Strategy Informer Halloween Month Review (PC)

There’s just something about the whole medium of videogames that makes them inherently suitable for conveying a sense of horror. Yeah, movies can be mildly frightening - but nothing compares to the feeling of vulnerability that comes from having a direct level of control over the action. The fear of the unknown is so much more pronounced in videogames, simply because it’s compounded by the fear of your play experience being directly affected by whatever it is that’s after you – not to mention the feelings of connection that tend to happen between player and character over the course of a 20 or 30 hour game.

It’s not just recent games that have taken advantage of this, though, as the following list proves.

10. Bad Day on the Midway (Inscape, 1995)

Inscape’s self described PC “anti-game” was the second of two multimedia projects in the mid ‘90s from anonymous avant garde band The Residents. Unlike their first effort, which was more of an animated album, Bad Day… functioned as a complete and rather impressive point and click adventure game.

Far more character based psychological horror than anything else, the game focused on an amusement park, and left the player to figure out exactly what had left the park’s owner in a coma, and what was killing the carnies. Along the way, the player could swap from character to character, and while it quickly became apparent what the cause was, what could be done about it – if anything – was not so clear. Innovative and chilling, even by today’s standards.

9. Clock Tower (Human Entertainment, 1997)

The PlayStation’s second big taste of the horror genre came with this sequel to a 1995 Japan-only SNES game. Clock Tower was a point and click adventure that cast the player as either Jennifer Simpson, the 15 year old survivor of the Scissorman murders, or Helen Maxwell, her adoptive mother.

After escaping from the Scissorman the year before, Jennifer had imagined him to be dead, but quickly finds that he has reappeared, and is killing those close to her. Unlike most point and click adventures, which allow the player to solve puzzles at their own speed, Clock Tower ups the pressure with Scissorman stalking the player right throughout their quest to uncover the truth behind his origins, and with Jennifer and Helen mostly unable to defend themselves, it proves to be a tense experience.

8. Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996)

The popularisation of the genre over the past ten years is unarguably solely attributable to this PlayStation title. While investigating a series of murders just outside of Racoon City, Special Tactics and Rescue Service Alpha Team are sent in to investigate. Soon enough, the player find themselves controlling either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield as they fight through Spencer Mansion to discover the source of the killings – and to find out what happened to S.T.A.R.S. Brave Team, who went in before them.

The game’s horror comes primarily from it’s dark atmosphere, and the fear of running out of ways to defeat the zombies that populate the mansion. Despite being criticised by many, Resident Evil’s save system also increased the overall tension – players only had a limited amount of saves, based on the number of typewriter ink ribbons found throughout the game, forcing them to think carefully about their movements, lest they end up having to replay a sizable chunk of the progress.

7. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (Cyberdreams, 1995)

Based on Harlan Ellison’s short story of the same name, I Have No Mouth… is undoubtedly one of the most successful attempts at true psychological horror within the medium of videogames, as well as one of the most unashamedly intelligent adult videogames ever released.

After the computer AM destroys all of humanity, he decides to keep alive 5 people, who are given the chance to redeem themselves of their past mistakes, and prove that humans are “better” than machines. Along the way, the game touches on insanity, selfishness, rape, racism, paranoia and, most controversially, genocide, with a moral ambiguity that terrifies and challenges players, partly because it’s never clear if there is a satisfying conclusion.

6. F.E.A.R. (Monolith Productions, 2005)

F.E.A.R. is one of the only Western games to truly understand that, more than often, it’s not what is around the corner that frightens players, it’s what should have been there, but isn’t. According to lead designer Craig Hubbard, the game focuses on the “psychology of the encounter”, rather than the “in your face 'monsters jumping out of closets' approach” popularised by games like Doom and Quake.

The player controls the Point Man for the First Encounter Assault Recon team, though little else is known at the start. Throughout the game, the player will learn more about their ultimate goal and the secrets behind a phenomenally powerful little girl named Alma. As well as the unknown elements in the story, and the terror of facing an enemy you know little about, the game places a high value on fearsome audio, increasing the tension by including a frightening ambient soundscape.

5. The 7th Guest

One of the first titles to be released on CD ROM for PC, The 7th Guest took full advantage of its format by including live action clips as an integral part of its gameplay. The player takes the role of the 7th guest, who has come to the mansion of Henry Stauf, a maniacal toy maker. The player’s aim is not only to find out what has happened to the other 6 guests invited and find out how to defeat Faust, but also to discover their own identity, looking at themes like the afterlife, sin and redemption.

As well as its revolutions in video quality, the game also introduced new standards in audio – the taunting voice of Stauf as the player attempts to solve puzzles is not one that’s easily forgotten.

4. Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

While the first Silent Hill game, for PlayStation, was certainly creepy, it wasn’t until the series hit the Xbox and PlayStation 2 that gamers realised just how frightening the series could be. The game’s story is that of James Sunderland, who journeys to Silent Hill to find the origins of a letter he received pertaining to be from his wife, who died three years previous.

While there, he meets others in similar predicaments, as well as more than a few strange, inhuman creatures – most notably, the invincible, relentlessly pursuing monster known to James as Pyramid Head. The game makes excellent use of the principles of Japanese horror cinema, with the focus more on what might happen, rather than what is happening. It also deals with many of the same themes as other games on this list – redemption, sin, guilt, as well as suicide.

3. The Lurking Horror (Infocom, 1987)

Infocom’s 1987 text adventure doesn’t have graphics to rely on for its terror, and only the Amiga version had sound, which makes it all the more impressive to find out just how frightening this game is. The main character is a student at G.U.E. Tech – which, the game’s manual notes, has “the highest suicide rate in the country” - who becomes trapped in the university’s computer lab following a blizzard.

After the document becomes corrupted, the player learns of another presence within the university that resides in the underground tunnels that are, coincidentally, the only route of escape from the building. It quickly becomes obvious that the cause of death within the facility is not from suicide but from something else – though finding out what that is, and what you can do about it is an altogether different matter.

2. Sanitarium (DreamForge Intertainment, 1998)

Looking at the previous titles on this list, it’s obvious that one of the most frightening things for someone playing a game to do is to step into the shoes of someone whose identity is unclear, and Sanitarium is undoubtedly the most terrifying example of this. The game starts with the protagonist attempting to find out why they’ve been institutionalised, and, more importantly, who they are.

Reconstructing the past proves to be a harrowing experience, though, as the main character is forced to relive memories that leave it unclear exactly what is real, and what is not. The final realisation of what you’re meant to be doing is one of the most terrifying moments in gaming history.

1. Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly (Tecmo, 2003)

If you’ve never played the second title in Tecmo’s ghostbusting, camera toting survival horror series, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is so damn scary about it. Surely a game about a pair of twins that enter a village, only to find themselves trapped, and surrounded by ghosts with only a magical camera to defend themselves can’t be that frightening, right?

Wrong. Fatal Frame is Japanese horror cinema theory made manifest – and the game’s creeping silence, punctuated all-too-rarely by the screaming of one of the village’s un-dead population, cannot be denied, nor will it be quickly forgotten by anyone who’s heard it. If the quality of the gameplay is mildly inferior to other titles on the list, the game’s art direction soon makes up for that; brilliant red and dense black are the dominant colours, and the character design of the enemies is truly terrifying.

Play it with a pair of headphones in the dark this Halloween for the true experience – or, if you’re anything like me, make someone sit next to you in a well lit room. It’s pants-wettingly bloodcurdling.


By bugus (SI Newbie) on Apr 12, 2008
By 13jason13 (SI Veteran Newbie) on Jun 15, 2008
resident evil is a great game
and clock tower looks freaky