This post is sort of a belated Halloween post – considering that I didn’t have time to do anything yesterday. But hope you all had a good Halloween – and for you trick or treaters you got lots of candy!
Anyway, I toyed with the idea of doing a Halloween themed Top Five this year, but I wanted to do something a little different to the usual “Top Five Horror Movies” or “Top Five Monsters” post. So I came up with THIS idea.
Survival Horror games have taken off immensely in the last few years, especially in the indie horror market. Arguably, depending on who you speak to, they are even MORE scarier than horror movies. Reason being, because, unlike in a horror movie, you are caught in the centre of the horror – you are the one being hunted and you are involved in the story. That’s a pretty frightening experience in itself!
Now, I don’t play a lot of horror games (because, simply, I’m a coward!) but there have been a few that I’ve played that I’ve really enjoyed. So today, in honour of Halloween, I count down my Top Five Survival Horror Games. In no particular order.
WARNING: Some sections may contain spoilers.
1. Silent Hill 2
When it comes to the best known Survival Horror Franchise, most people often look to the Resident Evil or Silent Hill series. Personally, I was never that fond of Resident Evil, I played the first two games, but that was about it. They weren’t bad games by any means, I just found them generic horror stories that were more about jump scares and terrible voice acting (“You were almost a Jill Sandwich!” XD). Silent Hill had more of a psychological feel to it, with each game layered with themes of inner demons and religious symbolism. Not to mention the shifts to the Otherworld were terrifying and really made you feel like you were trapped in Hell. It just had a bit more depth for me.
Even though I know this game is listed as the best in the series, Silent Hill 2 for me is a fantastic game. It has a deep, involving (and also moving) story that is open to interpretation – the monsters are symbolic and perfectly capture the protagonist’s (James Sunderland) inner anguish. And the music – it is both terrifying and beautiful to listen to at the same time, composed by legendary game musician Akira Yamaoka. Oh, and it also has Pyramid Head, one of the freakiest villains of all time.
Silent Hill 2 is not a direct sequel to the first Silent Hill game, but a self contained story – whilst at the same time continuing many themes of the first game. James gets a note from his wife to meet her at Silent Hill. The only problem is that his wife died a few years ago. Confused? Don’t worry, it will all be revealed. As James wanders through the town of Silent Hill, he is besieged by monsters and unrelenting fog as he dives deeper into the history of Silent Hill – and his own psychosis.
The game is very easy to pick up and play and fun. But it is also extremely creepy to play. Often you are obscured by fog and darkness and have to rely on your flashlight to guide you. You have a radio with you that emits static when monsters are nearby – and when you hear the sound, better ready a weapon! Of course, you can just run past them to converse ammo as well. The monsters are hideous and disturbing creatures, each one a representative of James’s inner anguish or his feelings towards his wife. The town is decaying and rusted, even more so with the Otherworld. You get a real feeling of isolation and loneliness in this game – with no hope of rescue.
But for me, it has to be the ending that does it for me. I won’t spoil the ending, but it truly is one of the saddest endings in a video game. Those that believe that the horror genre can’t move you will have to look to this game. And not only that, but there are multiple endings as well. Some of them bleak, others a little happier, some... well, a little strange.
Silent Hill 2 has so much psychological depth to it that you could discuss it for years and still not come to a direct conclusion as to WHAT actually happens in the game. But it’s that mix of psychological horror and human emotion that makes this game so enduring and not really a surprise as to why it’s many people’s favourite of the series.
2. The Suffering
Now this game I feel is highly underrated amongst horror games. Ok, it may not be the scariest game out there (thought it does have its fair share of creepy moments), but it does have one of the coolest stories and some of the best monster designs I’ve seen in a game.
The Suffering has you play a criminal called Torque – a man sent to Abbott prison (on Carnate Island) to be executed for a crime that he may or may not have committed. Supposedly, he murdered his family – but claims to have blacked out when it happened. On his first night in the cells, the Island descends into Hell and many Hellish creatures start attacking the Island. It turns out that Carnate has a history of bloodshed and evil, and Torques rage sparks of a cataclysm that summons all manner of demons forward. Torque must now fight his way through the monsters, whilst discovering the truth about his past.
It’s a pretty straightforward game, you run and shoot monsters, but it does add a little twist to it. Every so often, Torque can “Hulk out” and turn into a massive monster for a short period of time, ripping through his enemies like paper and turning them into mush. Interestingly, according to some notes found during the game and conversations with other inmates, Torque actually does not transfer into a monster himself – he just becomes enraged. Therefore, the monster is symbolic of Torque’s inner demons and the anger that he had felt all his life. Nevertheless, it is fun to use this to tear through the monsters!
