Corpse Party makes the list, in part, by virtue of being a handheld horror title. Also, it does its work with a combination of hand-drawn art, à la a visual novel and sprite-based, 16-bit-style gameplay. To call the material on-hand unsettling would be a bit disingenuous; it's almost sickening. The tone and pacing of a Japanese horror film, the combination of the otherworldly and the modern in a way that puts the protagonists at an insurmountable disadvantage, and the fact that all of it centers around the brutal murder of schoolchildren? Corpse Party is not a nice game, and just thinking about its graphic imagery is enough to churn my stomach. Eesh.
But, as long as we're on Japanese horror, let's cheat a bit and grab something that's actually a remake of a last-gen title. I know, I know, I said no "HD Remakes," but this isn't just a high-res port of a last-gen game. It modifies that original game in core ways. In chief, this Wii-make of Fatal Frame II shifts the camera to an over-the-shoulder third-person view. The levels and art have both been overhauled to take advantage of this perspective. But why's the game scary? Because you aren't like a Left 4 Dead survivor, with your guns and explosives, or Isaac Clarke with his plasma-based weaponry. You're a young girl with a camera, such that even the hint that something might be right there behind you is enough to stir your adrenaline and set you on edge.
We move to a hitherto untapped genre with this one: The Walking Dead comes courtesy of Telltale. Their episodic adventure games had, for a long time, been of the comedic bent, focusing on such licenses as Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and Back to the Future. The Walking Dead is their second attempt at something more mature and, thus far, it seems to have paid off. It's all about terrible choices, situations the player is placed in that don't offer a clear "best" option, only two valid choices. Horror rarely offers happy endings and, with four chapters out the door and one more to go, it looks as though no matter what choices the player has made, there's no getting out of this one wholly intact.
BioShock isn't specifically a horror game, but it does present the player with a world in which nearly everyone is against them, that traps them due to its geography as well as its ideology. There are themes of child abuse, brainwashing, and genetic manipulation to be had; BioShock is a game of shadows both visual and moral, of people driven insane by allowing their own egos to run rampant until they've destroyed what once might have been a thing of beauty. As you pick through the aftermath, you come across the twisted remnants of this fractured society and the hulking beasts that dominate its ecosystem. Given any thought, Rapture is a terrifying setting.
This is the big one, though. This is the game that I can't play for more than ten minutes at a stretch, in which even the sounds I've become accustomed to hearing continue to put me on edge. Amnesia is a game that gives you no tools with which to combat foes. You are expected to hide, taught to fear. Yet here, even the dark isn't your friend, as being in shadow saps your very sanity. It's a game in which death can be around any corner and, when you encounter it, all you can do is run and slam the door, hoping it hasn't figured out how to turn the knob. It's a game in which light is a precious commodity, in which physics manipulation is less important for what it lets you do and more for how cumbersome it makes your interactions. Amnesia may very well be the most terrifying game I've ever played. Just thinking about it makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and sob.
Date: October 19, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*