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Top Ten Creepiest Moments (From Non-Horror Games)
Let’s get one thing out of the way – I don’t do Horror. I don’t particularly enjoy scary movies and I typically stay far away from survival horror games that put me in the driver’s seat. Even particularly immersive and creepy first person action games can take their toll on my delicate psyche. I’ve never played a single Resident Evil or Silent Hill game, and watching my roommate in college play Fatal Frame one time was enough for me to know those kind of games were certainly not for me. But I still manage to play a ton of great games and have encountered my fair share of super creepy moments in action, science fiction, and adventure games. Am I then the least qualified person to make a list about scary moments, or does my abject terror at the slightest shadowy figure make this an intriguing selection? You be the judge!
Top Ten Creepiest Moments
Even just the first Mass Effect game plays with sci-fi horror themes quite effectively, including the unsettling Thorian mind control, the very Aliens-esque Rachni, and the classic derelict spaceship with a sinister secret. But nothing beats the first time Shepard and company come upon those frightening pillars impaling human bodies on Eden Prime. It’s shocking to see the corpses being drained and seemingly replaced with mechanical matter, and truly horrifying when the pillars come down and the husks stand up, scream, and run straight at you. Husks aren’t particularly powerful but they come in large numbers and that groaning scream is truly terrifying. Space zombies!
Fallout 3 contains a ton of great creepy moments, from a clan of wanna-be vampires to the now cliché “Group of seemingly ordinary people that are really eating other people” in the town of Andale. But my personal winner is the crazy mind warp that is Tranquility Lane. Fallout has always had this odd fascination with 1950s American Culture and Bethesda really runs away with it with a full on creepy simulation of a cheery, Leave it to Beaver-esque black and white neighborhood. Did I mention you take the form of a child while inside this surreal world? Knowing it’s a simulation doesn’t make it any less creepy, and when you start to poke around in the places you aren’t supposed to and realize what you have to do to escape, things get downright unsettling.
As Young Link the land of Hyrule is vibrant and full of life, just ripe for the plucky young explorer. The castle and marketplace are teeming with friendly characters and merchants, but when you finally acquire the Master Sword and go forward in time, the world is a changed place under the iron fist of Gannondorf. The very first shock when you leave the cathedral is the once cheery marketplace is now filled with horrifying zombies that paralyze you with a single gaze. I can’t even explain in words how much the ReDeads terrified me when I first played the game, and it was probably one of the first times a video game truly frightened me. Getting near one resulted in a horrible scream, and the camera locked onto it as it slowly shuffled toward you, followed by a super weird back-humping attack animation. For someone that enjoys taking their time and exploring every area, I ran through screaming NOPE NOPE NOPE whenever I saw one of those bodies on the floor.
First Day, they come and catch everyone.
Second Day, they beat us and eat some for meat.
Third Day, the men are all gnawed on again.
Fourth Day, we wait and fear for our fate.
Fifth Day, they return and it’s another girl’s turn.
Sixth Day, her screams we can hear in our dreams.
Seventh Day, she grew as in her mouth they spew.
Eighth Day, we hated as she was violated.
Ninth Day, she grins and devours her kin.
Now she does feast, as she’s become the beast.
Capture, Cannibalism, Sexual Assault? Going deeper and deeper into the Deep Roads below Orzammar slowly reveals the horror of where Darkspawn come from and how the grotesque Broodmothers are created with a supremely creepy poem and a completely insane dwarf. It’s a fantastic bit of story telling and stands out as an incredibly disturbing sequence leading right up to a difficult but interesting boss battle against the horribly mutated creature.
For a game about exploring people’s minds, Psychonauts still manages to be a mostly comedic game infused with that now classic Double Fine humor. There are still some fertile creepy grounds that are touched upon, however, and the entire finale where Raz makes his way up a trippy insane asylum that slowly disregards the rules of gravity and physics is fun and unsettling at the same time. By far the most disturbing moment, however, is a slightly hidden room you stumble upon early in the game when exploring the mind of one of the camp counselors. Milla is a an easy-going woman with a cool 70s fashion sense and one deeply harbored trauma. A chest locked away in a room reveals the secret – an orphanage that she worked it burned down one day while she was away, and being a telepath the screams of the children burned into her mind. You get this information from a crude but effective slide show, but the real scare comes when you probe deeper into the chest and find yourself in a fiery cage, surrounded by the disturbing twisted figures of children as they whisper things like “How could you let us die?” For a moment containing no actual danger it’s absolutely terrifying, and some nifty foreshadowing of the mini-boss battles you’ll encounter that represent people’s nightmares (Milla has hers under control, hence the cage).
