The past couple of years have been good to horror video game aficionados. All the way from P.T. and Until Dawn, to Outlast, Five Nights at Freddy’s and numerous other spine-tingling indie efforts, we’ve been left weak at the knees – and almost in need of a change of pants – on more than a few occasions. It’s fair to say the jump scare has seen a hell of a resurgence.
With Halloween quickly approaching, we at Power Up Gaming thought it’d be as good a time as any to reflect on some of the moments from both the present era, as well as yesteryear, that sent us scrambling for the off button.
Chris Mawson: As someone who is notoriously faint-hearted, even the most minor of jump scares in popular culture are enough to make me feel weak at the knees. Hell, when I was a child I was even terrified of the loveable children’s TV car, Brum, which tells you about all you need to know. So with that said, a number of gaming moments in recent memory have naturally left me feeling scared, or at the very least thoroughly creeped out.
While Creepers are the bane of many Minecraft players’ existence, it’s the appearance of another foe in the blocky sandbox world that never fails in striking fear deep in my heart: cave spiders. As if their eery red eyes and distinctive hissing aren’t enough to make you come close to soiling yourself when you’re unlucky enough to happen upon them during an expedition underground, cave spiders are infinitely more scary than regular spiders due to their venomous bite and ability to fit through the smallest of gaps in the terrain. Perhaps it’s the fear of being poisoned and losing all those diamonds in my inventory that scares me more than the creature itself, but I’ve had plenty of “holy shit”, jump-out-of-my-chair moments courtesy of an unexpected arachnid spawner.
Another memorably creepy moment that left me an emotional wreck came in Naughty Dog’s highly acclaimed survival horror title, The Last of Us – although perhaps not from the scenario you’d expect. While the game’s infected Clickers and Bloaters provided plenty of scary moments, it was the restaurant scene involving Ellie and Nolan North’s David that creeped me out the most. Without giving too much away, the whole situation left me feeling truly helpless, alone, and vulnerable. By the time I finally progressed, Naughty Dog had ensured I was emotionally drained.
Adam Lloyd: Without wanting this to sound like bravado, it tends to take a particularly special movie or game to creep me out. Games, while immersive, still struggle to convey a sense of helplessness or impending doom that is endemic to true horror, mainly due to the fact that you can easily turn them off or respawn if you die. That logic usually means that very few games have ever really scared me.
The Silent Hill series is an exception to that rule, especially number 2. With each new area you felt that you couldn’t be sure what would happen next, and that things were beyond your control. The atmosphere it built was thicker than the fog that engulfed the town, and the subtleties only made Silent Hill weirder. The game would use sound to amazing effect; often having moments where a foreboding thumping could be heard, but no monster or source for the noise could be found. The enemy design of the series was also outstanding, from the nurses to Pyramid Head, to those ghoulish two-headed twins in Silent Hill 4 that would point towards you before charging you down.
Having said that, one of the moments where I was truly frightened by a game came from a late night experience with the otherwise totally non-scary Metal Gear Solid. As a young teen, I had decided to stay up until the wee hours and finally reached Psycho Mantis. We’re all wise to his tricks nowadays, but I couldn’t wrap my adolescent mind around what was happening. Psycho Mantis performed a trick where he’d make the screen go blank for a few seconds just to mess with you. In the top corner, the word HIDEO would appear in green font, the name of the game’s creator. However, that green font was exactly the same font as the PGR on my old TV, so I thought Psycho Mantis was actually changing my TV station to some unknown channel. I went cycling through the channels to try and find the game, only to be greeted by Mantis cackling manically. When he repeated the trick again, I decided it might be better to wait until morning and hope that the malevolent HIDEO would stop messing with my TV.
Owen Atkinson: For me, the scary moments are the ones that make me forget that neither me nor my character are necessarily in danger. The last part of Bioshock’s prologue, where a horde of splicers are trying to smash through a window to get to you, made me feel absolutely helpless, and I still feel a hint of that even though I know they won’t actually get through. Also, the conversations you overhear the city’s demented inhabitants having with each other and themselves – such as singing a twisted lullaby to a revolver – never stop being creepy.
The Thing also made me feel terribly alone with its hostile frozen environment and inability to trust anyone. While it wasn’t a spectacular game, it kept me constantly on edge, never knowing when, where or how danger would next strike.
But nothing’s made me shrink away from the screen like gameplay footage (that’s right, footage; I’m not even game to play it myself) of Slender: The Eight Pages. I know that as long as you don’t get too close or look directly at Slender Man you’ll be safe, and yet the way the fog thickens as he gets closer creates a suffocating claustrophobia, while the static and piano sounds when you see him always make me jump.
Scott Russell: Fallout 3 may not be seen as a conventional horror game by the masses, but boy do I enjoy going against those! Yao Guias, Deathclaws and Super Mutants may litter every corner of The Capital Wasteland, but something else entirely fills me full of dread and despair: Tobar the Ferryman.
From the very beginning of Point Lookout, I could tell that this man was going to be creepier than a visit to the Neverland Ranch; his high pitched voice alone was enough to send shivers down my already sweating spine. I get that I had to talk to him to start the quest, but was it really necessary for me to sleep under his roof as I travelled to an unknown location? I mean, I love riverboat naps and all, but I could have stayed above deck watching the DC landscape crumble into the Potomac River. I feel that would have been the more sensible option; who knows what he did to me while I slept.
I can hazard a guess though, as later I found out that he had drugged me, cut out a piece of my brain in a sacred bog, and stored it, along with many others, in his room on The Duchess Gambit. I couldn’t stand his creepiness any longer, and blew chunks of his brain all of the walls. I can now sleep more easily at night, knowing that a middle aged man in a moustache won’t be standing over me (I hope).
