Scares of all shapes and sizes…
Happy Halloween, Doublejump community! Video games have thrown some scary, scary stuff at us over the decades and so to celebrate the world’s favourite unofficial holiday, the Doublejump team came together to scare the pants off each other by bringing up memories of the scariest challenges we’ve faced in video games. Enjoy the read!
Cai: The alien from Alien: Isolation
When was the last time you saw Alien? A couple of years ago at a double feature, maybe? Perhaps you caught the 20th anniversary re-release? For me, it was just last night because that horrifying Xenomorph haunts my nightmares. Now sure, the movie is a masterclass in tension and my shoulders have never quite untensed from that, but the real reason my blood pressure has never quite recovered is found in Alien: Isolation because goddamn, that horrible monster is relentless.
You can run from it. You can blast it with a flamethrower, if you’re so inclined. You can hide under a table (and in the game!), you can even distract it with a noisemaker and some flashing lights! All of these might work, but only once or twice… nothing you can do is guaranteed, and nothing will work forever. No matter what you do, that Xenomorph is coming for you. It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned- no wait, that’s the Terminator.
Well whatever, the Terminator is scary too… But not as scary as that damn Xenomorph!
Ed: The Dahaka from Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
I loved 2003’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time — it was cartoony, goofy and the time-turning mechanic was somewhat revolutionary for the time. This attractive combination, as you may imagine, was more than enough to sway little 6-year-old me over, and 6-year-old me benefitted from the fact that his parents didn’t much care for age ratings… Thanks, guys!
However, with the sequel, Ubisoft decided to kick all the good vibes and the quips to the curb and craft a story that is as dark and as edgy as possible. The result is a game that has players control a brooding Prince as he is hunted by the Dahaka, the Guardian of Time, a huge, ivory black, bull-ish mythological beast whose only purpose is to prevent any human from manipulating time and changing fate.
Sure, this sounds pretty bad already, but what if I told you that this abomination can teleport using a black void and can use a plethora of tentacles in order to capture the Prince? What if I also told you that the Dahaka can not be slowed down, harmed or killed? Yeah, this was a nightmare and 7-year-old me was completely terrified.
Making matters worse is that, since this eldritch fiend was basically teleporting everywhere and anywhere, it could surprise you at literally any point as it could even barge through walls, gates and the like. The only thing I could do after witnessing the Dahaka, then, was to run like the wind in a desperate and frantic attempt to escape. This proved insanely difficult since these many, seemingly random encounters with the beast were all punctuated by a banging metal soundtrack which created an incredibly oppressive and tense atmosphere. Thankfully, the fiend does have one crucial weakness: water, the logic here being that the creature was indeed created by the Sands of Time. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I felt whenever I stumbled across a body or source of water, which subsequently meant that the chase was finally over.
I also can’t begin to tell you just how many hours and attempts it took me to complete the game, but, I somehow did and, in the process, I discovered something very essential about myself: there is no “warrior within” me. In fact, I’ll take cowering in fear in a corner together with Luigi any day of the week, thank you very much.
Ethan: ReDeads from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
I’m sure there are scarier things I could have picked for this list. Given that it is October I’ve been on a bit of a Resident Evil bender, and I’m sure that franchise alone has more than enough entries to fill an entire list. I was tempted to talk about Resident Evil 2’s Mr X, or even the Lickers from the same game. Hell, I’m still thoroughly distrubed by the horrible raspy breath of the Regeneradores in Resident Evil 4.
However, I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to myself if I went without mentioning the ReDeads from Ocarina of Time. Aside from the awful piano in Super Mario 64, the ReDeads were the first thing from any game to make me truly feel fear. Granted I was kind of young, but when I decided to explore the back of Kakariko Village a tad more all that would change.
Obviously I’m overexaggerating a tad here, but the graveyard’s royal tomb did a lot to my young mind. I’m sure you could argue that Dead Hand is the bigger horror of Ocarina of Time — I mean, just look at the thing — but there’s something about unassuming and docile the ReDeads are at first glance… Until they hear you. Seemingly summoning a piercing scream out of nowhere, the ReDeads freeze you in place and leave you utterly helpless as they slowly shuffle towards you.
