(Editor’s note: In celebration of Halloween, the Pixelitis staff is outlining 31 of their favorite scary games in Pixel-Fright-Us. The following games are not listed in any specific order.)
Who doesn’t love a ghost story? Great reads and great games alike have explored the curious phenomenon of souls that have failed to cross over. Ghosts and spirits can often be interpreted as metaphors for questions we have either failed or refused to answer, which is what makes them such great literary devices. Sometimes these specters are tragic, sometimes angry, and sometimes flat out evil.
What’s great about ghost stories is that they transcend culture and time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a haunted Japanese village, a Korean high school, or even an abandoned moon colony; what bumps in the night is an often inescapable and deadly threat.
Echo Night: Beyond [PS2]
The game: Echo Night is a horror/adventure PS2 game that came out during the golden age of survival horror and never really got much attention or acclaim. There are no real weapons or combat to speak of and most of the game’s mechanics revolve around puzzles and finding items.
A sequel to an already obscure title, Echo Night takes place in a futuristic setting on a moon colony. Newlyweds Richard and Claudia are set to enjoy the most literal of honeymoons when their shuttle crashes into the surface. Awakening alone, Richard sets out to try and find his missing wife, but with all great science-fiction horror stories he discovers quite soon that he is not alone.
What makes it scary: It’s not gory. It’s not psychological. There are hardly any jump scares. So what makes Echo Night so creepy? More like The Haunting of Hill House than Saw, Echo Night is a classic ghost story transported to a futuristic space colony. The abandonment found within the cold, sterile architecture recalls legends of ghost ships found adrfit at sea. None of the ghosts are Fatal Frame levels of bloody or deformed, even when they’re trying to kill you. These ghost are human, and you having to set them free of their torment makes it all the more emotional an experience. The addition of an alien force–which is never really explained–ups the creepy. This is a game where “less” is “more.”
Scariest aspect or scene: The best scares come from the cleverly placed security monitors. Being able to see that something is coming towards you or waiting just outside the room helps amp up the claustrophobia and helplessness.
- Maxwell Coviello
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School [PC]
The game: Before Amnesia, there was White Day, an FPS horror adventure set in a haunted Korean school. On the Korean response holiday to Valentine’s Day, new student Hui-min sneaks into the school at night to leave chocolates on his crush’s desk. Suddenly locked inside the sprawling high school, Hui-min witnesses the high school janitor brutally murdering another student. The insane janitor is the least of his worries when Hui-min finds out that his crush, So-yeong, and her friends have also been trapped inside the school, allegedly summoned there by So-yeong’s sister. Only problem is that So-yeong’s sister has been dead for several years and even worse, she is not the only soul trapped inside the labyrinthine corridors of the high school.
What makes it scary: White Day draws frequent comparison to Amnesia due to FPS mechanics that allow for object manipulation. Puzzles and object placement can get very creative even when they are bogged down by unstable physics and handling. And much like Amnesia there are several endings to unlock.
The school setting proves a great juxtaposition between the mundane and the horrific. Among the artifacts you can discover along the way, there are scattered bits of folklore and notes to help to keep up the suspense. Reading about a disfigured specter raises the tension knowing that you’ll be running into the ghost in question sooner rather than later. The constant threat of the janitors—and there are two of them—means that you’ll be needing to secure shelter often, including having to kill the lights. However, hiding among the darkness means that you leave yourself susceptible to ghosts.
Scariest aspect or scene: Ghosts in White Day have a very frightening way of introducing themselves. One moment in particular at the beginning of the game involves the strategic use of lightning flashes and a hanging corpse…
- Maxwell Coviello
The game: F.E.A.R. is one of those games that just got everything right. Alma (the main antagonist in the series) is unique in that the player sympathizes with her. She’s terrifying but, after all she goes through, I don’t really blame her for being a murderous supernatural being.
The scares in F.E.A.R. aren’t on the same level as something like Amnesia but Monolith was smart about it. They didn’t rely on jump scares and put the player in a lot of “I don’t want to go in there” situations. Alma keeps the player in a constant state of unease with her constant assaults that establish just how dangerous she is. But the thing the game does the best is it’s pacing. Intense gunplay doesn’t always lend itself well to horror games but F.E.A.R. does a great job of keeping the two interesting and fun throughout. A large reason for this is the excellent AI, which might be the best I’ve ever experienced. If you’re a big FPS gamer, try playing this game on Extreme difficulty. I promise it’ll be a challenge.
What makes it scary: Alma. She is a beautifully designed character. Her story is very well fleshed out and paints an extremely clear picture of why she is so angry. Yet, she’s still very mysterious and you’re never quite sure what she’s going to do next or why. However, it’s made very clear how dangerous she is. She appears to the player but doesn’t always do anything to you. Then you walk into the next room and it’s covered in blood. She keeps you guessing and that’s what makes her terrifying.
Scariest aspect or scene: I could list a bunch of different moments here. The most popular answer is definitely the ladder (which I’ll leave ambiguous for those who haven’t played F.E.A.R. yet) but I have a more amusing experience.