Another thing that’s cool about The Suffering is the mortality element of it. Remember how I said that Torque may or may not have killed his family? Well that’s down for YOU to decide. Throughout the game, you will meet a series of inmates and CO’s caught up in the horror and you have to decide whether to help them, leave them or kill them. How you do affects the games ending and there are three possible outcomes. Not only that, but Torque actually changes appearance the more you do things, becoming cleaner and healthier if he does good stuff, and becoming bloodier and more monstrous is he does evil. Interestingly enough, doing bad things means that health packs will heal less energy and doing good things gives you more health, almost like the game is punishing you for doing evil and rewarding you for being good.
There are three bosses in the game (not including the final boss) and these characters are really interesting and one of the best elements in the game in my opinion. Reason being is that they represent the various aspects of Torque’s psyche in some way. They are Hermes, a gas like humanoid that is the spirit of a barbaric CO that enjoyed torturing his victims until he, himself, killed himself in the gas chamber – Horace, a regretful inmate that killed his girlfriend in a conjugal visit and was killed in the chair, hence why he is always followed by electricity and is in constant pain – and Dr Killjoy, who was a surgeon that performed barbaric experiments on his patients and only appears through the use of old fashioned cameras. He seems to want to help Torque, albeit somewhat questionably.
If you get a chance to play this game then I recommend it. It’s got a pretty good story, it has a lot of action going for it and the setting has a lot of interesting history. It’s worth a look.
Another of my favourite game series. The first Bioshock game, much like Silent Hill, has a depth to it that most other horror games lack. Aside from horror, this game also features elements such as objectivism, altruism and the illusion of freewill – the kinda stuff that George Orwell would love to write about. It also has one of the best twists in any video game mid way – and one of the best villains ever. Perhaps you remember me talking about Andrew Ryan in my Top Five Video Game Villains post.
In the first Bioshock, you find yourself trapped at sea after a plane crash. Discovering a nearby lighthouse, you take a Bathysphere down to the underwater city of Rapture – which was previously built by Ryan so that the very best of society would live without government oppression. However, now it has become a warzone, with the people of Rapture driven insane and turned into Splicers, thanks to the overuse of Plasmids called ADAM – which gives them superpowers, but has turned them into monsters. You have to fight your way through this fallen city, battling the Splicers and trying to find his way out.
Man did this game freak me out! The city is decaying and some of it even falls apart, the areas dark and the Splicers... dear god, the Splicers! They are just creepy to look at! They come at you when you least expect it, their insane ramblings will creep you out – and sometimes you can’t even see them until they are in your face, trying to tear it out! I think the freakiest of these Splicers is Sander Cohen – that guy is just messed up! All in all this makes it a very disturbing game to play as you’re never sure when the enemy is going to come out at you next.
Luckily, you also have access to plasmids, allowing you all manner of special abilities such as freezing, burning or blasting away your opponents. This adds a really interesting battle strategy to the game as you can mix and match your tactics depending on what you have nearby, meaning that the environment is your weapon. For example, you can set a Splicer on fire and watch him run into the water, then electrocute the water to kill them. Your battles are limited only to your imagination.
But in order to power up your ADAM, you will have to get more. Across Rapture, there are these little girls called Little Sisters, girls that have been implanted with ADAM and now are hunted by the Splicers. If you want to get more ADAM, you must find them. However, first you must take out their guardians, the Big Daddy. A huge, lumbering monster in a deep sea suit, these beasts will attack you if you think of hurting their Little Sister – and they take a LOT to take down. Interestingly, I must say I do like the relationship between the Big Daddy and the Little Sister – you genuinely feel a connection between the two characters and almost feel sad when a Sister cries over the dead body of one. After dealing with the Big Daddy, you can choose to either save the Little Sister or harvest them. Harvesting them will give you more ADAM, but will kill her. Personally, I NEVER do this, because the idea of killing a child (even in a game) just feels horrific to me.
Earlier this year, they released Bioshock Infinite, one of the best games I’ve ever played. It may not have had much of the horror elements, but it was still an amazingly good game with an incredible story to boot. But it was the first Bioshock game, with its deep social commentary, incredible characters and shocking twists that made this game an instant favourite. If you want to explore this series, I suggest this is where you start.
So would you kindly go and get yourself a copy of this game now. :)
4. The Walking Dead
Released as an episodic series of games on Steam, The Walking Dead is actually based on the comic book, rather than the TV series. Nevertheless, it’s an amazing game to play and one of the few games where your choices actually matter.
Done as a kind of Point and Click Adventure (which I loved back in the day), you play as Lee – a man who was convicted of killing a senator that slept with his wife. On his way to prison, the “Walker” apocalypse begins and Lee is caught in it. Fighting on his own, he later comes across a girl called Clementine – whose parents are in Savannah – and he takes her under his protection. They meet other characters along the way – some of which the readers of the comics will know of.
