Horror and spooky video games are what made me fully appreciate this form of entertainment in the first place. Don’t get me wrong! I also love movies and used to love horror films, but that love diminished since I discovered that, in horror video games, I could avoid being bitten or killed by zombies or monsters, something that in movies we can’t simply accomplish.
We’re a mere spectator watching all the blood and gore and not being able to do anything about it. Since I first watched ALIEN, a few years after it was released in cinemas, I was eager to play something on my ZX Spectrum that could somehow be related to it. But I wasn’t aware that such a basic machine could, by 1984, convey such a tense atmosphere like:
Concept Software, the guys behind the development of this gem, really showed how much of fans they were of the ALIEN movie and actually transported all the suspense and constant awareness that the film transpired. In this game our best friend is Jones, the cat, that can warn us about the presence of the Alien creature and, when all you can hear are the sounds of the Alien approaching, panic can easily set it! And, for a 9-year old, this was really intense stuff!
Three years later, by 1987, I also had the chance to try the C64 version of ALIENS from Software Studios, apparently based on the second movie of the franchise. I can recall the tense moments losing communications with my companion Marines, one by one, and completely being face to face with the Alien! That was so freaking terrifying!
So, back in 2004, I had this “surreal” experience in which the main character must fight a horde of gruesome demons after he’s been “saved” by an earthquake from being executed for the death of his family! Yeah, really original stuff! One thing is certain: he claims he’s innocent! So, we have to battle these horrific creatures that, most, are representative of different types of execution methods taking place in those detention facilities. And I must highlight that the creatures’ final touches were done by the Oscar-winning Stan Winston Studios that, as you know, worked in films from the Terminator series, Aliens, the original Jurassic Park trilogy, the first two Predator movies, etc. Back in 2008, the PC version was released online for free, compliments of the United States Air Force that used US citizens’ tax dollars to make it happen! I managed to grab a copy, so to speak, but, unfortunately, it is no longer available.
This isn’t a typical first-person shooter. In an alternate reality, a second disaster occurred in Chernobyl that caused a widespread mutation leading to the creation of terrifying humanoid mutants. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. we play the role of an amnesic and wounded soldier that must retrieve his identity. Only the tattoo on his arm and the instruction on his PDA to “kill Strelok” can help him recover his memories and unveil the truth about “the zone.” For that, we must search this post-apocalyptic wasteland facing horrific creatures with really scarce resources! The Ukrainian studio GSC Game World, now known as Vostok Games, developed, back in 2007, this intense and unique, terrifying atmosphere slightly based on historic events that surrounded the Chernobyl catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred 30 years ago. It always made us wonder if there’s some kind of weird stuff happening within that 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone. Playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is the closest we’ll ever get, and Chernobyl seems to be the perfect scenario for a survival horror game!
Also mentioned in my favourite Top 10 original Xbox games, this third chapter is, in my opinion, the most terrifying and scary DOOM ever made! Zombies and monsters are hiding in the shadows just waiting for us to take one more step and it still scares the hell out of me! This game was intended to be a remake of the original from 1993, but the darker and claustrophobic environment turns it into a survival horror type of thing rather than a, let’s say, typical and frenetic action-driven DOOM title. And the ambient sound really contributes to this creepy experience! Every fan wanted a new game of this iconic franchise, but, initially, ID Software was against John Carmack’s proposal of remaking the original DOOM, consequently falling into the same old formula. But due to the success of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, ID ended up agreeing with the idea of making this third chapter. It became the most successful title and one of the most scariest video games ever.
METRO: LAST LIGHT
Last Light was the only title from this list that I discovered recently. The post-apocalyptic theme is always side to side with heart-pounding video games, so, in this one, we wander around in the metro system of Moscow, most of the time, in this first-person shooter with stealth and survival horror elements thrown in. Ukrainian developers seem to have a sweet spot for this type of games so, and just like Shadow of Chernobyl mentioned earlier in this video, the Ukrainian studios 4A Games came up with this amazingly, horrific and terrifying sequel to the also amazing Metro 2033, from 2010. So, besides disturbed humans and mutants, we have to fight off shadow figures and even hallucinations, making Metro: Last Light a constant adrenaline pumping kind of game, right from the beginning! And I can say that this is one hell of an extremely tense and realistic experience! And, before everyone says that Last Light isn’t that good, please bear in mind that its developer, 4A Games, had to face in numerous non-game adversities, like harsh working conditions in a crowded office, with negative temperatures during winter and constant power failures. The complete budget of Last Light was less than the amount its competitors spent in cut scenes only! The entire Ukrainian studio would fit in EA Los Angeles’ gym alone! Even so, they’ve managed to pull off a game that pulverised, for instance, Medal of Honor: Warfighter. So, Respect for these guys!
