We’ve all been there. You’re playing a perfectly wholesome video game about murdering your fellow humans when all of a sudden you find yourself shaking with sweaty palms in the grips of a terror you never expected. That’s why, in honor of Halloween, we’ve put together a list of seven of our scariest video game moments. These aren’t necessarily the scariest games or the best horror games. These are just some individual moments that left us breathless and terrified for whatever reason. Some were intentional. Others were probably less so.
While these are some of our favorites, we’re sure that there are a few we’ve missed, whether it’s a spooky moment in a safe game, a well-executed moment in a horror game, or a harrowing moment of panic with a glitched save file or a bricked console. The possibilities are endless, so feel free to let us know about your most memorable gaming scares in the comments!
Snacker Follows – Banjo-Kazooie
I’ve always been afraid of deep water. You never know what kinds of monsters are lurking beneath the surface. The problem with Banjo-Kazooie was that I knew exactly what was waiting for me in the depths of Treasure Trove Cove. In the game’s second level, the water surrounding the beach is home to a shark named Snacker. If you fall in the water, Snacker will come devour you, often while explicitly threatening to make you his next meal. Killing him (no easy task) only brings a temporary reprieve. He’ll be back, and he’ll still be hungry.
That’s ultimately what made Snacker more terrifying than, say, the eel from Mario 64 (why did Nintendo make you swim right in front of that fucking thing?!), which was mostly indifferent to you and could at least be avoided. Snacker had a grim inevitability, his malicious presence a constant reminder of your own mortality and your diminished status at the bottom of the food chain. Like an aquatic predecessor to It Follows, Snacker was always right behind you, a relentless terror that could not be defeated. You could only learn to manage it well enough to go about your business, and that was reason enough to stay out of the water. – Eric Weiss
The Collector Ship – Mass Effect 2
There’s something about an abandoned ship adrift in space that always sets me on edge. I don’t care if it’s a derelict Puppy Ship, if I have to board it and wander through its empty corridors, footsteps echoing in the dark, I want nothing to do with it. So it is with the Collector Ship in Mass Effect 2. It’s tense, breath-catching, and pulse-pounding. It’s that feeling of barging head-on into a trap even though I know full well something’s waiting for me in that dank, yellow-lit hive where the Collectors grind up their captives like biological stew. Once the Collectors attack it’s business as usual, guns out and I can breathe again. But in the moments before the trap is sprung, when the air is thick with dread and all I can hear is the sound of my inevitable doom, it’s the scariest mission in the whole fucking galaxy. – Meg Smitherman
Steve’s End – Resident Evil: Code Veronica
One of the scariest moments for me was in Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Though there were tons of jump scares that got me almost every single time, the moment that scared me the most was when Steve, Claire’s newfound companion and potential love interest, turns. While Steve is undeniably an obnoxious character, I was invested in his friendship with Claire. He was there, helping me navigate a strange place and helping me find Claire’s missing older brother, Chris. Having grown up with my older brothers and their friends, brothers have always represented a kind of safety and comfort for me. I immediately invested in Claire’s search for Chris and the loneliness that comes with it. Steve was an important part in assuaging that loneliness, a companion to fight against the fear.
When Steve turned, 12-year-old Kait’s heart broke and for the first time in video games, I became really, really afraid. What do I do next? Will I have to kill my only friend? What if I can’t? After that moment, the rest of the game became a way to fuel my preteen-terror over losing friends and with that, safety and comfort. I probably would have hugged my brothers if I wasn’t too cool for that at the time. – Kaitlin Tremblay
Home Invasion – Silent Hill 4: The Room
The premise of Silent Hill 4: The Room is relatively simple: you wake up trapped in your apartment and the only way out is a creepy tunnel that’s appeared on your bathroom wall. The tunnel leads to areas adjacent to the titular hellscape, where the majority of the levels are played, and your room becomes your hub world and safe haven. That is, until you realize that the hole in your shower is both an exit and an entrance.
