A good scare takes a symphonic level of preparation for just a moment on screen. Developers must anticipate every angle and sequence in which players are allowed to enter and interact with their surroundings, and tension must build regardless of whether the player obediently presses forward or inspects every texture along the way. Under these conditions, the perfect execution of a good scare is a rare, much-respected art form.
Most gamers have a personal collection of the most effective of these moments. To that end, we have gone around the GamesBeat office seeking to expose the deepest chills our writers and editors are willing to admit to having. Take a look below at our personal histories of terror and find out how you can contribute to the conversation and be entered into a game giveaway in the process!
Mike Minotti (writer, GameStuff cartoonist)
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (GameCube, 2002)
I usually avoid “scary” games. Horror has never been my favorite genre, and my constitution for things that go bump on the screen isn’t great. Still, I enjoy a good jump scare. It helps keep me on my toes, and once the first one happens, you sort of play with a new sense of awareness as you’re constantly looking out for the next brief moment of absolute terror.
Now, the “dog out of the window” moment from the first Resident Evil may be the king of the video game jump scare, but the bathtub scene from Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is the most memorable for me. You spend a good chunk of the opening just exploring a mansion, without much really happening. Suddenly, you’re in the bathroom. You take a close look at the tub, and … well, just watch the video.
Jasmine Maleficent Rea (writer)
Resident Evil (GameCube, 2002)
On the second floor of the mysterious mansion in the 2002 version of Resident Evil, you’ll find a hallway with a corpse lying face down. Now, the catch is that you normally have to run through this hallway a few times, past the corpse. But the GameCube remake introduced us to the idea of the “crimson heads,” zombies with nasty mutated heads that come back stronger and faster if they’re not set on fire in their initial, shambling form. So I knew this corpse was going to reanimate, and I tried desperately to set it on fire every time I passed it.
But the moment I unlocked the door at the opposite end of the second floor corridor and turned to run back down the hall, that corpse reared up with a nasty snarl. I not only screamed but wildly threw my GameCube controller to the side and left the room. My father, who had been watching all my pitiful attempts at preventing this problem, casually picked up the controller and killed the zombie for me. I’m a wimp … .
Stephanie Carmichael (writer, copy editor)
Silent Hill (PlayStation, 1998)
It’s hard to choose my all-time favorite scary moment in a video game, but the series that has had the biggest influence on me is Silent Hill. The first game introduces you to a quiet, seemingly harmless town blanketed with fog. Without any idea of where to go, you follow the trail of protagonist Harry Mason’s daughter, Cheryl, trying not to get lost yourself.
That search for Cheryl took Harry and me down a street that turned into an alleyway from hell, complete with wheelchairs and blood and no way out except death. I may love other survival-horror games like Resident Evil, but they never quite matched the fear I felt while playing Silent Hill. It’s an injustice to call it a Resident Evil clone — Silent Hill’s bizarre camera angles and heavy atmosphere always made me feel like I had stepped into a true otherworld.
If you have had no exposure to the series before, like I did, then that opening scene is the perfect way to find out how sick and terrifying the first game is. I could only imagine what I was in for … and the reality was far beyond my worst nightmares.
Evan Killham (writer)
Dead Space (Multiplatform, 2008)
Dead Space isn’t the scariest game I’ve ever played, but it did provide one of my most frightening gaming moments.
I don’t think that the games are super terrifying, but they do have some of the best sound design out there. Every hiss of steam or clank of metal plates could be an enemy coming to skewer you upon its evolutionarily impractical, T-1000 spike arms. It surrounds you, it affects you, and it makes you very uncomfortable.
I reached the boss fight against the Leviathan, this huge monster you fight in zero gravity in a giant, cylindrical room. It’s very disorienting, but I was doing OK. Tense, maybe, stressed, sure, but I was fine. And then there was a giant hissing sound and a squeal of metal behind me.
It was so sudden that I may have jumped and yelled a little, but I can neither confirm nor deny that because fear made me black out for a second. I thought enemies were approaching from the top of the room (“behind” me), so I whirled around, firing wildly at everything that looked like it might be moving. And then I realized what had actually happened.
My water heater — my actual water heater in my apartment, here in the real world — had failed. Dead Space’s sound design is so good that when actual, scary industrial noises happened, I thought they were part of the game.