(Editor’s note: In celebration of Halloween, the Pixelitis staff is outlining 31 of their favorite horror games in Pixel-Fright-Us. The following games are not listed in any specific order.)
As we have learned countless times from watching Romero flicks, zombies are the perfect metaphor for any societal ills du-jour. The undead have always represented a twofold threat: the fear of being turned into a mindless shell of your former self, consuming the flesh of your friends and family or being horrifically eaten alive by your friends and family.
In gaming, zombies have always been perfect fodder for blood, guts, shooting and mayhem. And probably the reason why most zombie videogames aren’t considered scary. They’re stock monsters, ready to be gunned down in large groups in all their moaning gray glory.
The standout titles usually spin the zombie genre on its head, instilling fear back in the idea of the dead coming back to life. Whether by scientific design or supernatural force, the following zombie games manage to do the genre justice.
ObsCure [PC, PS2, Xbox]
The game: ObsCure follows five teenagers as they try to get to the bottom of the strange disappearances at their high school, unraveling a mystery that involves their fellow classmates being experimented on via plant spore injections that turn them into horribly mutated monsters.
Enemies are sensitive to light, which means that the careful handling of any light sources is vital to the player’s survival.
Searching for and combining items, such as attaching a flashlight to a pistol, also becomes essential. ObsCure lets you team up with a friend as you walk through the game’s school environment, fighting off infected students and other horrors.
Oh, and if one person dies, he or she is permanently dead–leaving you with little recourse and one less life should you get cornered by your chemistry partner-turned-plant-spore zombie.
What makes it scary: The fear of permanent death, for one, makes you think twice about attempting to go head on against a strong foe or a particularly dangerous room. Walking through the game’s classrooms can make for a disturbing time as well, particularly with the seeping darkness effect that occurs through the walls as monsters inch closer to you.
Scariest aspect or scene: While implementing multiplayer into a horror game may take some of the scares away (see: latest Resident Evil titles), ObsCure actually does multiplayer justice. Even with someone by your side, the lack of powerful weapons and the long, winding hallways that are filled with distant monstrous screams was enough to make one lose his or her nerves.
- Allain Richard
Resident Evil [every console except first Xbox, Atari, GameCom, NeoGeo]
The game: Touted as the game that pioneered the survival horror genre, Resident Evil (known as Biohazard in Japan) took the PlayStation and Sega Saturn by storm in 1996 and to this day remains one of Capcom’s biggest franchises. The original’s game design was heavily influenced by the likes of Alone in the Dark and Capcom’s own Japan-only Famicom horror title Sweet Home.
Although the original’s voice acting has become one of the most infamous examples of laughably bad dialogue in games, the game was still commended for crafting a creepy atmosphere filled with death traps, deadly enemies and scarce supplies.
What makes it scary: The game relied mostly on sudden “jump-out” scares and hard-hitting monsters to freak out the player. While zombies generally had the same mechanics all the way up to Code: Veronica, the Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil added something terrifyingly new: Crimson Heads. These zombies, if not decapitated or burned after some time has passed, will reanimate as stronger zombies that run after you and can even follow you into other rooms.
Newer titles in the series like RE5 and RE6 have gravitated towards a more action-oriented path, shedding much of what made the previous entries so frightening. You needed to make every shot and healing item in older Resident Evils count, and dodging enemies was much more difficult in the tight, winding corridors of the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon City Police Department.
Scariest aspect or scene: Some of the scariest moments in Resident Evil involve enemies that pursue you even after you’ve left a room. Enemies like the Crimson Head zombies in REmake, Mr. X in RE2 and Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 are all notable for crashing your party during the most inopportune moments, and still following you through doors that you had shut behind you. Mr. X crashing through a wall (twice) inside the RCPD building still stands out as one of the series’ most terrifying moments.
- Patrick Kulikowski
Siren [PS2, PS3]
The game: Developed by SCE studios, Siren managed to hold its own among a slew of Japanese horror games and did something very few games managed to do: make zombies utterly and completely horrifying. Siren manages to mix Japanese myth and horror with a completely bizarre justification for its zombie plague.
Siren is described as a mix between Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid. Set in a remote Japanese village, Siren tells the story of a few unfortunate souls who become trapped in Hanuda, a cloistered township nestled somewhere in the mountains.
