It's that time of year again. Time to let fear rule the roost...
Halloween. The one time of year where we allow ourselves to get scared. We celebrate the macabre and have fun by going trick or treating, having horror movie marathons, go on ghost tours, and all other kinds of fun pagan traditions. Or at least I think they're pagan. I don't know, I'm not pagan.
Last year, in lieu of actually making a list that celebrated the season, I instead went a different route and made a Top 20 Video Game Villains list. As it stands, that Top 20 list was actually my second most popular list I ever made, only second to my Top 10 Worst Amiibos list, which is absolutely massive for some strange reason. For a while, I was tempted on doing a Top 20 Movie Villains list, but I held off on doing that for one major reason. I felt like I wouldn't be able to do that list justice, since I've only just had the idea for this list a week or so before Halloween. The amount of work and effort it would take to make a Top 20 Movie Villains list this year would be staggering, and I don't have enough time for that. Maybe next year.
Instead, let's talk about horror. What is horror? Is all horror meant to be scary? What makes horror good? What makes it bad? Do we all have different definitions of horror? Horror is such a broad category, and yet we all instantly recognize a horror movie or a horror video game. It's the atmosphere. Horror, in my opinion, functions in the same way any visual aesthetic does. There's iconography that we associate with horror that can either be used to establish a mood, or to terrify the audience. Not all horror has to be scary, and for that matter, not all horror has to even be serious. Horror is a tool that creators can use however they please. Why do you think moments in video games like Ravenholm in Half Life 2, Giygas in Earthbound, and Nibelheim in Final Fantasy VII exist? These aren't scary games, but these moments have tinges of horror elements implemented in them.
Today though, we're going to take a look at my favorite Horror Video Games. Note how I don't think these are the "scariest" games ever. These are horror games that nail the aesthetic and make me feel uncomfortable while playing them, or just enjoy the scary sights they offer. Some of these games can be as scary as being stalked by a serial killer in a graveyard, or as scary as the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney Land. As long as the game has horror elements inside that actively define the game, it has a place on this list. So grab a bag of discount Halloween candy, turn off the lights, and get ready to be grabbed by the ghoulies.
|#10: Super Castlevania IV (SNES)|
Honestly, while I appreciate Symphony of the Night for introducing the concept of Metroidvania, having an open explorable 2D world where you can proceed however you want, I always thought that other game franchises pulled off the Metroidvania style better than Castlevania. Not only that, but later entries in the series decided that Metroidvania = anime visuals, which don't really work well for the classic monsters that the series is known for. Though I adore anime (duh), there are some things that don't fit that art style, and classic B movie monsters are one of them. So when in doubt, just go back to Super Castlevania IV.
Castlevania IV is one of the best platformers on the SNES and is legendary for its smooth controls. It's a fluid and fun game with a serious challenge, but the game is just drenched with Gothic horror. You explore dark castles, haunted gardens, dank cemeteries, and climb malevolent clock towers filled with demons, monsters, and skeletons, all while fighting some truly impressive bosses. Castlevania IV has so much detail in its sprite work that you'll notice something new about the game every time you boot it up. What else is there to say? It's Super Castlevania IV.
|#9: Luigi's Mansion (GC)|
|#8: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (PC)|
This is how I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream starts. Again, I wouldn't call it a scary game, but dear lord the atmosphere in this game is just oppressive. The story revolves around five humans who have been kept alive by the super computer AM for over a hundred years just so he could torture them and let them feel all of the hate an contempt he has for humanity, mostly due to the fact that he already killed every other human. And that speech is exactly how the gave starts, narrated by the author of the game, horror mastermind Harlan Ellison.
I wouldn't blame you if you never heard of this game, but it's definitely a PC horror classic. I was actually debating whether or not this game or System Shock 2 would take this place, but I gave the nod to the game written by one of the best horror writers of our time. There's just something about playing this game that fills you with some much dread and fear. AM isn't scary per se, but you don't have to be scary to terrify a person. You just need to be so in control and so in power that others naturally fear you and what you're capable of. Now put that into a computer with no emotional reasoning, and you get one hell of a villain to narrate the torture of our main characters.