What was my biggest fear as a child has turned into something of a soft-spot in my older years. While I used to be mortified by the shuffling corpses at the bottom of the well, there’s now something now endearing about their terrifying scream, and hollow masks. I don’t find the ReDeads nearly as scary as I used to anymore, but I still love the terror they bring to the series as a whole.
George: Gyorg from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
I don’t play a lot of horror games. In fact, I tend to be too chicken to even watch horror movies, and would much rather spend my time watching D-grade horror flicks over the next psychological thriller, so this was a difficult Multiplayer topic to write on. However, Gyorg from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has a special place in my heart.
Majora’s Mask is already dark by Zelda standards, as Link must save the city of Termina from a crashing moon with an equally terrifying face in just three days. This time limit adds to the fear factor as no matter what you do, you’re consciously aware of the fact death is just around the corner, and with constant references to death in the game it is impossible to put that thought out of your mind.
Now, as any gamer (especially Jake) knows, underwater levels suck. The player can’t move as fast as decent swimming mechanics are almost impossible to get right in games, so the player will often end up fighting with the game just to move effectively. On top of this, let’s throw in blurry textures, a hard to see screen and a camera that doesn’t want to get along with you. All of a sudden, you’ve got no idea what can come at you.
The fear of what’s around the corner starts to build. The difficult controls start to drive you insane. Then you see something out of the corner of your blurry 3DS screen… An underwater mine, nothing unusual. Another dash. You turn. Still nothing. One more dash, and this time, you’re confronted with what Jaws would have looked like if Spielberg decided the shark needed armour and extra fins in addition to its breakneck speed and terrifying rows of teeth.
That’s Gyorg, and no matter what you do you’re little more than a slowly bobbing, blind Zora in a bigger fish’s pond… and that bigger fish is hungry.
Jake: Literally any underwater stage in any game ever
Despite having spent the vast majority of my childhood summers at the beach, I am a grade-A thalassophobe (no, autocorrect, I did not mean thalassophile). I’m perfectly fine with swimming pools and even the shallower parts of the beach itself, but put me in the open ocean, a lake, or even in contact with seaweed or those harmless clear jellyfish that end up all over the place and I’m completely and totally done. You’d think that, as a 28-year-old man, I’d be alright with video games taking me underwater… but you’d be wrong. Completely wrong, and you’d probably be watching said video game put me into an absolute cold sweat.
Remember the scene in The Last of Us where Joel plummets down the elevator shaft into a flooding room? I turned the game off, waited for Abir to come over for our next admin meeting, and got him to do it. How about the Merryweather Heist in Grand Theft Auto V, where you’ve got to pilot a submersible? I took two Valium, still had a panic attack, turned it off and waited to see my cousin and get him to do it. I planned to play the whole game through again when it came out on PlayStation 4, remembered that there was a mission where you had to pilot a submersible, and immediately sold my copy of the game. Hell, even the Aquatic Ruin Zone in Sonic The Hedgehog 2, with its air bubbles and intense “you’re about to fucking drown” music when you’re, well, about to drown has my pulse racing even now.
I’m not a horror person. That’s not to judge anyone who is, because everyone’s opinion is completely valid and I know I’m missing out… but I make a thing out of not consuming any horror media because the last thing I want to do for entertainment is make myself scared (or sad, but that’s another story). Put me in front of a video game that’s going to take me underwater, even for a second, though, and you might as well have locked me in a room with Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and every single paranormal thing that ever existed in cinema.
John: Anor Londo from Dark Souls
You’re picked up by two flying demons and dropped into a clean, sparse medieval city. Its stark architecture of sleek white brick and stone is coloured gold by the perpetual sunset. There’s a massive cathedral nearby, an also-massive castle on the other end of the area and a rotating tower in the centre. It’s bright, desolate, and the silence is both vivid and paralysing; it feels like the sky itself could descend and crush you at any moment. Traversing the area’s skeletal layout of bridges and grim precipices, you always feel the vast scale of the city beneath you, the distance between yourself and the web of dim descending cityscape. Altogether, Anor Londo makes you feel like you have nowhere to hide in a way that no other place in the game does.