Legend of Grimrock is a fantastic modern version of a very old-school CRPG genre – the grid based dungeon crawler. Although your party moves one square at a time, the entire game still functions in real time, and monsters can come at you from anywhere amongst the labyrinthine levels. By the third level, Grimrock has eased you in sufficiently enough to start throwing by far the most disturbing giant spiders in a game I’ve ever encountered at you in large quantities. Think Skyrim’s spiders were bad? These not so little bastards fling themselves at you while screeching horribly, and the game cleverly has animations just at the corner of your eye for when you’re jumped from the sides. The worst part is when you find the switch you need to open a gate containing more spiders. You’ve gotten used to the scraggling sound they make, so think nothing of it when you pull the switch and go to face them head on. What you don’t realize is that the switch also opened a hidden door behind you, letting loose several more arachnids to jump out at you from behind and scare the utter crap out of me.
I love the Aliens and Predator franchises, and the game world has been blessed with some awesome games that really showed off some great inter-species mulitplayer matches. The single player in AVP 2 was surprisingly great as well with the marine campaign effectively recreating many of the great horror moments from the films. Even knowing what you’re getting into the intro mission of the marine campaign still elicits a lot of great scares in classic horror fashion with low lights, screeching sounds, and false jump scares before you finally encounter your first Xenomorph in some truly memorably gameplay.
An entry that will no doubt grace everyone’s list, Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm is effectively one big haunted house that spans an entire town overrun with zombies. The creepy faceless creatures are accompanied with perpetually dark and gloomy weather, a town that is half-destroyed and nearly deserted, and many implements of whirling and bladed death, of which the intrepid gamer can use the recently acquired gravity gun to slice and dice their way through the zombie hordes in satisfyingly gory fashion. The scariest moment, however, is not until you’re given the classic anti-zombie weapon – the shotgun, and come face to face with a new breed of zombie that’s much more agile and clearly draws inspiration from a certain Alien. These awful creatures run along walls and come screeching straight at you, giving you little chance but to fire your guns wildly while whimpering or screaming. Ravenholm is one of the most memorable locations in a game, and it’s a testament to Valve’s greatness that they can include a straight up horror segment right in the middle of their action game.
In BioShock’s very narrative heavy opening, you get very little in the way of weapons and are immediately subjected to the creepiest atmosphere of the whole game – the medical district. Hospitals are ripe horror locations and BioShock pulls it off well, with the best scare being such an incredibly classic and non-fancy moment that it begs to be one of the most memorable in gaming. I’m speaking of the Dentist’s Office: a weird fog moves in and a body suddenly appears on the chair. You move over to the table to find an audio diary and a plasmid tonic. Great! Maybe you linger for a second as the fog comes and goes once again. You turn aro-AAAHHHHHHHH.
The inner workings of Gotham’s infamous asylum for the criminally insane has some wonderful opportunities for horror and general creepiness. Although Rocksteady does an amazing job at empowering the player by making Batman the one to instill fear in his enemies, there is one adversary that turns the tables thanks to some psychoactive drugs and Bruce’s own childhood trauma. The scene where you first encounter scarecrow is absolutely perfect, right down to the creepy morgue and the unsettling feeling. You know Scarecrow is messing with you but you’re still not fully prepared to have your dead parents berate you, fresh from their body bags. But what’s this, a third body ba-AHHHH. Arkham Asylum spins out a classic jump scare followed by a really unique and memorable boss battle. Scarecrow is encountered several times during Batman’s adventure but the that first scare is the best.
Despite swearing off most horror games I certainly don’t hate all horrifying moments, and many of the games listed here are among my favorites. It’s a wonderful game that can fully immerse you into its world, and occasionally use that to scare the crap out of you. As graphics have improved and the first person narrative really taken off as its own genre, horror gaming has reached new heights, but I’m happy to ignore most of those! Whether you’re a true horror game aficionado or a scaredy-pants like me that enjoys the brief worrisome moment here and there games have the greatest ability to fully mess with our heads and get under our skin. With the Oculus Rift on the horizon, soon we won’t even be able to look away….