The Alien movie franchise was always a huge source of inspiration for video game developers. R-Type, Survivor, Metroid, StarCraft, Mass Effect, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, 3, Black Ops 2 and Ghosts, Contra, Alien Breed, Half-Life, Doom 3 and even Conker’s Bad Fur Day contains multiple references to the Alien franchise. Alien Isolation is the one and only title that can really place us in that creepy environment. And, as a huge fan of the first two movies from the whole franchise, I can feel in my own skin the fear that Ripley and the other crew members of the Nostromo felt the presence of the Xenomorph created by Hans Rudolf Giger. This tense survival ambience keeps my heart pounding for hours and hours, forcing me, instinctively, to hold my breath simply to avoid being caught by the Alien creature! Am I insane? That’s what this game is able to convey! We play the role of Ripley’s daughter, Amanda; that accepts this assignment of searching a ruined space station for signs of the disappearance of her mother, finding only the Alien creature that she faced 15 years earlier. Creative Assembly really nailed what many have tried before, but this was possible due to the gathering of artists and programmers from other studios, like Bizarre Creations, Black Rock, Crytek, Ubisoft and Realtime Worlds! They even consulted sound and film editor Terry Rawlings, best known for his work in the Alien movie, from 1979, and, for instance, Blade Runner, from 1982, and Alien 3, from 1992.
With a strong influence from the Alien movie franchise, Dead Space places us aboard a derelict spacecraft that, of course, is filled with flesh-eating creatures that suffered a weird mutation after being exposed to a strange alien artefact. The atmosphere is built on what we hear, so the audio design aspect present in the game is one of the best I’ve experienced ‘til this present day! Besides that, weapons are really scarce. In this game, we’re not a marine or some kind of superhero! We’re a mere systems engineer that must improvise and adapt mining tools to fit our goal of survival! Forget all the head-shot practice we did in practically every single First and Third-Person Shooters out there! In this one, we have to cut their limbs off to slow them down! Yes, slow them, because, even dismembered, the Necromorphs will adapt themselves to the lack of limbs! Pretty scary stuff! Dead Space came from EA Redwood Shores, known today as Visceral Games, and was released in 2008 to grab commercial success, and praise, from the gaming community, journalists and gamers alike. Be aware: the fear factor in Dead Space is really high! So, prepare yourself before you play it!
RESIDENT EVIL 4
Rural Spain is the stage for this 4th chapter of the Resident Evil franchise. And what a chapter it was! The over-the-shoulder type of gameplay redefined what a 3rd person shooter could be, and the trigger-happy sequences are highly frenetic! And, there are no zombies, what, for me, is a good thing, because I hate zombies! In this one, we have to rescue the United States President’s daughter that has been kidnapped by a sinister cult. The game went through a long development process of around six years being, finally, released in 2005 and, initially, planned to be a Game Cube exclusive, but ended up being, also available for the PS2 later in the year. It surely influenced the evolution of the genre, popularising, and pioneering, the over-the-shoulder 3rd-person perspective used in horror movies since, at least, the late 70s. And let’s not forget the Mercenaries mode, that is unlocked after we complete the single-player campaign! So, Capcom gave us the ability to shoot feet, arms and perform headshots to kill the angry villagers instantly, and also present are those now extremely popular quick time events.
Haven’t played everything from the Resident Evil franchise, but this remains my favourite by far!
SYSTEM SHOCK 2
Before BioShock, there was System Shock. System Shock 2 has probably the best plot ever written for a horror video game. Action and role-playing elements are beautifully mixed up in this immersive first-person shooter also known for the amazing atmospheric environment overflowing with tension and terror. We, humans, created machines to help make our lives easier, but, in System Shock 2, those supposed friendly machines became the monsters that are out to destroy us all!
Present are three classes of characters: the soldier – only good with guns, the hacker – who can reprogram the ship’s security systems, and the psychic – with telekinetic abilities that can be devastating if used wisely. Even so, equipment and weapons are prone to stop functioning or break down simply, so, it can get really complicated! Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios developed and released in 1999 one of the greatest video games of all time. It was a PC exclusive title and failed to grab commercial success simply because it was far ahead of its time. Nonetheless, it influenced many first-person shooters that came after. Otherside Entertainment secured the rights to the System Shock franchise and, finally, System Shock 3 will arrive somewhere in the near future with the main players of the first two games already onboard the project!
SILENT HILL 2
When it comes to replicate real terror in a video game, Silent Hill 2 is the pinnacle. It takes us on a disturbing journey into the psyche of the protagonist, James Sunderland, in such a way that many other games only dreamed about. In this second title in the franchise, everything seems just wrong. Who are we fighting after all? The creepy town? Or ourselves?… Silent Hill 2 is all about internal demons. James received a letter from his deceased wife and is lured to Silent Hill, this suffocating fog-shrouded and “silent” town. What he finds are reminders of his own anguish and guilt over her death. The danger is at every corner, and the developers accomplished in creating horrors that still haunts players to this day! The nurses are a good example of that, sexy and disturbing at the same time! Silent Hill 2 also features one of the most iconic enemies ever created for a video game: Pyramid Head! That’s what nightmares are made of! Konami really accomplished something memorable with Silent Hill 2, and that’s why this is the greatest and most disturbing psychological survival horror video game ever made!
So, guys! Feel free to post the scariest video games you’ve ever experienced since you first started playing video games in the comments down below.