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Digital Horror: Moments In Gaming That Freaked Me Out The Most

Despite the fact that I may regret it in the moment, or even regret it later, I, like many others, get a kick out of being scared—well, fun scared. The kind of scared when I know mine or no else’s life is any danger. However, after growing up on horror movies, save for a few, films don’t tend to get much of a reaction out of me anymore in regard to being scared. Sure, I still love to watch horror movies, it’s one of my favorite genres, but I don’t go into them expecting to cover my eyes in fright or break out into a nervous sweat as someone slowly turns the corner in an abandoned old house. I think I’ve been desensitized to most of it, and this carries over to things like Halloween haunted houses. I can generally stroll through them without a flinch of fear, and I suppose most of this comes from knowing that it’s all fake—So then why, despite all of my usual calm and collectedness towards movies and hokey haunted house attractions, do video games in still get me nervous?

Nervous sweats, a racing heart, clammy hands, obscenities shouted in rapid succession as I’m either perused or ambushed by some malformed creature from Hell. More than any other form of media, video games have always been able to freak me out—even to this day when I figured I would have finally outgrown my fear of being stalked by polygonal ghouls. Maybe it’s the interactivity or the threat of losing and having to replay a section over and over again that makes me a nervous wreck. Who really knows, but thanks to video games I have been freaked out on numerous occasions and these are the most terrifying moments that made me invent new and creative ways to share fear induced swear words with my loved ones…

Silent Hill 4’s freaky trailer

Silent Hill 4 doesn’t get nearly enough credit, as I think it stands as the creepiest entry in the Silent Hill franchise. Many moments from this game, if not the entire game, could be featured on this list (see the next entry for one of the most infamous moments) but for the sake of some variety, I’m going to limit this game’s horrors to only a couple of entries—The one I’m going to talk about now isn’t even part of the actual game. Silent Hill 4 was putting the fear of god into you before you even pressed start!

You know those attract modes or movies that play if you leave the title screen idle for too long? Yeah, well, Silent Hill 4 features some of the most disturbing few minutes of footage that has ever been put together by deranged game developers. It’s like a warning to turn back now and throw the game disk out your window, otherwise your home will be cursed. That’s what watching this video is like: sitting through some kind of cursed footage— The video tape from The Ring doesn’t have anything on Silent Hill 4’s trailer.

Interspliced with distorted scenes from the game, the trailer features surreal imagery of a creepy old city block, creepy ghost people, and some weird creature-person-thing crawling around on the floor. And just to drive this freakiness home, much of the trailer lacks a musical score. Instead it opts for the disturbing sounds of moaning, leaving a sense of dread that is sure to stick with you. Honestly though, words can’t do this trailer’s horror justice, so if you’re so inclined to ruin any chance of a good night’s sleep for the next week or so, go ahead and watch it for yourself below.

You’ve been warned…

Eileen’s giant head in Silent Hill 4

After watching the trailer for Silent Hill 4, you know you’re in for one hell of an unsettling experience and the game doesn’t disappoint. Sure, the monsters (primarily the giant two-headed babies) and the oppressive, foreboding atmosphere are terrifying, but there’s one moment in particular that completely takes you off guard and just leaves you confused and thoroughly disturbed.

Eileen is a character that the player is forced to escort throughout a section of the game, and her slow descent into madness as she follows you around the dilapidated world only amplifies any sense of unease. Muttering to herself, randomly hitting herself upside the head for no apparent reason, Eileen’s presence doesn’t soften the horror by lending the protagonist some company, but instead makes it worse and one moment featuring a mammoth sized version of her head is guaranteed to make you flinch, if not give you full on nightmares.

During the hospital level, the player will reach a hallway where there are rows of doors on either side. Upon opening the doors one by one, the dread of what could be behind them intensifies, only to discover that most contain empty rooms—except for one. Behind one of the final doors reveals Eileen’s giant, room-sized head looking down on you, her eyes following your every movement as you run away in horror. This moment is completely unexpected. Monster nurses or mutated dogs, sure. But a giant version of your companion’s cranium? Heck no! This moment is both weird and life scarring.

