Opinion: What’s The Scariest Game Of All Time? (Part Two)
Last month I spent an entire night playing through some of the most nightmarish horror games ever created. And it’s fair to say that my resulting article on the ordeal – where I confidently declared Amnesia: The Dark Descent the undisputed champion – caused something of a stir.
Although many people clearly enjoyed reading about me and my fellow judges being reduced to gibbering wrecks, dozens of commenters both here and at sites such as N4G also queued up to name additional horror titles they felt had been overlooked. Games that would make Amnesia look like Rayman Origins, apparently.
So, in a bid to both satisfy our enthusiastic readership and open up the title of ‘Scariest Game Of All Time’ to fresh contenders, we decided to run a second night of gaming terror – this time tackling the neglected titles you most wanted us to play.
Once again I was joined by fellow judges Jono and Lex, and last night the three of us sat down, switched off the lights, donned our brown trousers and prepared to endure a new batch of nightmares. Here, complete with ‘Fear Ratings’ out of 10, is an overview of the chaos that ensued…
8pm – Eternal Darkness
Kicking off with this cult classic from the GameCube – a compelling blend of classic survival-horror and hack-and-slash fantasy – we were totally gripped from the moment the delightfully cheesy opening narration boomed out of our speakers. (Choice quote: “I’m a clinical psychologist…I’m also dead.”)
Probably the coolest aspect of Eternal Darkness is its often unnerving and occasionally hilarious ‘insanity effects’, which can result in everything from your character’s head disappearing to the game switching around the controls or making you think it’s crashed.
Still, despite this gleeful nuttiness, the title’s moody, effective sound design and the occasional freaky visual effect, it’s fair to say we weren’t that unnerved. Having said that, taking on a room full of zombies with a weak, shitty blowpipe while blood runs down the walls isn’t exactly for the faint of heart.
FEAR RATING: 6
9pm – System Shock 2
Making the USG Ishimura look like the Starship Enterprise on ‘bring your kittens to work day’, the spaceship you wake up on in this groundbreaking FPS-RPG sci-fi headtrip is not a fun place to be.
“Something has gone very, very wrong” murmurs the voice that greets you over the intercom. No shit Sherlock. Ear-piercing screams, shimmering ghosts, blood-spattered corpses and the small matter of warped, murderous mutants prowling the corridors equals considerable tension and unease.
The game boasts terrific atmosphere and is formidably immersive, and it’s not messing around either. Both myself and Lex are not afraid to admit that we died. A lot.
On the downside, the noticeably dated creature design and pulsating techno-rock soundtrack detract from the scare-factor somewhat. But System Shock 2 gets bonus marks for allowing us to beat psychic monkeys to death with a wrench.
Yes, you read that right.
FEAR RATING: 6
10.30pm – Condemned
As the only one of us not to have completed this absolute humdinger of a horror experience, Lex duly plonked himself into the hotseat for this one. And what a rollercoaster ride it was.
Taking in the delights of the dilapidated department store, crumbling school and creaking, treacherous farmhouse, even the resident ‘ice man’ of our group found himself suitably unnerved by the sinister mannequins, locker-dwelling corpses and shuffling ghouls – creeping up from behind to unleash panic in the pitch-black basement.
Punctuated by outbreaks of gruesome, visceral violence in the form of bone-crunching melee combat with Condemned’s uncomfortably sneaky crazies, the whole thing added up to an intense hour-and-a-half of impressive shocks and scares.
FEAR RATING: 8
Midnight – Fatal Frame’s 1 and 2
The twisted minds who dreamed up this fiendishly sadistic concept demand both my utter admiration and absolute outrage. Make no mistake: The Fatal Frame’s really know how to unsettle and frighten the player.
Jono was threatening to lose his shit from the very moment he stepped over the threshold of the original’s haunted, sepia-toned mansion, and caught a glimpse of something shuffling by in the corridor ahead.
What both games have in abundance is creepy, crafted and overwhelmingly effective atmosphere, which renders even a seemingly innocuous, ordinary room a source of considerable anxiety. With their skin-crawling blend of slow-burning gothic horror and Far Eastern folklore, they’re the closest thing to being in a Grudge-like nightmare that I’ve yet experienced.
It doesn’t help that your only weapon against the terrifying ghosts – floating towards you with relentless malice – is a camera that you must aim directly at them in first-person, staring directly into the face of fear.
That said, what lets the Fatal Frames down slightly is their reliance on somewhat repetitive and ultimately predictable tactics. The whole ‘spooky figure walks by when camera-angle changes’ shtick gets old real fast.
FEAR RATING: 8
2am – SCP-087
Oh my sweet giddy Jesus. Who would have thought that simply descending a long, dark, winding stairwell could be so unremittingly petrifying?
Snortingly dismissed by some as a ‘staircase simulator’, this inspired amateur creation is actually a consumate exercise in psychological terror – turning the player’s very imagination against them.
Its armed with a slightly surreal, offbeat quality that rekindles memories of early childhood nightmares. As you descend deeper and deeper into the dark, with each nearly identical level bathed in shadow, repetition proves the enemy of calm. You scour each and every inch of the screen for something slightly out of place, and each little difference, and every little creepy sound that punctuates the silence, sets you magnificently on edge.
Jono took the controls for this one, and he could hardly bear to look as he continued making his way down the stairs. There was much swearing. There was talk of the possibility of trouser-soilage. There was even – about ten minutes into the ordeal – a moment when the poor guy had his head in his hands.
For our part, myself and Lex were torn between pissing ourselves at his reactions, and flinching in terror ourselves.
The sheer level of suspense and anticipation absolutely did for us all. And the only disappointment in the end was that – somewhat predictably – the eventual conclusion was no way near as horrific as the terrible scenarios we’d been dreaming up in our heads.
FEAR RATING: 9
2.30am – Silent Hill 3
Probably the last great Silent Hill game, it would nonetheless be reasonable to point out that this third installment in the once-seminal horror series does not quite reach the formidable heights of the original and its near-perfect sequel.
That said, portraying a teenage girl who finds herself alone and menaced in a shopping centre from hell is certainly not to be sniffed at. Particularly when you add giant penis-fisted monsters into the equation.
It doesn’t quite hit the high notes of foreboding dread that Silent Hill’s 1 and 2 managed, but there’s still a good-deal of panic and nightmarish mind-fuckery on offer here. The creature design – phallic limbs and all – certainly puts Downpour to shame.
FEAR RATING: 7
Yes, that’s right – the winner of Part Two in our quest to find the scariest game ever made is illustrious ‘staircase simulator’ SCP-087, which ultimately proved more traumatic than a number of bona fide horror classics.
It just goes to show you don’t need a big publisher and millions of dollars to make a great horror game. And with EA clearly about to cock up the Dead Space series, that’s definitely a positive thought to end on.
Part Three has now landed. Click here for the next chapter in our quest to find the scariest game ever made.