You've been there, right? That moment when you're playing a game, and you think you've seen all there is to see, that you've managed to capture the atmosphere of the thing, and you're completely buried in it, and then, all of a sudden something happens.
Something awful. Something amazing. Something terrifying. And, the next thing you know, you're recoiling in your seat, and reacting to it as if it were a real thing that just brutalized your life. These are the moments that scare the piss out of you while gaming, and, for me, there were five that I remember with underwear-changing precision.
Before we take that long, dark walk together, you should know that I've purposely avoided most of the survival horror stuff that most people take for granted as scary. Yes, Silent Hill was awesome, but I was sufficiently scared all the way through, so I never had a moment of complete surprise, girded as I was to be scared from the very first moment. Ok, got that? Then, by all means, let's go.
Sure, it's already pretty dark in 19th Century London, what with all of the abandoned buildings and the titular nightmare creatures crawling the streets as you try and get to the bottom of an occult conspiracy. Next thing you know, you're headed for the Thames, and that's when it happens. Whether you want to call them Thames Monsters or giant sea spiders, it doesn't matter. The first time the glowing green tentacle comes from nowhere and displays a longer-than-humanly-possible reach on the way to trying to spear you, you're going to have to supress the urge to yelp, especially if it's 1998. You know, just because it's only a Nintendo 64 game and the graphics are old school, it doesn't mean you're not going to be super scared.
You've been around Kratos for a long time now, so whatever happens to him is likely to not take you by surprise, but cast your mind back to the very first game for just a moment. You're just settling in to the dark ethos of the game, you've just easily whipped the enemies on the boat you're on, and you've yet to see a boss battle. Next thing you know, a freakin' hydra pops out of the water, giant and munching on people indiscimanately. And, as if that's not bad enough, the damnable thing has three heads. Don't front. You were just as scared as I was.
Bioshock is just flat out creepy, all the way through. And, sure, the medical pavillion was a good startle, especially the surgery wing. But, for a jump...a full on jump...you can't beat the moment when you're trolling through the dentist's office for goodies, and plundering the dead, super creepy corpse in the chair, looking around, and then...WHAM! The dentist appears behind you, drill in hand and ready to operate, and by operate, I mean gut you where you stand. It's a true boogeyman moment in a game full of 'em.
Ok, it's a zombie game, so you're going to get a lot of "scary" moments, but there's nothing in Left 4 Dead that's quite as scary as the first time you startle the witch. Next thing you know, she's tearing your guts out, and all because you had the temerity to get too close to her at feeding time, which seems to be 24/7. You can bet your first aid kit that you'll be tip-toeing around her for the rest of your L4D experience, and it probably has something to do with the fact that she scared the piss out of you the first time around.
There's the kind of scary that just pops out and grabs you, and then there's the type that makes you feel like you might have fallen asleep by accident, or suddenly gone crazy. This is the thing that was so particularly scary about Arkham Asylum. You'd encountered The Scarecrow before, a couple of times, but there was nothing quite so scary as the moment that the game "stopped working" and reverted to a different version of the opening, wherein The Joker shot you in the face, and you kept failing, told that you had to move the center stick to avoid being shot. Of course, there is no center stick, and there was this feeling like you might have accidentally gotten to a point in the game that you couldn't escape or advance from. Totally effin scary.
There you have it. Of course, results may vary, and you might have not found these moments particularly scary at all. Or, you might have other moments that you thought were way scarier. That's totally cool. If you do, let us know about them in the comments. I'm just saying that these were the ones that resonated with me. Oh, and Happy Halloween, gamers. Eat a ton of sugar this weekend.