This list of 10 horror scenes in games recognizes the draw, power, and effectiveness of specific moments and longer sequences that scare our socks off.
1. Head banger, Dead Space
Simple but effective. Mutilated man is crazed. Bangs head on wall. What makes this moment so brilliant is that it’s so unexpected. Typically everything is trying to kill you in a Dead Space game but here your approach only ceases the ominous final thuds of some poor bloke’s head against the wall. Excellent use of sound design here.
2. Opening scene, Dead Space 2
What’s worse than starting a game with a straitjacket on inside an insane asylum? Waking up with a straitjacket on inside an insane asylum FULL OF NECROMORPHS is what’s worse. Need I say more? It’s a great start to a great game. There’s bonus enjoyment for players who’ve played Dead Space Ignition, considering the fact that Dead Space 2’s first victim is the character you were probably expecting to last a little longer than the first 30 seconds. Farewell, Franco Delille, we hardly knew ye.
3. Mannequins, Condemned: Criminal Origins
This scene from Condemned: Criminal Origins turns down the intensity for increased creepiness. Condemned is already a game that’s difficult to traverse due to its purposefully slow controls and dim lighting, so when the path behind you is continuously filled with mannequins, you may become a bit unnerved. Take a mental picture of these strong images to save for your nightmares later.
4. Bear in the cabin, Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Sometimes you don’t need murderers and demons. Sometimes monsters from Mother Nature’s very own suffice just as well as frighteningly believable foes. Encountering the rabid bear in Condemned 2 serves as a reminder that the same sorts of scenarios in horror games can be just as scary with a regular old animal. The timing of the sequence makes each moment of squeezing by all the more exhilarating and thrilling.
5. Intro cinematic, F.E.A.R.
Technically not a scene, though there are plenty of in-game scares to choose from, the intro cinematic sets the tone for the whole game of F.E.A.R. to follow. Mysterious and elusive in tone, steady in pace, and expertly framed, this cinematic sets up the elements of the story without getting preachy via narration or presenting overly obvious plot points. The intro is a concise story in itself, where vague but distinct ideas are presented with confident delivery. Introduced to one of the game’s main villains, psychic commander Paxton Fettel rises to power, motivated by some evil and unknown force.
6. Elementary school, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
By now, if you’re in an elementary school in F.E.A.R. 2, you know Alma won’t be far off, lurking about you. The use of strong visuals like the fluttering lockers in this scene give Alma an even greater sense of weight and power, helping make the close encounters with her all the more terrifying. You know she can rip you to shreds, but you just don’t know why she hasn’t yet, and that’s all the more scary.
7. The Flood reveal, Halo: Combat Evolved
Though clearly not a horror focused game, the first Halo game had a great sense of cinematic presence. In a scene that precedes your first encounter with The Flood, the playback of Jenkins’s head-cam provides a haunting first person view of The Flood’s attack on the Master Chief’s marine allies. The simple but extremely effective score by Martin O’Donnell holds up to this day, with steady strings percolating the atmosphere of fear and suspicion, setting up beautifully the eerie calm of the cam’s playback.
8. The tire swing, Silent Hill: Downpour
Like the “head banger,” some moments that are subtle, singular, and reliant on the player’s attention to detail, provide equally rewarding scares and spookiness as full-blown action or horror sequences. The simple switcheroo of the tire for a hanging body is a moment that’s been placed with a light touch. There’s no overly intense reaction or hallucination connected to it; it’s just a dead man hanging where he once wasn’t. Let’s be honest, though: It’s a playground in a Silent Hill game. There’s going to be a dead body somewhere.
9. Chase and torture scenes, Outlast
Though the video is actually a couple of scenes, one doesn’t really shine without the other. Outlast provides one of the scariest extended scenes seen in recent times. The constant panic of the chase only serves to better set up your inevitable capture, where you’re left helpless, able only to observe what may be the worst nail-trimming job of all time. Some aspects of the torture may surely resemble other games, but what really sets it apart is the superb voice acting that accompanies the visual horror. “Meat! Wants meat! Wants meat! Meat!”
10. Rock concert, Alan Wake: American Nightmare
The last entry in this list deserves a different sort of scream for its horror, one more of the Rob Halford variety. In Alan Wake: American Nightmare you’ll eventually come across a farm owned by a washed up rock band called “Old Gods of Asgard.” It would only make sense then to turn on the stage and have a kick-ass rock concert and light show to ward off the UV-intolerant enemies of the Alan Wake universe. Rock on!