Compared to most of the other entries in this month’s piece, it’s Anor Londo’s uncanniness that’s scary to me. Huge motionless knights haunt the initial hallways like statues. Swordsmen dressed in white drop from the ceiling of the cathedral while about a dozen more litter the ground floor, seemingly in defence of a huge three-storey-tall painting on one side of the room. A giant blacksmith sits alone in one section of the castle while a giant princess rests peacefully in the central chamber. Knights and demons stalk the castle entrance together. Anor Londo isn’t scary in the usual ways; it just feels disturbing and bizarre. It feels dangerous.
The level itself isn’t that wild in the end – it’s simply a difficult, unique and clever section of Dark Souls – but visiting Anor Londo for the first time left a lasting impression.
Kate: Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2
I was about ten years old when I first encountered the Silent Hill series on YouTube; I had a habit back then of searching for “top 10” lists and I’d gotten myself on a fix of trying to find the scariest monsters in games. I remember how almost all of the lists I found mentioned Pyramid Head in some capacity and his simplistic design seemed to stick with me a lot longer than any of the other monsters I’d been shown. Every time he was mentioned, I just kept thinking: why is he so…grimy? Who put that thing on his head? And why does he dislike mannequins that much, my god?
It wasn’t long before I found a copy of Silent HIll 2 in the pre-owned section of EB Games and, given my parents’ refusal to part ways with our well-loved PS2 over the newer PS3, I thought that I might as well give the game a try given how much the enemies (well, just enemy singular, really) had intrigued me… And dear god, did one particular scene nearly kill me as a kid.
No, before you ask, it’s not the mannequin scene. Though, I can’t say it’s any less horrifying. It’s the scene on the hospital rooftop – you walk out onto the roof and turn a corner toward a chain-link fence. There’s nothing remarkable about the area and I wasn’t expecting anything from it but then he’s there, just suddenly appearing from behind in a random cutscene. He knocks you through the chain-link fence with his sword, sending you hurtling off the damn roof, and I just…ah! I jumped so hard that I nearly yanked my controller out of the console and I closed the game not long after. It took me six months to build up the courage to play the game again.
The whole scene was barely even a jumpscare, given how slowly the game shifts from gameplay to cutscene, but it was the sheer unexpectedness that terrified me. Before, Pyramid Head had seemed, at the very least, like he was bound by the laws of being a slow, cumbersome enemy type. He didn’t seem like the type of guy you couldn’t see coming, with his giant sword and even more giant, protruding pyramid for a head but lo and behold, the man managed to sneak up behind me on a roof with a one way exit. Thanks for becoming my sleep paralysis demon, dude. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget you.
Luke: Tabuu from Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Looking at the rest of this list, you might be thinking “Tabuu, seriously?! He’s just a dude with wings, he’s not at all scary,” and you would be dead wrong. After finally reaching the end of a gruelling maze level in The Subspace Emissary, you come face-to-face with this character who is… well, out for blood would be the best way to describe him.
Up to this point in Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, you haven’t really been challenged when it comes to boss fights; most of them are pretty standard fare and hardly worth writing about, but Tabuu takes it to a whole new level. Although he’s got a range of devastating attacks, it’s his “Wings of Death” move that will forever haunt me because, to this day, I can’t figure out how to avoid getting hit by it, and the internet appears to agree with me that it’s pretty much unavoidable. That wouldn’t be too much of a problem – most bosses in most games have one really-difficult-to-dodge attack – except for the fact that you are guaranteed to lose a life each time it lands. You know the wings are coming, you know they’re going to kill you, and worst of all, you know there’s nothing you can do about it.
It’s the inevitability of death that makes the Tabuu fight so terrifying. You do have a few lives to sacrifice in service of the greater good, but the problem is that you’ll spend every second of the fight worrying about when he’s going to use the Wings of Death again; that fear causes you to misplace your attacks, failing to chip away at his health while he rains blow after blow on you. It all comes together to create one of the most terrifying boss fights I’ve had to deal with.
