10 Unexpected Scares in Video GamesBy Dustin Mendel | October 13, 2011 | Editorials | 1 comment | Share
One of the most difficult emotions for a video game to evoke, right behind sadness, is genuine fear in its player. A game has done something special when the person playing it has to keep the lights on, pauses frequently to wipe the sweat from his palms, or better yet, has to stop to think happy thoughts or watch Toy Story to snap out of it. The scares on this list come in many forms, but all of them are unexpected in some way, whether it’s overwhelmingly creepy or absolutely terrifying. Please keep in mind that spoilers are to be expected throughout the list. Bring along a big blanket to hide under as we pick some of the best unexpected scares in gaming:
10. Uncharted’s Cursed Spaniards
The Uncharted games have received a lot of comparisons to the Indiana Jones movies, from the exotic settings and epic action scenes to the wise-cracking historian/hero on the hunt for forbidden riches. Both Drake’s Fortune and Raiders of the Lost Ark share one other similarity, in that they both contain a moment in the plot where horrible things start happening and people start losing their faces.
In the case of Uncharted, things take a turn for the creepy about two-thirds into the game, when Eddy Raja, former partner of Drake and notorious pirate dickhead, has cornered our hero deep within an ancient underground temple. It’s all pretty standard action adventure stuff, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Sullivan or Elena show up to save Nate in the nick of time. Instead, we get howling, face eating monsters that appear out of the darkness, quickly dragging poor Eddy over the side of a cliff and, presumably, straight into Hell, leaving Drake alone to spend the next two chapters of the game running for his life. As far as plot twists go, this one is a pretty big left turn into crazytown.
9. Metal Gear Solid’s Sea of Blood
The original Metal Gear Solid isn’t exactly lacking in sadistic killers and torturers, but only one individual is capable of leaving Solid Snake, a guy who has snapped more necks than a chiropractor convention, frozen in horror. We now know that individual as Gray Fox, the original cyborg ninja, and not only is he King Badass in a game filled to the brim with badasses, he’s also one of the most twisted characters in the Metal Gear series.
After Snake struggles to defeat Revolver Ocelot in a room booby-trapped with C4, Gray Fox casually saunters in and lops Ocelot’s hand off, making just about the boldest statement one can make. If that weren’t enough, and it probably was, as Snake begins to discover Fox’s disturbing background (hint: he died twenty years prior), he bears witness to an absolute massacre. Gray Fox tears a room full of soldiers apart, completely cloaked throughout the attack, prompting one of the soldiers to utter “it’s…a…ghost” shortly before breathing his final breath. The attack was so violent that years later, during the events of Metal Gear Solid 4, the hallway is described as a “sea of blood,” and it’s clear that those who witnessed Gray Fox’s violence would never escape their memories.
8. Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood
From the moment my character stepped through the door of the Dark Brotherhood’s hideout, I knew I’d made a mistake. Having spent most of my time winning battles in the Arena or completing fetch quests for the smiling townspeople, my experience of Oblivion started out very much like a JRR Tolkien story, but things quickly went Bram Stoker on me when I reluctantly joined the Brotherhood. The creepy character models in Oblivion certainly didn’t help, but I found myself constantly on edge whenever I dealt with the Brotherhood, and when it came time to not only betray them but kill them all, what should have been relief was replaced by a crippling fear that I would climb down into their secret lair to find the Brotherhood waiting for me, knowing exactly what I was there to do.
That was creepy enough, and I was ready to walk away from the dark side of Oblivion for a while, but what followed was another dozen missions with Lucien Lachance, dragging me deeper into the muck as I continued to hunt down members of the Dark Brotherhood. The piece de resistance came when I found myself surrounded by members of the Black Hand, who were displaying the mutilated, partly devoured corpse of my former employer, a man who had falsely been accused of betraying their group. The very same group I was to now expected to join. For Skyrim, I think I’m just going to stick to the magic guild.
7. Silent Hill 4′s Big Face Room
Silent Hill 4: The Room has the dubious honor of being considered the turning point for when the series started to suck. Although roaming around the aforementioned room in first-person view gets progressively creepier, the amount of backtracking and the strange decision to duplicate every level left much to be desired. Aside from the eeriness of the environments themselves, the game is fairly light on scares throughout the first half of the game, but that all changes after you find yourself in an abandoned hospital. The hallways here are constantly patrolled by haunted wheelchairs, and if you happen to duck into a certain room to take a break from the incessant clattering of their wheels, you’ll be rewarded with one of the biggest WTF moments in Silent Hill history.
The first thing you’ll notice is the sound of heavy breathing echoing through the room, which is pretty bloody odd to be hearing in the middle of an evil hospital in the first place, and that would probably be enough to set you on edge, but if you make the mistake of venturing too close towards the screen, the camera quickly shifts, revealing an enormous face instead of a back wall, complete with googly eyes. There’s no cliché lurching in the game’s soundtrack, the face doesn’t start screaming or spraying blood. It just stares, and follows your movements until you make the wise decision to leave from whence you came.
6. The Eternal Darkness Bathtub
Eternal Darkness is one of the most overlooked horror games ever released on a home console, as well as one of the most innovative. Eternal Darkness was a prototype for games like Condemned and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, using the main character’s deteriorating sanity as both a plot device and a constant source of scares throughout the game.
The scariest moment in the game comes early, as you begin to explore the mansion in which the game takes place. The sanity effects are still new at this point, and as spooky apparitions begin to appear and statues follow your movements, you begin to get a handle on the types of scares you can expect from the game, until you make the mistake of investigating the bathroom.
