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We all remember the blood-drenched rictus grin of the first zombie in Resident Evil. Or the sloughing flesh and sharpened bones of the necromorphs in Dead Space. Whatever our fears video games have often put them front and centre in very explicit ways or in other, more subtle ways.
This Halloween season we asked our gaming contributors for the scariest moments in their gaming lives. Some are specific. Others are more wide-ranging. Some aren’t even part of what we’d consider a horror game. This is all part of what makes gaming so varied. Our scariest moments in gaming are just as varied but each one left our various contributors with nightmares for days. So read on, if you dare…
Smile for the Camera! No not like that…
There’s a simple thing that makes Fatal Frame (Project Zero in Europe) the most terrifying computer game I’ve ever played. It’s not the powerless protagonist (a young girl who dies in a few hits and whose only weapon is a magical camera and a limited supply of film). It’s not the setting (a vast crumbling Japanese mansion that speaks to past grandeur and present decay). And it’s not the aesthetic (heavily inspired by Japanese horror films like Ringu and the Ju-On series). No, it’s the ghosts inhabiting that mansion, who come from the walls in states varying from dangerous confusion through to active malice.
The horror doesn’t just come from their misshapen, semi-transparent bodies and eerie mumbling, but the all too human stories of terror that those broken bodies and minds tell. One early opponent memorably moans about the ghost who killed him – “A woman in a white kimono!” Yet when you meet her you find that she is herself a victim, blinded and sacrificed in an ancient ritual. For all the danger the ghosts represent, it turns out that the true terror comes from what humans can do to each other. Ciaran Conliffe.
Murderous Cybernetic Ninjas
If you ask any avid gamer, they’d definitely have the odd Metal Gear Solid (MGS) nestled away in their top games list somewhere. For many, the scariest aspect of the series was its hefty cut-scenes full of melodrama, hammy performances and quasi-political discussions about nuclear weapons and the power elites.
Whether you love or loathe MGS’ idiosyncrasies, you must admit it has some the most nonsensical and outrageous moments in gaming history – a man continually struggles with diarrhea across four games. In retrospect, the graphics in MGS1 are pretty terrifying; and it’s not particularly about the quality, it’s more about the characters having no faces…
Even more upsetting was witnessing Gray Fox – a murderous cybernetic ninja – not only chop off an old man’s hand but viciously disembody several soldiers in a hallway until they burst into a shower of blood, as their gurgling cries for mercy rang through my young, tender ears. Having been exceedingly chuffed with myself making it through the game with such ease, I swiftly hopped from my little beanbag and put Croc on instead. It would be some years later before I would return to continue my MGS journey. Jenny Murphy Byrne.
F.E.A.R of Heights
I was an impressionable teenager going in to pick up what I thought was just a first person shooter. Excited, enthusiastic and eager to dive in to a new game! As I was immersed in this experience, I began to notice this wasn’t just a first person shooter, It was a horror based first person shooter.
It only took me two minutes to realize, I never played a game like this. Sure, Resident Evil was a horror based game, but that never scared me. F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon) was dark. F.E.A.R sets you up as a rookie in a recon squad, which helps you identify with the character. I didn’t know what I was doing and neither did he. I was hooked.
I sat there with the lights off, playing a game that was dark. What could go wrong? A jump-scare, that’s what . It was the notorious ladder jump-scare.
The next day, after a sleepless night, I went back to the shop and returned F.E.A.R. My lifelong fear of children in horror was born. Philip Masterson.
Grin and Bear It
Action-adventure tied to plot-driven puzzles. That seems an accurate representation of the original Tomb Raider genre. I’m not a neurologist but if there were some way of undergoing an MRI scan while playing a PlayStation game then I feel very confident that while traversing those densely polygon populated, low render distance, bat-infested Peruvian caves, my 6-year-old brain would surely have been lit up in the parts that express tension, fear and sometimes even panic (rather than in the lesser known action-adventure portions of the brain).
