The IT trailer that released this week has reactivated all my childhood trauma of Tim Curry’s Pennywise the Clown; I’ve needed to pee for two days but my bathroom has too many open plugholes and I’m not about that life.
But this is ostensibly a gaming column, or as I like to call it a vehicle for dickjokes, so I’ve shifted my focus for the week to some games that gave me that same colon-busting fear that Tim Curry’s oversized painted white head did all those many years ago. Have a look at mine, and then let me know what you’d add in the comments.
Yeah, I’m talking the original Doom, not that fancy, well-lit pile of pixels and polygons you kids have today. The original Doom was easily the scariest game ever when it came out, and in spite of the graphics not exactly holding up by today’s standards, it still is.
Doom basically mastered the jump-scare, getting a lot of cheap “oh sweet fisting clown f*cks” out of ten year old children every time a hidden door opened behind them and a Pinky came and took a bite out of your ass. This was a game that was really good at surprising an involuntary bowel movement out of you at every opportunity, and playing this at night with the lights off was basically asking for a round of squishy undies.
It was more than those cheap thrills though. The whole atmosphere was oppressive and hopeless, a lone marine against the forces of hell, working your way through dark, abandoned space stations strewn with dead comrades. What Doom likes to do is put you into a situation where you’re suddenly confronted with several enemies, and the only way out is through. This makes for short, intense bursts of highly stressful scenarios, and I distinctly remember ending each game session when my nerves were too frayed to continue.
Alien vs Predator
There’s been a ton of crappy versions of these, but I have a real soft spot for the original. And by the “original”, I of course mean the 1999 PC classic.
This game did an incredible job of making each of the three viewpoints (Predator, Alien, Marine) feel immersive and unique, but where it really shone was in capturing the endless feeling of dread that the movies did so well.
Walking around as a marine you felt pathetic and helpless, you weren’t sure whether to go left or right, which vision mode to use and wait wait wait one motherfucking second WHAT WAS THAT SCRATCHING SOUND ON THE ROOF, and then your head was breakfast.
The campaign here was pretty solid, but I have some epic memories of the multiplayer. Aliens could move at lightning speed along walls and ceilings, and marines would generally spin in a terrified circle.
I’ve been playing this recently, as I seem to do on an annual basis, and I was surprised by how terrified I’ve been.
This is less horror than it just ratcheted up, helpless tension. As much of a badass as Gordon Freeman can be, Half-Life 2 loves to put you in hopeless situations with nothing to defend yourself except your strangely impressive cardio ability.
Whether you’re scampering over rooftops or flying across radiation river on a useless airboat, the game has these high-tension segments that leave you exhausted by the end of it. Early in the game you get unavoidably cornered by a couple of combine after a rooftop chase, and I almost screamed out loud when they boxed me in.
And don’t even get me started on Ravenholm, which I have to play in ten minute bursts in order to keep a tenuous grasp on my sanity.
Clive Barker’s Undying
I’ve brought up this hidden gem before, but man this game was goooood. Unlike some of the other games in this list, this one was a lot more subtle.
Rather than having skeletons popping out of the cupboards, Undying has you explore a vast, eerie mansion and uncover the story for yourself. There’s a sense of mounting dread and pervasive creepiness that builds throughout the game, helped along by the game’s ingenious “Scry” ability, which lets the protagonist see the evil lurking below the surface.
Everyone who’s played this remembers scrying the giant family portrait for the first time, and watching it turn into an oil painting of dismembered corpses and people with some seriously bad sunburn. Great stuff.
If you’ve never played this, I honestly recommend tracking down a copy and giving it a go. This one holds up.