I'm not a very big enjoyer of horror games. On the very rare occasion that I do boot up a horror game, a chemical change seems to occur in my body. The part of my brain responsible for going "holy mother of hell get me away from this scary thing" is dampened. I expect to be scared, and therefore I'm more resilient to said scariness. I might just not be very good at getting into the horror games mindset. My brain is too busy battening down all the hatches and readying the engines of war against the oncoming spookies and ghosties.
The times I've been most scared playing a game are when I don't expect to be scared. And what better way to lull myself into a false sense of security this Halloween than to play an otherwise not-so-scary game, with just one particularly horror-esque moment?
Turns out there are a lot of games that fall into this category. So I've put together a few suggestions of the very best ones in case you're like me. Some are great at jump scares, others at making you face up to the psychologically horrifying implications of your actions. But with each of the below games you should expect a single moment of terror, a foreboding, jagged rock of creepiness, amidst an otherwise calm sea.
And yes - I know that your favourite example of this is missing from the below list. Look, I never finished Half-Life 2, alright? I know, I know. That's the most horrifying thing about this post. Deal with it.NOTE: heavy spoilers ensue for each of the below games. You've been warned.
Batman Arkham Asylum: Killer Croc's Lair
Ask anyone what the most memorable moment is from Rocksteady's 2009 masterpiece Batman Arkham Asylum, and they'll likely say: Scarecrow. It's understandable. It's hard to forget attempting to navigate Scarecrow's nightmare-fuelled realm in the dark and rain while avoiding the blistering gaze of a gigantic Scarecrow. But it's still not the scariest moment in the game. That accolade belongs to Killer Croc's Lair.
Towards the end of the game, Batman must venture into the sewers where Killer Croc resides so you can gather spores to counteract Joker's Titan serum. The sewers are a confusing maze of similar looking twists and turns, and you have to take it all very slowly. If you rush along the floating platforms then Killer Croc will sense your vibrations and emerge to instantly kill you. Instead you must pay careful attention to the motion sensor on the left of your screen at all times, and make sure you're not sending too many vibrations down to the monster below.
Every so often, Killer Croc emerges anyway and charges at you, accompanied by violent, panicked swells of violins in the soundtrack. You have to hit Croc in the head with a Batarang before he reaches you and cause him to fall back into the water, or it's another instant death. It's scary stuff, trapped in the murky labyrinth below Arkham Asylum, having to take your time to avoid the one villain in the game that Batman cannot hope to defeat with brute strength alone.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: Darth Vader Appears
Speaking of unbeatable villains. I felt a true sinking "Oh, fuck" moment at the end of Jedi: Fallen Order when Darth Vader appeared. I'd at last defeated what I thought was the final boss of the game, and then... that iconic breathing in the background began. And I knew I was in real trouble.
It's a surprisingly powerful moment when you're given control back of Cal as he faces down Vader, because it highlights just how incredibly outmatched you are despite everything you've been through and how much you've grown in power throughout the game. This is the ultimate warrior of the galaxy. He deflects your first few lightsaber swings like child's play before using the Force to disarm you and throw you about like a ragdoll. Fighting simply isn't an option, and the game quickly helps you to realise this as Vader begins to tear apart the fortress around you with his inconceivably strong Force powers.
It's by far the best "you have no choice but to run" moment in any game I can think of. The cinematic feel, Vader's intimidating stature, and the oh-so-Revenge Of The Sith music that plays in the background. It's very easy to forget that you're playing a game, and start panicking at the prospect of having Darth Vader himself hot on your heels.
Inside: The Huddle
Inside is a pretty disturbing game - as we've come to expect from anything that Playdead produces. But the final segment of Inside really takes the cake. The tale of a small boy infiltrating a foreboding facility of scientists researching into mind control comes to a rather gruesome body-horror-esque climax, as he jumps into a giant tank of water and finds at its centre a gigantic, living mass of pasty flesh and grasping limbs.
The Huddle, as it's called, quickly grabs the boy as he attempts to disconnect it from the wires keeping it in place, and pulls him deep into itself. From that point onwards, the player controls the Huddle - a horrific and overwhelmingly strong being that breaks free of first the tank and then the facility, causing chaos and sending all the workers in the facility fleeing in terror in the process. It's certainly not a jump scare, but it's psychological horror - a good deal more impactful for many people.