Matt: Mr. X from Resident Evil 2 (2019)
Since its release in 1998, Resident Evil 2 has been responsible for many scares and memorable moments within the survival horror genre. While fans will remember the introduction of The Tyrant, better known as Mr. X, it’s safe to say that it’s his revival in the aptly named Resident Evil 2 Remake that has truly set the standard for imposing, intimidating and downright scary villains in any survival horror game. His appearance is iconic, with that long black trenchcoat and hat, but it’s his mannerisms that leave a lasting impact.
Throughout each of your campaigns, playing as either Leon or Claire, Mr. X will undoubtedly pop out of nowhere and hunt you down, seemingly at any time. These jump scares are terrifying enough, but it’s his ability to linger within an environment that truly scares the living daylights out of me. His behaviour, while unpredictable at first, adapts to both your movements and chosen routes; try and navigate that police station with Mr. X hot on your heels and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
While I appreciate the more structured and cinematic nature of Nemesis in Resident Evil 3, Mr. X is always lurking and could strike at any time, proving that there is nothing quite like the feeling of being watched. The encounters are exhilarating in their own right, but the procedurally generated approach to these moments makes me a little more nervous than I’d like to admit.
Max: The Divider from Dead Space
Dead Space is a series known for its claustrophobic dungeons filled with body-horror abominations, but the Divider takes the cake. Before I get into why this thing haunts my nightmares, though, take a second to Google “Dead Space Divider Sounds” and just listen to what this gangly zombie sounds like. Now, imagine you’re playing the game – it’s completely silent apart from the groaning of the spaceship and Isaac’s soft breathing in his space suit… when, all of a sudden, that noise pierces the silent. Then you start hearing the footsteps. You’ve got no idea where they’re coming from, you just know that the soft, wet, footsteps are getting closer.
You can probably understand why the Divider is so horrifying just from that, but we haven’t even got to the worst part. Maybe you manage to steel your nerves and unload your sci-fi gun into this thing until it’s dead. Good work! Except now you’re going to watch its body split into five little monsters that used to be its limbs and head. These smaller creatures make some delightful sounds of their own, and proceed to fling themselves at you in an attempt to relieve you of your own limbs and head, presumably to take your body for their own.
In a game filled to bursting with fleshy monstrosities eager to tear you asunder, the Divider occupies the “oh god, what was that sound, where is it coming from, someone help me” slot like nothing else. It’s a considerable achievement, for sure… and the source of many a night terror for myself.
Ruby: That one Boy of Silence from BioShock Infinite
Compared to its dark predecessor games, BioShock Infinite is practically a light-hearted romp through a field of daisies. Gone are the dim, flooded chambers of Rapture, and there’s no hulking Big Daddies stomping around or ADAM-corrupted Splicers constantly springing up out of nowhere. On the surface Columbia is a city drenched in sunlight, where people lounge at the seaside or sing along to surprisingly catchy barbershop versions of popular songs. Everyone is having a grand old time.
That’s how BioShock Infinite gets you. The setting and vibe are such a departure from the previous games in the series that you’ll make the crucial mistake of relaxing. Okay, sure, there’s definitely a menacing undertone throughout the city, and it’s quickly made clear that not all the residents of Columbia are happy with the way things are going. Not to mention the villain of the piece, Zachary Comstock, doing everything in his power to stop your mission to free his daughter Elizabeth, including throwing some impressively aggressive automatons into your path, but it’s near the end of the game when you reach a location called Comstock House that the scares finally begin.
A product of an alternate timeline in which Elizabeth becomes the harbinger of fear and control that her father has always tried to mold her into, Comstock House is a chilling mansion that contains evidence of horrible mental and physical torture. It’s also the residence of the Boys of Silence, young men who have been locked into heavy, megaphone-like metal helmets that remove their ability to speak except for emitting a piercing scream. There’s environmental evidence that the Boys are trapped this way since childhood, doomed to guard the house and its now-insane residents who have been subjected to experiments within it.
In terms of game design, it’s a genius move. In Comstock House the player is suddenly forced from the wide, brightly lit expanses of outdoors Columbia into a claustrophobic prison where every moment could set off one of the Boys and cause his screeching to summon a whole room of enemies. It’s also the perfect opportunity for the game to utilise one perfect jumpscare.
