We asked The 405 Games team what they consider to be the scariest games they've played. It is Halloween, after all. This is what they wrote. Bring a cushion to hide behind.
Many games since have been scarier, both technically in their composition, 'fright' moments and general graphical fidelity. Perhaps age has something to do with it; everyone is a little more impressionable and a little less jaded with genre conventions; less able to see it coming when they're in their formative gaming years. Yet...there was something so unnerving, so unsettling, and at times so god damn freaking scary about Shadowman on the N64, that at times my 11-ish-year old self had to turn it off and stop playing. I still remember the hook-handed menaces scrambling down corridors filled with lava after me, or the twisted, nightmarish children's doll-house level; or fast travelling through schisms in corpses torsos; as well as the irish, skeletal snake who acted as your hub-companion of sorts. A more mature, chilling game there hasn't been in years, nor a more interesting and genuinely dark setting. An HD remake would probably make my 25 year old self shit my pants...but I'd still play it.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is one of the scariest games I've ever played. It's a very underrated first person thriller game, so tense for the most part you will find yourself literally edging slowly forward step by step. The sound design is brilliant, piling on the tension right through to the end of the game. It's a thoroughly depressing journey through abandoned subway stations, underground tunnels and a memorably disturbing crawl around an abandoned department store, complete with shop dummies suddenly coming to life and coming at you.With your metal rebar held out in front of you awaiting the next crack-addled hobo to come screaming round the corner, you have to get down and dirty with the bad guys in Condemned, as there are few projectile weapons in the game, your best friend is your taser. The game is an agony of waiting, listening to enemies shuffling around as you creep forward - you'll find you play this one in tense little bursts, sweating your way to the next checkpoint.
I begged my parents to rent me Splatterhouse 2 for the Megadrive from the local Ritz video shop. Begged. Then, one day, they came home with a copy. I was over the moon. To this day, I still can't play it without freaking out. I popped it into the console, and entered the murky world of Rick and The Terror Mask. It shouldn't have scared me, but there was just something about the music. That, and the fact that I was running a fever from an undiagnosed case of appendicitis.
Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, each hour I spent playing it, fever reaching breaking point, was another hour for the music to worm itself deeper into my subconscious. When I finally got sent to hospital, I spent the first night delirious and in agony. I was stuck in a dark ward, having never been in hospital, and the only thing running through my head was that awful music, and the sound effects of a hundred eviscerated terrors. I've played many a game since that's terrified me, but none have had such a lasting effect. Now, if you don't mind I'm going to switch on all the lights, and listen to something upbeat before the music comes back to get me.
Scratches - The game has awful campy voice acting and a Myst-like game engine. It's very slow moving and has honestly little to no jump scares so most people would probably be like - "Horror is where? lol".
However, the game's soundtrack + sound FX, coupled with the dark imagery of a truly realistic setting (large old house) and disturbing backstory really increases the tension as the story progresses.
In many ways it's a true horror novel, as it doesn't glorify nor saturate the player with imagery of the horror, it builds it, crescendoing to a release of truly intense, frightening and disturbing conclusions.
The sound of scratches follow you in the night. They're coming from the basement. Dare you venture down there?
DEFCON. I'll admit, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was probably the first thing to come to mind when thinking of scary games, with Amnesia a close second. However, nothing quite matches up to DEFCON for the sheer terror of seeing "LAUNCH DETECTED" flashing on-screen, and never knowing whether it's an ally deciding that your friendship needs to meet a swift and brutal end, or some insane renegade lighting the match on global thermonuclear warfare. Either way, you'll be waiting with baited breath for the white flash of a nuke hitting someone, anyone but you. Do you take action straight away? Do you tell your subs to breach the surface and take a pre-emptive strike on San Francisco or do you shore up your defenses and hope you don't hear a soft thump, followed by a burst of stark white the map and "13 million dead" float up from the charred remains of London. The low, threatening ambient soundtrack and the occasional coughing of the dying help make DEFCON one of the most detached, terror inducing, and above all profoundly disturbing experiences in gaming.
‘Your dad let you play Silent Hill?!’ a concerned 8 year old version of my present self once asked a friend at school. 11 years later and I’m still just as concerned, but instead it’s with Silent Hill 2, a game that has captivated me ever since I grew big enough balls to play it. I’ve never been into horror you see, whether in film or game, partly because most horror I’ve seen is just trash, and partly because I am also a massive pussy. Silent Hill 2 though isn’t really about the scares; it is about the story of an unravelling human psychology that the scares help develop. Focused around protagonist James Sutherland’s mourning of his dead wife, it becomes the story of a warped mentality. The monsters encountered become physical manifestations of James’ broken mind: with the sexualised mannequin and nurse monsters representing the effect on a man’s sexuality the death of partner can have. While iconically, the Red Pyramid figure that terrifyingly stalks you with his phallic sword and silent solitude is used to reflect James’ mind in more monstrous terms. Silent Hill 2 therefore, isn’t just a horror; it is a demonstration of the horrible potential of the human individual that with Yamaoka’s both chilling and erratic soundtrack, leaves the player feeling disturbed by this potential for days after playing.
Play Slender. That is it. I don't even have to write a paragraph on it. It's tenser than Eternal Darkness and makes Resident Evil feel like Tellytubbies. Play it with the lights off, with no friends around and with a piece of paper behind you, but just in your peripheral vision. Tweet me if you can't sleep.