The horror genre has been part of the gaming industry for almost as long as people have been creating video games for people to play. Over time, games have evolved to be able to create more detailed environments, bigger worlds and much improved sounds, but one thing has remained constant throughout. They have always been able to scare gamers, even if they were not designed specifically to be a horror title, either with shocking jump scares or through providing a complete sense of uneasiness with chilling atmospheres and psychological terrors.
This article will look not at the scariest games that have ever been made, but at the most horrifying individual moments in the history of gaming, those instances that led to players wanting to hide behind their sofas or shriek in terror.
10 Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
This GameCube exclusive game hit store shelves in 2002 to little fanfare. Despite receiving widespread critical acclaim, Eternal Darkness was unsuccessful commercially, and so few have actually played it. Those who have though, are likely to have one moment in particular etched into their mind. While trying to find clues to investigate the death of her grandfather, the protagonist explores the deceased mansion. The game builds suspense throughout, by not having too many jump scares or frightening experiences, instead it just creates a sense of uneasiness. That is until you reach a room with a rather innocent looking bathtub. As soon as you examine it, the screen flashes, a scream blows out and the bath is, just for an instant, filled with a corpse, blood and gore.
F.E.A.R. took a different approach to the horror genre by focusing on first-person shooter mechanics, rather than the more traditional elements you would find in a game that is aiming to scare you. The developers don’t concentrate on jump scares but rather in creating a chilling atmosphere. Taking inspiration from Japanese horror, F.E.A.R. has increased the terror with shadows and ghostly figures appearing in the corner of your visions or just out of focus, leaving the player in a state of not knowing what is real and what is not. It all culminates with the first proper sighting of Alma. As you start to climb down a ladder, you look up and there in front of you, is the terrifying child staring back at you. The shock is magnified simply because there was no build up; Alma simply appears in a nondescript area out of nowhere.
BioShock was a hugely successful first-person shooter that also fused elements of adventure and role-playing games together. However, it also had many melancholy elements scattered throughout it, none more so though, than at the very beginning of the game, as you descend into the underwater city of Rapture. The elevator ride down to the entrance to the city is stunning, yet also strangely haunting. The city submerged in water appears to be a beautifully built world unknown to the rest of humanity, but that façade is quickly broken. As soon as you reach your destination, you are greeted by a dark room with only a flickering light and a lone outline of a man. Then violence erupts as the figure begs for mercy and is torn apart by an unknown creature right before your eyes. The contrast to the beauty seen just moments before makes the scene all the more shocking.
7 Condemned: Criminal Origins
The 2005 Xbox 360 exclusive horror brawler, Condemned: Criminal Origins is well known for its unnerving atmosphere and excellent combat mechanics. Hand-to-hand combat was executed superbly, allowing players to experience the sheer brutality of the violence in a way that few other games have achieved. As the game unfolds, there are various moments that increase the creepiness factor significantly, but the most alarming is the infamous mannequin room. As you move around the dimly lit room, a group of featureless mannequins follow you silently and gradually close in on the protagonist. The sense of panic and uneasiness this scene created is almost unrivalled in video games.
Outlast released in 2013 for PC, and then later saw ports made available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It sees the player take the role of an investigative journalist, as they explore a ruined psychiatric hospital. Armed only with a camcorder and notebook and unable to directly fight enemies, players are only able to run and hide from their enemies, which generates an ominous atmosphere. Especially considering the game throws many unexpected shocks at you to keep up the feeling of constantly being under threat. The biggest scare though comes from a seemingly harmless patient in a wheelchair, who you have already passed by without incident. Upon approaching him a second time, he attacks you in an instant and leaves you in a state of complete panic.
5 Fatal Frame III: The Tormented
While the Fatal Frame series has never been the scariest in the horror survival genre, they have often been able to creep out gamers thanks to their ability to tense atmospheres and strange moments. The best example of this comes in Fatal Frame III. The cut-scene in question sees the protagonist attempting to hide in the attic, but as soon as she enters, the music becomes incredibly sinister and the characters become increasingly frightened. With her breathing becoming more frantic and heavy, a disturbing figure appears just for a flash before Rei cowers in the corner. Then comes a horrid sound before two long and twisted arms wrap around her as the face of the figure is finally revealed. Not jump-out-of-your-chair scary, but deeply unsettling.
4 Thief: Deadly Shadows
The third installment in the Thief series is, like its predecessors, not a horror game. Despite that though, the stealth based title certainly has its fair share of jump scares and disconcerting moments. One section of the game sees the player investigate Shalebridge Cradle, an abandoned former orphanage and insane asylum that was the location of gruesome experiments. Unlike other portions of the game, the player is almost entirely alone throughout the majority of the time in the Cradle, with only sinister music and menacing sounds for company. Further exploration leads to heavily mutilated former patients and a realization that the building itself is plotting against you. Ultimately, the only way to escape is to fake suicide by jumping out of a tower window.
3 Silent Hill 3
The Silent Hill series is one of the most successful survival horror video game franchises. Each title has been able to terrify players through psychological fear, chilling environments and a sense of not knowing exactly what your enemy is. Arguably the scariest moment in the series comes in Silent Hill 3. The protagonist, Heather Mason, eventually finds her way to a room that appears empty except for a large dirty mirror. Blood begins to slowly ooze from the mirror and spreads from the sink to the floor, while the player's reflection decays at an increasing rate before it eventually just remains completely still – staring straight at you.
2 Resident Evil
Resident Evil is one of the most successful video game horror series, and there have been a collection of memorable moments that have scared players who have sat down with them. Yet, it is the original Resident Evil that has by far the most frightening event. With the player having just finished investigating a dining room of the mansion they are exploring, they enter a long and eerie corridor filled with windows. Then as you approach the first window, glass creaks and breaks as a zombie dog crashes through and begins chasing you. Running away provides no let up as another dog jumps through the next window. The initial fright is so much more impactful because of the fact that the player has already passed through the corridor, unharmed. This was one of the first times that a game had effectively managed to scare the player and is one of the most unnerving moments in the history of video games.
1 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
It is difficult to point to any one moment in particular in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, simply because the entire game is one huge nightmare. It is arguably the greatest horror game ever made, thanks to the fact that it is so successful at terrifying the player. The unseen, yet immensely powerful force that is hunting you throughout the story, the hallucinations that are caused by staying in the dark too long and the petrifying monsters that chase you, are all equally important in making Amnesia: The Dark so scary. But it is the feeling of vulnerability that increases the terror the most. With no weapons to use and other weaknesses, like being able to push a door that has to be pulled to open, create a sense that you are almost helpless when being chased or trying to hide.