The scariest moments in video games are subjective. That’s not the perfect starter to a definitive list of terror but it’s true. Someone’s Baker Mansion might be your idea of a walk in the park, while another person’s experience of Grounded might be akin to sticking their head in a box of actual arachnids. But some moments stand out more than others. They’re the ones we think about when we turn off the lights. The ones that hiss in the dark corners of our brains.
We load up horror video games in the full knowledge that the experience is not going to be pleasant so some of the scariest moments actually hide where we don’t expect them. Yes, looking at you Man-Bat. Then there are the sequences that are seared into our consciousness as the first time that we genuinely felt the wholly unique sensation of video game fear. Let’s use Halloween as an excuse to journey through some of the best of them. Or should that be the worst? No, please. After you. I insist..
*Spoilers for the named games ahead*
1. House Beneviento – Resident Evil Village
Despite Capcom very publicly stating that Resident Evil: Village was going to be less scary than RE 7 after feedback that people kept noping out, 2021’s Biohazardous offering contains a truly terrifying sequence. Survive the grand lair of Lady Dimitrescu and your next location is the home of doll-maker Donna Benevient.
Those with a fear of Chucky and co won’t enjoy the frenzied boss fight that concludes the section but the sequence leading up to it in the doll workshop is pure nightmare fuel. Wandering the silent dread-laced corridors with no means of protection as a radio crackles and shapes flicker briefly through frosted windows would be quite enough. But the true terror comes once you have ‘solved’ the mannequin on the table and finally try to make your escape. The giant baby-like monstrosity that looms out of the darkness screeching in the corridor is the kind of horror that might actually push your sanity beyond its limits.
2. Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2
Speaking of sanity, that’s a perfect segue into the monsters of Silent Hill and one in particular who has a very special, if largely triangular space, in our hearts. Pyramid Head’s introduction in Silent Hill 2 is now almost the stuff of twisted legends. The fixed camera angles and faceless tortured yelps of the apartment building are already claustrophobically terrifying and that’s before you see him standing on the other side of a locked gate. But it’s as you and James explore further, and find Pyramid Head abusing two mannequin-like figures amidst a tangle of limbs, where things get even scarier.
Much has been said about this disturbing sequence. Pyramid Head creator Masahiro Ito even took to Twitter last year to say that the abuse looks sexual but actually isn’t and also was the reason he couldn’t get a girlfriend at the time. A topic for another feature perhaps… Regardless, this is a frenzied and searing sequence as James cowers in a cupboard, looking through the slats at the horror unfolding. Even once it’s over, now we know what’s out there, we’d just rather stay in here, thanks.
3. Man-Bat – Batman Arkham Knight
There you are, grappling across Gotham as the World’s Greatest Detective. Mmm, what a satisfying mechanical noise and feeling of power as you cross the skies. Nothing phases you and your steely, grizzled jawline. You basically eat scary clowns for breakfast.
Yet all of that is suddenly shattered as you grapple to a building, only for a hideous creature to loom down at you, screeching and swiping angrily. This almost fourth wall breaking scare was enough to send most of us flying into the air and tossing away our controllers in a shower of expletives. The sequence is repeated as you hunt down Man-Bat but nothing ever feels quite the same as that first horror movie level of jump scare. Well played, Rocksteady.
4. Eye Needle – Dead Space 2
We’re hitting the full gamut of unpleasantness in this list and Dead Space 2’s interaction with a needle falls firmly into unbearable Hostel-levels of body horror territory. Knowing full well you’d rather take on an entire planet of necromorphs instead, Dead Space 2 forces you to clamber inside the NoonTech Diagnostic Machine. This gadget then Ludovico Techniques Isaac’s peepers open before asking you to, quite literally, stick a needle in your eye. Here you steer a laser pointer over Isaac panicking eyeball as a needle lowers, all while trying to keep his heart rate low so as not to panic him further. It’s a perfect example of a video game forcing us not just to look but to participate long after a movie would have let us off the hook and hide until the next scene. Watch the video above if you want to see what happens when it all goes wrong…
5. Arrival at Mount Massive – Outlast
There are plenty of moments in Outlast worth shouting or indeed crying about when it comes to the scariest moments in video games but the introductory sequence is perfect in so many ways. Your arrival at Mount Massive Asylum is horrifically, beautifully paced. You can almost feel the horror to come as you drive through the darkness, and pull up outside the gates. Learning about how to use your night vision with oh-so-limited batteries is an effortless exercise in dread building. Nothing inside the hulking asylum filling the horizon can be worse than what you are already imagining. This means that once you’ve entered a window that’s very clearly been used as an exit and the lights go out, the terror is only truly beginning but you are already a wreck. Which really, is the way that Red Barrels wants it.
