Happy Halloween, ladies and gents! Considering what day it is, I figured it’d be good to go with something a little creepier. We seem to have a fascination with being frightened; an obsession with our response to fear. Game developers are certainly aware of this, and there’s a whole collection of games out there custom-tailored to induce sheer terror.
Of course, not every horror game is created equal, and not every game that disturbs was intended to be horror. Sometimes – either intentionally or accidentally – developers will insert something into a title that causes controllers to hit the floor simply by the sight of it. This piece is an homage to those moments – and games- which remain in our memory and frighten us to this very day.
Binding of Isaac – The Whole Damned Game:The Binding of Isaac is graphically one of the simplest games on the list (it’s a sprite-based, top-down roguelike), but at the same time, there’s something incredibly unsettling about the title. Perhaps it’s the subtle connotations of severe child abuse, the demented enemies (which all display elements of death, decay, or warped sexuality), or the backstory of the title. Either way, it’s hard to play the game without feeling at list a touch uncomfortable – I can’t fight Mom or The Duke of Flies without feeling unnerved.
Lone Survivor – The Party:Another indie game, Lone Survivor feels a lot like a two-dimensional, side-scrolling Silent Hill. In keeping with the common tropes of survival horror, the game repeatedly makes you question your character’s sanity, and presents you with an extreme sense of isolation, coupled with grotesque looking monsters. Chie’s Party is one of the most memorable scenes in the title (and the first point at which you realize your character might not be quite right in the head). It seems like you’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, then you come across a party. Chie, after you give her a doll, gives you a gun. When you return to the party, everybody’s dead and there are monsters all around the place. It’s particularly jarring, especially when your character starts to wonder if something’s wrong with him.
Silent Hill 2 – The Pyramid Head “Sex Scenes”:Here’s an infamous one for you. The Silent Hill games are rife with disturbing symbolism, with all of the monsters arguably representing one facet of a twisted, warped, or guilty mind. One of the most memorable of these monsters is Pyramid Head – which many have taken to be a representation of sexual frustration and extreme guilt in its various appearances. That he repeatedly appears to be engaging in acts of forced intercourse with several monsters throughout Silent Hill 2 seems to affirm this, and serve as some of the most unnerving moments in the game (right up there with the final boss).
The Suffering: Ties That Bind – The Creeper:Perhaps one of the vilest characters in Ties That Bind, The Creeper is a fat, grotesque demon who represents the sexual perversions of mankind, and is the source of charming quotes such as “blood is the best lubricant.” He’s a fat, slightly bald man in a trenchcoat, underneath which he has the torsos of three women, connected to him via bladed tentacles, the ends of which protrude from their mouths. He usually appears surrounded by the corpses of women, and his voice is downright sickening to hear, particularly when he recounts his various ‘exploits.’
Metal Gear Solid 4 – The Defeat of Laughing Octopus:All of the Beauty and the Beast soldiers are fairly disturbing, but Laughing Octopus is probably the most unnerving of the bunch. As a child, she was forced to laugh as she murdered her family and friends, and likely subjected to sexual torture, as well. When she’s defeated, she’ll mumble that she’s an octopus, and then begin to vomit ink whilst laughing hysterically. Finally, she’ll curl up into the fetal position, silent as the grave.
Did I mention that when she laughs, she’s actually expressing terror?
Haunting Ground – Daniella’s Game Over Scene:Haunting Ground is a lesser-known, superbly-designed survival horror game, which places all the emphasis on “survival.” You play as a young girl named Fiona, who must escape a twisted locale known as Blackmore Castle, all whilst doing her best to hide from a series of murderous assailants. The first, Debilitas, evokes feelings of pity more than fear, while Riccardo and Lorenzo can be frightening, but not particularly terrifying. The most disturbing assailant (and, coincidentally, the fastest) is Daniella, a Homunculus who quickly grows jealous of Fiona’s ability to feel pain and pleasure. On killing Fiona, it’s heavily implied that she tears out her womb, and enjoys it….a little more than she should. Here’s the sound byte, if you care to listen.
Oh, she also thanks you for killing her.
Condemned – The Department Store Mannequins:Those of you who have watched Doctor Who will recall The Weeping Angels, which are perhaps one of The Doctor’s most terrifying antagonists. There’s a scene in Condemned, in an old, abandoned department store (which is creepy enough on its own) which brings those creatures to mind. While wandering through the dark, dilapidated building, a group of suited mannequins will begin teleporting, ‘chasing’ the character until he reaches the pit around which they originally stood. That they don’t actually move while you’re watching them only adds to the sense of menace.
Dead Space 2 – “Stick A Needle In Your Eye”:First thing’s first – look up “Eye Scream” on TV Tropes. That’ll help you understand precisely why the “eye poke machine” from Dead Space 2 is terrifying. It’s bad enough watching things play out when you do things right; messing up nets you a death scene which is arguably worse than anything the Necromorphs could possibly throw at you.
Twilight Princess – Lanayru’s Tale:Twilight Princess may not have been as dark as Majora’s Mask in a lot of ways, but the hallucination/vision shown to you by the spirit Lanayru beats out anything the latter could offer – and potentially even inspires more fear than the infamous Dead Hand, from Ocarina of Time. Maybe it’s the fact that the eyes of both Link and Ilia are completely white. Maybe it’s the undertones of murder and betrayal. Maybe it’s the unsettling music and scenery. Whatever the reason, it’s unsettling as hell.
Spec Ops: The Line – Mortar:Even though it’s not necessarily a ‘horror’ game like several of the other items on the list (and even though it lacks the supernatural elements of many of the other titles), I’d argue that this scene from Spec Ops: The Line is probably one of the most disturbing ones here. I’ll set the stage for you – Alex Walker (the player character) and his fellow soldiers have a mortar, and they need to clear the trenches of the enemy. Once they do so, they go down into the trenches to find out that – surprise – they were filled with civilians. What the player is shown next is downright horrifying: the camera focuses on the burnt corpse of a mother, holding her daughter’s body to her chest, with piles of charred bodies all around, while one of Alex’s soldiers screams at him that it’s his fault.
Watch the video at your own risk.
What, to you, is the most disturbing, distressing, or terrifying moment you’ve ever played?
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