It's the time of year when people line up movie marathons of their favorite scary flicks but what about scary video games? The fact is that most games designed to produce fear usually end up pushing gore instead and don't have the memorable impact of their atmospheric cinematic brethren. It's a lot easier to maintain terror for two hours in a movie theater than it is to do the same for twenty-two hours with a controller in the player's hands. And yet there have been a few games that you should pick up and play after you're done Trick or Treating this year. These are the five scariest games you could play on your PS3 and there's not a single game based on a movie on the list (in fact, "Saw II: Flesh and Blood" might be the least scary game of all time).
Observant readers will quickly notice the lack of games from the last few years on this list and so a quick discussion is required. Too many recent hit games with potential scares have valued action over atmosphere. A flashing light or a creaking door are much scarier than a wave of zombies or a supernatural force. And so many action games that could have made the list, including "Dead Rising," "Dead Island," "Condemned," "Manhunt," and "The Darkness" were left off simply because I think of them more as action than horror. There's one exception and it would be my #6 if I were to extend the list -- "Bioshock." Consider that brilliant game the runner-up.
(Note: To qualify, all games had to be available on the PS3, so "Amnesia: The Dark Descent" did not qualify.)
Image © WBIE
I know what you're saying -- this is more action than atmosophere and I just said that wasn't going to be the guiding principle behind this list. For the majority of the game, you're right. But then there's that damn school. A few hours into this supernatural action shooter, you arrive at a school that's been overrun by evil forces and the art direction in this section of the game is absolutely terrifying. Shadows race across the wall as lights swing back and forth and go in and out on a very relatable setting -- a school hallway. The first time I played it, I literally had to turn the lights on to keep moving forward. Call me a wimp, I don't care.
Image © Bethesda
Maybe this game won't have the impact it did for my generation with the new one but there is arguably no better game when it comes to the "jump scare" than "Doom 3." You're walking around, trying to figure out how to open a door. Things are oddly quiet. You're probably safe, right? This will be easy. What's that sound? Oh. My. God. What is THAT? The developers of "Doom 3" were so adept at not just producing monsters to shoot but amping up the claustrophobia to the point that it created actual fear. I could go that way and kill the multiple-eyed, fire-throwing demon or go back that way to the room filled with my former soldiers now possessed by alien forces. There have been so many horror action games that took what Id did with "Doom 2" and "Doom 3" and used them as a template. Although few of them were as scary.
Image © Konami
It's hard to pick a "Silent Hill" game and one has to agree that the franchise has gone notably downhill over the years unless you find gameplay glitches terrifying (then "Silent Hill: Downpour" is the game for you). One could easily make the case for "Silent Hill 3" or "Silent Hill 4: The Room
" but with all three games being so accomplished, credit goes to the first. This is really the game that defined so much of what we know about survival horror. It's like moving through a nightmare and the developers use of relatable effects -- fog, static, lightning, etc. -- is the main reason that "Silent Hill 2" still gets the hairs to stand up on the back of your neck so many years later.
Image © Capcom
The bar by which all zombie games since have been measured (and one of the reasons that "Resident Evil 6
" is even more disappointing than it would otherwise be) has held up so well over the years that one could still play it today and get that shiver of fear that only the best horror games produce. It's all about pacing. Non-stop action games like "RE6" miss the fact that a rollercoaster with no valleys doesn't work. "Resident Evil 4" brilliantly takes the viewer up and down, providing moments of calm between some of the scariest set-pieces of all time. And, once again, it's about the relatable terror of an abandoned village or a lumbering figure off in the distance. An absolute masterpiece.
Image © EA
In video game space, your neighbors can hear you scream. Every word of praise above can be applied to the genius of both "Dead Space" games. There's the relatable feeling of being alone. No one can help you. If you're going to survive, it's on you. There's the incredible design of some of the most terrifying creations in video game history. It's not just fear of opening the next door and facing an "enemy" but facing something pulled directly from your sci-fi nightmares. And even the action is designed to terrify as you shoot the limbs off creatures who continue to move towards you anyway. It's an action game in which the action feels like it has honest urgency. You don't feel like you have to shoot just to move forward. You feel an honest need to survive. That's true horror.