#10: Dead Space (PC)
The first game on this list of terror circulated around the media and internet for quite a while before release. Disgusting horrors await on a doomed and derelict spaceship above a planet and a crew is sent to investigate. A dime a dozen, right? EA was well aware of the cliches of the genre and warped them to be as original as possible. Taking inspiration from Aliens, Event Horizon and The Thing Dead Space was released last year to varied opinions. In Dead Space you, Issac Clarke, will battle some of the most demented and twisted monsters this side of Clive Barker or John Carpenter with various makeshift weapons or legitimate guns. Disgusting combined humans barreling sideways down a hallway, babies spraying acid and growing tentacles and gigantic million ton monsters pushing down on the ship. There are NO limits to the artistic and creative onslaught of gore in the design department. When there are no raving and gargling unearthly horrors chasing you, you will be listening to audio logs and reading writing on the wall documenting the ship's fall step by step. Game play mechanics all but destroy most of the atmosphere presented in the game (You only pickup ammo for the gun on hand meaning you never run out, save points all over, etc.) but the creatures and back story still retain a sense of dread that will linger in your mind for a day or two afterwards. A successful but slow reboot of the horror genre on PC, but far from the best...
In this 1992 horror classic Edward Carnby got more than he was banking on while investigating an old broken down mansion in the middle of nowhere. The horrors that await him, and you, created this genre and Alone is the grandfather of all survival horror games afterwards. Unearthly monsters and sounds of pure fright were out of the world in the time of gaming back in 1992 as you tried to brave the puzzles and traps of an ancient mansion. Some scares are still legitimate to this day and the graphics are infinitely better than one would imagine, so immersion is still kept intact. Locating this gem can be difficult but it is worth the hunt: The writing, scares, and sound effects were top tier for the time and still stand as impressively chilling. By far the oldest game on this list but not without a chilling punch. As a game it provides more content then you would think: It has a robust melee system even by today's standards, and sharp animations that make the monsters feel alive even 17 years later.
If the Arcane, occult and magical lure is your cup of blood then Undying should be a game you can enjoy. It plays like a conventional FPS with a reliance on magical powers and eldritch weapons. Like most Unreal 1 games it is finnicky and prone to crashes, but not without a wealth of atmosphere--and a quick save function. We steadily follow Patrick Galloway, a master of the occult, as he unravels a mystery about a dying family--and a dying guard to the universe. This game doesn't delve far into anything else but witchcraft and curses but still provides scares in the scantily decorated and archaic castle-top most of the game takes place in. This can be a deceptively difficult game to find in new condition but is worth the hunt if ghosts and witches keep you p at night! Clive Barker's Writing is kept intact here to the point of being one of the most writer-to-game horror adventures on the system. The Unreal engine has aged badly and it is an extremely short game, which keeps it from landing a higher spot on the list.
Who hasn't heard of the iconic Silent Hill series? Loved by some, hated by others, this series is the pinnacle of mind warped terror and guilt. Its akin to Rod Serling's style of horror of a town with a ghostly secret based around morals and parables rather than twisted logic. Indeed, Silent Hill 2 deals with the guilt and subconscious of one James Sunderland as he finds himself in the iconic town of Silent Hill looking for his wife. This is a love story in Poe fashion, surrounded in guilt and warped creatures right out of the back of your mind. My main complaint with this game is its camera angles and awful combat system which resulted in one too many death not from my fault, but for the inability of the camera to simply aim forward. Ammo is also too plentiful for most horror buffs but game play errors aside Silent hill delivers one of the saddest, and most complete, stories ever put into a game. It is the best of the series from my experiences and the scariest of them all. A demonic camera and faulty gameplay elements keep it from being higher on the list, as it is more frustrating than immersive of a game when enemies are around.
The Marine Campaign is the pinnacle of FPS shooter horror: It is a paranoia inducing, bone chilling experience through old mines and caves surrounded by acid spitting aliens and invisible elite warriors. Your nerves will be tried as you run through dark hallways with just a flare, a pistol, and a few rounds left as your sonar beets more rapidly as the aliens close in. Encountering these monsters is a brutal and fast experience. They die quick but their blood will burn you alive, and fast. The option also exists to turn the tides against your human foes and plays the "Alien" through many levels and life forms, albeit without any horror at all. When you are not fighting bugs from hell, most of the horror comes straight out of the sheer loneliness of it all: You will find destroyed military bases, evidence of pathetic last stands, and acid burns on beds and cribs and more. The Marine campaign goes all out to deliver white knuckle action, and surrounding doom. By far the most "frantic" game on this list it is not slow paced, but a conventional FPS with horror up to 11.
By no means a perfect game: It is a rushed and faulty vision of H.P Lovecraft's style of terror. Budget constraints and Head-first's liquidation are to blame for this, and as a game it is a linear adventure game until the mid half in which it unleashes swarms of baddies to shoot with lots of guns, and loses all its atmosphere. But hoo boy, did it have an atmosphere in the first half. Driving in a broken down bus to Innsmouth and talking to disgusting, snarling villagers. You wander into a decrepit and creaking hotel and talk to the sly and gray skinned hotel manager with only a grandfather clock in the background. His murderous intent is hinted at and he laughs as you leave to find some food... Indeed, the atmosphere surrounding Innsmouth is identical in comparison to its novel counterpart. It is a purely chilling and uneasy town with disgusting townsfolk and more than its share of secrets. It was compelling to experience talking to the townsfolk or explore back alleys and witness murders and other horrible deeds. The atmosphere is so good, in fact, it made its way to the top five just for it despite being a horrid generic FPS by the mid half. Think about that for a second. It is also a lengthy story and game with a metric ton of dialog and it never once loses its sharp ,bloody razor edge of uneasiness. Going to sleep in the Gilman hotel was easily the most uncomfortable, and then shocking, moment I've had in a game beyond the #1 on this list.
