It is October, which means it's time to play some scary games. Video games, as an interactive medium, provide a lot of opportunities: ways to connect, to learn, to grow. They also allow for even more innovative and haunting new ways to scare our socks off.
Scary video games come in all varieties. Some are your routine jump-scares, some are about the fear of an unstoppable enemy or impending doom. Some even try to capture the dizzying horror of the unknown, something so unfathomable it drives us mad just trying to comprehend it. Of course, there's the classic Resident Evil zombie-through-the-window trick. Never fails!
We've talked about our favorite horror games, but we'd like to know who's the best at scaring you silly. What's the best horror game around for celebrating this season of screams?
I'm going to dodge the question somewhat, as there's a divide between different types of horror. There's a difference between the slow burn, psychological horror of a game like Soma, the disempowered fear of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or the well-armed, frantic rush towards survival of Resident Evil 4. There's many ways to get to the feeling of horror. So I'd probably separate it out into types of horror, and pick the best of each one.
I've always been about sort of picking out how each game in particular works its scares. I think that's part of why P.T. isn't at the top of my list—after maybe the third playthrough, I had a solid concept of how it worked and the fear was gone, as it was based largely on the unknown. It's like when I was playing the middling Layers of Fear: once I realized halfway through the game that I actually couldn't die or come to any harm, the fear fled.
That leaves me with horror games where the fear and tension is based on pure survival, or the psychological horror games that are simply scary by asking certain questions of us. I'll split the difference and go with Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly. Not only does Fatal Frame 2 feature some absolutely scary apparitions, it gives you a way to somewhat deal with them via your camera. You're not well-armed, but you're not bereft of defense either. Ultimately, Fatal Frame asks "What are you willing to do to save the ones you love or yourself? Who will you destroy on that path?" And looking inside yourself, it's possible to find that you won't like the answer.
A good horror game is about the construction of a scare. You've got to build up, suspend, scare, and ramp down masterfully. It's really tough for a game to maintain a good sense of dread over the course of its runtime; that's why games like Silent Hill 2 or Eternal Darkness can stand the test of time.
My vote might be a bit of a cheat, but it goes to the one and only PT. The playable teaser for a Silent Hill that never was, it also serves as a hallmark (ha, hallmark) of interactive horror. It is so painstakingly crafted and curated to be scary, and to scare you at the right time. It is a puzzle you have to pick apart, and by doing so, it draws you in. Repetition creates a complacency that can lead to the best frights, and the hallway changes and adjusts just enough to keep you on your edge. That first shot, down a narrow hall, is iconic. It is unnervingly familiar. It's the hallway from your childhood home; the distance that seems measurable, yet it seems to stretch on more and more each loop.
The fact that it's removed from the PlayStation Store just lends even more ominous aura to it. The years will creep on, but PT will remain a major piece of this generation, and a vertical slice of horror as memorable as the genre's greats.
Okay, maybe I can't argue for flat-out "best," but if there's one horror game I've been itching to replay this year, it's Dead Space 2. While the sequel's definitely a bit more action-horror than the original, I feel like it's where the series shines (and scares) best. From the terrifying opening Necromorph conversion to the infamous eye-poke scene, Dead Space 2 has some wonderfully "fuck you" scary moments. I also think the sequence where Isaac revisits a certain locale from the first game is effective in the opposite sense, playing up quiet apprehension and unease to a point where you start wanting a jump-scare to release the tension. It's good, and I wish the third game had brought more of the same.