The Scariest Video Games of All Time: Chapter IV
4. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia is yet another game developed by the indie studio called Frictional games – the same studio who brought you the Penumbra trilogy. It was released via digital distribution only this year, just last month (as of writing this in 2010) – and all ready it’s been called one of, if not the scariest titles ever made.
And you can see that I tend to agree as it’s made it onto this list.
Amnesia takes place in the 19th century, and puts you in the shoes of Daniel – a man who appears to have no memory of the past. As you begin to progress through the castle, with its dark corridors and numerous, pokey little rooms, you start to obtain clues, and find that you actually gave yourself amnesia – by drinking a potent potion of sorts.
You find that in this game, light and darkness play a much bigger role than you’ve ever experienced before. Being in the dark affects your sanity, and you begin to hallucinate, and see things that shouldn’t really be there. Being in the light helps to keep these hallucinations under control. You have a limited amount of oil for your lantern, and tinderboxes which you can use to light candles, chandeliers, and the like, though. If you are plunged in to darkness, that’s when things can become quite unnerving. You start to hear all these clicking noises, and things begin to attack you – seemingly out of nowhere. You’re losing your sanity, and perhaps even your health, which are presented by a brain and heart respectively, alongside your inventory.
Frictional games has proven over time that horror is the genre that they excel at, and they should stick with it – which is basically what some others have said too. Amnesia is likely what you would call not only survival horror, but psychological horror. You’re not being assaulted by enemies outright, and yet you feel creeping fear all the damn time.
Penumbra has more than one meaning when you look it up. It can mean shade or a partial shadow, as well as mean obscurity or cloudiness. All these definitions relate to this game. It’s called ambivalence.
Initially the first game came out a few years ago in 2006 as a freeware title – although it wasn’t too lengthy. It’s a survival horror title in its truest form, made by a budding studio called Frictional Games, and was not only meant to show how horror is meant to be done, but also acted as a technology demo or showcase for inventive and more realistic physics in a game.
Of course, since then, a few full episodic titles in the series have been released, and these ones you have to pay for.
As soon as the main menu comes up you think well, this should be pretty scary. Then as soon as the cutscenes start running, and you see the rather amateurish graphics that remind one of a title like Thief, except not as professionally done, you start to think: "Oh, well, another clichéd title made by some foreigners" – which is also obvious by the spelling mistakes in the subtitles, voiceover errors, and so on.
But this attitude soon changes as you get in to the game. You move around and have a first-person view of your surroundings, but how you interact with the environment is more inline with a point and click adventure type game. It’s very interesting as you start to open the cabinets and draws as well as doors. You actually have to click and hold the mouse to drag the objects so they open enough. It’s not like most games where doors will open as you click on them or just open automatically like some others.
The thing that places you right outside of your comfort zone in Penumbra is that there are no guns. There are no knives; no clubs or things to use to defend yourself. You have only the items in your inventory that you pick up along the way. Combine with this the fact that there are enemies throughout the levels, and you have some blood-curdling situations. You must use the environment and sticks of dynamite that you find throughout this strange, abandoned subterranean hell… in an almost desolate Greenland.
And if you think you’re safe if you close a door while trying to escape a creature, then think again. They are deceptively strong and can bust down doors.
Influences on the game at the time likely include the likes of Half-Life 2 or TES: Oblivion (especially with the physics), Doom 3 (the darkness and atmosphere), and maybe even Condemned. I picked up those similarities in the game. And because of its setting, I would add The Thing to that list as well.
2. Condemned: Criminal Origins
If you’ve ever wanted to know what makes a serial killer tick; what drives them, this game gave you an idea and quickly took you on a trip through some of the dirtiest, most run down, abandoned, and dark places you’ll ever tread in a game.
You start off as Ethan, an FBI agent who after a run in with a serial killer who happens to kill other serial killers, is suspected of murder himself - after Serial Killer X used his gun to kill two police officers at a crime scene.