Hanuda has a very specific branch of Shintoism revolving around a fallen god, and when its most important ceremony is interrupted, hell literally breaks loose. In the wake of an earthquake and landslide, the dead return back to life and try to convert the living. Blood rains down from the skies and a mysterious, omnipresent siren sounds off in the distance.
Infamously known for being brutally difficult as well as scary, Siren is not a run and gun. It is a blood-curdling slow crawl.
Siren’s most unique mechanic, “sight jacking,” is the ability to see through the eyes of the zombie enemies, here called the Shibito–more or less “the (un)dead ones” in Japanese. Did I mention that many of these Shibito carry guns? And they know how to use them.
What makes it scary: Where to begin? Besides the unnatural setting and super weird revelations as to what’s going on in this village, Siren drips with an absolutely chilling atmosphere that is specific to Japanese storytelling.
Your enemies, though undead, are not mindless zombies. The Shibito retain the muscle memories and routines of their former selves, which is one of the things that makes them so damned creepy…not to mention their distorted vocals. Getting inside the head of your foe by “sight-jacking” means seeing what it’s like to “live” as Shibito. It’s not pretty. It also affords you the morbid opportunity to put yourself in your killer’s perspective as you’re being killed.
Switching off between characters means every level spells a completely new type of survival horror. In one level you may play as a trained hunter with a shotgun at your disposal and the next a timid schoolgirl with no means of defending herself. You also quickly learn that your characters are expendable. Not everyone makes it out of this game alive, and some character’s fates are worse than others.
Scariest aspect or scene: What to choose from? Almost everything is this game is nerve wracking. By far, being trapped in an elementary school full of Shibito as a lone little girl is the most frightening scenario.
- Maxwell Coviello
Minecraft [PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360]
The game: Everyone and his or her mother plays Minecraft nowadays, but right before the game was on the verge of exploding into a worldwide frenzy, the few of us who went into the creative sandbox adventure game completely blind didn’t know what to expect come nightfall.
What makes it scary: While exploring your randomly-generated world in the daytime turned out to be a wondrously fascinating experience, first-time Minecraft players didn’t really know what sorts of foul creatures the night would bring. Undead skeletons, creepy spiders that made hideously spine-tingling slurred sounds and moaning zombies dotted the fields in front of your safe house. And if the house isn’t well-lit with torches, then expect a few uninvited undead to hang out with you.
Scariest aspect or scene: Nothing is creepier than thinking you’re perfectly safe in your house, only to be attacked from behind by a rogue zombie or, even worse: an exploding creeper. And then Mojang thought it wise to incorporate a hellish underworld that one could spawn a gate to, which featured even freakier enemies, like a ghost that chased after you and shot fireballs from its mouth.
Left 4 Dead [PC, Mac, Xbox 360]
The game: The world is infested by zombies and you, along with three of your closest friends, must take up the roles of hapless survivors in a last ditch effort to make it to the next safehouse.
What makes it scary: Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the zombie apocalypse is one of the most tired tropes in pop culture. From plush toys to weekly cable television shows, the undead turned from unbearably frightening to uncool. That, however, wasn’t the case when the Left 4 Dead series started back in 2008.
When Valve released the opening cinematic for its co-op zombie romp, it promised a frenetic game where teamwork was key and the odds were stacked against you – and they delivered. The same things that made zombies scary in the first place were there in the game, like overwhelming numbers and finite resources.
What set the L4D series apart from other games was the use of Valve’s A.I. called “The Director,” which helped dictate the pace of any given game. Knowing that the game was actively working against you can be an oppressive bit of knowledge at higher difficulty levels. It just leaves you guessing whether there’s some helpful goodies in the next room or a hungry, massive hoard of ex-humans just waiting for you around that corner.
Coupled with the recent trend of fast zombies and a batch of ridiculously dangerous special infected, L4D was scary for the sheer fact that it wanted you dead and worked to make it so.
Scariest aspect or scene: Though there are tons of creepy moments throughout the two games’ multiple chapters, personally for me it was the first moment I encountered a Witch. From the instant you hear her echoing, nearly child-like sobbing, you know that certain death for any of the survivors could be in the near future.
The only solution that doesn’t lead to her playing the xylophone on your exposed rib cage? Walking slowly without your flashlight on. Great.
You could try to kill her, but unless you do it in one shot, you’re firing a lot of bullets and praying it gets your buddy and not you.