Everything about the story is an exercise in futility, all leading to the end where the characters finally receive a happy ending; they get to finally die. Well, all except for Ted, who is mutated into an amorphous blob that AM may continue to torture with no escape in sight for the rest of eternity. And all Ted wants to do is scream, but alas, he has no mouth. If that whole description didn't chill you to the bone, then you don't understand why this game is number 8.
|#7: The House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii, PS3, PC)|
If you've never heard of what a B movie is, it's really hard to describe to the uninitiated. Essentially, imagine a movie with very little budget and poor effects, but it's fine because the movie has a lot of over the top action, poor acting, and is mostly there to either be a joke or just to see some good gore effects. That's pretty much the same reasoning for why Overkill is so good. It has a lot of guns, a lot of zombies, a lot of mutants, and enough explosions to last three Resident Evil games.
Overkill tries so hard to be bad it is beautiful. Papa Caesar, the main antagonist, equates your death to Chinese food, cutscenes have several continuity errors, like a scene where a guy has his glasses smacked off only for them to still be on his face in the next cut, to an ending where all a character wants to do is "return to the womb", and just mentioning that thought has made me want to move on to the next entry on this list without any context. Wanna figure it out? Grab a friend, get some pizza, and enjoy this cheesy horror rail shooter.
|#6: Corpse Party (PSP, VITA)|
Released originally as a PSN download, the Corpse Party series has actually been going on since the late 90's in Japan. And what is this series about? It revolves around these Japanese students that are trapped in a parallel dimension, which is haunted by the ghosts of young children, but these children are not so nice. Murders happen all throughout your stay at Heavenly Host Academy, with the body count rising and becoming more grizzly with each new death. This is one of those games that makes the player scared even after they finish playing the game. It sticks with you pretty well.
Corpse Party makes it on this list not only for being terrifying as hell, but also because it shows just how scary a 2D horror game can be. The best way to describe Corpse Party is taking the premise of Luigi's Mansion, mix in some classic Japanese horror, and make the game in RPG Maker. If you think the results wouldn't be that great, then you clearly underestimate Corpse Party never before has a Nurse's Office been so scary. The game isn't exactly cheap, being sold for $20, but the content and the scares that you get make it very much worth the experience.
|#5: Five Nights at Freddy's (PC, iOS)|
I know that people are sick to death of FNaF, but please, hear me out. In the span of one year, Scott Cawthon has created 4 separate horror games with fairly different mechanics in each other them and new ways to play each game. A lot of people complain about how popular it is and how the only people that play it are 10 year old children and that's why it's so popular, but people seem to forget about one thing. Say what you will about the sequels, because FNaF 2, 3, and 4 all have varying opinions, but the first game is still incredibly scary and effective.
It encapsulates high tension and anxiety ridden gameplay perfectly. Every action that player does make them second guess themselves, making them ask if they've made the right choice, if anyone is waiting around the corner to kill them, or if they'll even have enough power to make it through the night. Now imagine taking that anxiety and making that escalate over the course of seven nights, and you have a recipe for a game that'll make people shiver with fear.
Now some people will say that "ER MEH GERD, IT'S JUST JUMPSCARES," and they would be right. What they forget to mention though is that the jumpscares are punishment for losing. It's not a game like Ju-on: The Grudge where the only focus is jumpscares. It's a game where the jumpscares are effective because you're already at a point of high anxiety and terror. They work because you have made yourself into a vulnerable position. How many Let's Plays have you seen of FNaF where the best part isn't the reaction to the jumpscare, but the tension as you watch some play the game and see whether or not they're gonna die? How often do you get scared by the same jumpscare that scared them because of how invested you are? That's the sign of a good horror game.
Even then, how many horror games do you know that don't use ghosts, zombies, or vampires to scare players, but kid friendly robots. I can think of plenty of games with scary robots in them, but robots that were designed to be cuddly and friendly to kids? I can't think of a single one. It may have been beaten into the ground by its haters, but there's a reason why FNaF has become the phenomenon it has. Just... take a long break between the Halloween DLC and FNaF World Scott.
