Jay did this the other day, and it seemed like a good Halloween post. Note that this is just my own personal list, sorted roughly according to just how much the experience stuck with me after I was done playing. Here they are, from the timid to the terrifying:
10. Quake 4 – Stoggification: I still think that this could have been one of the great moments in gaming – right up there with Shodan’s reveal in System Shock 2 – if not for the fact that they made the whole process part of the marketing campaign. Everyone knew it was coming, and was in fact waiting for it, so that the event lost most of its potency. If they had left this a surprise it would have blindsided players and given them something to really talk about. My write up here. A YouTube video here.
9. Doom 3 – Trites: This game had spooky moments, although it was never quite the sum of its parts, fear-wise. It started out spooky, but the more I saw of the plot the less frightening it seemed. The story worked against it, keeping me from taking things seriously enough to get worked up. Every time I started to get immersed Dr. Betruger would get on the intercom and start hyperventilating about his awesome plans to BRING HELL TO EARTH LOLZ!!!11!1!, which just ruined it for me. Still, those little spider things were well introduced and quite scary to those who might not be so fond of bugs.
8. F.E.A.R. – Hide and Seek with Alma: I was crawling through an area of cubicles. I’d forgotten about Alma for the moment and was more worried about the soldiers ahead. In a moment of perfectly timed scripting I edged forward (crawling) and then looked to my left to see her crawling towards me like an animal. I flinched so hard I lost my grip on the mouse and it slid off the back of my keyboard drawer. If someone had filmed me at that moment it would have turned into a YouTube video labeled DUMASS GETS SCAERD AND DROPS HIS MOSE, and it would have half a million views by now.
7. Doom – E1M2: That dark area with the computer walls, blinking lights, and moaning zombies.
6. X-Com – First Mission: Steven is with me on this one. It’s a turn based game with stone-age graphics, and it can still evoke a sense of fear in the player. There is something about the way it does line-of-sight that makes you painfully aware of what you can’t see.
5. Silent Hill 2 – The Hospital: This was my first survival horror game, so it will always have a special potency to me. The hospital was pretty bad to begin with, but when the nurses showed up I really just wanted to run away. I have a lengthy (even by my standards) plot analysis here.
4. Unreal – The Sunspire: Everyone gives this game a nod for the moment when the lights go out and you have to fight a Skaarj in the dark. That seemed a little contrived to me and didn’t give me quite the scare that others got from it, but sections of the SunSpire terrified me. Those little bugs gave me the willies.
3. System Shock – Level 3: It’s bad enough being inside of the belly of a space station run by a xenophobic AI who wants to murder you and turn your corpse into a meat puppet, but it gets worse when you’re fighting small, translucent blobs in the dark that seem to be immune to regular bullets.
2. System Shock 2 – Polito’s Office: I knew I was about to meet Shodan. I’d figured it out just before I got there that I wasn’t dealing with a human, and that somehow Shodan was involved. This was mostly due to metagame thinking, but still: I thought I was ready. When the walls vanished and I saw my old nemesis towering over me in some sort of strange vision my heart rate went through the roof.
1. Thief Deadly Shadows – The Shalebridge Cradle: This entire section of the game was a masterfully executed effort. There were many techniques layered together to generate fear, and all of them fit together to make a truly frightening whole. Everyhting was well done. Scenery, monsters, voice acting, story. My own writeup on the experience is here. A YouTube video is nothing compared to playing it yourself, but if you’re curious there is a series that depicts the entire mission. It begins here.
Happy Halloween. Save me some Skittles.
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