Halloween is upon us and I decided to make a fitting top 10 list.
Movies don't really scare me anymore and I think it's because video games have desensitized me. When you play a horror game and you're in control of a character who can die based on your actions, it makes the experience way more tense and scary compared to passive horror stories. Generally you know who is going to live and die in a slasher flick and most movies resort to cheap startles rather than genuine, lasting scares. Here's my list of gaming moments that have had lasting effects on my psyche.
10. Jason's random appearance - Friday the 13th (NES)
This game was pretty shitty with lame design and graphics but I was young when it came out. I watched my brother rather than play it myself because I was too frightened. As he controlled a counselor aimlessly wondering the summer camp, an alarm would go off letting him know that kids were about to die at Jason's hands. One by one the little face icons would disappear from the tally and Jason would randomly appear, punching the character to death in a matter of seconds. In hindsight, I was a pretty big pussy for being afraid of this. Not a lot has changed.
09. The Chainsaw Guy is No Joke - Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube)
This is the most terrifying moment in the RE franchise for me. My girlfriend watched me play the opening chapter of this game where I frantically fought for survival against an onslaught of brainwashed villagers. Suddenly a fat farmer with a burlap sack on his head appeared behind me and cut my head off in one swipe even though I had full health. My shocked girlfriend left the room and said she couldn't watch any more. From that point on, any time I heard a chainsaw I panicked, unloading all of my ammo from as far away as I could screaming "Why won't you just die!" like some B-movie villain.
08. My wife is a mindless beast - Splatterhouse 3 (Sega Genesis)
The splatterhouse games were gory side scrolling beat em ups about some guy who looked like Jason Vorhees but was actually good. In the third iteration, you had to pummel your way through a haunted house filled with monsters to save your wife and kid. I didn't bother reading the instructions when I rented the game and didn't take not that there was a timer ticking in the corner of the screen. I was just concerned with pile driving zombies. It turns you, you're supposed to beat each level in a certain amount of time, otherwise your wife or kid are murdered as hinted in brief digitized pictures. In the second mission your wife Jennifer is infected with a flesh eating boreworm. If you don't act fast enough you see this haunting image:
The idea that this woman's brain was devoured by a fat worm due to my tardiness (and love of pile driving) was a little unsettling for me.
07. Open Ocean - Ecco the Dolphin (Sega Genesis)
I have 2 legitimate fears I'll never overcome: Spiders and Deep Sea Creatures. As brilliant as Ecco the Dolphin was, I couldn't make it far in the game because I knew that every new depth and cavern meant the possibility of running into a giant octopus or man eating snow crab. The last straw came from the "Open Ocean" level where you have to cross Ecco from one side of the level to the other in a sea that's completely empty... except for the hundreds of Great White Sharks swimming about.
This doesn't really do my rant any justice, but if you take this level slow it's scarier, I promise.
06. Secret Game Over Screen - Mortal Kombat (Arcade)
I hold to this day that the first Mortal Kombat was the most brutally graphic based on this alone. I was playing this game by myself in an arcade when I ran out of tokens and got a game over. Instead of the typical "Dungeon" game over screen, I was treated to a slow pan down of the Pit where I could see all the corpses impaled by spikes. I had already seen all the skewered heads at the bottom from normally playing the game, but I was never able to see the guy ripped in half with his pelvic bone exposed at the top of the columns. It was more disturbing than scary but since it shocked me at a time that I was embracing the violent video game movement, it deserves recognition on this list. Apparently, this game over screen appears once every 30 times.
05. Black Headcrabs - Half Life 2 (PC)
These horrific little creatures feed off of my aforementioned arachnophobia. They look like black widows, sound scary, and if they bite you, they drop your health to 1. They also make a ghastly entrance as their attached to a swollen, walking corpse. Any time I hear these bastards, I start tossing grenades everywhere. I hate them that much.
04. Always at Death's Door - Shadowgate (NES)
Another game I watched my brother play, this was a point and click adventure where you roamed a dungeon searching for an evil wizard, or something along those lines. The game was scary to me because everything killed you. What's this? A door? I guess I should open it... "You open the door and flood of acid sweeps over your body, melting your flesh. Game Over." Hmmm, a book, I bet I should read it... "You pick up the book and set off a tripwire that opens the gate to a giant werewolf which proceeds to rip you apart and eat you alive." On top of the deadly trial and error puzzles, you also had to constantly search for and light torches (which were limited). Failing to do so would end up leaving you in pitch black where you'd trip and die. The pressure was too much for me. Every game over was accompanied by a creepy picture of the grim reaper and an eerie MIDI song that still rings in my head.
03. The Facehugger - Aliens vs. Predaor (PC)
Aliens vs Predator was already terrifying enough with the low lighting, eerie beeps of the motion tracker, and the isolation. To make things worse, there was a spider-like creature that killed you instantly. Murdernator and I used to play this game together and we'd jump out of our seats ever time a facehugger killed us. The image of the thing engulfing the whole screen with its segmented legs was too much for me and takes the top prize for scariest enemy in an FPS.
02. Alien Attack - Rescue on Fractalus (Atari 800)
This game represents not only my first video game memory, but possibly one of the first memories of my life. Rescue on Fractalus was a space flight game by Lucasarts made in 1985. It was way ahead of its time and involved you flying a ship through 3d-like mountains on an alien planet to rescue downed pilots. When you spotted a distress signal, you landed your ship, the pilot would knock on your airlock, and you'd rescue them. Sometimes, the pilot wouldn't knock on the door however, and instead this would happen...
When I first saw this I ran from the computer screaming and was paranoid of all windows and windshields. The funny thing is LOTS of people experienced this as kids. Just read the posts at the bottom of the youtube page. This game is often cited as the first truly scary game ever made. The surprise alien attack added a new tense dynamic to gameplay. The only warning you got was the pilot had a slightly green hue to him. I remember my brother and his friends playing the game and tensely watching the pilot approach and suddenly scream "HE'S GREEN! HE'S GREEN! KILL HIM QUICK!" It's a response I can't remember the last time I had with a game.
01. The Main Menu - E.T. (Atari)
The scariest game moment of my life comes from what is deemed to be the worst game ever made. I'm not making this as a stupid joke, I'm being dead serious. As a kid, I guess I was easily frightened by MIDI music and distorted graphics. When a neighborhood friend dropped by my house to show off E.T. for the Atari, I had no idea I was in for the scare of a lifetime. When he powered the game on, it immediately booted the main menu which showed a distorted picture of what was supposed to be the friendly E.T. It was joined by a distorted MIDI rendition of the theme song. It was confusing and disturbing like a freaky David Lynch movie and, like Fractalus, sent me screaming and running out of the room. I couldn't tell you if the game is as bad as everyone says because I never made it past the main menu. It still creeps me out today. I imagine that if there is a hell, and I go to it, Satan will be there, farting on a casio keyboard made from the flesh and bones of Halo fans, and it will sound like that menu song.