Being pursued by the Hunter in Dead Space

If there’s one gameplay mechanic in survival horrors that freaks me out more than most others by putting me in a guaranteed state of panic, its being relentlessly pursued by an invincible super monster.  The inability to effectively fight back, whilst having to work your way through obstacles and keep up your pace so that you’re never within reach of your foe is just way too much for me to process on the fly. Most of the time, these types of sections in games just have me spazzing out and running my character face first into a wall as I shout incoherent sounds of frustration and anxiety. And the Hunter from the original Dead Space may be the best example of this…

About half way through the game, Isaac Clark comes to meet the Hunter, a beefed-up version of the necromorphs that has the ability to regenerate lost limbs when they’re shot off. You can slow the monster down when it begins to chase you through the corridors of the Ishimura by using your stasis, but doing so would only make me panic more! The game throws multiple puzzles your way while trying to fend off the Hunter that require you to use stasis, but like I mentioned previously, I’m unable to process that much information while I’m running for my life. Having to freeze the Hunter with stasis, then lift a dead body with telekinesis, all so I can drag it over to a locked door and use its eye so I can get through the retina scan lock is too much to keep track of—All the while my stasis has worn off and the Hunter is on my butt again! GAHHH! Just thinking about it has me in a frenzy.

In order to actually beat the Hunter segments, I needed to calm myself down—obviously—So, every time the damn thing would show up, I’d go to my music playlist on my Xbox 360 and replace the game audio with something from there. You find the Hunter is much less horrifying when it is chasing you down to Bono’s angelic voice singing Beautiful Day.

In your face Hunter! Bested by U2—and test firing the executive shuttle’s engines.

Running into the Divider in Dead Space

Dead Space will be featured on this list a few times. It’s one of my favorite survival horrors, and for good reason since so many things in it scared the living crap out of me.

When thinking of something that I find scary, I normally imagine something tall and gangly. Something with impossibly long limbs that slowly staggers its way towards you—not Slender Man though. Slender Man is lame—For instance, the thing at the end of the newest Blair Witch movie creeped me out quite a bit, so when the Dividers in Dead Space made an appearance you can probably imagine my hairs standing on end.  Worse still, the Dividers just come out of seemingly nowhere. Unlike most of the other monsters in Dead Space, where they are given some kind of introduction, whether it be subtle environmental hints or cutscenes, the Dividers just show up. I recall reaching the bridge of the Ishimura when I began to hear a moan that was unlike any of the other necromorphs. This was already unsettling enough, but when I turned around to get a look at what was making the chilling sounds, my blood ran cold—And that’s no exaggeration. The Dividers truly creeped me out and from that point on, I proceeded with even more caution than before, dreading the moment when I would inevitably run into another one.

Sneaky Bench Necromorph in Dead Space

This moment in Dead Space is one of the best jump scares in any survival horror game. It’s genius– simple, but extremely effective. After utilizing one of the many work benches throughout the Ishimura and exiting the upgrade menu, you are greeted by an attacking necromorph. It’s the last thing you would expect, as you would assume the work bench and the areas around it would be a safe zone. But nope. You’re given very little time to react, forcefully ripped out of your momentary calm and straight back into the horrific action.

The introduction to the Flood in Halo: Combat Evolved

When thinking of terrifying moments in video games, the Halo series probably isn’t the first thing to pop into your head. However, with the first game of the franchise, there was a stage in which suspense, confusion, and eventual panic were utilized very effectively.

After exploring the sunny and beautiful vistas of the ring world, the player is eventually dropped into a dark, swampy environment. The sunlight has been clouded over by a dark sky and alien trees. The atmosphere is ominous, as Covenant run away in fear from an unseen threat and the remains of crashed dropships lay abandoned in the mud, serving as warnings for what’s to come. The tone of the game has suddenly shifted from bombastic action to slow-burning horror and you are immediately put at unease.

The level begins with a slow trek through the dark swamp, the sounds of radio chatter from the nearby downed pelican dropship, only intensifying the suspense with voices that shout out in terror. They describe something that isn’t Covenant, something worse, more vicious than anything we’ve seen before.

Eventually, you make it to an alien structure and venture into it, where a dead marine’s helmet camera finally reveals what happened here—Then all hell breaks loose. The Flood storm the room, a parasitic swarm of zombie-like aliens that overrun the level and force you to sprint for your life, as your ammo begins to run low from their seemingly unending numbers. I hated this level as a kid. I would always skip it due to its disorienting and panic inducing nature, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate the stage for what it is. 343 Guilty Spark is masterful in building suspense, becoming more and more gut wrenching the further you delve into, mixing its sudden deluge of horrific new foes with a confusing level structure that leaves you in frenzy as you desperately try and find an exit.

Finally escaping that swamp was one of the most satisfying and stress relieving moments I’ve ever experienced in a video game.

Not being able to see anything and just being a nervous wreck during the opening minutes of Silent Hill 3

I’m sure there are plenty of terrifying moments in Silent Hill 3, but I never got to experience them for myself because I could never walk more than five feet into that amusement park before turning around and shouting, “NOPE!”, promptly switching off the game and removing the disk from my Xbox. Nothing had even happened yet, but the combination of Silent Hill’s terrifying reputation and not being able to see anything on my old 20-inch tube TV’s sun glared screen (like hell was I playing Silent Hill 3 at night) turned me into a nervous wreck that was unable to ‘play’ the game for more than 30 seconds.