Oh, and no I'm not going to review the Halloween edition of FNaF 4 unless the gameplay has changed significantly enough for me to warrant another review.
|#4: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GC)|
You play as Alex Roivas, a young college student who has received word that her grandfather has died under mysteries circumstances. So she travels to his mansion in Rhode Island (I think this is the one video game ever that actually takes place in Rhode Island...) to uncover the truth behind his death. While there, she learns about a book called the Tome of Eternal Darkness, which chronicles the lives and deaths of its various holders (spoilers, most people die when they get the book), with the holders discovering a plot to revive several dark Gods into the corporeal world to cause, you know, the end of all humanity.
This game is one of the few games with direct inspiration to H.P Lovecraft and his style of horror. All of the evil Gods mentioned are abominations to existence that should never come into contact with mortal men and even looking at one of them, or their creations, is enough to drive a man insane. In fact, that's what happens all the time in this game. Eternal Darkness is known universally for its sanity effects, which will actively screw with the player the more insane they become. Whether its something simple like the camera tilting or inverting controls, to little incidents where you become decapitated for no reason or your controller freezing while fighting enemies, to more terrifying instances like the game claiming to have deleted all of your save data. Now that's how you truly frighten a gamer!
What makes Eternal Darkness stand the test of time though is just how well crafted a game it really is. Yes it's scary and yes it implements horror beautifully, but the combat is fluid, the mechanics are simple, and the plot is excellent. Your story spans millennia and will take you all across the globe with over a dozen characters, and each character feels unique. Some have much more health, some are stronger, some can use magic better, some are faster, and some have a much higher tolerance to sanity effects. Every time you play as a new character, it's a new experience, even if you're traveling to areas you've already been too. Not to mention just how crazy the monster designs are and how even in the overworld, you're never truly safe. Even when you think you're safe, a demon could jump out of a friend's neck and try to kill you. You never know what to expect when playing Eternal Darkness, and after 13 years, I wouldn't have it any other way.
|#3: Killer7 (GC, PS2)|
Killer7 is the brainchild of Suda 51, a man who created classics like No More Heroes, Shadow of the Damned, and Lollipop Chainsaw, the latter two are actually really good horror games. But I went with his one game that was never meant to be scary, but is actually to most terrifying game to me. Why? Because the enemies look monstrous.
I won't explain the plot of the game, because even if I could, it's something that should be experienced for yourself blind, but needless to say, your main enemies are a group of monsters known as Heaven Smiles, a my God these things are scary. They're slow moving men with giant grins on their faces as they approach you, laughing at you. If they reach you, they'll hug you, let out a monstrous cackle, then explode, dealing a huge amount of damage. And guess what? These are the basic enemies you fight. There are ones that creep along the ceiling, ones that sprint at you, and ones that are practically invulnerable as they slowly creep towards you, laughing all the while.
Then there are the bosses, who are just plain freaky. You want a creepy doll-like girl that becomes an angel with a permanent smile on her face? There you go! What about two Japanese business men that lose their heads and tentacles sprout from them to kill you? We've got that too! Or how's about a man who hangs himself only for his corpse to become sentient as he sicks invulnerable monsters to suicide bomb you? Oh, we have that in spades! And for dessert, why not have a confrontation with an astral projection of yourself with a creepy third eye growing out of your head that will not fight you at all, but stare directly into your soul. Killer7 has that too.
I've never played a game that was so unintentionally scary. I think that it was even Suda 51's intention to make this game uncomfortable to play, but there you go! You know how I said that horror can rear its head in any game and can be used as a tool to get a good scare? Well, Suda 51 mastered that here. And dear lord, even though this isn't a horror game, it's still scary to play through.
I just couldn't decide between these two games. As hard as I tried, I couldn't say which of these two Silent Hill games were better. Now make no mistake, Silent Hill 2 and 3 are fantastic horror games in their own rights, but when I think about which games in the series really got to me, it had to be the ones about Harry Mason and his search for his daughter Cheryl.
