Hello! With Halloween on the way we thought it would be cool to collect a few of our favourite terrifying game experiences and share them in one place.
Please treat this like a spooky What We’ve Been Playing, and share your own memories in the comments! And have a lovely, spooky, safe Halloween.
Tomb Raider 2
I think I have to come to terms with the fact that Tomb Raider 2 is secretly my favourite game. I keep coming back to it for pieces like this, or when asked to think about the best individual elements in games.
Anyway, I should add up front my playthrough of Tomb Raider 2 was very memorable. It was the year after university and I was living in this weird boarding house up in the attic room. The house was huge and pretty much empty most of the time. I had a bed and a desk and an old Pentium and I had Tomb Raider 2. It feels like I played it over the course of a summer – just a massive, challenging game with huge levels. Finishing each one felt like finishing something significant, and I used to look forward to the lavish CG of the cut-scenes because they were like little rewards for these marathon levels.
Anyway, towards the final third of the game, or so it feels, you end up under the ocean exploring this sunken boat. There’s air inside so you’re running around this rusting thing, and loads of it is upside down so there will be tables on the ceiling and whatnot. There’s a shark outside, and that in turn makes you feel weirdly safe inside. I was bombing around, juggling dead-ends as you always are in Tomb Raider, looking for tiny key cards or whatnot I had missed.
And then I walk out into this deck area, and this huge human enemy just strides past out of nowhere. I had no idea that I was not alone in the level – the shark sort of tricked me. And at he same time I remember I suddenly felt very alone in this house I was renting in, right at the very top, with all these empty rooms below me.
I’ve always thought the magic of Tomb Raider is that it changes the way you see the world, more than any other game: you’re looking for handholds on walls while you do the school run, or the memory of a level just intrudes as you walk down a corridor or whatever. Here was a moment where a spooky moment in the game totally infiltrated the world I was actually living in. I think I was reading House of Leaves at the time, which probably didn’t help.
I thought I was a big girl going into Lone Survivor – what’s so scary about 2D pixel art, right? Turns out with Lone Survivor’s eerie sound design and tense side-scrolling exploration resulting in never knowing what you’ll find next, it’s very scary. A turn-it-off-and-never-play-again type of scary.
I didn’t get very far before I put my PlayStation Vita in a drawer and vowed to return sometime after my heart rate returned to normal, but its excellent survival horror and puzzle mechanics kept me going when the mutants chasing me would have been a little too much to handle. Which in itself doesn’t sound too horrific, but with a blast of white noise accompanying every enemy, they were guaranteed to send me into panic mode.
Your goal in Lone Survivor is to search for supplies and return to your apartment and drop them off. With a torch that’s always running out of batteries, a gun with limited ammo, and a sanity metre, Lone Survivor is a true survival horror experience expertly brought to 2D by sole developer Jasper Byrne.
Super Lone Survivor, a sequel/remake is due out soon, and I’m equal parts eager and terrified to start another journey through its foggy streets. Maybe I’ll actually make it to one of the endings this time.
The Mortuary Assistant
I’m a novice scary-game player, which is code for I’m a total wimp. But I absolutely loved The Mortuary Assistant. I think what puts me off scary games, usually, is the expectation that at any moment, something will jump out and chase me and try to kill me, which means I’m constantly on edge as I prepare myself for it to happen. I thought this was part and parcel of any scary game because you need a threat like that to make it tense.
But The Mortuary Assistant doesn’t handle it that way. It actually plays more like a point-and-click adventure game, so there’s no twitchy gameplay – like running or fighting – when something frightening appears. Instead, all you really do here, mechanically, is observe, which makes all the difference to me. It emboldens me and, funnily enough, allows me to give myself more willingly to the game’s atmosphere so I can be scared by it. I think it’s because I’m not in a shielded state of flight-or-fight readiness the entire time. It’s a classy game.
Anything in VR
As a VR fanatic, the answer ‘anything in VR’ is such a cop-out answer from me but, honestly, it’s true! The fact is, after playing years upon years of horror games on a flat screen, I’ve basically seen, done and been jump-scared by it all. For example, this year’s ‘scariest game’, Madison, did nothing for me. I think I sighed more than I screamed, its frights felt forced and they were so predictable and I could see them coming from a mile off. The last flat game that truly terrified me was Dead Space and that was only because I was playing it in my bedroom late at night and my girlfriend at the time woke up screaming with night terrors while I was making my way through a particularly tense section (she was fine by the way. Me on the other hand, I’m pretty sure my heart nearly popped).
VR horror games though, they bring scares by the bucketload, thrusting you not just front and center of the action, but right into the shoes of the protagonist. You’re not viewing the game through a window anymore, now you’re surrounded by it, you’re part of it and that makes whatever hazards are in front of you feel real and, more importantly, dangerous.
A shadow in a flat game turns into an inky void where faceless horrors live in VR. A monster on a 24-inch gaming monitor becomes a seven foot beast with a physical presence that you can literally feel thanks to the way VR plays tricks with your brain.
Even games I’ve played previously in flat and been unaffected by have been transformed into thrilling, terrifying fights for survival that have left me yelping my socks off. Being stalked by Mr X from the Resident Evil 2 remake? That’s scary in flat sure, but have him chase you in VR and you better believe it’s a completely different level of pant poopingly realistic horror. Searching for evil Egyptian Gods in Forwarned? That will send shivers down your spine if you play it normally, but pop on a VR headset and those tombs suddenly become a lot more claustrophobic and those dark corners get a lot harder to look around. Poking around in the Baker Family mansion from behind the comfort of a TV screen? Of course that’ll make you jump, but watching Jack Baker smash his way through a wall in front of you in virtual reality like an unwashed T-800 will literally make your life flash before your eyes.
I don’t know, maybe VR horror games have ruined flat horror games for me now. I suspect they probably have, but I wouldn’t have it any other way now I‘ve experienced it. In my opinion, virtual reality is the next step and logical step forward for the spooky genre and to horror fans, I couldn’t recommend it more. Perhaps bring a spare pair of pants with you for your first time though.
I’m a total coward when it comes to scary stuff – I watch horror films with the lights up full and the sound down low, and have pretty much the same approach to horror games too. Despite that conservative approach, and despite the fact I was playing it on a 14-inch Matsui TV, the original PlayStation’s Alien Trilogy shit me up good and proper when it came out in 1996. It’s arguably the most terrifying thing to come out of Croydon, where developer Probe was based, since Peter Cushing. Or Tiger Tiger. Take your pick.
And it’s really not that scary at all, to be honest. So much of the fear factor back then was about the anticipation of what’s to come, something which was so much more pronounced in an era before big video preview blowouts. Before heading into Alien Trilogy, all I had to go on was a few murky screenshots in the Official PlayStation Magazine, your gun pointing into a big pool of darkness where who knows what lies.
So those first few hours with Alien Trilogy, where you’re poking through that darkness and hearing awful rumblings from the machinery, fire up the imagination. I say first few hours – Probe’s primitive first-person-shooter has its own take on each of the films in the original Alien trilogy, with each loose adaptation taking about an hour each. I spent that long cowering through the tutorial level, though, carefully approaching each closed door and shadowed corridor shivering with the prospect of what horror might lie in wait.
It turns out all that really awaited was an unremarkable licensed game – though one that did have a fair amount of spirit, and clearly relished getting to play with the Alien universe’s toys and soundbox. That’s besides the point, though. Alien Trilogy provided enough blank space for my imagination to fill out with all sorts of dread horror, which makes it stand out as one of the scariest games I’ve played – even if most of it was all in my head.