Your safe place becomes haunted and the quotidian manifestations of spiritual invasion are truly upsetting in a way reminiscent of the beloved P.T. (Silent Hills). The shadow of a person standing in your closet, a voice speaking over a disconnected phone saying, “I’m always watching you,” and worst of all, a spectral image of your own corpse standing outside your door which you can view through the peephole. It’s really too bad that The Room succumbs to some of the worst tendencies in game design because in between its tedious levels it made me scared of my own apartment.
– Peter Counter
You Are Not Alone – The 7th Guest
Most of the my scariest encounters with video games have been self-induced. After all, what’s the point of playing games that are meant to be thrilling or scary in the middle of the day? One of the most chilling moments for me was playing The 7th Guest when I was in university. I would play in the dark, and every once in a while a chilling voice would echo through the speakers to ask, “Are you feeling… lonely?” and it would always freak me out. Incidentally, one of my roommates later professed to also being scared shitless whenever she heard it, though I was not aware of it at the time. – Jorge Figueiredo
Night Terrors – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE.
No phrase filled my 7-year-old body with more fear than those eight words from 1987’s Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The black sheep of the Castlevania series, Simon’s Quest for the NES is not nearly as well regarded as other games in Konami’s storied vampire hunter series, but nonetheless it was a favourite of mine growing up. Although I never actually owned the game, I can’t count the number of times we rented it from the local video store. You’d think my parents would have taken the hint.
So what made Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest different? Well, for one, it featured some basic RPG elements, like experience and item collecting, but the main difference is that it employed a non-linear “Metroidvania”style world that allowed the player to explore and revisit previously traversed areas. It’s an element that many now consider a staple of the franchise, but it wouldn’t be reintroduced until 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This living world – as opposed to the stage-based structure of previous and subsequent games – meant the player spent a lot of time exploring the world, and that exploration took time.
That passage of time is where one of the most interesting (and terrifying) features of Simon’s Quest comes in: the game’s day and night cycle. With challenging platforming, indecipherable clues, and insanely hard puzzles, Simon’s Quest is difficult enough as is. But when night-time takes hold, the game becomes an absolute nightmare. The screen darkens, the music changes, monsters become more difficult to kill, new monsters appear, and worst of all the game’s towns – once your refuge from the horrors of rural Transylvania – turn into ghoul-ridden obstacle courses. Night was a gauntlet that you had to survive.
This idea of the only safe spaces in the game – its towns – being taken away was truly frightening for me as a child. Suddenly there was no escape for Simon and no respite for me aside from the pause button. And even if Simon did survive the night I knew another one was just around the corner. That looming darkness, that inevitable terror, will forever be my scariest video game moment.
– Will Perkins
You Died – Resident Evil 2
I first encountered Resident Evil 2 at a friend’s birthday party when I was twelve, where I distinctly remember watching another friend get devoured by zombies on the first screen while he was trying to figure out the controls. It was the most graphic death I’d seen in a video game to that point, and it was all the worse because it seemed so futile. There were too many zombies. Humanity was doomed, and we were all going to have our guts ripped out while screaming on the streets outside a police station. The bloody reminder that “You Died” simply put a nihilistic exclamation point on the proceedings.
Of course, that all happened before I became aware of the sheer absurdity of the Resident Evil franchise, and long before I developed a proper appreciation for camp. At the time, it just gave me nightmares, and it’s tough to overstate the impact. Thanks largely to when I encountered it, Resident Evil 2 was one of the primary reasons I avoided any and all horror for nearly a decade of my life.
Now it’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite genres, the culmination of a journey that somewhat ironically began with the sublime Resident Evil 4, which was one of the first games that helped get me back into horror during university (I’m even wearing an Umbrella Corporation t-shirt as I write this). Resident Evil 2 wasn’t nearly as scary the second time around, and I love RE as much for its silliness as I do for its scares.
However, Resident Evil 2 was still one of the first true horror experiences that made me aware of horror’s powerful pull on the imagination. I spent a week convinced that zombies were congregating on my lawn every night, and it would be years before I finally learned to process that dread without succumbing to the nightmare. – Eric Weiss
What’s your favourite scary video game moment? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @DorkShelf!