The Art of Horror Part 4: The Best of the Genre
There have been plenty of horror games released over the years, but despite the label, most of them aren’t the least bit scary. This doesn’t mean they are bad games, they just don’t fulfill the requirements to be an absolute horror title. A true horror game goes out of its way to consistently terrorize the player and prey on their fears from start to finish.Â This isn’t just a list of good games, this is a list of the scariest games ever to be released.
Dead Space (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Despite the game running out of tricks toward the end and the game’s fast, unsubtle pacing, Dead Space still manages to be a scary experience. With nods to the movie Alien, players control Isaac Clarke as he explores a derelict space ship, alone, in search of his missing girlfriend. Unfortunately the ship is crawling with strange, alien beasts that are both extremely aggressive and intelligent.
The game plays like a modern survival horror in which players must manage their inventory, explore every room for supplies and key items, and must find save points instead of quick-saving anywhere. To help add to both immersion and scares, the game uses a tighter camera angle so it’s difficult to see behind Isaac and there is no HUD, just in-game visual cues on health and ammo.
Combat is what brings the most scares though. The creatures can only be killed by destroying their limbs which adds strategy to the mix. Good luck trying to keep your cool since most of the time players are significantly outnumbered in the game’s constricted setting.Â What’s worse, the creatures will use air vents to flank Isaac and even play possum after taking a hit to get a cheap shot in.
The great art direction and setting help add to the climbing tension and paranoia created by the first encounter and the game consistently brings out new creatures creating one of the better horror titles of this generation. If it weren’t for this one game, I wouldn’t have hated Dead Space 3 as much as I did. Visceral Games has the potential to create scary horror games, it’s just a shame they aren’t trying anymore.
Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360, PC)
Fighting other human beings is commonplace in video games and it’s hardly ever scary, except in Condemned: Criminal Origins. Instead of the usual gameplay style of gunning down everything or masterfully combating enemies in hand-to-hand combat, players are poorly equipped, outnumbered, and placed into unfamiliar territory.
Condemned is about an FBI agent who is framed by a serial killer and hunted by not only the police, but by the unusually large number of psychopaths inhabiting the city. The actions of these people is both disturbing and terrifying. Put this together with the atmosphere created by walking thru unlit, abandoned buildings, the mall in particular, and you have the perfect recipe for horror.
Defending against the insane population requires players to look for anything sturdy enough to crack someone’s head in like pieces of rebar, shovels, and lead pipes. Guns are found throughout the game, but ammo is extremely limited, sometimes containing only a single bullet. The game’s enemies use the same tactic as they will rip boards and pipes from the walls upon sighting the player.
The game’s spot-on pacing, haunting atmosphere and unique enemy behavior make this one a must play for horror aficionados.Â While I won’t ruin the surprise for those who wish to try Condemned, the mall stage will go down in history for having some of the creepiest enemies ever to grace the small screen. It is also worth noting the Xbox 360 version is the superior of the two.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)
The problem with too many horror games, is that they give the players too much firepower and make it too easy to dispose of the game’s monstrosities; there’s no vulnerability. Amnesia: The Dark Descent fixes this problem and gives the word “vulnerability” new meaning for horror gamers. Armed with nothing more than a lantern, a box of matches, and a damn good pair of Nikes, Amnesia tosses players into a congregation of monsters without any way to defend themselves.
Amnesia begins with an unknown protagonist waking up in a large castle with, you guessed it, amnesia. With no idea who he is, where he is, or why there are monsters roaming the halls. This is more adventure game than action as players must solve puzzles and find clues to what’s going on. Since the protagonist can’t fight, players must either run and find a safe place to curl up and cry once a monster spots you, or be brutally beaten to death.
The gameplay may be simplistic in nature, but it doesn’t need to be. The feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and uncertainty combined make Amnesia a terrifying experience. The creepy exterior of the castle also makes sure players never truly feel comfortable even if they are safe, for the moment.
Graphically, the game is dated which I find impressive since the developers can still scare the pants off of the majority of the population without the latest hardware; they are true masters of the craft. For anyone who has yet to play this, here’s a tip: stay out of the water.
Fatal Frame 2 (PS2, Xbox)
Aside from video games and the horror genre, I also have an interest in photography. Fatal Frame 2Â contains all the elements a person like me could ever want: it’s a game, the gameplay is centered around a camera, and it makes my blood pressure skyrocket due to its unrelenting horror.Â Because of the central gameplay mechanic and creepy premise, the Fatal Frame series is easily one of the best horror series to come out during the PS2 era.
Trapped in a haunted village found in the dense forests of Japan, Mio must find both a way out and her twin sister before they are forced to take part in a dark ritual. The story doesn’t stray too far from the first game, but it gets the job done and sets the tone. Once players receive the spirit camera obscura, the game’s superb pacing is set in motion.
Unlike most games with first-person shooting, taking shots from afar does minimum damage; you have to let the ghost get up very close for critical damage. Having to get extreme close-ups only makes the game scarier and the unpredictability of each ghost’s nature makes it difficult to know when you are in actual danger. The game does everything in its power to get under the players’ skin and into their heads.
The only problems with the game is that it is too dark, even with the brightness turned to eleven, and the ending of the PS2 version is lame. Aside from these problems, the game is constantly scary with terrifying events that are both scripted and unscripted.Â Play this game, and you’ll never look at a camera the same way again.
Silent Hill 2 (PS2, Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360)
Back in the age of the PlayStation and PS2, the Silent Hill series was king. Even the critically panned Silent Hill 4: The Room was miles above lesser horror titles. But, only one game of the series can truly be considered as a masterpiece both horror and narrative, and that game is Silent Hill 2.
Not much is known about James Sunderland other than his wife died and now she wants him to go to Silent Hill after receiving her letter.Â The game starts off slow, but things quickly escalate as James pushes further and further into the mouth of madness in search of the truth.Â What James finds at the end of the road is truly a shocking twist, an actual revelation, that turns the entire narrative on its head.
The story of Silent Hill 2 is one of its greatest strengths and is complemented very nicely by its presentation.Â The art direction and creature design is twisted and disturbed while the superb sound design contains a schizophrenic soundtrack that goes from beautiful, serene piano tracks to industrial nightmare in a single heartbeat. This is also the game that introduced the world to the infamous Pyramid Head before he sold out.
Combat and controls are clunky, but they make the player feel like they are controlling somebody who has never been in a fight in their entire life and isn’t in perfect shape, showing the vulnerability of the protagonist. This is also one of the few games to have a difficulty level for puzzles; my respect goes for anybody who has completed the highest setting without a walkthrough. Silent Hill 2 isn’t just a great horror game with legitimate scares, it’s a work of art that everyone should experience at least once.