Keeping with the upcoming Halloween celebrations, here are the top five scariest franchises that only make this list simply because no matter how old you are or if you play in broad daylight, these games are just damn scary. If you don’t find them scary, you’re either lying to sound tough or you’re part robot. If it’s the latter, please hook me up with some android parts, it might give me a little more courage when I desperately try to get some sleep but can’t help thinking about …
Condemned is based off of an interesting premise – you’re an ex-cop, framed for a murder you didn’t commit, seeking out the person who framed you, generally in an underground area full of excessively violent drug-addicts who seem to love jumping out to surprise you. Oh, and they also love crowbars. Yep, stuff jumps out at you, and that’s basically mankind’s number 1 fear-inducer. The town has been driven insane by a phenomenon only known as ‘The Hate’ so there’s a lot of violence, and a ton of creepy serial-killers out to get you.
More than that, the Condemned franchise is actually psychologically creepy in certain areas. As the plot unfolds, you find things out about the real killer and his influence on your life which might be better left unseen, at least for the sake of a good night’s sleep. Condemned is also fairly action-orientated, and the persistent conflict with somewhat over-powered weapons (thank you, shotgun!) makes it a little less fearsome, however. It isn’t constantly scary, but when it is, it’s often of the “jump and scream” variety.
From the faceless, foreign being who desperately attempts to entice you by looking somewhat human to the bleak, dark surroundings, Slender manages to be extremely atmospheric without needing complexities. You’re solely assigned the task of finding 8 pages in a park (and now various other levels, hence ‘franchise’) and have no means of defending yourself from the lanky, persistent ‘killer’ that is Slenderman. You lose when he gets too close to you, which he most probably will before you manage to seek out all of the pages. They spawn randomly in the large park, and more than one landmark that they’ll spawn on has a convenient corner for him to hide around to greet you as soon as you guess his location incorrectly.
The game uses slowly crescendoing dramatic music to intensify the atmosphere, and the knowledge that the one thing that can ‘kill’ you in seconds is constantly watching, following and trying to trick you does the rest of the work to make it completely terrifying. You know you’re absolutely screwed, all the time, since you’re constantly aware of his presence and there are never any moments of safety. For one, you’d be an idiot to turn around after page 4 – if you get that far.
However, there are quite a few occasions in Slender where you simply won’t see him for about 6 pages and then it’s hardly worth the ridiculous expanse of time it can take to find the pages. The music gets a little annoying, too.
Dead Space has atmosphere, dark lighting and on-screen simplicity absolutely perfected. Team that with an incredible story and HD dismemberment which forces you to un-learn the headshot, you’re in for a nail-biting experience. The entire menu system is based on HUD holograms, and if you actually care to take a look at them, the rest of the game stays on in real-world time, which leaves you near constantly terrified. Then, there’s the totally unpredictable array of enemies, who will jump out at you, try to impale you with their razor-sharp limbs and cover you in chills by slightly resembling humanity on some occasions. The disturbing scenes could definitely deter a lot of people from playing. For one, a deranged man slices a knife through his throat within the first few minutes of Dead Space 2. The violent suicide immediately makes you wonder why this man was so desperate to die. What’s in store for you?
The atmosphere is dark, dreary, intense and the story is seriously personal. The main character, Isaac Clarke, has been clearly scarred by the events around him, and is forced to fight through necromancers even though he isn’t a trained soldier. He’s generally alone, aside from occasionally watching other people die, and that only adds to the sense of helplessness. The story (in both games) makes you completely empathise with Isaac, which really adds to the psychological side of this horror game. Dead Space is grotesque, creepy, jumpy, gory and basically ticks all the boxes that a game of its genre should.
Everything wants to kill you, you physically can’t kill anything, and the only way you can get away from your excited murderer is to run, barricade off the entrance to your hiding spot and turn out your lantern while you’re at it. Your lantern runs out of gas, too, giving you a serious priority beyond basic progression. Before I attempted these games myself, even that concept gave me chills. The gameplay compliments this concept amazingly well; if you want to open a door, you click on it and drag it backwards. This allows you to stealthily assess your surroundings from the safety (probably not that safe, mind you) of the room you’re in, and can also cause some huge problems when you’re trying to flee. If you try to “pull” a “push” door, the few seconds that mistake took will probably cost you your life.
Amnesia also has a dark, twisted story, an array of torturous scenes, bloody trails and the same horrifyingly dark shadows scattered throughout the hallways. The main character, Daniel, loses sanity by being in the darkness, witnessing events or staring at the monsters who chase him. The less sane he becomes, the more you’ll witness visual and auditory hallucinations which can draw the attention of monsters. The events you witness are incredibly common, too – it’s safe to say that the creepiest, most disgusting events I’ve encountered have come from this game.
I think Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw summarises the game perfectly, on Zero Punctuation: “It’s not a perfect game, but it’s almost unmatched as a constipation aid.”
I’m almost afraid to discuss Project Zero (Fatal Frame 1) and Fatal Frame 2 for genuine concern that people might look them up and play them, thus ruining the next 365 nights they attempt to sleep. I find these far more frightening than Amnesia, because you’re forced to face your enemies but still feel hopeless as you do. That feeling only rises as they get closer and closer to you, which you actually have to allow in order to defeat them.
Your only form of defense in (most) Fatal Frame games is a camera, in which you must take pictures of ghosts to seal their souls on film, and thus make them disappear. On some occasions you’ll be in pitch black rooms, and the flash of the camera is the only way to light it up, revealing all of the ghosts in your path. In order to actually get rid of them you need to let them get as close to you as you possibly can without being killed, so that the camera is actually effective. The closer they get, the more panicked you get, and it simply never stops being frightening no matter how many times you’re forced to do it.
Needless to say, there are a lot of times where you’ll want to step away from the computer (or console) and forget you’d ever played it. But you won’t. You really, really won’t. Fatal Frame constantly makes you feel hopeless, makes you aware of everything in every room, and makes you so cautious of timing that your heart rate will be so high you’d probably lose some weight.
Special mentions: Silent Hill, F.E.A.R and Doom, which weren’t included because some of the games in those franchises aren’t particularly scary. For one, the Silent Hill franchise clearly peaked at Silent Hill 2.
What games scared the living hell out of you? Let us know in the comments below!