From there it’s a downward spiral as you follow Ethan through his torturous journey on the hunt for this maniacal sociopath while evading law enforcement at the same time. Even though Ethan is helped by some other characters along the way, most of the time you will be spending your nights alone in deserted schools and libraries as well as slums, decrepit old department stores, apartment blocks, sewers, and train stations. Places that most crowds wouldn’t set foot in.
And the thing about Condemned is that guns and ammunition are scarce throughout the game, unlike F.E.A.R., another title by Monolith. You are forced to defend yourself with whatever you can find, and often you engage in melee combat with some of the worst characters the city has to offer, including hulking, faceless firemen carrying fire axes and sledgehammers and looking to cave your head in.
And to top it off, there are points where you have to lay down your arms, and do crime scene investigation, all the while looking around and listening, to make sure you aren’t suddenly attacked while taking a sample of a substance you’ve found.
Ethan also has some mental issues, indicated by a blacked-out area on his charts and x-rays and was very partial to having out of the ordinary visions.
Likely the scariest part in the entire game was in the abandoned school. There were several points here, like being locked in the freezer with a psychotic butcher whose gender wasn’t clear to me, and having to follow the trail of body parts in order to find a teacher known as Mr. Tibbits. Several titbits of Tibbits, like his lips, were all over the property.
In fact it was so scary that F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin had its own abandoned school level, which was likely one of the best in that game. I mean, even schools when they’re open and vastly populated, are scary. Damn, maybe even scarier, so it makes for a great setting.
Overall it was a survival horror title that involved great interactivity and told a chilling story. It was obviously inspired by F.E.A.R., Monolith’s previous title, but focused much more on the horror aspect of the game, and less on the guns-a-blazing side of things.
1. Clive Barker’s Undying
Clive Barker is one of the masters of horror. If you’ve ever read any of his books – and I have – you’ll know this. Nearly a decade ago, there was a game released which went on to become one of the most chilling I would ever play.
Undying wasn’t played by most people out there. In fact because it was so largely ignored by the masses, the idea of a sequel was turned down. Despite this, it was well received critically.
But this game was actually one of the few that managed to make me shriek like a little girl when I played it. When a guy who does horror for a living makes a game meant to scare you, he tends to do it quite well. From the well-developed characters, to the abandoned locales and otherworldly realms, Clive basically took you on a trip through the darkest depths of his mind in this highly underrated classic.
You assume the role of Patrick Galloway, a paranormal investigator as well as a keen sorcerer. He is summoned back to Ireland, his place of birth, by his friend, Jeremiah Covenant – his former commander and old war buddy from the Great War. Patrick hasn’t set foot on Irish soil for years after he was allegedly framed for the murder of a young girl, by his arch nemesis, Otto Keisinger, and subsequently banished.
He goes back to the Covenant Estate, and is sent on a mission to find Jeremiah’s siblings and kill them – ending the family curse that has been with them for many decades.
One of the most petrifying moments was when after retrieving Aaron’s jaw from a cottage belonging to Bethany, Patrick returns to the Estate and goes down into a cellar of sorts which is filled with rats. You see Aaron suspended in the middle of a room by chains. After you attach his jaw, he comes to life, and when you frantically retreat to the door you entered through, a message appears on the screen: “No Escape”.
Aaron’s ghostly form floating around the mansion, with hooks and chains in tow, along with his minions – those flying things with the claws - actually made my hair stand up on end, and sent shivers down my spine. It was so unpleasant because I didn’t actually wish to keep playing at that point.
So, there you have it. My Top 18 scariest games of all time. I initially started off with 13, and wanted to aim for 20, but cuts and my personal deadline kind of got in the way. Still, 18 is the age restriction on some of these games, I'm sure. If not then it's the age restriction for some horror movies anyway. Well, it kind of worked out I guess.
Stay tuned for the next article, where I'll be covering my best Undead Slaying Games of all time!
© 2010 ANDR01D