It’s hard to believe that true horror games have become a bit of a rarity these days, despite the steady influx of titles starring zombies, ghosts or other spooky staples of horror. Yet, just as the gaggle of “ghoulish” movies Hollywood continues to pump out to celebrate the Halloween season, lacklustre efforts by both game and movie industries have succeeded little in making audiences cower beneath their bed sheets.
Even once-revered series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, both associated as the mainstays of survival horror genre, have fallen into a steady downwards slope of disappointment that only grows deeper with each new release. For gamers starving for new content to inspire new forms of nightmares, this article is for you. Listed below are five recently released games that are guaranteed to have you repeatedly hitting the nearest light source over the sudden sound in your room. Get ready to fire up your webcam – your sissy screams may earn you five minutes of YouTube fame.
Though often cited as one of the earliest examples of a shoddy movie-licensed game, the original NES adaptation of Friday the 13th did have one thing going for it: the completely random, unscripted appearances by series mainstay Jason Vorhees. While the actual gameplay featured uninspired gameplay elements such as hitting snakes with rocks and navigating impossibly large houses in first person, the knowledge that Jason was lurking in the shadows ready to pop out and introduce his machete to your innards resulted in one of the first legitimately heart-pounding moments in video game history.
It is that same concept that makes Slender: The Eight Pages such an effectively terrifying experience. Based on the internet-created monster known as “Slenderman”, who has inspired much fan-art and web videos (including Marble Hornets and Everyman HYBRID), this first-person downloadable game features a simple concept: navigate a dark forest with nothing but a flashlight in order to uncover 8 pages.
The placements of the pages are random, but so are the appearances of Slenderman himself. If you’re lucky, a static-screen indicator will warn you when the faceless horror is close by… but all too often you’ll find yourself turning the corner only to end up a few inches away from death. Stare too long at the sharply dressed Slenderman, or have him get too close, and you’ll be faced with a Game Over, and possibly a broken chair as you bolt from your desk in shock.
The game’s use of limited vision and ominous sound effects are handled with the same expertise and detail as other aesthetically focused titles like Silent Hill and Amnesia, while the split-second scares unleashed by Slenderman are downright impossible to get used to no matter how many repeated attempts you take in collecting all 8 pages. Best of all, the game is free to download, while a paid sequel is currently in the works.
If you’re the type of person put off by animé-inspired character designs due to their infamy to occasionally combine schoolgirls and tentacles in increasingly lewd ways, rest assured that Corpse Party is a disturbing experience for all the right reasons. While the game’s cast of doomed classmates rarely resemble their established ages (one character who looks and acts no older than 8 years old is, in fact, 14), the multi-chapter story shows no mercy in tormenting the trapped teenagers, whether mentally or physically (the latter occurring with such frequency that there are multiple “Wrong End” outcomes awaiting players who fail to make the right decisions during key moments).
Featuring a simplistic look that resembles 16-bit RPGs, Corpse Party foregoes any sense of action and relies purely on examining objects or running away from ethereal horrors. Where the game truly shines is through its use of sound, whether by the brutal performances of the Japanese cast or the nauseating array of gory sound effects. Once the game heads down a dark and disturbing path (including one unforgettable sequence that takes place in a pitch-black screen with nothing but screams and sound effects to clue you in on the horrific details), you will find yourself both praising and cursing the game’s use of three-dimensional audio, which creates a surround sound effect through your headphones. You’ll also probably steer clear of scissors for a week or two.
The game’s sequel, Book of Shadows, has recently been confirmed for localisation by Xseed Games and will be released this coming winter in North America (with a European release afterwards).
One of the most infamous titles released in the last couple of years, there is hardly a single gamer out there who hasn’t heard about the punishing difficulty of Dark Souls, a game that would sooner toss you over a cliff than hold your hand. With no shortage of deadly enemies, deadlier bosses, hidden traps and invading players, the game’s main slogan “Prepare to Die” isn’t a prediction – it’s a promise.
Consequently, this also results in one of the tensest and terrifying games released this console generation. While billed as an action/adventure game, the hideously designed monsters coupled with the ease with which players can meet their end make this game far from a leisurely experience. In fact, Dark Souls tends to utilise some of our basest fears to further unnerve adventurers, such as invisible platforms where one wrong step means instant death, or walking through a plague-infested sewer filled with rotting carcasses and giant rats. You also don’t need Freud to tell you what the Gaping Dragon is supposed to symbolise. With the added content from the recent PC release now available on consoles, now is the best time to see what all the fuss is about. Get ready to praise the sun and condemn the black phantoms.
Rarely have I ever played a game that managed to unnerve me from its very first sequence. Minutes into starting Saya no Uta, I had to shut off the game just to let the horrifying premise sink in: after miraculously surviving a car accident that claimed the life of his parents and nearly his own, college student Sakisaka Fuminori underwent a radical surgical treatment to repair the damage done to his brain. While the procedure managed to save his life, his perception of the world around him had warped into an endless nightmare where everything and everyone around him resembles the backed-up toilet of Silent Hill; humans appear as pus-spewing grotesqueries, everyday furniture has been twisted to look like fleshy pods, and even food has become foul to smell and taste. Before he is driven to suicide from the endless madness, a young girl named Saya appears before him, the only person that resembles a human being in his eyes. A relationship is formed out of desperation which leads to love, while Fuminori and his friends soon find themselves caught up in the horrific truth lying deep within Saya.
A Visual Novel originally released in Japan, Saya no Uta is the story that gave writer Gen Urobuchi the infamous nickname of “Urobutcher” (while his follow-up story Madoka Magica quickly became regarded as the biggest animé sensation since Neon Genesis Evangelion… but not for being a wholesome series about cute girls using magic). While often cited for its notoriously disturbing premise and imagery, Saya no Uta is in fact quite subtle in regards to its violent content: scenes involving dismemberment and murder are described through narrative text and voice acting rather than depicted on-screen. The titular monster is also never revealed in full, leaving our imagination to conjure up its terrifying appearance.
While it may pull its punches in regards to on-screen violence, its depictions of sexual acts are another thing entirely. Raw and explicit, the sex scenes resemble the typical amount of detail found in 18+ works from Japan, but are also many times more unnerving due to the twisted context surrounding them. Simply put, Saya no Uta’s story reaches a point where the very concept of copulation becomes sickening to anyone watching it, to the point that you may end up wishing it had stuck to more traditional horror values like an axe to the head.
If you think you are brave enough to handle the psychological self-loathing and sexual depravity depicted in this Visual Novel, you can purchase the official English localisation when it releases in 2013. It may be a depraved and disturbing tale, but it’s also a damn well written one that puts a new and twisted spin on the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Naturally, this list would be incomplete without mentioning the highly celebrated PC horror title. Even two years after its original release, Amnesia continues to terrify new gamers every day, while the rest of us sit back and enjoy recorded videos of their girlish reactions. While it is disappointing that its long-awaited sequel, A Machine for Pigs, could not meet its projected October release date, the original is still one of the most effective fright-filled experiences even after repeat play-throughs; the level of raw terror depicted through the first-person perspective and its surrounding aesthetics have yet to be emulated with even the biggest of big-budget titles. The very notion that players can be damaged just looking at a shambling creature is enough to encourage that they keep their distance as far away as possible, and also makes those sudden face-to-face encounters the kind that cause a hasty player to snap their wireless mouse right out of their desktop.
The free DLC story, Justine, is also available to add a few extra hours of terror, while anyone interested in delving deeper to witness the game’s original roots can also check out the Penumbra trilogy, which features similar mechanics (and scares) that eventually made their way to Amnesia.