Lara’s clunky tank control method of movement means one needs to be able to think on one’s feet (even if Lara is still busy rotating her own feet in the preferred direction) in the face of an oncoming Tyrannosaurus Rex. But somehow it will always be the leap to the first save crystal of that game that will bring back memories of my siblings and cousins, and, of course, myself in a collective ecstasy of horror. Lara’s tedious movements meant she would inevitably fail to make that critical jump and land right beside a huge, roaring and surprisingly stealthy bear. It’s the kind of thing that no player should really struggle with, but at that age, taking on a bear naturally falls under pure horror. Samuel McHugh.
The Shopping Trip, From Hell!
An early Xbox 360 title and one of the rare examples of a melee-combat heavy game that’s first person. A precursor in many ways to what would become the norm in modern horror games (your Amnesia/Slender/FNAF et al) with the difference being you couldn’t outrun your pursuers and had to instead bludgeon them to death with whatever bit of old pipe you could find as you made your way through various crack dens and the decaying wastes of your own sanity on the hunt for a serial killer.
As for the scary moment in question; it would be tempting to simply say “all of it” and leave this entry at that, as there are few games that can boast such value for money in the ratio of cost to instances of pants-shitting terror. Nonetheless, the department store stands out for its mannequin sequence. Having already whimpered your way through a destroyed department store where there’s a good 50:50 chance of any mannequin you pass actually being a human encased in plastic and driven murderously mad from the experience, the game makes it worse by pushing you into one of its hallucination sequences.
In this one you’re funneled toward a death drop by an ever-increasing number of mannequins boxing you in further every time you move the camera to look away from them until eventually their sheer number forces you through a window. It’s an excellent example of mounting tension where you’re made entirely complicit given that you are unable to progress until you look away from them, but knowing that as soon as you do, things are only going to get even worse for you. Richard Drumm.
We Don’t Go to Ravenholm…
As you are forcibly pushed along on your journey to stop the evil Combine, our favourite theoretical physicist finds himself in the desolate town of Ravenholm. You make your way through the burning streets and discover the head-crab’s parasitic hold is total: mutated locals moan in agony on the streets while flayed, faster zombies run along rooftops.
In some of the most gruesome displays of DIY I’ve seen put to screen you take up your gravity gun and utilise science to become the handyman from hell. You can pick up a whole manner of concrete blocks, propane tanks and rusty saw blades to dismember any horror who wishes to see you meet the same end.
While the sight of mutilated corpses was unnerving enough, the sounds of the infected town are what stuck with me the most. The sharp scuttle of head-crabs on wooden floors and up drainpipes kept me in suspense long enough for the sudden shrieks of those fast zombies to send me flying off my chair. This jump scare one-two continues throughout, in tandem with the constant unease of having to navigate this nightmare which makes for a knockout horror experience that has stuck with me. Eoin Carty.
Shoot that Baby!
Maggots have always been my biggest fear. And leeches but we’ll stick with maggots for the purposes of this. I hate the way they look, what they do and how they move. I don’t give a shit if they help the environment, if the little things went extinct tomorrow I’d be the first one celebrating. Imagine then, the reaction of my gag reflex when Visceral Games dedicated a whole level section to them in their survival horror sequel Dead Space 2.
Well they’re not really maggots. They’re babies with maggot traits but if that’s not just as horrifying I don’t know what is. Player character Isaac Clarke is making his way through the Sprawl – a space station infested by the reanimated dead known as necromorphs. To progress Isaac must pass through a nursery infested with these crawling, squirming babies. They look normal enough except for their deathly pallor and the swollen lump on their back. If they get to close they’ll explode.
We’re introduced to this new enemy type when, through a window, we see a nurse cradling one of these mutated children in her arms. Her nursery rhyme is cruelly cut short by a gory explosion. Following on from this an entire room of them attacks you. I know there are more of them out there in the rest of Dead Space 2 but you’d have to pay me to go back to it. Andrew Carroll.