I would try to brave through it countless times, but each time I would boot up the game and get past the title screen, my façade of bravery would suddenly crumble. The only time I would eventually see Silent Hill 3 in its entirety was when I finally watched my wife play through it—and honestly—nothing else about the game was as scary as my blacked-out television screen and the idea of what was waiting for me in that amusement park.

Lisa from the Resident Evil Remake

Lisa was a new addition to the Resident Evil canon when the remake to the original Resident Evil was released. A deformed, monstrous, yet tragic creature, Lisa, like the Hunter from Dead Space, was an unkillable enemy that pursued you through certain sections of the game. Unkillable enemies that you had to run from were nothing new to the Resident Evil franchise, but there was something so much scarier about Lisa than there was with Mr. X or Nemesis. Maybe it was her twisted form or her shrill screams as she closed in on you, making you panic as you desperately tried to flee, not knowing what end of the fixed camera angle she would inevitably appear at. And that was what helped to make Lisa more horrifying than even the likes of Dead Space’s Hunter. Resident Evil’s restriction on movement and what you could see around you made Lisa’s presence all the more emotionally exhausting, as sweaty palms would try and fail to escape her lumbering gate.

Lisa is one of, if not the most terrifying monster the Resident Evil franchise has ever introduced—both from a design stand point and a gameplay one.

We Don’t Go to Ravenholm in Half-Life 2

You know, looking back on Half-Life 2, as a whole it was a kind of creepy game. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but there was a feeling of loneliness throughout most of its runtime, as Gordon Freeman faced off against the Combine threat on his own, as well as a soundtrack that was both intense and surreal. Half-Life 2 created an atmosphere that always put me at unease and whether it was the music, the ever-watching G-man, or the Eastern European dystopian setting, I always appreciated the unique flavor that was so distinctly the Half-Life universe

But there was one level in particular that took the already eerie setting and went full on survival horror with it—We Don’t Go to Ravenholm. To this day, We Don’t Go to Ravenholm is one of my scariest and overall favorite levels in a video game. Everything, from the level itself and its mechanics, to the moments leading up to it, We Don’t Go to Ravenholm felt like the culmination of everything Half-Life 2 had been building up to at that point.

After reaching Black Mesa East and reuniting with Alyx Vance and company, the game wastes no time in foreshadowing the terror that waits for you in the old mining town. “We don’t go to Ravenholm anymore” says a suddenly morose Alyx as you walk past the gated off tunnel leading into it— confirming in that moment you will soon have no choice but to tread forbidden ground and venture through whatever hell is beyond the end of that pitch-black shaft. Like 343 guilty spark in Halo: Combat Evolved, this foreshadowing helps to build suspense for what comes next. All too often are we just thrown into the horror, but here the impending doom is drawn out. What is Ravenholm, what could possibly make it so terrible that it had to be quarantined? These questions linger at the back of your mind as you catch up with Eli, Alyx, and test out the Gravity Gun during a quick game of catch with DOG— then the Combine attack…

As predicted, the Combine’s assault levels most of Black Mesa East, cutting Gordon off from the others and all exits—except for one… Take a deep breath, clutch your controller, and say your prayers because there’s not turning back now.

An old, gothic, and run-down town littered with saw blades conveniently left behind for your new gravity defying toy, it quickly becomes apparent why Ravenholm was abandoned like it was. Headcrabs have run rampant and taken control of the poor citizens that remain, having turned them into a variety of screaming zombies. Some stumble and clamor towards you, others charge across the rooftops like apes on caffeine. Ravenholm is a trek through a town that suffered the most at the hand of the Combine, an undoubtably creepy trek that will stay with you long after you’ve escaped its boundaries and completed Half-Life 2 in its entirety.

The Stalkers in Half-Life 2

Although it was the section of Half-Life 2 designed as the ‘scary part’, We Don’t Go to Ravenholm isn’t the only thing about the game that had me quivering with fear. During the latter half of the campaign, during the stages that take place in Nova Prospekt and The Citadel, the player gets a first hand look at what people become if they, as Alyx puts it, “resist or happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Always witnessed from a distance, emaciated humanoid creatures can be seen completing various tasks throughout the level. Their limbs have been replaced with stilts and rods, their eyes replaced with some kind of laser shooting apparatus, seemingly in constant pain as they are commanded by their Combine overlords

Although the player never comes in direct contact with a Stalker, the way they look and the idea of what they are is absolutely terrifying. Once people, now starved husks forced to live out the rest of their days within the steel walls of Combine megastructures, working hard labor day in and day out until presumably they collapse and become useless to their alien masters.