The original Silent Hill is an unmitigated horror classic. You explore the town of Silent Hill, see just how desolate and empty the town is, and encounter four people on your journey, some of them good, some of them evil, but you never feel like they have power over you. They're as much of a victim of the town as you are, unable to leave and persecuted by the nightmares that inhabit Silent Hill. The game is known for its fog, making the town feel even emptier, and the light snow that gently falls as you search for your lost daughter.
It's a beautiful survival-horror game that makes you afraid to take even a step into a dark alleyway or into an abandoned school. The atmosphere in this game is so heavy that even the slightest bit of movement will put the player on edge. Granted, you lose a bit of the immersion due to the awful scripting, but its the premise alone that makes Silent Hill work. You're looking for your lost daughter in a town where everything is lonely and full of monsters. It doesn't need a great script when the premise is so clean and simple.
Shattered Memories, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the original. Both of these games tell the same story, but Shattered Memories does it much, much, much more differently. You still have all of the characters from the first game, but they're not the same. Doctor Kaufman, a doctor in the first game that may or may not be a part of the evils of Silent Hill, is now a psychiatrist interviewing the player, his patient, at random intervals during the game. Other characters have their roles drastically morphed, though they're still telling the same story. Not only that, but Silent Hill as a town may or may not be so evil after all in this version...
I might as well be upfront with this: Shattered Memories is one of my favorite games of all time. I adore this game and how it completely flips the original Silent Hill on its head to tell a much superior story, albeit by sacrificing the horror and scares of the original. I was never once scared by Shattered Memories, but for fascinated by it. It wanted to tell a great story using the skin of Silent Hill. While the game still does have some interesting and creepy set pieces, there was never anything that made me afraid to play the game. I can't say the same for the original Silent Hill. I first played the game when I was 15, and I couldn't play past the first alleyway where you see a ritually sacrificed corpse on a chain link fence. Couldn't do it. It took me 3 years to actually play the game again and fully beat it, and even then it still gave me the willies every now and then.
So if you were to ask me which of these two games was the scarier game, I'd say Silent Hill. If you wanted to know which was the better horror game, I'd say Shattered Memories. So in this one case, porque no los dos?
|#1: P.T. (Nowhere...)|
There's nothing else quite like P.T., and even though it is a short demo, after Komani cancelled the game this game was teasing, Silent Hills, it now has to stand on its own as its own game... or it would if Konami also didn't de-list it from the PSN, never to be downloaded again. Even if you did download it, if you ever need to redownload it, you cannot. It's like the game never even existed. Oh, and #FucKonami.
Anyway, P.T. is a simple game. You walk down an infinite hallway until you leave. Each trip around something new will happen to you, or you'll have to do something, or you'll encounter someone, or you'll have to decipher a code that no rational human would ever think of. There's no combat and no health. You just walk.
P.T. is a game I am always scared to play. Whenever I think about the game, I remember how good it was and feel like playing it again. After a minute, ONE MINUTE, I immediately regret my decision and want to turn the console off and get out of the room. The atmosphere is chilling and even turning around a corner or turning around is enough to scare the hell out of a person. Here's how scary P.T. is; you feel afraid to take more than ten steps in this game. Just hearing a radio is enough to fill your body with ice. Dying once, and only once, is enough to make sure you never want to touch your PS4 again. The worst part is that even though this game will last maybe an hour if you know exactly what you're doing, it'll be the most terrifying and fear enducing hour of your life. And God help you if you encounter Lisa...
Now, P.T. is still a sore subject for the gaming community. It secretly was released on PSN, people found out about what it was a teaser for, and once people learned that Silent Hills was being created by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, people flipped. Trailers were crazy for Silent Hills and it became one of the most anticipated games of this console generation... and then Konami cancelled it in April. The project was dead, P.T. was removed from the PSN so no one else could download it, and all of the hatred for Konami began.
Now I'm not going to say that Silent Hills is the best game we never got, because we barely know anything about the game. It probably was going to be really good, but who's to say if it was going to be as revolutionary as we made it out to be. Still, it sucks that it was cancelled, and if the quality of the game was going to be as good as P.T., then that really does suck. The fact of the matter is that now all we have from that doomed project is a few trailers, and a truly spectacular horror game in the form of P.T. Not only is it the best horror game ever made, but it's one of the scariest games ever made too.