The implications are pretty harrowing. What did the scientists hope to gain by creating such an abomination? How many people had to die to make it happen? How much does the Huddle feel, or think? Was it controlling the boy all this time with its ambiguous mind control abilities, and that's why the boy spent the entire game slowly traveling through dangerous areas and horrific encounters, getting ever closer to the Huddle that would absorb him into itself in order to escape? And what really happens to the Huddle at the end? It breaks free of the facility, rolls down a forest hill, and comes to a slow, blubberous stop on the coast. And then the credits roll. What happens after that? Is it still alive? Did it get what it wanted? Is it just recaptured and put back into the facility? So many questions, and each one of them fills me with dread.
Mass Effect 2: The Collector Attack
Mass Effect 2 is, at its heart, all about forging and tightening relationships with your crewmates. Years later, we all remember conversations we had with our favourite crewmates - Garrus, Tali, Thane, Wrex... Not Kaidan. But almost everyone else. This is why the second Collector Attack on the Normandy late on in the game is so impactful. By this time, these are your friends, your fellows. And you more or less have to watch them being slaughtered and abducted by the enemy.
At the time of the Collector attack, Shepard and his team are forced to use the shuttle instead of the Normandy itself for their next mission. So when the Collectors arrive, there's no defence against them. Joker, who due to his disability finds it very difficult to move about physically, is forced to get up and attempt to flee under the player's control. In so doing, the game forces both the protagonists and the player out of their comfort zone. Shepard and his team aren't there to fight. Joker, the ace pilot, is forced to abandon the position where he's strongest, and instead hobble through the Normandy. The player is given control of Joker, rather than Shepard, and is therefore powerless to stop the Collectors. And as Joker limps along, all around him he sees his crewmates being mowed down and captured by the enigmatic Collectors and their fearsome Praetorians.
Being completely powerless to stop your crew from being killed is not a familiar feeling in Mass Effect 2, which is why the Collector attack hits so hard. We got a taste of it at the very beginning of the game with the attack that destroys the first Normandy. But back then, it was quite clearly telegraphed that everyone was getting to safety, and the only casualty was Shepard - which doesn't really hit very hard since the player understands that Shepard obviously can't actually be dead. But the later attack is very scary indeed. It's not a far-off ship assault, it's a boarding and capture, you can't do anything to stop it, and you genuinely don't know what's going to happen to your friends and crewmates.
Grounded or Subnautica: Your Worst Fear
Survival games are among the scariest non-horror games out there. Surviving takes a long time, and starting from nothing and building up your tools, skills, and homes means that when danger comes knocking, the stakes are high. And your survival instincts really start to kick in. A lot of people talk about Minecraft being one of the scariest games they've played, because you'd turn around while deep underground in a cave, your inventory groaning with diamonds, and a silent Creeper or Enderman is right in your face. But times have moved on in the survival game genre, and Creepers aren't the scariest things out there anymore.
Whether Grounded's or Subnautica's jump scares hit you harder depends very much on which phobias you happen to have. If you're an arachnophobe (like me) it'll be Grounded. If you're a thalassophobe (also like me) it'll be Subnautica. I've grouped them both together because they both represent the absolute pinnacle of being scared out of your mind by a horrifying monster suddenly emerging from the fog and charging at you with a roar.
In Grounded, it's the sheer terror of being an ant-sized human armed with little more than a sharp twig, suddenly finding yourself being chased by a horrific chittering Wolf Spider eight times your size. In Subnautica, it's the first time you swim into the murky waters near the Aurora, and a chilling far-off roar resounds nearby... before a gargantuan, snake-like Reaper Leviathan hurtles out of the inky blackness towards you. Either way, a newer player can't really hope to defeat such a creature, so your only hope (besides trying not to wet yourself) is to run or swim away. Easier said than done when both the creatures in question are faster than you. It's brutally scary stuff, and probably the best chance you have at jumping out of your skin at a non-horror game this Halloween.