The season of frights, monsters, and pumpkin spice lattes is upon us, so it’s a good time to root through games so spooky, they make you want to sleep with the lights on. Since a list of horror games would require curating thousands of titles thanks to Steam Greenlight (and the totally secondary fact that I’m too scared to finish a horror game), I decided to take the easy way out and compile a list of creepy moments in non-horror games.
Minor spoilers for Batman: Arkham Asylum and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter follow.
Scarecrow’s toxin (Batman: Arkham Asylum)
Batman: Arkham Asylum is the Rocksteady-developed game that pioneered the counter-based combat system now seen in most third-person action games. The 2009 title trapped The Bat inside the eponymous madhouse, forcing him to battle his most iconic foes. Arkham Asylum lets you be the Bat, and that means striking fear into those foes’ hearts. Unfortunately for Bats, there’s one villain in his vast rogues gallery that utilizes fear better than he does.
Your first encounter with Scarecrow seems standard enough, tracking him down after he’s used his fear toxin on unsuspecting patients, but things aren’t quite as normal as they initially appear, and you soon learn that Batman’s been infected with the toxin. This leads to hallucinations and a drastic change in gameplay as you feel relatively powerless. The slow descent into temporary delusion, then escape back into the real world with Dr. Crane is still at large builds confusion and a little bit of fear. The real icing on the insane cake is when the game appears to crash, only to restart at the introductory cut scene — except Batman and the Joker have switched places. This leads you down a more mind-altering path, again doing an excellent job of making you feel powerless, and dialing the creep-factor up to 11 within the psyche of Bruce Wayne.
Ravenholm (Half Life 2)
Valve’s flagship franchise started life as a Trojan horse for the evil DRM named Steam (look it up — people hated the service when it first launched). Unlike Steam, which took a bit of time to garner love with Valve fans, Half Life 2 gained critical acclaim immediately, earning its status as one of the highest-rated PC games to date.
The first-person action title featured an array of levels, fully animated and voiced characters, physics-based puzzles, and a level that almost made me piss myself. Ravenholm builds tension from a juxtaposition of atmosphere. There’s just one solitary citizen in the derelict town, and the introduction of poison headcrabs throws two new enemy types at you: the headcrab itself, plus the zombie variant). Solving puzzles in the eerie silence of this environment throws you out of your element. It’s fantastic game design to create chilling atmosphere this way, even though you’re essentially fighting enemies and solving puzzles like lots of other sections.
Mr. Bubbles (BioShock)
Irrational Games’ BioShock follows the journey of a man through the underwater city of Rapture, exploring the ruins of this once-great civilization and trying to find a way out of it. His journey takes him through the stunning sights of Rapture, fighting the remnants of inhabitants and hulking Big Daddies.
Encountering the first few splicers may get your blood pumping a bit, but when you come face to face with your first Big Daddy, it’s a moment you’ll remember. The thumping footsteps, the unnerving groan it emanates, and the startling speed of the sub-aquatic behemoth took me by surprise, almost making me drop my controller in fright — and the ensuing battle with Mr. Bubbles had my heart pounding through my chest. The chilling surroundings and demonic Little Sister’s voice spurring it on made the experience quite thrilling.
The Mine (The Vanishing of Ethan Carter)
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative-driven puzzle game by independent developer The Astronauts, following a detective investigating the disappearance of the titular boy. The atmosphere starts with empty, quaint houses and their derelict surroundings to evoke a sense of unease as you decipher answers. You’ll catch glimpses of the past, but there aren’t any people in your way — until you visit the mine.
A few hours into the game, I thought all the rules had been established; I thought it would just be environmental puzzles helping me unfold the narrative. The game lulled me into a false sense of security, and the first time a figure appeared, it was in the distance as I turned a corner, which it made me jump a little. Then it disappeared, only to return right in front of the screen and grab the protagonist, causing me to leak a surprisingly high-pitched shriek as I almost fell backwards, followed by mockery from my friends.
My personal 2015 game of the year (so far), Bloodborne joins the third-person action repertoire of developer From Software, alongside Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls franchise. These titles offer challenging yet rewarding gameplay for those who are prepared to die — a lot. The PS4 exclusive maintains the Souls formula while adding more speed, less defensive options, and more monstrous beasts to slay, all in a beautifully grim aesthetic inspired by the Victorian era. The sense of unease and creepiness comes from the nightmare-inducing character design and rapid enemy movements, which are most apparent at Byrgenwerth.
As a fan of Dark Souls, I’m used to relatively sluggish and deliberate enemy movement, so transitioning over to the faster-paced Bloodborne put me on edge whenever I encountered a new enemy. The appropriately named Garden of Eyes looks like an unholy union between of a mosquito, fly, spider, human, and a few other creatures. It’s physically repulsive, and slinks around like a Scooby-Doo villain, but as soon as it lays eyes on you, it skittishly darts towards forward with intentionally-jittery animations, before pouncing on your head and sending you into a frenzy. It was one of the few times in gaming where I was so stunned by the sudden nightmare fuel, that my hands just froze, and I sat there watching my Hunter die.
Article by contributor William Aryitey. Hit him up on Twitter for more scares!