Happy Halloween! We at VG Almanac are thrilled to share some of our memorable video game experiences that royally scared the jinkies out of us.
Zombie Army Trilogy
I’m not a man that usually finds fun in horror games as I’m, quite frankly, a bit of a pansy. I really had to rack my brain to come up with a game that scared me, but when I looked through my Steam library, there was one standout option. Zombie Army Trilogy is a spin off to the Sniper Elite series, and it sees you play as a sniper, going through war-torn areas of Europe, killing the zombified corpses of the Axis scourge.
Given you’re a sniper with limited ammo and even more limited close quarters combat ability or weaponry, the game forces you to try to pick zombies off at a distance, else they will get all up in your face. I used to play this game with a couple of friends, usually at night, lights off, headset on. We’d always take it relatively slowly, but we were all Left 4 Dead versus players at heart, so rushing was our default and a difficult habit to get out of. This turned into my downfall, as after we’d just survived an onslaught in one of the first couple of levels, I thought we were safe – relatively speaking of course.
Unfortunately for my boxer shorts, we absolutely weren’t safe, and as I rounded a corner ahead of my team, I was faced with the hulking form of a big, angry monolith of a zombie. The terrifying Zombie Super Elite. Rather than stand my ground and attempt to take him out, I froze for a second, then screamed, about faced and sprinted the other direction, yelling down the mic to warn my teammates of the impending doom.
Doki Doki Literature Club
I was one of the many fools who walked into Doki Doki Literature Club thinking it wouldn’t spook me one bit. I saw the game’s tags on Steam, but I didn’t think much of them once I played it and realized how cheery and cutesy it was. I mean, it was a visual novel about writing poems to impress a group of cute ladies, what could possibly go wrong?
In short, a lot. There are so many scary moments in the game, but the one that scarred me has to be at the end of the first act. Sayori, the bubbly and light-headed neighbour of yours, confesses that she suffers from clinical depression, and that her cheery personality was just a persona. The next time you worryingly visit her in her room, you discover that she has just hung herself.
It’s such a horrifying and upsetting scene because not only was it totally unexpected, but it also touches on a very delicate subject that’s very relevant and relatable to a lot of people. The haunting music and the abrupt ending of the scene was enough to send chills down my spine for the next couple of days.
And here I thought it was just gonna be about flirting with chicks and eating cupcakes…
— Jake ‘The Voice’ Parr
While many of the most terrifying moments in video games are found in zombies and their ubiquitous nature throughout horror, there’s something to be said for individual phobias and the effect they have on you. Ever since I accidentally watched a film called ‘Arachnophobia’ as a kid, after I spotted Bill Pullman and thought I could trust the President from Independence Day to look after me, I have shaken at the mere mention of any sort of spider. It’s gotten better over the years, but as a child it was at its true peak, I could have a panic attack at the thought of one, and would often cry if I knew one was somewhere in the house. Cut to one evening ’round a friend’s house, this friend was a bit older than me and promised not to tell my mum that I was watching him play Resident Evil. The scariest thing found was just zombies as far as I knew. No problem, I could watch zombies until the break of dawn. You know what’s coming.
As Jill slowly enters an underground room, the static camera moves to the back of the room, revealing the other occupant, a giant spider. Black Tiger, as the aforementioned spider is known, caused such a noise to come from me that I doubt I’ll ever forget it. My eyes rolled back and the skin on my bones nearly crawled off, all cementing this simple – and in hindsight really dull and quite boring – enemy, as one of my life defining moments of true terror. I couldn’t go back and play Resident Evil until well into my adult years. But this fed my love of horror games for years to come, it fuelled my interest in the grotesque and made a hole in my soul that forever needed to be filled with weirder and more grotesque delights.
While games have offered me much gorier, and realistic, horrors since, I’m not the person I was. I can’t be scared so easily and I’m barely even scared of spiders anymore, Black Tiger holds a special place in my childhood as something that I really shouldn’t have seen, getting the chance to forever damage a vulnerable young child. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My childhood was filled with British analogue TV, CBBC, the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance, along with whatever games I thought looked cool at the time. One such game was Bimboosoft’s RollerCoaster World, released for the PS2 in 2004. It was less a theme park sim as one may expect and more a roller coaster designer, with a focus on developing different kinds of coasters within different parameters and such. In retrospect it was kind of rubbish, and the music was straight out of a sample set, but for whatever reason I liked it. Except for one specific bit.
One of the game’s modes was the Management Mode, wherein you could design and manage a (very limited) theme park, which could be given feedback from customers. When this happens in games like RollerCoaster Tycoon, it comes up as a little flash at the top of the screen. Not so in Rollercoaster World. Whenever you got an award or complaint, there’d be a little blip sound effect and the game would stop, load for a few seconds, and then the message would zoom at you without warning from the middle of the screen, accompanied by one of these sounds: (Sound #1) (Sound #2).
