Monday, October 26, 2015

The 'Nerds of a Feather' Guide to Scary Video Games

Halloween is my favorite time of the year. I like to partake in seasonal activities by watching horror movies, and playing scary video games until I feel like I should be sleeping with the lights on. As the film industry has many subgenres of horror, so too do video games. Some types of horror are more effective than others. In an effort to spread terror equally, here are some of my favorite horror games in popular video game horror subgenres.

Japanese Horror - Think ghosts, dead people haunting the living, and unresolved conflict.  
  • Silent Hill 2 - Silent Hill 2 is one of the best horror games of all time. As James Sunderland, you search Silent Hill to find your dead wife, encountering other lost souls along the way. It’s combat is super simplistic, but combat isn’t the point of Silent Hill 2. It’s full of creepy undead nurses and mannequins, and a monster called Pyramid Head that has a giant knife and stalks you through the entire game.
  • Siren - Siren is another game where combat isn’t the point. A red river that turns people into zombies runs through a Japanese village. Ten survivors try to escape using the power of “sightjacking”, the ability to see from the eyes of the undead. Sightjacking is an interesting mechanic because you have to tune into the zombies around you using the analog sticks of the controller. Siren is almost a stealth game, but it’s really creepy because of the foggy village full of undead that you’re forced to see through to find a safe path out of each level.  
  • Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly - In Fatal Frame 2, you can actually fight back! However, your weapon is a camera, and the enemies are all ghosts. Twin sisters stumble across a lost Japanese village and are separated. As Mio, you try to find your twin sister in the haunted village, using a Camera Obscura to fight off vengeful ghosts by taking pictures of them. Like Siren, Fatal Frame 2 is particularly scary because you’re forced to look right at the ghosts to take pictures of them.

Action Horror - Not quite all jump scares, and most of the horror can be dispelled with bullets.
  • Dead Space - Dead Space was one of my favorite games of the last console generation. It revitalized the anemic survival horror genre after it spawned dozens of bad Resident Evil clones, and Resident Evil 4 knocked the wind out of everyone else’s sails. As Isaac Clark, you search a derelict mining spaceship for your lost girlfriend. The spaceship is full of Necromorphs, twisted undead monsters made of human remains. Your weaponry is designed to hack the limbs off of the Necromorphs, and it does a great job of it. Dead Space has some of the best sound design. It all sounds like different saw blades scraping against metal, but it’s extremely appropriate for the game.
  • F.E.A.R. - More an FPS with horror elements than an actual horror game, F.E.A.R. does draw on some Japanese horror elements. Your team is sent to apprehend Paxton Fettel, a psychic commander of an enormous clone army. However, you’re also haunted by visions of a small girl somehow connected to Fettel. The action is great, the enemies convincingly intelligent, and the excellent lighting all give F.E.A.R. an edge that most FPS games lack.

Jump Scares (Youtube Horror) - Some people think jump scares are cheap, but they have to be scary or surprising to work, and that’s not something that’s easy to pull off. I also classify these as Youtube Horror, because they’re super popular with people who like to watch people scream.
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s - Are you afraid of animatronics? It’s common fear! In Five Nights at Freddy’s, you’re the night watchman at a party restaurant full of animatronics, much like a Chuck E. Cheese. You use your security cameras to keep an eye on things, as you soon find out that the animatronics wander the facility at night. However, you have limited power to get through the night, and the animatronics are coming to kill you. It excellently combines resource management with Paranormal Activity type security cam horror.
  • Slender: The Arrival - Here’s some horror borne of the internet’s endless supply of creepypasta. The Slender Man is a tall man in a suit with no face that stalks people through wooded areas at night. In Slender: The Arrival, you are looking for your missing friend with little more than a flashlight and a camcorder while you wander around in the woods at night. It’s all the worst parts of being in the woods alone at night and wondering if you’re truly alone.

Hide and Seek - Hide and seek games are just that; you hide from the thing that’s trying to do you harm. A lot of the tension in these games is wondering whether or not you got away or if you’ll be ripped out of your hiding place and horribly murdered.
  • Outlast - Being an investigative journalist must be a tough job, especially when it means you have to look into what happened at an insane asylum. But why would you do it in the middle of the night? In Outlast, you’re Miles Upshur, and you’re investigating what occurs at Mount Massive Asylum. Here’s a hint: the patients are free, they’re violent, and you quickly get trapped inside the asylum with them. Since you’re investigating the site, you spend most of the game looking through a camcorder, and it perfectly uses that well-known green night vision to effect in making Mount Massive a terrifying place.
  • Alien: Isolation - The best Alien game yet. As Amanda Ripley, you’re part of the team looking for what happened to the Nostromo and its crew. Aboard the space station Sevastapol, you avoid and escape the humans who’ve become extremely territorial, androids, and the classic alien from the movies. They all seek you out in different ways, and the alien is unkillable, which makes avoiding and hiding from it all that much more important. You can read my full review here.

Creeping Horror - These are games that gradually build a tension. They’re not really hide and seek, but do contain some hide and seek, and some puzzle solving, and lots of darkness. It’s more like getting the pieces of a picture, and then realizing the whole is much worse than the pieces.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent - What happens when you wake up in a castle with no memory and a note to yourself to kill someone else? In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you’re Daniel, and you’ve done just that. As you explore the castle, you learn more about yourself and why you’re there. Also, it’s full of monsters, and spending too much time in the dark or looking at the monsters drives you insane. It’s an incredibly creepy game that goes in some narratively dark places while you try to keep yourself in well-lit rooms and safe from monsters.
  • SOMA - I just reviewed this, much better than I could summarize. Underwater base, monsters, nothing good happens. It’s an instant classic. 

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POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

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