Opinion: What’s The Scariest Game Of All Time? (Part Three)
Having already put myself through two nightmarish nights of full-on horror in my search for the scariest game of all time, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I needed a stiff drink before diving back in for the third installment in this most nail-biting of series.
In Part One I crowned Amnesia: The Dark Descent the winner ahead of the likes of Silent Hill 2, and it was SCP-087 that found pride of place as our next heat’s champion in Part Two. Both experiences scare the absolute crap out of me, but perhaps there’s another game out there even more petrifying: one that could make even these masterpieces of psychological-warfare quail in their boots.
Determined to find out, and aided once again by your suggestions as to what we should play in the next episode, I set-up a third night of horror gaming to tackle titles that we’d previously overlooked. Aided and abetted as ever by my fellow judges Jono and Lex, we sat down to play another host of abominable creations. Without further ado, here’s a blow-by-blow account of the madness that ensued.
8pm – S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow Of Chernobyl
Any game that asks you to step out into a nuclear-ravaged wasteland and contend with hosts of twisted, grotesque mutants is going to have its panic-inducing moments – and open-world FPS S.T.A.L.K.E.R makes the Fallout games seem tame by comparison.
We had our fair share of ‘holy shit’ moments when encountering certain foul enemies for the first time, that’s for certain, while the ruined, godforsaken landscape impressed us with a hefty dose of eerie, captivating atmosphere.
That said, the plentiful ammo and action-heavy gameplay does detract from the tension at times.
FEAR RATING: 6
9.30pm – Doom 3
Revisiting the hugely-successful reboot of id’s classic, groundbreaking shooter was an interesting experience, largely because it was no way near as frightening as we remembered it to be.
When it was first released I found it nerve-shreddingly scary, but perhaps subsequent exposure to superior action-horrors has dulled Doom 3’s predictable box of tricks somewhat. This time around, none of us came close to breaking a sweat.
Sure, we jumped a little the first few times a zombie leaped to hellish life in front of us, when something came crashing through a window, or when a fireball-tossing imp snuck up on us from behind to take us unawares. But aside from that, and the nicely-paced tension at the game’s outset, the sheer relentless onslaught of enemies and lack of any real suspense left us re-evaluating this as an enjoyable action game with some jump-scares, rather than a genuine horror.
Dead Space has taken the basic idea and improved upon it significantly. We like Doom 3 – it just isn’t really that unnerving.
FEAR RATING: 5
10.30pm – Penumbra: Overture
This sublime psychological-chiller, on the other hand, couldn’t be more of a teeth-chattering contrast from Doom 3’s tiresome shocks. It’s supremely atmospheric, creepy, and cleverly-paced, but perhaps that’s no surprise given that its the work of acclaimed Amnesia devs Frictional Games.
A cult hit for the company several years before Amnesia had PC owners everywhere cowering behind their desks, this tale of a young man investigating an abandoned mine in the remote cold of the Arctic Circle showcases a similar brand of immersive point-and-click interaction and magnificently oppressive mood. Make no mistake: it had us quivering with tension from the get-go.
We shivered when we were met with a chorus of chilling whispers upon entering the mine’s murky depths, with only the dim light of a ghostly glowstick to provide sanctuary from the shadows. We found ourselves holding our breaths with terror as we darted behind a rotting crate, hiding from the low growl and hot breath of something hunting for us in the darkness. And when it came to the whole bunch of nope that was the claustrophobic tunnels invested with over-sized, skittering spiders, its fair to say our nerves were ripped to shreds.
The only real let-down was the slightly-too-early full-blown sight of a hungry enemy as it ploughed through a door behind us and made us its meal. What you don’t see is infinitely scarier than what you do – and this reveal was something of an anti-climax.
FEAR RATING: 8
Midnight – Slender
Lord almighty. Why did you ask us to play this. WHY?
‘Try Slender!’ you said. ‘It’s terrifying!’ you said.
Goddammit – you really weren’t wrong. Penumbra may go some way to giving you nightmares, but Slender is like a terrible, relentless nightmare in itself. A masterpiece of slow-burning minimalism, its every bit as surreal, disorientating, illogical and pant-wettingly scary as the most haunting nighttime dream you can imagine.
Slender proves that you don’t need a big budget nor a team of hundreds to create an instant classic. Available on PC and Mac completely free and developed by student Mark Hadley in his spare time, this is further proof that where horror is concerned, less really is more.
The game starts you off in a dark forest shrouded in fog, with only a dim torch to light your way, and no explanation of what you’re doing there save for an instruction to ‘find all 8 pages’. So you shuffle off into the trees, all silent except for the crunch of the ground under your feet and the barest hint of night-time wood noise. Now and then you come across an ominous landmark such as an abandoned truck, concrete tunnel or tiled outbuilding, which tend to hide one of these pages you seek. But lurking somewhere out there is the horrifying, spectral figure of Slender Man – and he has a heart-stopping tendency to appear without warning, from thin air, with the screen turning to grey static and his terrible hollow face peering into your own.
Did we freak out? You’re goddamn right we did. Jono initially took the reigns, the tangible air of foreboding overwhelming us all as he took to nervously exploring and the terrific sound design introduced a relentless accompaniment of unsettling, pulse-like thuds.
This is a game all about playing on your imagination, your fear of what might be lurking out there in the dark, and the anticipation of Slender Man appearing. But when he eventually did show, it was far from an anti-climax.
The timing was so sinister that it weirded us all out severely. One minute Jono was nervously messing around, darting his viewpoint about and sarcastically murmuring, ‘Oh, this is so creepy‘ in a silly voice. The next Slender Man was there, just at the edge of the screen.
‘FUCK!’ shrieked Jono, no doubt earning a noise complaint from the neighbours, before tearing it headlong away from the phantom menace. A few minutes later, just when we thought it was safe again, he turned around and Slender Man was Right. Shitting. There.
I yelled. Jono freaked completely. And when it was my turn to have a play myself, I really genuinely did not want to. Ten minutes into my go, having sensed the ghostly bastard hovering somewhere nearby and my patience at an end, I admit that I rage-quitted out of sheer terror. And it’s a long time since any horror game has made me do that.
FEAR RATING: 10
THE WINNER: No surprises here then. The winner of Part Three in our search for the scariest game of all time is this year’s viral sensation Slender, which is wholly deserving of every bit of praise coming its way.
Given that all three of our heat champions so far have been recent indie creations, it really does suggest that there is a brilliant, thriving indie horror scene out there at the moment, helping to compensate for the criminal neglect of horror in the mainstream.
Do you agree with our decisions this time around? And are there any other great horror games that we’ve yet to cover in this series? Join in the debate by leaving your comments below.