After the player enters the Warden’s Office and switches a lever to open a locked door – finally, an escape from this hellish place! – they’re free to turn and leave, but by doing so, they come face to face with one of the Boys they’ve been so diligently trying to avoid, who immediately screams right in their face. It’s not an exaggeration to say that during this scene I jumped so hard that I genuinely almost fell off the couch I was sitting on. In fact, I think my soul left my body for a moment out of pure terror. The worst part is that it’s executed so well. In the moments before the scare, the general vibe of Columbia thus far has made you complacent and your mind is preoccupied with taking in the new information you just received. The game doesn’t force you to turn, and there’s no musical or sound effect cues that something is coming, but when it does come, the shock is so sudden and so sharp, you’re hard pressed not to throw your controller through the screen on instinct. It’s a devilish scare that relies on an entire game’s worth of setup to pull off. I admire it deeply, but next time I’ll admire it with the lights on and the sound muted.
Tom: The Bottom of the Well and Dead Hand from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is no stranger to spooky themes, locations and beasties; the overarching plot of a child frozen in time to fight the horrors of the future is enough to fill anyone with existential dread. If you managed to keep your calm during night-time Hyrule Field, or while hunting Skulltulas, The Bottom of the Well is there to haunt your dreams.
An optional mini-dungeon, The Bottom of the Well is a claustrophobic, blood drenched nightmare. The 3DS remaster toned down the gore but there is still an incredible sense of doom to the entire level. Stacking the cruelty, only Child Link can explore The Bottom of the Well, who faces the most horrific boss in gaming history at the dungeon’s end.
Dead Hand is a maggot-fleshed abomination with a human face, elongated jaw and spear-like forearms that buries itself below ground and tries to grab at Link with infinite hands that sprout like weeds. Once a hand grabs you, it’s time to smash buttons to escape as Dead Hand will erupt from the earth and bear down upon you like Mike Myers on Halloween. The Dead Hand encounter is, to put it simply, fucked up. Out of nowhere a fantastical journey goes full horror movie, traumatising a generation of gamers that, weirdly enough, came back for more in the remaster.
Ty: The Dark Ones from Metro 2033
Metro was one of those surprise cult hits back in 2010. Expected Slav jank aside, it was one of the most immersive gaming experiences on the market. Dripping with that dark, depression-soaked atmosphere so synonymous with Eastern European development houses and based on a really good novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro saw the mainstream praise its contemporaries like Stalker had come so close to before.
It’s also constantly unnerving and occasionally terrifying. When it comes to horror, Metro’s got you covered. We’ve got a slew of mutant creatures that come in all shapes and fears, we’ve got ghosts doing some creepy ghost stuff and of course we’ve got the classic Lovecraftian “antagonists” of the story.
Now, many probably look towards the Librarians as the game’s horror highlight, and while they are pants-wettingly scary in their own right, I was always more scared of The Dark Ones. These pale skinned creatures still make me uncomfortable on repeat playthroughs (later series plot revelations aside), not just because of the way they move – slowly and deliberately with those stretched out limbs – but because on your first time through you never really know what their endgame is, let alone what they even are.
It’s obvious that they don’t want you completing your goal, but they never outright attack you. Instead they induce weird illusions and visions in you and the people around you, sometimes appearing hostile, other times seeming either cautious or curious. Where do they come from? What are they? What do they want? You get some answers by the end through subtext and character speculation, but the game still leaves plenty of the answers to your imagination.
That’s what really got to me. Despite never really making me jump out of my seat in terror they always stuck with me, because at the end of the game, I felt exactly what Artyom felt: confusion and uneasiness. It’s that uncomfortable feeling of the unknowable that really scared me as a teen, probably because it was my first encounter with the ideas behind the Lovecraftian genre that’s so popular today. Or maybe it really was just the way they move… it still makes me feel weird.
Well, there you go — proof if proof were needed that frights can come in all different shapes, sizes and styles. Have fun trick-or-treating tonight if that’s your thing, and feel free to jump into the community and let us know what your pick would have been!
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