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29 days: 5 scary game series

October 2, 2008

I have intimated before that I occasionally like to play the odd video game. Okay, switch “occasionally” with “daily” and “odd” with… no, that one works. Horror has been a theme in video games for as long as I can remember, and I was drawn to these games right away. Listed below are 5 games series that range from good old-fashioned horror fun to HOLY SHIT I JUST WET MYSELF! Enjoy!

The Castlevania series was my first entry into the horror gaming genre, and it still holds a special place in my heart. The series amazing longevity has kept good games coming for the past 20 years. Fuck, I’m old. The premise of the game is that Dracula is reborn every 100 years, and it is up to a family of vampire killers, the Belmont clan, to defeat him. The main character of the first two games is Simon Belmont, who wields his trusty whip, the Vampire Killer. Gameplay is straight-out classic 2D platformer, while Castlevania 2 added a note of the roleplaying genre with the addition of the character gaining levels as he laid the forces of Dracula to rest. The first break in the series in the Belmont vs. Dracula plot came with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, in which the main character was Alucard, the super-goth half-breed son of Dracula and a Transylvanian peasant. SOTN built on the roleplaying aspect of the series, adding hundreds of items that could be collected from defeated enemies or purchased at the, er, library. SOTN is also responsible for the amazingly creepy and moody classical compositions that continue to draw gamers in. Later games in the series have built on the SOTN recipe, with even the inclusion of Alucard in future plots. This is one of the most highly-recommended series that I can think of, with newer games being available on the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, while older games being made available on console download services like Xbox Live and Nintendo’s Wii Shop. Scariness factor is a low 3, but this game lives on mood and environment, rather than frights.

Next on the list is the first ever survival horror series to hit gamers, Alone in the Dark, which has spawned 4 sequels since it’s inception in 1992. Alone in the Dark borrows heavily from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the creator of the Cthulhu mythos, and pits one of two heroes against legions of undead and mind-bending puzzles. Edward Carnby, a private detective, is sent to Hartwood manor to find a piano owned by the recent suicide, Jeremy Hartwood. Or, you can play Emily Hartwood, who is investigating the death of her uncle. So, the detective is looking for personal belongings while the family member is investigating a death. Got it! AITD’s 3D gameplay and use of environmental puzzles served to draw the player in to the game as never before, and that level of interaction made the fear of the plot that much more real. Since it was released, AITD has had several sequels, ranging from poor to abysmal, and even a movie that deserves special mention. The moie, Alone in the Dark, was directed by Uwe Boll, widely regarded as the scourge of the gaming community. Boll takes classic games and completely destroys them with bad plot changes, bad acting, and bad casting. You go to see an Uwe Boll movie, and you know you’re going to see a cinematic piece of shit. Speaking of casting, the movie starred Christian Slater, who was apparently found coked up and in a ditch, still wondering why Kuffs tanked. Due to the new genre created and 3D graphics, AITD (the game) rates a gentleman’s 7 on the fright scale.

Resident Evil is a series near and dear to my admittedly black heart. This was one of the first games to grace my Playstation, and I have fond memories of the scares it has given me. I was with two good friends, Ed (who comments here) and Adam, when I bought this game, and I remember going into my room and turning the lights off before loading the disk. The premise of the first game was that your character, a choice between Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, is part of S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team who were sent into Raccoon City to investigate the disappearance of the Alpha team. Your chopper lands in a forest clearing outside a mansion on the outskirts of town, and your team is immediately attacked by a pack of what you think is wild dogs. You run through the dark, misty forest to the mansion, which at first glance, seems deserted. The first thing I tried to do, as the three of us were huddled around the television, was exit the mansion through the front door. As I opened it, the dogs leapt at the door, and you see for the first time that they look like the dessicated corpses of unfortunate dobermans. All three of us jumped away from the television and shared a round of “Holy shit!” looks. The second thing I did was change my underwear. What’s left of team Bravo splits up to investigate, immediately breaking two important horror genre rules. You guide your character around the deserted mansion until you come to a closed door, behind which emanates odd sounds of tearing flesh. Walking in, you see a sorpse on the floor, and a person who seems to be feasting on the remains. It spies you and what looks like a long-dead man attacks. At this point, you realize that you are well and truly fucked. Resident Evil built and expanded on the survival horror genre begun by Alone in the Dark, and is responsible for the genre’s burst into gaming popularity. The series spawned several sequels, one prequel, and 3 movies, and is responsible for many heart attacks throughout my gaming career. The beautifully rendered and grisly visuals with the excellent use of sound and music give this series a fear factor of 9.

Ah, the 7th Guest! This game is a flat-out mystery puzzler with the first taste of actual video in a game (that I saw). Henry Stauf was a toymaker in the local town. Guided by prophetic dream, he builds a mansion of a scope that frightened the locals. You play a character known only as “Ego”, the seventh guest of a 6- guest dinner party held by Stauf. Ego wanders the house, solving Stauf’s puzzles and seeing ghostly images that advance the plot. Throughout the game, you are chided by the ghostly voice of Henry Stauf as he berates you when you can’t solve a puzzle or voices his frustration when you do. The puzzles in the game are ingenious versions of basic logic puzzles that increase in difficulty as the game progresses. As you explore the mansions many dark and eerie rooms, you are rewarded with macabre visions of the ultimate fates of the other guests, and the backstory of depraved toymaker, Henry Stauf. The 7th Guest was the first game I played that put mood and sharp thinking over reflexes, and it’s musical score is one that haunts me to this day, and has cemented my respect for game music composers. Take a listen to the 7th Guest theme, remixed by AmIEvil and provided by the wonderful Overclocked Remix site.