Imagine being a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome, just pootling around playing your rollercoaster sim, then all of a sudden, a big grey box ZOOMS at you from the middle of the screen with that second one blaring loudly at you. That was scary s**t for a 5-year-old gamer.
— Deuterium The Sentient Mattress
Metal Gear Solid
As far as scary game moments go, to me nothing trumps a classic: Getting found in Metal Gear. The iconic alert noise is many a fan’s mobile alert nowadays. But when MGS came out on Playstation, that stuff was bad news. It meant that you were likely going to die soon unless you did something about it.
In most games, finding an enemy meant “Oh, I’m probably on the right path to victory. They wouldn’t put enemies in here otherwise.” In Metal Gear, specially on the harder difficulties with no radar, everything was ridiculously tense all the time. Getting around the hardware’s limitations was done in a number of ways. Metal Gear chose to do this with a first person view mode, to give you a big draw distance in front of you.
Without a radar, this was crucial to your success. Peeking around corners and carefully making your way through was absolutely required. Fast forward some odd twenty years, and suddenly, most of the horror games coming out today have a stealth element to them. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
When I was asked to write something about my scary gaming experiences, my thoughts immediately – and not unsurprisingly – turned to the Alien franchise. As a life-long fan of the Giger-designed xenomorph, I have had my fair share of jumps, scares and shudders from the gaming forays into this universe. Like Jaws, the terror in the Alien franchise comes from the creature itself: an emotionless entity with no back-story (I’m looking at you Prometheus), driven by biological imperative that cannot be bargained or reasoned with. All too often the titular creature has been reduced to cannon-fodder as the video game industry rushed to implement the easily translatable war-movie thrills of Aliens to PC and home console.
Where am I going with this? Good question.
In essence this is a balancing issue, giving the player enough firepower and empowerment to survive but never letting them feel truly safe. There is one game, in my opinion, that effectively serves both of these masters delivering a truly terrifying experience: Dead Space. Visceral Games 2008 release is considered by many to be a benchmark for video game horror and it owes an undeniable debt to the Alien franchise in terms of story and design, but what makes it truly special is its monsters.
Dead Space fixes the Aliens problem by offering up a wealth of grimy industrial-strength armaments (with just enough ammo) capable of reducing Necromorphs to a fine paste, but only if they are used effectively. Headshots with the meaty-sounding plasma cutter are satisfying but a waste of precious time and ammo. Instead, precision aiming is the order of the day with your panic-fuelled hip-fire option replaced by melee and kerb-stomping attacks. And let’s face it, close-combat with a Necromorph is quite often the precursor to a delightfully grisly death screen.
Part and parcel of their formidable nature is how Necromorphs are spawned and the developers clearly take great delight in giving their creations the upper hand in most, if not all, situations. Enemies (each type a perverse redesign of the human body) are routinely spawned above, below and behind the player (frequently at the same time), and if that weren’t bad enough, sections of the game are set in the cold vacuum of outer space where the player can’t even hear enemies closing on them. In zero gravity. Because space-horror.
All of this succeeds in creating a sense of dread and unease that is never entirely eliminated, regardless of how much the player upgrades their weapons and attributes. Even the most basic Necromorphs are awarded a grudging respect throughout the game because they are a persistent threat.
My scariest gaming experience? Dead Space. The whole thing, start to finish. A game so terrifying (I haven’t even touched on the brilliant, sphincter-loosening sound and lighting design) that I could only play it in 90-minute increments because my trigger finger would cramp up from the constant iron-sighting that allowed the flashlight to reveal what horrors lurked in the shadows.
“The Passing of the Torch”
I could see it. Just ahead, there in the distance. So close that I could almost touch it. I was almost there. I could make it.
He had pursued me the whole way. Everytime I thought I had shaken him off, managed to give him the slip, he would invariably appear. A silent stalker, hunting his prey.
But this time I had got away. I could sense it. I risked a quick peek behind me to check. Was that him? No, just a trick of the light, just my eyes playing tricks on me. Hands sweaty now, the tension palpable, almost unbearable, I pushed on inch by torrid inch, ever closer to the goal. My heart was pounding. I had played this game countless times but this was different. Never before had he got so close. But I was there. Just a short distance to go and I would be clear. I would be victorious.
And then it happened.
I sensed it before I felt it. That surge of dread, of inevitability, of impending doom.
And as the blue shell smashed me high into the air, Yoshi zooming past me on the outside to pip me to the line, my fears were realised as the end of my household dominance and parental bragging rights were revealed with the words of my five year old that will be forever etched in my mind.
‘Daddy, I just beat you at Mario Kart.’
Truly my scariest moment in gaming. Well, that or the zombie dog jumping through the window in Resident Evil.