When I first saw the Stalkers, I was of course dreading the moment when I would have to face off with one in combat, but that time never came. Instead, watching them from a distance, never able to get in close, almost made their presence even creepier. I don’t know what it is, but when something is far away, like a figure watching you from the window of an old house, it is much more unnerving than if the creature in question was directly in front of you. It might be a backwards way of thinking, but this distance between me and the Stalkers helped to not only enhance their creep factor, but the mystique surrounding them.

The Giant Catfish in Ape Escape

Okay, hear me out on this one… For one, I was like 8 or 9 when I played this game, and two, the giant catfish in Ape Escape was legitimately scary. As I’ve already stated, enemies that you’re powerless against freak me out and put me into a state of panic, and that was no different for this aquatic beast. And not only was the catfish impervious to your attacks, but you were in its domain! With only a tiny raft to protect you from the monster, the catfish could come up and get you at any second and there would be nothing you could do about it.

The catfish also played on another primal fear of mine, and that is the threat of the unknown—specifically unknown threats that stalk you from the depths of deep lakes, rivers, oceans, pools, bathtubs, my glass of water, essentially any body of water, big or small. The idea of being in the middle of the water as something massive comes to eat you is pants-crapping-worthy. You know you wouldn’t stand a chance, even if you’re an Olympic swimmer. I don’t care, there’s no way you’re out swimming a gigantic catfish monster!

Girl melts in D2

I couldn’t find a good image of the scene in question, but here’s some other really weird thing that happened in D2…

With a game that features a mutated airline stewardess that constantly asks if you would like either chicken or fish and a vagina computer, you’d think something like a melting little girl would be expected. And sure, in the context of D2’s overall bats**t craziness, it’s not out of place, but that doesn’t stop it from being unsettling.

Part way through the campaign, the game’s protagonist meets a little girl, and as expected a motherly/daughterly bond blossoms between them. So, just to leave an even more hollow feeling inside your soul after hours of indescribable weirdness, towards the game’s climax, after the little girl talks about visions of jet planes and explosions, a giant evil eye appears on a mountain outside of their cabin. The sky turns red and its light fills the cabin’s interior when the little girl starts to cry out in pain, screaming she’s scared as her head begins to sink into her picnic blanket patterned dress.

There’s nothing gory or particularly explicit about the scene, the kid just kind of melts into a plaid puddle, but the weirdness and her cries of fear are undeniably disturbing. Also, it just comes out of nowhere. One minute, D2 is trying to flesh out this sweet relationship in this sea of Cronenberg-eque horror, and the next it’s stripping it away in the most brutal fashion possible.

Melting Nazis, sure. Melting witches, old news. But melting kids? Nah man, that’s a little too off-putting.

All of P.T.

To this day, the cancellation of Silent Hills still stings. Of all the survival horror franchises, and just franchises in general, none deserve a revival more than Silent Hill. But despite what we’ve lost, I’m still eternally grateful for the existence of P.T—well, past existence. Konami seems to want to wash it away, along with their credibility (BURN).

P.T., or Playable Teaser, was a demo that would reveal itself as a proof of concept for a new Silent Hill game once beaten, and boy was P.T. one hell of a proof of concept. If Silent Hills was even half as terrifying as P.T. was, then good god, Amazon may have seen a sudden depletion of its night light inventory. From beginning to end, P.T. creates an atmosphere that is exceedingly creepy and suffocating. Never has sound design alone made me want to walk into the other room and take a breather. It’s impossible to pin point any one moment from the demo as the scariest, as the entire thing is sure to put you on edge. I couldn’t even play it. I had to watch my wife play it, and even then, I would get up from the couch and walk into the kitchen periodically, just to calm my nerves.

P.T. is probably the most terrifying piece of media I’ve ever seen. It may be short, but it will stay with you for years to come. There’s a good reason why people still talk about how scary it is to this day—and why people tried selling PS4s containing its download or thousands of dollars after it had been taken off the market.

When it comes to horror, video games are something truly special. Movies, books, T.V. shows, sure, they can all scare you if done well, but the immersion and interactivity that video games provide add an extra dimension to the terror. Of all the things that have scared me in entertainment, the scariest moments in these video games will always be the ones that stand out the most. From the giant catfish in Ape Escape, to the two headed babies in Silent Hill 4, I have been thoroughly scarred for life and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

Jarreth Golding

Jarreth loves many things: movies, writing, and sculpting characters from his favorite anime out of clay, but most importantly, he loves video games. And more importantly than that, he loves watching his wife play video games because she's better at them than he is.

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