evil that really brought the survival horror genre to life. When you play through it now the unbelievably wooden acting seems to almost verge on parody, but the atmosphere Capcom managed to create still puts most modern survival horror offerings to shame.
Dead Space – Never has an ambient sound track been put to such good effect as in Dead Space. The combination of genuinely unsettling sounds, excellent use of dynamic lighting, and sense of being all alone in a vast environment makes Dead Space one of the best horror games in years. Hopefully the impending sequel will live up to the legacy the first has created.
Doom II – I remember the first time I ever played Doom II. It still used the same 2D sprites, and still barely had a story. But although it was very similar to the original it had one small improvement that, for me, brought it to a whole new level: The Double Barrel Shotgun – both surprisingly powerful and immensely satisfying. Doom II is the first game I ever recall playing alone with the lights off, just to scare myself stupid.
Left 4 Dead – It’s sort of hard to say the Left 4 Dead series is really “scary”. A lot of horror comes from dread, and it’s hard to dread anything when you’re getting swarmed by hordes of ravenous but easily dispatched zombies constantly. I still remember the first few days of playing it though, online with a few friends, shouting at each other for help or directions on where to head off the next attack. It wasn’t really frightening, but it was one of the most taxing and intense moments in gaming I’ve ever experienced. My legs would literally be shaking after a daring and ultimately successful final stand before rescue arrived. And those witches really are kinda creepy.
Resident Evil 4 – As far as scary entries in this classic series go, Resident Evil 4 is somewhere near the bottom. But sort of like Left 4 Dead, it isn’t trying to be scary that much. There are a few jumpy moments scattered around, but more importantly the game was a hell of a lot more fun to play than previous ones and the feeling of tension and dread whenever you were being swarmed and just one wrong move away from getting killed by Spanish villagers or hooded monks was always palpable. And yeah… those regenerators were kinda creepy.
Silent Hill 2 – My first two picks were all about the fun gameplay over the vaguely spooky settings, but Silent Hill 2 is the opposite. It’s functionally competent as far as survival horror games go, but where it excels and why it’s remembered by everyone who played it is the terrifying atmosphere and morosely effective story. Pyramid Head has been overused since, but he was amazingly effective source of scares in his first appearance, and he was helped out by just about everything else in the game. The disturbing monster design, the haunting soundtrack and ambient noises, everything worked together to creep the hell out of you. This is about as well as psychological horror works.