It's that time of the year, when we look back at all the most terrifying moments and try to relive them as we pump ourselves full of sugar and pumpkin-flavored goods. For the faint of heart it may mean thinking about that one time a spider came out from under the toilet seat. For gamers it means a slew of triple-A and indie titles that work hard to leave a psychological mark. Anything from gore to subtle unsettling audio is fair play, so lets take a peek at five of this years best scares so far with a few possible spoilers ahead.
Outlast, Camera Break
There's a crazy insane asylum filled with violent inmates, and you're there to investigate what the heck is going on. You have a trusty camera to see in the dark with via the night vision, which is a considerable boon when most of the game occurs at night in unlit basements and crawl spaces. Due to some unfortunate events the camera falls from your hands, drops between some broken floorboards and now you're job is to get it back because that camera is the only thing between you and six inches of machete being wielded by naked mentally deranged murderers.
So much of Outlast is incredible, from the atmosphere to the wild enemies that are filled with both the promise of death and some incredibly funny dark humor, but the break of the camera lens is a fine detail in an already well made world. The feeling of powerlessness was always there in the first place, but night vision was like a security blanket that you could at least get some comfort in. With the screen cracked and a corner of your vision made almost completely unreliable Outlast proves that nothing is sacred, adding insult to injury by making a killer appear just shortly after you recover the camera. On your newly found blind side.
Slender: The Arrival, Opening Exploration/First Glitch
Though his horrifying shock value may have somewhat diminished since the creepypasta first came out over four years ago Slenderman still remains to be a fairly iconic character for the indie horror world. The Arrival does a great job picking up the uneasy tension of being chased by a tall magical man in a slick looking suit, but sometimes it's not being chased as much as the anticipation of the chase that matters most.
Moving through the woods from day to night, stumbling across the empty home, finding clues as to the history of the last inhabitants and ultimately discovering the subtle (and not so subtle) means in which the house has been marked by Slenderman's arrival provided a great build up into the eventual hunt for the first eight pages; particularly when players are constantly expecting him to appear at any moment. It's a psychological game, one that pits players against what they know will be inevitable, and it works very well.
The Last of Us, College Dorm
So it's not strictly a horror game, more like an incredibly tense action-thriller, but The Last of Us still managed to deliver some amazing scares. One of the last great sections involving the infected would be Joel's trip into the college, in which players move dorm to dorm looking for a means to open the gate for Ellie to pass. Spores fill the air and you know what's coming next. Around each corner you're waiting for the sign of what's to come, constantly listening for the telltale sound of clickers or the unstable moans any other infected.
For a while things go well, until you suddenly fall through the floor and are left dangerously close to several infected with limited means of moving past. All it took was a single visual cue to crank the tension high and keep it there, forcing players to imagine the worst before the unexpected happens. You see the confrontation coming from a mile away but the thrust into it was absolutely brilliant; one of many reasons why The Last of Us is hailed as such a spectacular game.
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, The Hidden Passageways
Sometimes it's not about drawing an outright scream but making the player feel as uncomfortable as possible; reminding them that they're not safe no matter where they happen to roam. Discovering the hidden passages in Amnesia was horrifying in the sense that your enemies are very real, and so need very real ways to reach you in the mansion. The knowledge that every room could have a hidden entrance, that eyes follow from behind one sided glass, or paintings designed to spy upon others is immensely unsettling, and given the details that one finds between the walls it only goes downhill from there.
Amnesia got some flack for not living up to the incredible hype caused by the predecessor, but in a lot of ways A Machine For Pigs was just as good as the original. The incredible atmosphere, built around a tragic mystery that slowly unravelled into a heart-pounding nightmare; let it be said that the hidden passageways were certainly not the best part of Amnesia, but a single thread to a grand sinister fabric.
Among The Sleep, Demo
The next major horror game likely to take the industry by storm is Among The Sleep, a supernatural thriller set from the perspective of a toddler. Whether or not you'll have an Oculus Rift to fully immerse oneself the first person perspective of the game is in the air, but from the small sampling that Krillbite Studios has allowed us all to experience critics have had nothing but praise for the upcoming game.
Distortion in the environment, lighting, and distance provide an incredible point of view, and the developers expertly use all three to craft a world that's both very familiar and ordinary yet filled with hidden danger. It's also a game pursuing survival horror style gameplay without needing to use insanity or madness as a storytelling mechanic, which makes it pretty unique amongst this years titles.