Video game horror’s biggest trump card over horror in other mediums is that tactile immersion they can bring. The right game can put you in the moment, and in horror, that moment is usually about trying to prick your fear bubble as hard as possible.
One such method for this is having the player hunted by an intimidating entity. Horror movies have absolute mountains of examples of stalker/slasher types chasing (and usually decimating) wide-eyed victims, but video games can put you in the shoes of that victim, make you feel like there’s no hope of escape.
There are many (and some less so) memorable walking evils that have hounded players over the years, and the following selection is among the finest fiends to stalk gamers over the last few decades.
Scissorman (“Clock Tower” Series)
Scissorman is the poster boy for Clock Tower, a series inspired by the work of a horror icon. Series creator Hifumi Kono was inspired by the films of Dario Argento, Phenomena in particular.
The first Clock Tower to arrive on Western shores (1996’s Clock Tower 2) was a point n’ click adventure with a fairly novel 3D engine. Scissorman carries a huge pair of well…scissors (shears really) and you are always pretty much helpless to battle him. So there’s a lot of hiding and sneaking to be done.
This is the prototype that many other virtual boogeymen would follow, but there’s something almost nightmarish about having a pursuing force in the relatively slow-paced world of point n’ click. Not having full autonomy over your character as the blade-wielding madman closes the distance on you.
The series may have died and been usurped by the Resident Evils of this world, but there’s no denying its importance in its handling of virtual slashers.
The Nemesis (“Resident Evil 3: Nemesis”)
Capcom toyed with being hunted in previous Resident Evil titles, but it isn’t until Resident Evil 3 that you truly feel like you are somethings prey.
Set during the events of Resident Evil 2, Jill Valentine is escaping the doomed Raccoon City during the zombie outbreak. Unfortunately, she soon discovers Umbrella have sent a contingency plan to stop her and her S.T.A.R.S. teammates.
That plan is the Nemesis, a walking, talking bioweapon programmed to eliminate the S.T.A.R.S. team, and it just loves to chase poor Jill.
Nemesis sets the tone early on when Jill escapes the room the big tentacled bugger has just crashed into. Normally you’re safe from pursuing enemies if you move to another room, but an off-camera click of the handle and a dread-inducing blare of music tells you the Nemesis isn’t going to let a door stop its mission.
So begins a constant wheel of paranoia and dread, as you move into an area hoping, praying the bioweapon isn’t going to show up. Sometimes you can fend it off temporarily, but if you’re caught short, running is the only real option. It’s almost a relief when the Hunters show up, such is the impact Nemesis has.
Jill does eventually rid herself of the hulking menace, having effectively melted it into a misshapen lump of gristle and meat, but the trauma still resides.
The Xenomorph (“Alien: Isolation”)
It’s somewhat remarkable that the intimidating, horrifying xenomorph that had become nothing more than fancy cannon fodder in the decades since Alien released, would become relevant again in a video game.
Alien Isolation brought the horror back to the Alien name in a big way and provided an eerily accurate feeling of what it would be like to face off with the sleek and terrifying beast.
Developer Creative Assembly builds up to the alien reveal masterfully. Lots of talk and clues to its presence happens, but you’re kept waiting and waiting until eventually…there it is. The hunt now truly begins.
What follows is the player questioning every noise, every shape, every corner blanketed in shadow, and every ping of the motion tracker. You just know it’s never too far away, and you know that too much noise will bring its slick black form out into the open.
You dread having to pass through air ducts, despise long corridors, and curse the presence of paranoid survivors. The xenomorph means almost certain death, and the cat and mouse game you play with it is truly special. At least for the majority of the game’s runtime.
Jack Baker (“Resident Evil 7”)
By the time deranged invincible patriarch Jack Baker truly starts to hunt you in Resident Evil 7, you (and protagonist Ethan) have already endured a lot. Your missing wife is found seemingly possessed, your hand has been chopped off, and you attend a family dinner that was less than pleasant.
When Ethan escapes his captors (but crucially, not their dilapidated homestead) it’s a brief glimmer of hope, but then Jack comes and he has a grand old time of making your life absolute hell.
Jack Backer goads and toys with Ethan as he wanders about the Baker home, reveling in the hunt for his prey. Ethan is rarely close to being well armed, and it’s a waste anyway as ol’ Jack is, as mentioned, is pretty bloody unkillable. At best you can incapacitate him (an early encounter lets you ram him with a car and set him alight).
Old Jack returns several times, and the dynamic shifts each time in more grotesque and bloody ways, but nothing is quite as intimidating as the initial game of cat and mouse you play.
The Gatherers (“Amnesia: The Dark Descent”)
Amnesia has many a nasty ready to hunt you down and tear you to shreds. This is a game that shifted the dynamic somewhat and is responsible for pushing forward the idea of a helpless protagonist having to run and hide from those who wish to devour and destroy them. Not only are you unable to attack Amnesia’s horrific Gatherers, but escaping them is pretty harrowing as well.
You quickly learn that the protagonist, Daniel, can’t so much as look at the Gatherers without it sending him into a terror-induced panic. The next thing you learn is that these slack-jawed monstrosities will hunt poor Daniel down with murderous glee.
The first time you discover your hiding spot is not as safe as you’d hoped is a genuinely terrifying experience. A Gatherer obliterates your temporary shelter with a raging fury. All the while you’re thinking ‘If it’s that frenzied just trying to reach me, what the hell is it gonna do when it has me?’.
Many horror titles since Amnesia have tried to capture the terror and panic that made it a hit, but very few have been as successful in their execution.