Near the end of the game, there’s a sequence where Alma will appear and walk towards you and you must shoot at her a few times to get her to dissipate. This happens several times while you’re in this area. I was engrossed in a pseudo-cutscene that was playing out on the other side of a door so I forgot what had been happening. After the event was over, I turned around to resume exploring the area and was face to face with Alma. I fell out of my chair as she bashed me over the head and I decided it would be best to stop playing for the day.
- Ken Smith
Fatal Frame [PlayStation, Xbox, Wii]
The game: Fatal Frame isn’t just a unique horror game, but an extremely inventive title due to its weaponry. Outside of Pokemon Snap, where else would you use a camera for battle?
Fatal Frame took off right around the J-horror boom that saw the likes of The Ring and The Grudge hitting U.S. Shores. Where Resident Evil had cornered the market on zombies, ghosts had been a relatively untouched subject. After all, how do you fight a ghost?
The answer is, apparently, photography.
The series has seen little evolution in its gameplay and unfortunately the fourth title never reached the West, but what Fatal Frame lacks in evolution it makes up for in supremely creepy storytelling and atmosphere.
What makes it scary: The makers of this game wanted to force players to confront horror head on, and since you have no other recourse but to wait until the ghosts are in your viewfinder, these spirits get right up in your face. The first Fatal Frame featured a haunted, Japanese mansion, something Westerners were unfamiliar with in terms of location.
The second game, and in my opinion where the series piqued, took place in an entire village of haunted houses. With a much more emotional story line—twins man, creepy twins—and bloodier imagery, Fatal Frame 2 trumps its predecessor in terms of fright.
But where Fatal Frame as a series always excels is in its brilliant sound design, which can only be described as otherworldly. Play this game with head phones and tell me it doesn’t get ten times scarier.
Scariest aspect or scene: In the first game: any time you peer into a hole in the wall and something else decides to peer back. In the second: the chilling, hallucinatory flashback sequence that introduced the unbeatable, instant-kill ghost. Her laugh will haunt you for days.
Eyes [PC, Mac, iOS, Android]
The game: There comes a point where you realize that the purpose of a game is to put you in a situation you would never dream of being in. In Eyes, you’re being asked to rob 12 – 20 money bags (depending on your difficulty setting) in an abandoned house. You walk in, look around, take what you can and try to leave through the marked exit. It’s not very hard.
Aside from the fact that it’s an abandoned house, and you have nothing to guide you except a rudimentary pencil-drawn map that shows your progress.
Oh, and these creepy red-painted eyes that serve as some sort of telepathic link between you and this frightening entity that either wants to eat your body and use your fingers like toothpicks or just wants to hang out because it’s lonely.
What makes it scary: The long-haired creepy disembodied head with a zipper-like mouth full of sharp teeth that finds you throughout the house. We’ve affectionately named her Sheila. She’s a mixture of that horrible deep underwater fish and the girl from The Ring. The game plays out similarly to Slender: The Eight Pages in the sense that as you invest more time into finding these bags, it becomes all too apparent you are not in the mood to meet up with your BFF Sheila.
Eyes does come with a handy alarm system. Objects that are in the room will start to shake uncontrollably whenever her long-haired presence is lurking nearby, as well as the word RUN!!! in bright red letters popping up on your screen. There is a run button, which can get you somewhat safely out of harm’s way.
However, all hope is not lost, as long as you use those red eyes to give you a glimpse as to where her head is floating off to next.
Scariest aspect or scene: There’s nothing about this game that frightens me at all. Sheila’s downright friendly, with her mouth opening up and staring at you with those dead eyes, head lolling about. And the rickety oven shaking as though possessed by the ghost of Sylvia Plath? Nope, nope, nope, nope…
- Karen Rivera
Thief: Deadly Shadows [Xbox, PC]
The game: The Thief series follows the rogue Garrett and his heists within a bleak, morally corrupt City. Supernatural undercurrents run throughout The City, with many opposing cults and spiritual enemies lurking within the crypts, mansions and strongholds that Garret breaks into over the course of this stealth video game series.
Of all entries, the third installment, Deadly Shadows is the most well-known for its horror elements. The main antagonist of this game is a mythic entity known as The Hag, a boogieman with a propensity for removing the flesh of its victims…typically children. The centerpiece of this game, as well as one of The Hag’s haunts, is the Shalebridge Cradle, an asylum turned orphanage with a mind of its own.
What makes it scary: For a series that doesn’t set out to be a horror game, Thief’s backdrop is one of the darkest seen in gaming. Set in a twisted, vaguely Steam Punk city, Thief twists morality on its head, presenting a decadent world where everyone seems so rotten to the core that Garret, a criminal and killer, seems like the sole bastion of redemption and good.
Thief does a good job of isolating you as a character, putting you thousands of feet underground or headfirst into condemned buildings with no warning as to what menace lurks around the corner. Not only are you on edge from hiding from the human foes, but in many cases the undead are much more tenacious when it comes to hunting you down.
Scariest aspect or scene: The ghost are scary, sure, but what’s even scarier is knowing that even the ghosts are prey to The Shalebridge Cradle itself. The reanimated corpses you encounter here are nothing but “puppets” of the The Cradle, which manifests itself through the remains of its victims. And as legend has it, once you enter The Cradle, the building knows who you are and will not let you go…