For reasons that I don’t quite understand, I’ve suddenly felt the need to comment on scary video games. Enjoy if you can.
The atmospheric and slower-paced Silent Hill series (at least,the first four) get my vote.
I’m going to make an unpopular statement, and say that Silent Hill 3 is the best and scariest of them, followed closely by Silent Hill 4. The first two are outstanding, but… sorry, you spend far too much time wandering around aimlessly, and although the stories are better, the atmosphere gets less scary every minute you spend not knowing what to do next.
SH 3&4 don’t have this problem. You don’t spend a lot of time wandering around – the things that are terrifying push you from one event to the next. The very fact that they are more on-rails makes them scarier: the character you’re controlling has almost no control over the events transpiring around them. You’re just trying to survive, and find out what’s going on so you can keep surviving. It’s more intense than wandering around a foggy town. SH2 is amazing, but it takes a while to get into it, and that while is too long.
Everything after SH4 is pretty much a train-wreck, by the way. The production studios changed, and the new one brought a more American-Horror-Movie aesthetic to the games. Now, American style horror movies are great (I’m a huge fan of them), but what works in a scary movie isn’t what works in a scary video game. The southeast Asian (Japanese, Korean, and Thai especially) style of movie horror, to me, works much better in video games.
Since SH4, the landscape of horror games has changed. There’s a lot more spring-loaded-cat, and a lot less atmosphere. Doom 3 is good for the occasional jump-out-of-your-pants scare, and does have a seriously creepy vibe to it. Likewise, F.E.A.R. has some great scares to it. The problem with these two, however, is that they focus on the action. That’s fantastic for the games themselves (you’ll never hear me bad-mouth either one of them), but it does make them a bit less scary.
Dead Space has some pretty creepy moments
But after a point, you get the feeling that the freaky monsters are looking for disco lights to stand in so you can see them better. That’s not cool in a horror game. Fewer monsters that spent more time in the shadows – and made you feel completely outclassed when you fought them – would have gone a long way toward making Dead Space on part with Silent Hill in terms of pure terror.
To bring this to a close, I thought I might mention one more game from the past that’s scary as all holy hell, for much the same reason the early Silent Hill games were. If you’ve never played Fatal Frame 1 or 2, you should. At night. With all the lights off. All alone. Which is how you should always play horror games anyway.