If you’re the type of veteran horror fan long desensitized to scares, then delving into the world of horror video games is a great way to get your heart pumping again. Nothing submerses you in fear quite like a horror video game, where you play as a character forced to confront the scary things head on if you want to progress the story. The scope of a scare in a movie is limited to the camera frame, but a horror video game drops you in the deep end of a hostile environment.
This form of storytelling is also limitless in creativity and can employ so many varying tactics to elicit chills. From familiar genre trappings, jump scares, to downright depraved psychological terror, horror video games can scare like nothing else.
Here are the 10 scariest moments in video games.
Clock Tower – Scissorman chase
This 1995 point-and-click survival horror game followed an orphan, Jennifer, recently adopted by a wealthy recluse. Upon arriving at her new adoptive parent’s mansion, her fellow adoptees and their ward go missing. While Jennifer investigates the mansion, she’s stalked and hunted by a deformed boy wielding a gigantic pair of scissors. It’s the first encounter that proves particularly startling; he appears unexpectedly when Jennifer discovers the body of one of her friends. What adds to the fear is that Jennifer can’t fight; she can only run away, which reduces her stamina and allows the Scissorman to catch up. Throw in a “panic mode,” and you’ll likely panic too.
Resident Evil – Dogs through window
The game that launched one of the most popular video game series of all time, and forever changed survival horror, has a ton of terrifying moments to offer. The encounter with the Iron Maiden in Resident Evil 4, or the first glimpse of a Licker in Resident Evil 2 immediately come to mind. But ultimately this jump scare, which sees a dog or two burst through a window to attack either Jill or Chris (depending on which one you choose to play as), won out for being such an unexpected moment of terror. While the mansion setting brought a lot of treacherous enemies to contend with, hallways were usually harmless, just small bridges between rooms. They felt so safe that the unexpected attack through the window provided one of the biggest jump scares in the game. Well played.
BioShock – Dentist’s office
A first-person shooter set in the underwater city of Rapture, in 1960, BioShock is a sort of surreal, horror steampunk hybrid with dystopian elements. Weird characters and a weird story meant for an unpredictable, atmospheric horror series with a lot of jump scares. The series’ trademark scare was a sort of bait and switch “It’s behind you!” type of jump scare, made most memorable by the very first one, which took place in the dentist office. While exploring the quiet, empty dentist office (never mind the weird body in the dentist chair), you find items in the far corner at the desk. The moment you do, fog fills the room. When you turn around, the dentist attacks. Simple and effective, this series would employ this same scare many times over.
Silent Hill 2 – Pyramid Head
The first Silent Hill made a huge splash in the world of horror gaming for its atmospheric, twisted tale of an ominous cult seeking to unleash the demonic deity it worships on the world. The quaint, foggy town of Silent Hill switches back and forth between haunting and downright hellish, making for a setting that offers both debauched and psychological terror. And the rule of sequels means going bigger and better than its predecessor. Enter the Pyramid Head. Very few villains in video games have quite as memorable introductions as this twisted character. The first real brush with Pyramid Head is when the player, protagonist James, walks in on Pyramid Head sexually assaulting, then killing, two Mannequin creatures. That this monster is representative of James’ guilt and desire for punishment adds a new layer of twisted.
F.E.A.R. – Alma
Aka First Encounter Assault Recon, this first-person shooter blends the action with the spooky supernatural, with a terrifying little girl in a red dress at the center of it. Borrowing heavily from J-horror, Alma is a long-haired creepy little girl that haunts the player. She tends to prefer the most unexpected moments to scare, often waiting until the player is so submersed in the action that they forget they’re playing a horror game. Her favorite places to appear? Confined spaces like vents or ladders.
Dead Space 2 – Needle in the Eye
This survival horror series is this gory combination of Resident Evil, Event Horizon, and even a little bit of The Thing. It’s gruesome, tense, and freaking terrifying, which made picking the scariest moment a tough call. The alien virus that ravages the space colony and turns its inhabitants into mutated, reanimated corpses (Necromorphs) brings a wide variety of scares; from playing dead jump scares to turning babies into bombs, Dead Space is one warped series. But the most cringe-worthy, uncomfortably scary moments is when the player, protagonist Isaac Clarke, climbs into the NoonTech Diagnostic Machine to access the part of the brain where information is stored. How does it do that? By sticking a needle in your eye. That’s bad enough, but if you don’t line up the laser to Isaac’s pupil or his heart rate gets too high, prepare for one gnarly death.
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented – Rei’s House
This Japanese ghost series is perhaps the most terrifying series of all time, making it difficult to narrow down the most chilling moment. The very first encounter with a ghost in the first game made me throw my controller, and it only got scarier as the story progressed. However, nothing unnerved me quite like Rei’s house in Fatal Frame III. Most of the story, and scares, play out in the nightmares of protagonist Rei Kurosawa. When she wakes, her home is a comforting haven away from the terrifying and deadly dreams. Until it’s not. Slowly, her nightmares seep into her waking reality. When your safe place becomes invaded by ghosts, nothing is more petrifying.
Outlast – The Twins
This survival horror game is set in an insane asylum, emphasis on insane. In a stroke of brilliance, you play as an investigative journalist. This means that you can’t fight your attackers, and there are many. Stealth is the game here, sneaking around and evading mental patients with homicidal tendencies and scrambling to keep your flashlight’s battery level full so you’re not left in the dark. The roaming patients are sometimes harmless, but always unhinged. Pretty much all encounters with the inhabitants of this asylum are unnerving, but none as much as the Twins. They stalk you, completely naked, and calmly discuss eating your body parts. That they’re among the few that speak with intelligence makes them all the more frightening.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard – Staircase nightmare
There’s a reason the Resident Evil series has such longevity, and its ability to reinvent itself is a major factor. Take last year’s release, which saw the series make its first foray into first person perspective and majorly shake up its gameplay. The setup is simple and intriguing; protagonist Ethan Winters gets a message from his wife Mia, who has been missing and presumed dead for three years, prompting him to search for her in a Louisiana plantation. He finds her almost right away, locked in the basement. Ethan’s priority then becomes getting the two of them out of there before whoever locked her in comes back. But Mia isn’t quite herself anymore, and the reveal leads to a massive scare before segueing into one creepy Evil Dead-like battle. This scary moment set the tone of Ethan’s fear-inducing journey.
P.T. – Talking Fetus
Truthfully, the scariest moment in horror video game history is likely that the installment of Silent Hill that this Playable Teaser was intended for was canceled. Along with it, the removal of P.T. from the PlayStation Store, making the most terrifying experience in video game history inaccessible. P.T. had the player walk through a creepy hallway that continuously looped and altered itself each time. In terms of actual scary moments within the game, Lisa is a whole other level of scary. Even still, nothing quite prepares you for walking into the bathroom and finding a fetus. The second time you encounter it, the fetus talks. Leave it to P.T. to match its scares with deranged visuals that make you question your sanity.