6. Lisa – PT
Much has been written about the terror of PT’s crying pink baby creature in the sink and it says a lot about Silent Hills’ doomed playable teaser that there are other, equally horrifying moments to unpick. One in particular stands out for its sheer potent simplicity and, of course, it involves the petrifying Lisa.
On one of your many loops around PT’s L-shaped corridor of doom, you’ll walk along the first stretch and when you turn, she will be standing, swaying slightly in the middle of the corridor. If you want to see it in action, it’s the 3rd of the scripted moments in the YouTube video above. She stands, frozen, legs apart, while the noise of the baby drifts through the slight gap in the bathroom door. It’s enough of a potent horror combo to make you turn off the PS4 at the wall and walk out into the sunshine. But, of course, you didn’t do that, did you?
7. The Dogs – Resident Evil
It’s an existential question. Have you even written a list of the scariest moments in video games if you haven’t included the attack of the dogs in the original Resident Evil? This particular scare is firmly in jump scare territory but it’s so perfectly executed that you can’t even get remotely angry.
Given that Resident Evil coined the term survival horror back in 1996, we were playing blind. We had no idea what Capcom was willing to do to scare us as we entered rooms with tank controls that left us in control but also constantly feeling like we were on a cliff edge, just one camera angle from falling to our doom. This meant that the first time the dogs burst through the windows, it was if they were coming into the real world. Surely this shouldn’t even be possible…
8. The Xenomorph – Alien Isolation
It’s not really a moment but let’s take a minute to appreciate the existence of the xenomorph in Creative Assembly’s survival horror. Thanks to cinema, this is a creature that already lived in the back of our brains, meaning that when we finally played hide and seek with it, the dread was real. But nothing could prepare you for the first time you see it, spilling out of an air duct. And it never gets any easier. Every hide under a desk or around a corner feels like your heart might explode out of your chest Mr Hurt style. And this is all down to Creative Assembly’s exquisite monster design. A specific AI even directs the xenomorph to your general vicinity so you’ll never be able to learn a routine and slip by unseen. And yes, it even has invisible eyes on the back of its head.
9. The Leviathans – Subnautica
Listen to the sounds of the video above. Just listen to them. If you haven’t played Subnautica you probably have a very specific idea of what it is. A brightly coloured adventure game with lovely water effects. Well, it is that. But then you have to leave the brightly coloured tropical waters and head into the depths. Y’know, the bit of the sea that you can sometimes feel with one toe when you’re out swimming on holiday. The cold bit. The dark bit. This is where Subnautica’s Leviathan’s lurk, just waiting for you. These massive sea monsters wait far beneath the waves and the sound above is the roar of the Reaper Leviathan. It can’t see you but its echolocation abilities means it knows exactly where you are. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
10. The Dentist – BioShock
Some of us have very specific phobias that games just love to make the most of. Teeth fears in particular are something that plenty of games love to gently tap into, like a dentist checking for weaknesses. For instance, anyone who has even a remote fear of either dentists or tooth-based horror should avoid Psychonauts 2. Maybe though, this is because you played BioShock and made your way to Rapture’s *ahem* Painless Dental. Not only does a cloud of gas descend and a corpse appear in the chair but after picking up some plasmids, an evil dentist splicer looms out of the mist behind you in a truly bone churning jump scare. It’s enough to make you use those interdental brushes without being told to every day.
Halloween is on October 31. Why not see it in with a few of these scares?