Instead of spooky whispering and ghosts straight out of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, the game cranks the scary up to 11 and gives you a quick glimpse of a dead woman splayed out in a bathtub filled with blood, accompanied by a blood curdling scream. Seconds later, you’re alone in the bathroom again, free to use the nearby facilities if you haven’t just fouled yourself in terror.
5. Half-Life 2: We Don’t Go to Ravenholm…
The town of Ravenholm is a bit of a departure from the other locations in Half-Life 2, and by departure I mean nightmarish hellhole. After Gordon Freeman fights his way to Black Mesa East, a Combine raid drives him into Ravenholm as the only means of escape. This particular chapter is called “We Don’t Go to Ravenholm,” and Half-Life 2 does a damn fine job of explaining why that’s the case.
The town, unlike the bustling cityscapes and open-air facilities earlier in the game, is a rundown village filled to the brim with headcrabs and zombies, and its only living occupant is Father Grigori, a man with an equal affection for God and horrific booby traps. Traversing swinging sawblades while being relentlessly pursued by a headcrab army, armed only with a Gravity Gun is a surprisingly stressful experience, and waiting for the tram that will take you to safety as you watch what few bullets you have quickly diminish will likely leave you breathing into a paper bag.
4. Call of Cthulu’s Room Service
I think it’s fairly safe to say that no one enjoys being chased, under any circumstances. It’s also safe to assume that people would enjoy being chased by a blood thirsty mob of axe wielding villagers even less. If you don’t follow my line of thinking, Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth gives you the opportunity to try it for yourself, without the risk of heart attack or maiming.
The moment in question, by no means the only scary moment in the game, but by far the most visceral, occurs very early in the game. Your character has a premonition in his sleep that his life is in danger (a dream that can best be summarized as: “you’re going to get axed in 3…2…”) and it isn’t long before you’re forced to flee from your hotel room as axes begin ventilating the door to your room. Armed only with your stupid, fumbling fingers, you must run from one room to the next, turning to lock the doors behind you and creating makeshift barricades as the crowd bursts into each room just as you leave them. If you manage to escape without your legs turning to jelly, what ensues is a lengthy escape through the city, but nothing compares to the initial moments of panic at the start of this chapter.
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum: Scarecrow’s 1337 Hacking Skills
If anything qualifies as an unexpected scare, it’s the dirty trick that The Scarecrow pulls on you late into Batman: Arkham Asylum. After suffering, and conquering, the effects of Scarecrow’s fear gas twice previously in the game, Dr. Crane decides to give up on breaking the Batman and focuses his efforts on you, the gamer, instead.
Shortly after being dosed for the third time, instead of the hallucinogenic hide and seek game that would normally followed never comes, and instead you hear a woman’s voice ask, “Did you catch the game last night?” Seconds later, the screen explodes in a cacophony of squeals and jagged lines, before going black and booting up Arkham Asylum’s opening cinematic. It quickly becomes evident that something is amiss, as The Joker is shown in the driver’s seat of the Batmobile, escorting Batman to Arkham, and what follows is one of the coolest sequences in the game, but for that brief moment, I would wager that every single gamer felt a moment of white hot panic when they thought their game had suddenly broken. Mission accomplished, Scarecrow.
2. Mass Effect 2: Project Overlord
The Overlord mission in Mass Effect 2 starts out like any other in the game: a research base has gone silent, and someone wants Shepard and his crew to investigate. Upon arriving the base, however, you’re greeted by a screaming digital face on every computer screen in the facility. As you venture further, fighting off waves of Geth and completing agonizingly dull driving sequences, Overlord begins to appear more frequently, and it seems increasingly angry each time it turns up. The payoff is completely unexpected, and seems more suitable to a Clive Barker movie than it does Mass Effect 2.
After being scanned into the computer system (no sign of Jeff Daniels, sadly) and battling Overlord, it is revealed that the malicious computer program was actually David Archer, the autistic brother of the man who had summoned you originally. David had been imprisoned in a machine that made the people-pods in The Matrix look like five-star resorts, after revealing that he could communicate with the Geth. I don’t know about most people, but by the time Dr. Archer was finished explaining the horrific story of his brother’s imprisonment and torture, I was already hauling ass back the Normandy, in desperate need of some of Miranda’s special brand of consoling.
1. Dead Space Nightmare Fuel
In my travels, I’ve spoken to people who swear up and down that Dead Space didn’t frighten them at all. I pray for these people, but I also envy them terribly. The first Dead Space consistently scares the hell out of me, and there is one specific instance that encapsulates my fear perfectly (no, it isn’t the ending).
Late in the game, shortly after using his kinesis ability to move a series of interlocking crates out of his way, Isaac finds himself face to pant-crappingly scary face with the game’s second unkillable, regenerating Necromorph. After a few moments of frantic searching, it becomes clear that the only way to escape this marauding death machine is to go back the way you came, through the maze of boxes. If you want to see me have absolutely no fun playing a video game, have an invincible monster chase me through a blood soaked spaceship. If you want to see me turn into a mewling infant, make me do basic puzzle solving while all this is going on, and if I screw anything up, have said monster rip me to pieces, over and over again. By the time you get to the end of this sequence, which also involves fighting off a potpourri of other horrible monsters, you just want to curl up into the fetal position and sob. And that’s when the Necromorph bursts through the ceiling.