Thrills and Chills
Where does our enjoyment of horror come from? Why do we seek thrills? It could be a simple escapism from everyday life, but that applies to gaming in general. The impulse to delve into the darker side of life and death may have more to do with the mundane, risk-free existence that so many of us live now. Free from the fear of being eaten or gored, our old survival instincts have been rendered anachronistic. Yet there is still a primeval subconscious ready for the threat, a part of us that only comes alive in terrifying circumstances.
Some people get their death defying kicks from extreme sports. For others, it is the spine-tingling chill of a decent horror experience that gets the blood pumping. Horror movies and books are too passive to provide many shocks. Horror games, on the other hand, have a far greater power to scare because we control the fate of the protagonist. How often have you back-pedaled from the screen and frantically mashed the keyboard in the face of some hideous creature with deadly intent? Once the shock passed, it leaves you feeling re-energized somehow.
The horror genre isn’t all about thrills though. The stories, the characters, the settings are all dripping with style. It is a genre ripe for parody and, while horror and comedy are tough to combine well, when it works the combination is fantastic. Games like Overlord 2, that offer you the chance to play the villain, can be hugely enjoyable. Scaring victims until they run screaming in terror in games like Ghost Master is also perversely satisfying. If you prefer to hunt ghosts then you can rely on a movie license like Ghostbusters: The Videogame.
Horror Movie Licenses
The very best horror games feature memorably scary gaming baddies. Creatures who linger in your nightmares for several nights after you finish the game. There’s no doubt that many of the scariest titles owe the fear factor to the movie they are based on. Take Aliens vs Predator for example, a game which cleverly combines the two sides, allowing you to rampage while playing as an alien or to sweat your way through a tense, nail biting adventure playing as a marine with the motion tracker beeping out the sound of your impending doom.
It isn’t a one way street by any stretch of the imagination. Resident Evil is a franchise that has spawned several successful games and a slew of horror movies. Resident Evil 5 was the last game release and it featured some seriously unpleasant monsters.
Zombies are just one of the threats you’ll face in Resident Evil but they’re by far my favourite horror foes. They’ve inspired many great games over the years and the top zombie title right now has to be Left 4 Dead 2. Strictly speaking they aren’t traditional zombies as invented by Romero in Night of the Living Dead. They come in different shapes and sizes and you’ll need a Left 4 Dead 2 Infected Guide to spot them all.
Another game that features re-animated human corpses is Dead Space, although they’re brought back to murderous life by aliens. It’s an atmospheric shooter set on a vast derelict spaceship and you may find you need a Dead Space walkthrough to get out alive.
Of course zombies are just as prone to comedy as the rest of the horror cast, if not more so. Plants versus Zombies is a good example and you can find lots of free zombie games online.
Vampires are another classic horror villain to have clawed their way out of the grave and into games. There are free vampire MMORPGs lurking in the shadows and lots of free vampire games online. If you want something a bit bigger and more involved to sink your fangs into then try Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.
Rather than relying on existing characters it is nice when horror games create a horrific world all of their own. First-person shooters frequently conjure up seriously creepy settings and hideous enemies to overcome. The Doom series threw creatures from hell at you and in Doom 3 the combination of a chilling atmosphere and relentless monster attack was enough to scare even survival horror veterans. Of course a Doom 3 walkthrough can take the edge off the fear factor.
The F.E.A.R. series plucked the image of a menacing young girl from Japanese horror and wove her into a chilling plot with plenty of scares. The formula continued in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and once again you may find you need a walkthrough in order to survive the game. Speaking of games with acronyms the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is another one featuring horrible creatures that make your hair stand on end. The sequel S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky pitches you against all manner of mutants as well.
Horror games can take many forms, even within the FPS genre. From Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason to the atmospheric Penumbra games there are plenty of scary games to choose from. Even Bioshock and Bioshock 2 have strong horror elements with the odd set piece scare and the grasping, horribly disfigured splicers after your blood. It is no surprise that FPS games dominate any top ten PC horror games list.
Scares for Everyone
There can be no denying that horror games are very popular and they’re here to stay. There is something out there to satisfy any horror fan from movie crossovers like Saw the Videogame to classic horror videogames inspired by the Cthulu mythos. If you are short on cash you can even find plenty of free online horror games.
No discussion of horror games can be complete without mentioning the Silent Hill series. These chilling games draw heavily on the genre to create genuinely nightmarish experiences. Unlike many of the horror games mentioned here they go for atmosphere and scares first, relegating action to second place. They have even managed to inspire a decent horror movie.
If you are a fan of horror games then why not post a comment and let us know what your favorite horror game is.
- Author's own experience.
- Screenshots and images from Resident Evil 5, Aliens vs Predators, Left 4 Dead 2, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.