What do you get when you mix insane criminals and drug addicts, some of the most disgusting natural level designs, a chilling narrative and countless jump scares? You get Condemned: An Atmospheric masterpiece and a brutal look at drugs, insanity and violence. You play as a police officer investigating, and eventually hunting, a brutal serial killer with a thing for mannequins and carving up young women. The city is also going mad from an unknown source and causing drug addicts and lunatics to spill out of the cracks trying to bludgeon you to death with a large assortment of melee weapons. The combat is gripping and involves brutal combos, heavy hits, parries and kicks. The animations are slick and gruesome as they react to a log with nails or iron pipe crushing into their heads. The exploration leaves a lot to be desired as the game is a linear, and short, experience but its bombtastic approach to brutal combat and chilling level designs makes it one of the creepiest games to hit the system yet.
System Shock 2 took the genre, which was then stale for PC, and turned it on its head. Infusing RPG mechanics, a Deus Ex style open ended beginning and slick FPS mechanics was only half the game here. Irrational Game's also turned disgusting gore horror up to 11 with this demented tale of the Haunted Space Ship. After an "accident" the entire crew merges with mechanics, transforms into unearthly monsters or plain old zombies. The startling thing about this was it was never done before, and also the art direction: The monsters were in agony and were still people but with their minds broken. They would sob, cry, kick and scream their way towards you with disgusting frames and faces. The human emotions from them were uncanny and kept your suspension of disbelief intact. For the time the FPS mechanics and "level up" system were excellent and original, and fast responding. You had a huge ship to explore and there was always a creature around the corner or--revolutionary--not even on screen. The environmental sound effects were, and are, so good they still deliver most of the scares. Its so chilling to hear some of the crew, still human, being killed above you as their hiding place is found. The clanks, bumps and screams you'd expect from a deathly voyage are all here. Original, brutal, demented and best of all *scary*. System Shock 2 is the best.
Few things kept me from putting Penumbra on the number one spot, but 2 is no easy feat. Penumbra is in every single way a horror story, and a horror game, in that order. You play as Phillip looking for his father, Howard (H.P lovecraft reference anyone?) who has sent you a mysterious package with a map, and notes in another language. The problem is Howard is long dead, but Phillip follows the map anyway to Greenland and this is where most o the game takes place: In a dark, disgusting, well realized mine and then later an underground base. The atmosphere is so doom and dread filled its almost palpable. Progress reports, diaries, letters and wreckage all detail the downfall and insanity of the mine and creatures within. Game play wise it is more comparable to a point and click adventure, but rebooted for modern standards. You walk around in real time in 3D looting, exploring and rummaging through a disgusting mine and rusted shelter looking for anything to get you through. Your mouse controls your actions. Swing it to left and right and you will swing a hammer on screen. Grab a shelf and pull the mouse towards you ,and it will be pulled towards you. This increases immersion considerably all throughout the game. Lastly, Penumbra is the most intelligent horror game on the list. Its plot is thick in lure and logic and its puzzles reflect the same. No more gigantic seasaw puzzles. You will be using your mind: Vicegrip a coin down to use it as a screw driver. Light a match under an emergency fire system, I could go on and on. This is a gripping, but short, adventure and full of class. It is also bound to chill you to the bone.
Here it is, the number one: The scariest game made for PC and the king of doom and atmosphere: Stalker, shadows of Chernobyl! This gem developed for more than four years by GSC delivers a tour de force of gut wrenching loneliness and atmosphere, one that has stuck in my mind two years after playing. The game takes place in the scarcely populated "Zone", a fictitious aftermath of a second Chernobyl explosion and within this Zone lies countless scares, scenic horror and shady villains and a strange narrative and the game ends in a flourish of ironic terror. You're probably wonder what makes this game so scary and I will gladly tell you. For one its the atmosphere that is driven by the X-ray engine. Real time weather, a day and night cycle, and expert level design is the first bullet. You will find yourself wandering around dense forests full of fog and howling beasts, or a disgusting swampland devoted to housing leaping mutated men from radiation, to underground labyrinths full of bodies and unmentionable mutants which turn invisible before devouring you into a dry shell of skin. The Zone is a massive living, breathing open world run by scum and heroes alike. You can find yourself wandering through vast, twisted country sides before meeting one person and when you meet them... they'll kill you for your money. Doom is the best way to describe Stalker's atmosphere. It is a dreary, sad, empty world full of mutant horrors and bandits alike. Gameplay wise it does not fall below the standard of the scares. It has a top tier ballistics system for bullet drop, accuracy, recoil and even guns jamming or breaking. You can loot every single enemy you kill and steal their gear before they died and sell it to make money. You can hunt for "artifacts,", powerful treasures, all around the Zone and even hunt mutant hides or feet for a living. Stalker drops you in a sad, lonely world full of cruelty and doom and expects you to escape... or survive. The emotion, the horror--It comes from the world, not scripted events or jump scares. The world is naturally alive and is akin to going out to a forest, alone, and trying to survive. Picture you in this situation in the dead of night, and a fog and rainstorm hit with horrific laughter and growling all around you closing in. Welcome to Chernobyl.
Are you still alive? Or has this cursed list made you undead? Welcome to the fold then, brother. You have bested this list and now should try to best these games: Each one is a landmark in the genre for this system and each one shells out volumes of terror and anguish. If you enjoy horror, you will enjoy these games. But I'm afraid you know too much now. Go, go! Get out of here, and close your window before you go to sleep.
List by C-zom (10/09/2009)
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