There are horror video games that use terrifying monsters, creepy leaps, and visceral displays of gore to scare and unsettle players, but some other games still manage to do so without the need for traditional horror elements.
In fact, some of the scariest games don’t even belong to the horror genre, which is perhaps what makes them so unnerving. Whether the game developers intended it or not, some video games possess a distinctly odd quality, regardless of genre or age.
Subnautical is an open-world survival game in which players attempt to survive on a sprawling ocean planet. If players don’t have thalassophobia when they start this game, they will by the time they finish.
Part of Subnautica’The initial scare factor is the vast unknown of the infinitely wide and infinitely deep ocean, however, the game becomes exponentially scarier once the player begins to get a feel for what’s out there. In the dark depths of the ocean, players will encounter terrifying hostile alien creatures such as Crabsquids and Reaper Leviathans. The latter is truly huge and experienced players will know how to run and hide as soon as they hear its heartbreaking call. The Leviathans of Subnautical alone make this survival game less Minecraft and more like Amnesia.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
Although this is only the second 3D game in The Legend of Zelda series, Majora’s Mask saw Nintendo experiment with a darker tone compared to the lighter adventures of previous games.
Not only is the game’s look much darker and more gothic, but many of its story elements and characters are. Players playing the “action-adventure” will encounter the corpse of a child “Deku”, mummies, and Majora himself, a demonic being who maniacally sprints around Link. This all happens as the moon is on a collision course with the planet and can constantly be seen sporting a sinister grin as it gets closer and closer. These examples serve to make Majora’s Mask the first game to really bother a lot of young gamers.
Despite its colorful visuals, cute character designs, and mostly young demographic, from Minecraft the developers seem to constantly find new ways to scare and annoy unsuspecting players.
From its beginnings, Minecraft scared players with its strange “cave sounds”. This is the name of the game’s unsettling sound effects that play seemingly randomly and instill sudden terror in players as they find themselves deep in a mine. In addition to that, Minecraft features mobs like “Enderman” and “The Warden” that have truly spooky appearances and are accompanied by disturbing sound effects. When playing Minecraft alone, these features add up to put any player on edge.
Garry’s Mod (2006)
On the surface, Garry’s Mod seems like it wouldn’t be scary at all, being a sandbox game that has no real gameplay and instead relies on a player’s creativity to build vehicles, structures, and even game modes whole.
However, more often than not, the game can feel quite unnerving when players load up empty sandbox maps that are oddly quiet and have a weird atmosphere surrounding them. Two maps in particular “gm_flatgrass” and gm_construct” look like something out of creepypasta “Backrooms” These maps really are more like unsettling liminal spaces than most horror game areas that intentionally try to achieve that same effect.
Death Stranding (2019)
Although considered an open-world action game, Hideo Kojima’s vast innovative game world Death Stranding is one of endless horror and unease.
Traveling through the game’s post-apocalyptic United States as “Sam”, players will encounter roving hordes of ghostly apparitions known as “BTs” that provide horrifically tense moments as players attempt to outrun them. If a BT detects the player, the ground beneath them becomes thick oil and slows the player as they attempt to evade the many oil-covered BTs grabbing Sam to drag him away. Repeated encounters with these malevolent entities in just about any location in the open world are enough to keep players constantly pissed off as they play through the game.
An original sci-fi puzzle game with a sense of humor, the maze-like installation of Gate has a surprisingly eerie feel and holds some disturbing secrets.
The concept of being forced to take tests in an abandoned testing facility, all at the will of a psychopathic AI, could be pretty scary for some players. However, more explorer players will come across “Ratmans Dens”. These are hidden areas of the game that contain the thoughts, drawings, and maniacally scribbled warnings of the facility’s last surviving employee, who has lost his mind after being alone for so long. Arriving at these dens is always an unsettling experience for players and paints the rest of the game in an eerie light.
Dangerous Elite (2014)
Elite Dangerous is an open-ended simulation game that lets players complete contracts and explore the vastness of space in their own personal spacecraft. The open-ended nature of the game, while liberating, can make it a particularly frightening experience.
Even when playing the game’s massively multiplayer mode, players are essentially alone in the galaxy and it certainly feels like that as players fly through endless space. One wrong move, such as using too much fuel or damaging the ship, can leave the player stranded in darkness with no way to reach safety. In these cases, players can only wait for another player to miraculously come through and help them or their eventual death when their ship runs out of oxygen. The unforgettable knowledge that the player is truly alone made Elite Dangerous an often nerve-wracking game.
Batman: Arkham Knight (2015)
You’d think playing as one of the most intimidating and fearless characters in the comics would keep players from being afraid of any villain. Batman: Arkham Knight their spear. However, this assumption could not be further from the truth.
While the jumpscares of “Killer Croc” and “Man-Bat” are known to make many players scream in fear, this is one of the Arkham Knight quests and environments that make the game really scary. One example is a questline in which Batman discovers “Professor Pyg”, a pig-masked surgeon who kidnaps and performs experiments on people to turn them into his zombie-like minions. Finding Pyg’s various mutilated victims and exploring his laboratory makes this questline a true horror story within the game’s larger narrative.
2016 fire watch is a cinematic adventure game with a beautiful art style in which players work as a fire watcher in a large forest. Although sounding like a light-hearted premise, the game’s story quickly takes a pretty dark turn.
As the player explores the disturbances in the forest, they quickly realize they are not alone after finding signs of human presence and spotting shadowy figures watching them from a distance. Other times, they’ll return to their watchtower to find it broken into with a note left for them. These are just a few scary elements of the game that make it seem like someone is watching the player all the time and they are about to discover something terrifying around every corner.
The Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
The return of the Obra Dinn may seem like a standard adventure puzzle game with a nautical theme, but its gameplay is actually a chilling experience as players solve clues to what happened to a ship’s missing crew.
As players progress through the game using a magical device that allows them to see the moment of death of any corpse, they begin to realize that supernatural forces may have been at play. Coupled with the game’s retro black-and-white graphics, this haunting mystery grows increasingly thorny as the story unfolds.
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