It's time to start thinking about your Halloween plans. A lot of people will be dressing up, going to parties and/or trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods, but some of us want something more, or at least something different. I may be one of the biggest pansies ever when it comes to scary games and horror cinema, but it's not for lack of trying! The occasional nightmare is worth the rush of placing myself in a scenario in which the hero I play as isn't all powerful or, maybe, isn't a hero at all. Here is a list of the top ten games of this generation that have broken me into a cold sweat.
Note: As always, HD remakes don't count. Also, there is a chance of spoilers for a game you haven't played in this article. You have been warned.
We'll start with what's probably the least horrific and move our way down. Left 4 Dead 2, as with its predecessor, isn't a traditional survival horror game in the plodding, creepy sense. Instead, it's an action-packed race against endless hordes of zombies and their slightly-more-highly-evolved lieutenants, full of special abilities that really drive home the "survival" element of the game. Still, there are moments in which that slower, creeping horror manages to seep in, such as when a Witch is stuck there, crying in the narrow passageway you have to follow to reach the end. The fact that such moments are procedurally generated only makes it all the more horrific.
If Stephen King made a video game that was about himself, it'd probably turn out something like Alan Wake. It's one part Misery and many parts creepy "what the hell?" All the more impressive: Alan Wake manages to be a disturbing and violent game without the benefit of excessive gore or language. Yeah, it's a Teen-rated game. How does that work? Better than you'd think, actually. The focus is really on storytelling, on the horrors that lie in one's mind in addition to external violence. It's not always about being threatened so much as it is about being trapped, forced into a situation that one can't escape.
It's that seeping black oil that seems to coat the entire environment. That's what makes me cringe when I think back to Condemned 2. That and the graphic violence of its first-person melee combat (done incredibly well, no less), viscerally satisfying with its meaty sound effects and weighty animations, but disturbing for that same reason. You're breaking someone's neck, you're smashing their face in, you're killing them up close and personal. They're also, nine times out of ten, stark-raving mad, screaming and dashing at you as they swing erratically. It goes back to the idea that desperation is frightening.
And few people are as desperate as Isaac Clarke. Not to spoil anything, but his attempts to find his wife on the Ishimura do not turn out as he might've hoped and, instead, the engineer finds himself face to face with grotesque Necromorphs, creatures that have scavenged and mutated human corpses. They run the gamut from hulking behemoths and blade-limbed humanoids to whip-tailed fetuses. It's made all the more unbearable because, throughout the first game, Isaac plays the silent protagonist. Is he simply deathly calm while everyone else is freaking out around him? Is he too scared to speak? Is he, in some way, damaged? Perhaps the answer lies in the end-game, which reveals that much of Isaac's horror may be of the more internal variety.
A now-hyper-popular ArmA II mod, DayZ has zombies in it. It isn't a horror game because of them, though. Not directly. As with the title it modifies, DayZ is less a game and more a simulation. Hopping onto a persistent server, the player appears with almost nothing to his name. Weapons and supplies must be scavenged and, given that society has crumbled, it's you against the world. Zombies, even slow ones, present a very real danger just by way of their numbers, but the truly unsettling bit is the other players. They'll snipe you for your supplies, yeah, but there have been cases in which players have been "kidnapped" by unscrupulous gangs of other players and dropped off in remote areas or forced to fight to the death for others' amusement and, they hope, their lives. Yeah, in this case, man is the monster.