Horror Games Continue to Evoke Chills, Shivers, Fright
During the most wonderful time of the year, Halloween and all its spooks and scares evokes great memories in gaming by triggering memories of games that absolutely scared me. Some, which still linger in my mind, were so intense and immersive, I lost myself completely to the action and became overwhelmed at the terror within.
Let’s take a trip down Horror Lane.
Doom is well known in video game history for its fast-paced action, detail to realism, and place in influencing the games that would follow. It is also a game that produced the most terrifying moment in my game playing history with a little help from my cat.
Doom’s graphical design of demons and hellscape was, at the time, very immersive because of the first-person perspective of the main character and the details of the environments and enemies. It helped that the enemies were gore- and blood-covered monstrosities surrounded by Satanic symbols at every turn.
The gameplay required players to get up close and personal with many of the enemies by using the now-famous shotgun for maximum impact. The demons would appear from any direction, often hiding behind sliding doors that opened after the player had passed.
Limited ammunition ramped up the tension and excitement, but it was the fear of being surprised by a lurking demon that kept me on the edge of my seat, twisting my body to look around corners even though my character would stare straight ahead.
It was during one particularly tense section where I was entirely focused on getting down a corridor and through a room with little ammo and health when my cat, Tigger, jumped into my lap. I literally jumped out of my seat and away from my keyboard, screaming as if I had been grabbed by one of those demons.
Tigger was unharmed by her sudden travels to the floor and merely jumped back up into the chair, taking my warm seat. I, on the other hand, paced my apartment in an effort to get my heart rate and breathing back under control.
To this day, I make sure I know where all cats are located when gaming.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The Resident Evil franchise started as a wonderful survivor horror series but seemed to get more action oriented as time went on. Zombies and other biological creations provided the early challenge before turning toward more shooting and less scaring.
With Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Capcom came back to what RE was all about in the beginning – scaring the daylights out of you. When I played the game, I decided to go all in and used the PlayStation VR headset to put me in the action as much as possible.
There were times I regretted my decision.
The VR perspective plus the environment of a Louisiana swamp and a rundown home provided the perfect backdrop for all kinds of horror. I expected hideous creatures. What I didn’t expect was the horrific actions of seemingly normal human beings.
A flashback ended with an almost “Blair Witch” type finish. The discovery of surgical tools in a hidden basement area creeped me out in ways normally reserved for movies.
In trying to rescue my wife, she suddenly turns on me, chopping off my hand. WHAT?? What was even worse was finding my hand was stapled back on later when I woke up.
There were many times when I just yelled out, “What is wrong with you people??” as if they would answer me instead of trying to sever my limbs or feed me human brains.
The creaking sounds, the dimly lit rooms, the abrupt warnings before being suddenly silenced all played integral roles in creating a sense of dread and terror. There were moments where I refused to go forward in the game, because I knew something in the next room was going to get me.
But forward was the only way to go, and sometimes, nothing happened. The tension and VR perspective combined into something that got my heart racing and turned my language salty. Would the game have been just as terrifying without VR? Maybe, but for someone seeking a true horror survival experience, virtual reality was a great way to up the scares.
Dead Space flowed along many of the same lines as Doom with intense action and creatures that were more monster than human. The cold vacuum of space didn’t help either.
As horrific as the creatures were, the method of killing the necromorphs required surgical-like precision to cut off heads and limbs. Battlefields ended up being a carpet of body parts, never knowing if the creature was really dead or just waiting until I got closer.
Having a creepy ghost girlfriend also set my nerves on edge, never knowing if she was real or some hallucination. The ending was definitely unexpected and caused me to shout out loud with some very choice words.
The atmosphere on board the spaceship was tense and spooky. As I discovered more details about how the crew met their end by going insane, I kept wondering when my fellow crewmembers would also succumb to the madness.
The low-light environments and the haunting music ramped up the action, much like a horror movie, with crescendos that signaled something bad was about to happen. Occasionally, there were times when nothing happened, but that just made things more tense, never knowing what was lurking ahead.
Subsequent titles in the franchise just piled on the horror with baby necromorphs, huge beasts, and grotesque creatures. Many times, there was never a moment to catch my breath, but I loved every startling and surprising moment. It was hard to sleep after some gaming sessions.
There is an old saying: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” In F.E.A.R., a young girl, Alma, was experimented on and filled with psychic rage and fury.
First of all, any horror game that has a young girl automatically creeps me out. The idea of a murderous rampage from a tiny figure sets me on edge. Everyone becomes a possible ghost, ghoul, or bloodthirsty apparition, and I end up trusting no one.
F.E.A.R. had a deep Japanese horror feel to it, which is designed to prey more on mental games than constant physical challenges. It didn’t help that the main antagonist reminded me of the ghost from “The Ring,” which is not a movie I watch alone.
The game was filled with head trips, and when I saw Alma appearing in a hallway and then disappearing, I started backtracking immediately. The emotional investment in dealing with her and her antics was very draining on me.
There was one moment in F.E.A.R. 2 that still gives me chills. At the end, Alma is pregnant and places my character’s hand on her stomach. The voice of a child says, “Mommy.”
And there go the chills.
Silent Hill 2
For story, psychological torture, and use of forbidden topics, nothing wrapped it all together like Silent Hill 2, one of the greatest horror games of all time. The game dove headlong into the pool of personal tragedy to create an experience that still lingers with me today.
Guilt, longing, the attempt to seek absolution, and the lingering suspicion that this is all just a dream/nightmare added to the tension and fear that permeated the action. The foggy environments added to the hidden dangers and feelings of the unknown just beyond my reach compounded the anxiety as I plowed forward, seeking answer to a riddle that may have only been in my mind.
If the mind games weren’t enough, Pyramid Head, an unkillable foe, was always ready to physically punish my character. It was as if the designers wanted to make sure I felt helpless in moments when I was ready to succeed.
The character of James was also designed to introduce doubt into my head, creating moments of apparent certainty while projecting a feeling of, what I now call, evil in my methods. The psychological stretching made me feel as if I was the one being tortured over the actions of my characters.
Silent Hill 2 remains a game that is ultimately the explorations of human emotions and mental breakdowns. Those are real life experiences that the designers tried to tap into with me and succeeded on different levels.
It left me in mental knots, causing me to reflect on the game’s horrors while wondering how I would have behaved if I had to really make those choices. The exploration of one’s own mind is often the most horrific place to be. I will never forgive Silent Hill 2 for that, but I will always love that they put James (and me) through that hell.