Tara Jayne: You know when you have that dream? You’re running, and you’re willing yourself to run but your legs they just will not move fast enough, you’re tripping over obstacles – and you can’t shout. The shouts are coming out of your mouth like weak whispers instead of the blood curdling scream you want to project to let someone out there know that you are running from a beast… Maybe it’s a demon creature, a vampire, a werewolf… something completely hideous and you just don’t want it to touch you… These moments cause a great deal of discomfort to me. I’m not scared by ghosts or monsters, as long as I have the ability to run.
Bear this in mind as I recall playing an old Playstation 2 title, Haunting Ground, which gave me probably the most uncomfortable gaming experience of my life; so much so that I had to put the game down and stop playing. My protagonist, Fiona, wakes up trapped in some creepy mansion and as she goes to explore, a huge deformed creature named Debilitas starts to chase her through the mansion. When this creature chases Fiona, she begins to panic… Which is where I put the controller down and switch it off. When she panics, the screen starts to blur and you slowly lose control of her and she will run into walls and hurt herself, and if you can’t calm her down, Debilitas will come and beat her to a pulp. Welp.
It’s not a case of jump scares, or weird creatures scaring me, it’s that loss of control that makes me squirm inside. Well done Haunting Ground for turning me into a mess.
Something more recent that has turned me into a big old scaredy cat, is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Yes, an MMOJRPG in which my avatar is a tiny kitty girl had me running scared. In the dungeon known as Amdapor Keep, there lies a monster called ‘Demon Wall’. This creep-tastic fellow arranges himself on a platform and as the battle progresses, he will slide closer and closer to you, so that the battle becomes a race against time to defeat him and make sure he doesn’t eat or squish you. This kind of scare, again, probably relates to nightmares I have had at some point, and that fear of ‘the chase’. Either way, I hate that dungeon and I hate that it is a necessity for the relic weapon quest. Curse you!
Johnny Quid: Horror games scare the crap out of me; I just can’t do it, dude. My sister used to play Frankenstein on Atari 2600 and creep me out with that game. When I got older, I played Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street for NES and I was done. I made a conscious effort to stay away from the horror genre.
I broke that oath for Playstation’s Nightmare Creatures. I played the demo and surprisingly, even with the scares, I found it to be really fun so I bought it. Shredding monsters with the berserker blade or just pitting the monsters against each other was my favourite thing about the game. I dunno, I’m a wuss. Hell, I almost stopped playing Tomb Raider II when that T-Rex showed up! Bottom line, if it’s truly frightening, but I can kill it to death quickly, I’ll play it. But you kids today like to play games where all you can do is run and hide. That, to me, is terrifying.
Harry Bowers: Okay, I’ll admit it – I’m a wimp. In real life I’m one spider attack short of sleeping with a night light. Moths, pigeons and ostriches top off the lengthy list of creatures that inspire terror within me. This Halloween, you can bet that I’ll be safely ensconced between four thick walls and a roof. In case you hadn’t guessed, it doesn’t take much to scare me; that’s why I’ve always avoided horror games like cordyceps. For this reason my roster of traumatizing video game experiences is mercifully brief. But there’s one that has stuck with me. One game that inspired my nightmares for years to come; one game that transformed me into a pathetic sack of neurosis; one scary game to rule them all. What game was that you ask? Well, here’s the really embarrassing part. Forget Fatal Frame, forget Resident Evil, the game that broke me was none other than Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
Life is cruel. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was, in every sense, the game for me at the tender age of eleven. A diligent Sony fanboy through and through: Uncharted was my answer to the snarky 360 kids touting their Halos and Gears of Wars. I studied pre-release footage religiously. Those pretty textures were what that big, black bulky beast sitting under my dad’s TV had been waiting for. I remember the giddy rush I felt when the demo released. Watching that sickly green download bar tantalizingly crawl across the screen was nearly unbearable. I played that little slice of the future at least thirty times. Needless to say, I snapped up Uncharted the moment it was released in 2007. I savoured every moment: every weapon, every snappy line of dialogue, even the ridiculous special donut Drake character skin. Well, at least, until that damn German U-Boat dock.
UC1 spoilers follow. Cursed treasure: that wasn’t on the box. Demonic Spaniards: that definitely wasn’t in the trailers. Jovial, good ol’ fashioned human to human murder turned into scrambling for survival from the denizens of hell before I could blink. My delicate eleven year old mind was not ready for this. I remember trembling, literally trembling, in one particular dicey sequence. Drake finds himself trapped in the depths of a particularly moody German base. Cue scrambling from endless hordes of Gollum-like Spaniards down dark, nebulous corridors for what felt like an eternity. ‘Why would Naughty Dog ruin such a fun game by doing this?’ were the thoughts that ran through my petrified brain. I remember wishing, just wishing, that this horrible experience could just be over. All I wanted was for Sully to tell me everything would be okay.
Seven years later, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune remains one of my favourite games of all time. I’ve completed it more times than I can count, and so bald, emaciated, grey chimpanzees just don’t seem all that scary to me anymore. But I remember that feeling of inescapable terror like nothing else in my long, anti-social history with video games. It’s the terror that made me delete the P.T demo after five minutes; it’s the terror that makes me refuse to even watch gameplay videos of Alien: Isolation. Call it cowardice if you will: I like to call it a proclivity for self preservation.
Have Your Say!
Are we a big bunch of wusses? Have we missed out some of your most feared gaming moments? Let us know in the comments section below.