Here at The MALESTROM we’re not averse to a good old fright whether it be watching Michael Myers stalk a victim, trying out the latest terror attraction or watching the England football team trying to defend. We’ve also been known to get our scare on playing video games, really scary video games. So we tool a poll in the office and came up with a pretty definitive shortlist of some of the most pant-wettingly, spine-chilling video games ever to grace a console. First up a true Japanese nightmare.
If there was ever a game that made you want to throw your controller away in terror and run out of the room, that game would probably be Project Zero aka Fatal Frame. The premise is you play as Mika, a girl gifted with a sixth sense, who’s trying to solve the mystery around the disappearance of her brother. Armed only with an antique camera, the “camera obscura” you take a trip through a spooky abandoned mansion looking for your bro and along the way fend off some pretty nasty ghosts who appear, by taking pictures of them.
As you play on you uncover a dark secret around the property of a ritual that took place there in the past. Project zero seeps with dread, you feel the character’s heartbeat through the controller, but it’s rarely racing as fast as yours. Definitely one to play with the lights on.
On the surface Five nights at Freddy’s might seem like an innocuous affair, you play a security guard tasked with keeping an eye on second-rate Chuck E. Cheese, ‘Freddy Fazbar’s Pizza’ place, after hours. The restaurant is full of life size animatronic animals who sing and dance for children’s parties in the day. Sounds like a sweet gig right? Patrolling a kiddies eatery, what darkness could go on there? Lots it turns out.
The problems start because the animals have a tendency to wander about in the restaurant after dark. As guard you’re meant to keep a watch on them as there have been “incidents” of previous guards being attacked and killed by the characters. So on reflection not a job you’d be desperate to sign up for. You have to check all the animals stay in place, flitting between different CCTV cameras, but you have limited electrical power to get you through the night as you control the security cameras, desk light and big metal security doors. And if you run out of power it’s curtains.
A looming sense of dread fills FNAF, and the jump scares you’ll experience are big and plentiful. It’s heart-pounding survival horror at it’s best, especially when you come into contact with Foxy!
Anyone that first played the pioneering first-person shooter Doom in the 90s on the Playstation 1 will recall the pangs of fear when taking controller in hand to battle the strange creatures that lurked within the labyrinth like maze you have to navigate here. You play as an unnamed space marine who has the unenviable task of battling the forces of hell, and there’s plenty of them! The gameplay felt claustrophobic and nerve jangling. The graphics may seem dated in comparison to todays lifelike representations, but Doom transcends pixels and we know that if we picked up a controller to play it today those initial feelings of terror would no doubt return. That demonic presence with goat legs that you could hear stalking you was genuinely the thing of nightmares.
Certainly the most disturbing game to make the list is Manhunt. As much a snuff film as a video game, this title revels in it’s brand of stylised violence. You play James Earl Cash, a death row inmate forced to run a deadly gauntlet by a very twisted cinematographer. That man in question saves you from being put to death and after you put in an earpiece left at the scene he then becomes your guide, offering you freedom in exchange for performing murderous tasks that he captures via CCTV. Pretty nasty stuff.
The execution cut scenes that take pace when you go for a stealth kill are graphic and brutal. The sight of your character suffocating someone with a plastic bag is a horrific and enduring image. The game’s sequel, Manhunt 2, was unsurprisingly banned in the UK for “casual sadism” and “unrelenting bleakness.” Those who played the original, certainly aren’t likely to forget it in a hurry.
Last but very much not least is the life definingly, s**t scary Silent Hill 2. This Konami made survival horror from 2001 has all the credentials to consider itself the scariest video game of all time. But rather than slash em up blood and gore this title puts psychological horror and intelligence front and centre. You play the depressed, guilt ridden character James Sunderland, who after receiving a letter from his dead wife saying she’s waiting for him in their “special place” in Silent Hill, heads to the deeply unsettling town in the title. What follows is a search for her, or is it a search for James’ sanity and absolution?
It plays out as an allegorical descent into hell, through what seems to be James’ mental breakdown, with strong echoes of films like Jacob’s Ladder. Are the monsters he’s fighting really there or in his head? It’s unsettling and unnerving to play, bolstered by beautiful sound design and a plot to rival a really good movie. The controls might be a bit clunky but that never takes away from what a smart, scary game this is. The fact that 16 years after its release Silent Hill 2 still stands up so strongly against other horror titles is testament to it being very special indeed.
Which games would make your scare list? Let us know in the comments below.