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5 scary moments that defined video game horror

Remember Silent Hill?

5 scary moments that defined video game horror
Marc Chacksfield
31 October 2023

With the launch of Alan Wake 2 proving that the world of horror video games still has a lot to offer, here we take a look at some of the scariest moments from horror video games that went before it.

While the games showcased below may not all be the pinnacle of video game horror, like all good (and bad) horror movies there is always a defining moment that stays with you long after the credits role or, in this case, the games console is turned off.

Friday The 13th (1985): The Scream

Mid-Eighties kids wanted to be scared too, even if it was via the medium of chunky pixels and blotchy, artificial colour. Still, the best horror films have taught us that where visuals fail, you can always rely on audio to do some heavy lifting – which is exactly what Friday the 13th did. Wandering around rural graveyards and deadly farm implements sets the mood, as does the suitably pensive organ soundtrack, but it’s the piercing offscreen scream whenever Jason gets one of his victims that will curdle your blood every single time.

Resident Evil (1996): The Hounds

Jump scares are derided, not entirely unjustifiably, as the lowest form of horror. But it’s hard not to appreciate one as deviously orchestrated as Resident Evil’s most iconic scene.

Your defences are lowered – the game has given you no reason to mistrust an obviously empty corridor – when the first undead doberman bursts through the foreground window. Panic and positioning make your immediate response a predictable one. You rush toward the next area. As the camera angle changes and you turn around to prepare for the inevitable attack, a second beast leaps in from the rear, leaving you trapped between the two hellish canines.

Silent Hill 3 (2003): The Mirror Room

Operating on the other end of the spectrum, Silent Hill games unsettle you with an atmosphere of slowly intensifying dread, as poor Heather Mason (of the series’ third instalment) has the misfortune of finding out somewhere in the squalid, poorly lit hallways of Brookhaven Hospital.

After entering a mostly empty storage area dominated by a mirror on the far wall, the door locks behind her. So far, so predictable. But, as the reflection shown on the glass surface starts to diverge from the contents of the scantily furnished room she can’t find any means of escape, no matter how frantically she searches. No monsters required, this is video game horror at its eeriest.

Left 4 Dead (2008): The Witch

If you want to understand why the Witch is the most terrifying of Left 4 Dead’s gruesome cast, consider how incongruous it felt meeting her for the first time. Others will either blindly charge or silently stalk you, but the witch just sits there, openly exposed, entirely absorbed in her muted lament.

Not an undead, surely, you’ll assume as you cautiously approach – but if it is indeed a mourning human woman, how can she remain oblivious to the carnage around her? Your answer comes soon enough in a lightning bolt of unleashed fury that instantly incapacitates the first player that disturbed her, pinning them down until their vision is filled with nothing but claws, teeth and those burning, hate-filled eyes.

Alien: Isolation (2014): The First Meeting

It may unfold as a brief, non-interactive cutscene, but Amanda Ripley’s first close encounter with the xenomorph made famous in the Alien films is not any less unforgettable for it. This is because all the elements that make up one of gaming’s most despair-inducing adversaries become evident within the 30-second clip.

The heavy metallic clank of its tail, as it lands inches from your crouched heroine, speaks of a strength you cannot hope to overcome, only elude; Amanda’s terrified cowering points to a set of heightened senses that will pick up on the tiniest sound you make; and the creature’s sudden arrival via a previously unnoticed overhead hatch is a clear warning that no corner of the Sevastopol Station is safe.