Halloween is here again! We've gathered our coven of writers and summoned some of the darkest games from the pits of hell itself... or rather from our dusty games shelves. Here's our pick of gaming's spookiest levels, areas and atmospheres!
Bloodborne doesn’t spook as most conventional horror games do. But it isn’t conventionally terrifying because it isn’t meant to be, it’s an action RPG after all, and not an out-and-out horror title. Where Bloodborne excels is in creating one of the most faithful Lovecraftian horrors in the gaming industry.
The first half of the game is an almost cheesy blend of vampires, werewolves and torch-toting mobs. It is only after defeating Rom, the Vacuous Spider that the truth is revealed: the mysterious religion that the plot has revolved around is one that worships alien beings that have since transcended this mortal plane.
Where Bloodborne excels is in creating one of the most faithful Lovecraftian horrors in the gaming industry.
This reflects the horror Lovecraft himself hoped to evoke, the fear of the unknown. The second half of Bloodborne delivers horror by revealing to the player a world unimaginable in the first half of the game, with the mechanics of Insight and Frenzy cementing this into the DNA of the game. Bloodborne's approach to horror is truly unique.
Out There is a cosmic horror resource-management game. You play as the passenger of a mining ship who’s been cryogenically frozen for 200 years. Earth’s solar system has been destroyed by aliens trying to prevent the heat death of the universe, and displaced humans now terrorise the galaxy. Your objective is to get home – if it still exists.
The game is thoroughly gloomy, with text boxes reminding you that you are constantly being irradiated. The occasional moments of happiness – like finding a spaceship with some advanced tech – are quickly followed up with the gut punch of running out of oxygen or some other resource.
The game is thoroughly gloomy, with text boxes reminding you that you are constantly being irradiated.
The scariest thing about Out There is that there is no happy ending for you. Aliens hate and fear you, but despite your fearsome reputation most of the time you run out of one resource or another and die, unmourned and unloved.
Out There isn’t chilling from a “boo, I’m a skeleton!” perspective. It’s more to do with the fear of isolation. Each time you lose, you die alone. Alexa, play “Your Day Will Come” by Streetlight Manifesto.
When it comes to classic horror games, few come more highly praised than Silent Hill 2, and it’s not hard to see why. Silent Hill 2 eschews shock for tension via its foreboding, foggy streets and the dark, claustrophobic interiors of its rotting buildings, all of which work to render the player just as paranoid as the main character.
Speaking of the main character, the town of Silent Hill is less of an abandoned holiday resort so much as it is the physical manifestation of the guilty consciences of the poor souls drawn to it, sort of like Scarborough but purposefully built for terrible people.
This is particularly true of the game's protagonist James Sunderland, who was drawn to the town by a letter from his dead wife and whom the town subsequently delights in tormenting. It’s an interplay between protagonist and environment few games have pulled off anywhere near as effectively.
Silent Hill 2 is a stellar horror game, but more than this, it’s a masterclass in interactive storytelling.
But for me Silent Hill 2's primary strength lies in its sound design, the work of the infinitely talented Akira Yamaoka. Much of this lies in the soundtrack (one of the best the medium's ever produced) but even the basic sound effects like James's rhythmic footsteps have a way of putting you on edge.
All in all, Silent Hill 2 is a stellar horror game, but more than this, it’s a masterclass in interactive storytelling. If you're itching to feel both spooked and sad this Halloween, you could do far worse.
The Fallout series is perhaps best known for the vaults. Each game has them scattered across the map with three of the titles even beginning in an operational, functional vault. The one that I’ll be discussing is Vault 87, the birthplace of the super mutants and centaurs in the Capital Wasteland.
The two main enemies you encounter in this area are the three-tongued, slug-like centaurs who behave like loyal attack dogs for the gigantic, muscular super mutants. These monstrous mutants speak like primitive, aggressive humans, grunting like cavemen. The centaurs, however, are mute. Instead, you hear their slithering tongues and their ghastly limbs as they drag themselves along by their malformed hands and feet.
Those that walked in believed they were going to be saved from annihilation. The results were the monstrous creatures that you must defend yourself from in Vault 87.
The actual vault itself has the same characteristics as most of the others: claustrophobic, dimly lit and in ruins, full of blood-stained medical beds with failed experiments strung out on display near the grime-covered windows.
This section is known as the ‘test labs’ and, rather horrifically, those that walked in believed they were going to be saved from annihilation. The results were the monstrous creatures that you must defend yourself from in Vault 87.
There’s clearly a terrifying history to explore here, and the atmosphere that Bethesda created perfectly reflects the horrors that were enacted on those who unwittingly entered the vault.
In my eyes, there are few video game antagonists more terrifying than SA-X from Metroid Fusion. A parasite-driven clone of heroine Samus’ power suit, it’s made explicitly clear to you by the game that SA-X isn’t to be messed with when Samus has been stripped of most of her abilities, whilst SA-X is at full destructive power.
The first few times you come close to SA-X - its arrival heralded by ominous music and the sound of approaching footsteps - you’re forced to cower underneath the floor or behind walls to avoid its wrath, all while it continues to wreak destruction aboard the game’s isolated space station.
SA-X is waiting just around the corner to remind you that in reality you’re still helpless to resist
Your first real encounter comes about halfway through the game, a heart-pounding chase section where a handful of mistakes can easily lead to your untimely end after SA-X follows relentlessly and can decimate you with even a few hits of its ice ray.
Once you’ve regained some of Samus’ more powerful abilities and it’s tempting to start feeling like an unstoppable badass. SA-X, of course, is waiting just around the corner to remind you that in reality you’re still helpless to resist, and for me it’s that feeling of complete powerlessness that makes this encounter such an iconic horror moment.
Yume Nikki (meaning ‘Dream Diary’), a free-to-play Japanese indie horror game made with RPG Maker, is an exercise in pure atmospheric fear. You play as Madotsuki, a girl living alone in a crappy apartment that she refuses to leave and, by climbing into her bed, you explore her dreams.
It’s a minimalist and free-form experience pared down to the core; there’s no battle system, dialogue or signposting. Instead, all you get in Madotsuki’s mental landscape is a series of twelve doors each leading its own uniquely surreal realm.
It’s totally immersive and unsettling, in a world that makes just enough sense to suggest something deeper is at play.
Your exploration is accompanied by an eerie ambience, discordant noises, complete desolation and a barrage of strange symbolism that makes the English student in me weep. The pixel-based graphics are bright, lurid and confusing, full of Aztec-like figures, phallic slimes and the bird-faced Toriningen, who chase you down and trap you in a dead end.
It’s not a game that thrives on shock value (mostly) but it’s totally immersive and unsettling, in a world that makes just enough sense to suggest something deeper is at play. Turn off the lights, put on headphones, and explore the depths of Madotsuki’s dreams tonight. You may just visit them again in your nightmares.