The game actually plays more like a movie than a video game. Every so often the game will force you to make a choice at a certain point – whether it’s answering a question, making a comment or doing an action. You only have a certain amount of time to make it though, or the game chooses for you. Be warned though, your choices have consequences – because what you say or do affects how the game plays out, how certain people will react to you, help you or leave to rot – and in some cases it determines who lives or dies! It’s one of these games that really makes you think about your choices and whether you can live with them or not. But this is the games main selling point, as it means that EVERY player gets a different game depending on what they want to do. There are tons of different ways the game can play out and this alone gives the game a lot of replay value.
Although a Survival Horror game, it is focused more on story and character development than scares. Even though there are some really intense scenes with the Walkers (and frightening), most of the drama comes from the characters that Lee and Clementine meet along the way. You will most likely find growing attached to some characters in the game, and becoming surprised at how quickly they can turn. But don’t get too attached – no one is safe in this game. And as I said, sometimes you have to make some REALLY tough choices.
For example, in the first chapter, the every end involves you having to save two people from some Walkers, whoever you don’t save will die. And, you guessed it, you only have time to save ONE person – so you have to decide who you want to rescue. Another chapter, one of the characters son’s is infected, but he won’t believe he could turn. You have to either talk him down to see sense, or fight him. THEN you have to decide whether he should put a bullet in his kid to stop him turning, or you do it yourself. Of course, you can always leave him as an option. And these are just SOME of the tough choices you have to make. I honestly do not think any game has disturbed me as much as this one with the hard decisions I’ve had to make.
All of this leads up to one of the most emotional finales I’ve ever seen in a game – in fact the whole GAME is a tearjerker in places. If you play this game, have a box of tissues ready as it will guarantee to make you cry at least once. The more you become attached to these characters, the more you don’t want them to die – and it so heart wrenching to see a character die. Never has a game had so much emotional power to it in my eyes. Even if you never read the comic, or watched the TV series, you should definitely check out this game. With excellent writing, multiple paths and complex and interesting characters, this will definitely keep you entertained, as well as scared.
5. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
I would have to say, hands down this is the most frightening game I have ever played! Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a game that has been lauded for its creepy and terrifying atmosphere, superb storytelling and immersive world. It has also set the standard for many other Survival Horror games, in particular the critically acclaimed Slenderman: The Eight Pages (which I have downloaded, but never played. Maybe one day).
In Amnesia, you play as Daniel (which makes him automatically cool in my eyes! XD), who wakes up in a strange castle of Brennenburg, with no memory. Finding notes apparently written by himself, he is told to find a guy called Alexander and kill him – but that he is being hunted by a “Shadow”. Daniel must now traverse the castle, with only a lantern to light the way, avoiding the horrors of Brennenburg castle.
As far as horror goes, this game is spot on. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, but creating an atmosphere. The corridors are dark and claustrophobic and often your lantern can’t light up too much. Eerie sounds echo throughout the creaking castle, adding a sense of dread all time. Notes left around add to the horror, especially when Daniel finds notes about his past and how he got here. All in all, it’s a pretty unsettling environment that only gets worse as the game goes on. You rarely have a moment to rest, paranoia setting in each second. Also, in this game you have a sanity meter, which can drain the more you see disturbing things – it can cause your vision to blur, your breathing to intensify (alerting you to the monsters in the castle) and you can even pass out if you go too insane.
But the most terrifying aspect of this game is how you deal with the monsters that you face. Silent Hill 2 may have had some disturbing creatures, but at least you can pull a gun out and kill them. The Suffering had you turn into a monster to deal with them, Bioshock lets you use plasmids – and even The Walking Dead has a few cases when you can use a weapon to deal with a Walker. In Amnesia you have NO way of defending yourself. There are no weapons in the game and the monsters can’t be killed or hurt – so you have to hide from them wherever you can. This alone makes it extremely terrifying as you have to rely on your wits to survive. But even if you hide in darkness it can drain your sanity, making an already difficult moment intense. And even when you THINK the monster is gone, you hear the music kick in – the screeching sound that notifies you that the monster is close. That’s when you know you have to get the **** out of there! Nothing has terrified me more than when I’m being chased by a monster!
This game I think H.P. Lovecraft would enjoy playing – in fact it was indeed inspired by one of his writings – The Outsider, which deals with the themes of loneliness, isolation and the fear of being alone. I haven’t even touched on the story of this game, but that’s because I want you to experience it yourself. The story is fantastic and, once you learn the truth of it, you’ll be horrified! I guarantee you no game will scare you psychotically than this one storywise.
Recently, they released a second game called Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Honestly though, that game was a bit of a disappointment. It took away a lot of aspects of what made the first game cool (such as the sanity meter) and, truthfully, the story was a little too convoluted and didn’t entirely work in my eyes. But if you want to experience true horror, then play this game. And if you don’t believe me how frightening it could be – watch some let’s plays on Youtube and see people’s reactions to it!
That’s my top five. Please feel free to leave a comment below if I missed out any of your favs. Hope you all had a Happy Halloween! Take care and stay safe!
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