Where do we turn for the biggest scares? Typically, it is to the big screen. From The Shining back in the 1970s to the very latest movie releases, everyone has their favorites. Mention scary games, whether they are online or played on a console or PC, and you are liable to attract sideling glances – after all, it’s only a game, what is there to get scared about?
Watch a scary movie, though, and that’s all you are doing – watching. However tense the action, it’s a character on the screen who is in peril. In a game, the player is at the heart of the action, and the ghost, vampire or knife-wielding maniac is after you and nobody else.
Not for kids
Perhaps the reason we sneer at the thought is because of the very word – kids play games, so if we find a game scary, what does that say about us? Of course, the point is that these days, games are aimed at all age groups. Some contain sex and violence that make them unsuitable for kids, and others are “adult” in other ways. Online casinos, for example, are a huge growth area and sites from, in particular, the UK, central Europe and Scandinavia have strict age restrictions. Slot machines, known as spilleautomater in Norway, are certainly games that are not designed for children, and whether you are playing the innocent-sounding magic stars or a darker horror-based casino game, it will definitely be adults only.
So now that we have laid rest to the idea that gaming is somehow child’s play, let’s settle back, dim the lights and explore some of the most genuinely disturbing games ever. Just don’t look behind you.
Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill is the franchise that made it OK to be freaked out by something that is “only a game.” The arguments run on and on as to which version of the franchise is the scariest, but many agree that Silent Hill 2 is even more disturbing than the rest. From the moment James Sunderland walks through the fog-enshrouded landscape to the town, there is a sense of oppression and general wrongness that is hard to describe but will remain with you long after you switch off the console and turn up the lights.
Forbidden Siren 2
Known simply as Siren 2 in Japan, this game centers around the story of an island whose whole population disappeared without trace during a blackout in 1976. There are three generations of the Forbidden Siren game, and all are pretty terrifying, but it is Forbidden Siren 2 that stands the test of time, for several reasons.
Ichiko Yagura has to be one of the most unnerving characters to grace any game, but perhaps the most unsettling aspect to Forbidden Siren 2 is the ability to “sightjack” your enemies and see from their perspective. The sight of yourself peeping nervously round a corner is the stuff of nightmares.
Movie / game crossovers can be a mixed bag. The Silent Hill movie was generally slammed, but this game based on the Alien franchise is an absolute winner. You adopt the character of Amanda Ripley, searching for her mother. It is no great spoiler to give away the fact that you find something rather more otherworldly.
The reason this game works so well is because as Ripley, you feel so completely vulnerable. You creep down corridors and hide in whatever scant cover you can find, as the seemingly unstoppable xenomorph stomps around the space station at will. It is a truly intense experience, and the groans of the ailing space station and the random behavior of the androids stalking the rooms only add to the feeling of helplessness and abandonment.
Another example in which the game knocks the movie into a cocked hat. Every game in the long-running series has had its unique moments of terror, from Nemesis’ pursuit in Resident Evil 3 to that bonfire scene in 4. But let’s go back 20 years to where it all began.
Gaming has come a long way since 1996, but that first game, with its shambling horde of zombies and the atmospheric and nerve-wracking journey through the Spencer Mansion is the original scarefest, by which all subsequent efforts were judged.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
This is the game that made gibbering wrecks of grown men. It concerns one man, exploring a somewhat clichéd gothic castle. If that sounds a little formulaic, that’s probably intentional to lull you into a sense of security, as this game is like nothing else you have ever experienced. You are unarmed, you are helpless and you have no idea why you are there or what is around the next corner. The game gets into your mind and as you get more disoriented, your character teeters on the very edge of sanity. The Overlook Hotel has nothing on this experience. Try it if you dare.