Tempered with the effective use of music and visuals to create the mood of the game, the 7th Guest scores a respectable 8 on the fright scale.

Whew, I don’t know that I’m ready for this one. The Doom series started off as a 3D shooter with the basic premise of Demons on Mars, a respectable intertwining of sci-fi and supernatural horror that likely inspired such films as Event Horizon. The series, while a classic of PC gaming and the blast-off point for first-person shooters, didn’t come into it’s own in the horror genre until Doom 3. Now, I’ve been a fan of horror since I was about 10 years of age, so I hope you understand the implications when I tell you that Dooom 3 is the scariest piece of media that has ever been inlicted upon me. From the very outset of the game, you arenot a player, but a victim of the games superlative use of environment, visuals, and sound. You are not there to play, but to survive, and you feel that with every step you take. Doom 3 reboots the whole franchise and takes place on an industrial military complex on Mars which is researching advanced weaponry and teleportation. The teleportation research opens a portal to Hell which leads researchers, troops, and civilians to fall into violent madness, and you, a space marine, are one of the very few survivors left to find your escape. Part of the environmental masterpice of this game is the fact that, because of the demonic attacks, many areas of the complex are devoid of light. At this point, your only weapon against the darkness is a flashlight that only iluminates a small part of the room that you’re in, causing you to constantly whip around and shine the light on areas where a demon or risen researcher may be lurking. Adding to the sense of dark madness of the game is the perfect use of sound, as you hear horrid cries of torture in the distance, or the faint shuffle of a zombie as they sneak up behind you. Adding to the terror, entering certain areas triggers ghostly remnants of former inhabitants of the complex, seen as perhaps bloody footprints walking down a hall as you follow, or the sound of a whisper calling for help from a corpse propped up against a wall. As you investigate your surroundings, you are able to pick up the PDAs of the former residents of the complex, which give hints as to how the complex became shadowed in death. You hear the voice testimonials of the residents as they document missing people or their own falls into madness. No game I have ever played, nor movie that I have watched has even come close to matching the engrossing horror of playing Doom 3. I have talked to several people that were unable to continue with the game due to it’s graphic horror. At one point while playing this game, I was in one of the darkened rooms, and heard the faint whisper of a footstep. Spinning around, I saw the dead body of a mechanic right behind me. I jumped so bad, that I raped the mouse on the table, which firghtened the cat, which was sleeping on my wife, and it proceeded to claw her. Ta-da! This game destroys the bell curve of sinister madness, scoring several million on the fright scale.

If you are susceptible to nightmares or get spooked by odd noises in the house, I suggest avioding all of these games, with the exception of Castlevania. I leave you with a scene from Doom 3. Sleep tight!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ed T. permalink
    October 3, 2008 8:48 am

    I agree, Doom 3 is one of the best if not the single best horror game I have ever played. The opening sequence of the lights going out and the overall feel of the game make it for me.

    I remember the night in your apartment playing RE:1 for the first time with you and Adam, it was well worth the $5 I spent on those Fruit of the Looms!


  2. October 18, 2008 4:07 pm

    Lemme see if I can hit you with a couple spooky OC ReMix suggestions:
    and at least the intro of this:

    Many thanks for the OC ReMix plug for 7th Guest, Joe, we appreciate it! I’m sure “The Fat Man” George Sanger would be flattered to know that the soundtrack to the game helped you become a big game music fan, as well as the fact that you understand just how much great music and audio shapes the experience of games, especially darker ones like the ones highlighted here. The Fat Man’s always been a great supporter of OCR, and his pair of mixes with our community are also excellent listens:

    All the best to you!

    Larry “Liontamer” Oji
    Assistant Soundtrack Director, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
    Head Submissions Evaluator, OverClocked ReMix –
    Creator, VG Frequency –
    Staff, VGMdb –

  3. October 18, 2008 5:18 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Larry I’ve been enjoying OCRemix for a long time and you guys put out some great music!

    I’ve listened to The Fat Man’s tracks and the man’s got talent! For anyone who isn’t quite the giant nerd that I am, George “Fat Man” Sanger composed the original soundtrack to The 7th Guest, and bleeds more talent from a mosquito bite than most of us pump through our veins throughout the entirety of out lives!

    Again, readers, check out OCRemix. It’s got great music that stands on it’s own even if you’re not a game fan.

  4. October 20, 2008 2:29 pm

    He’s right–I’m flattered.

    And wow, Joe M and Larry, THANKS. You do much good when you say kind things like that. You make my somebody’s day better (in this case, mine!), and that’s among the highest things a person can accomplish.

    With admiration and thanks,

  5. October 20, 2008 6:52 pm

    Fat Man!

    Wow, it’s awesome to have you post here! Doubly awesome now that I have a link to your current work 🙂

    You’re welcome for the compliments. You deserve them!

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