I think the proper way to start this would be to settle on the difference between scary and unsettling. First of all, the two can, and often do, co-exist. I tend to think the main difference is something that is scary is scary in that very moment. Alien is a scary movie that stops being scary once you shut it off. Exorcist is an unsettling movie. You can shut it off, but you cannot really shut it out. The images and ideas stay with you and dance around inside your brain. I jump out of a closet, that scares you. I scratch on your closet from the inside while you are in bed and you open it to find nothing there, that unsettles you. That stays with you, often begging more questions than answers.
With that out of the way, here are five genuinely unsettling games. Games that go one step beyond scary and tend to stay with you like a lucid nightmare, invading your thoughts. Be forewarned, this shit gets pretty heavy. I may have spoken of many of these games, but nothing like I speak of them here.
Some say this was Rockstar just trying to up their edgy reputation. But really, Manhunt was so much more than that. Yes, they knew they were going to get heat, but I think Manhunt needed to be made. Why can’t there be games for adults who like screwed up shit like snuff and horror? Why can’t there be a game where you play an antagonist who is just as awful as everyone else? Why can’t there be a game that makes you feel ill as you play it? That is what Manhunt was for me. A stealth game like no other.
” I hid, crouched in the shadows for what felt like an hour, just watching them walk back and forth and spit their racist garbage. I saw them doing their rounds, and overheard them existing, as normal people would. My breath was quiet, but heavy. I knew every move I made had to be exact, or I was dead. I held my breath as one walked by, then dashed out behind him and tore his throat open with a rusty scythe I found a few feet away. He tried to scream, but it was more like a high pitched hiss of air escaping his open throat, matched with the sound of blood, splashing to the ground around him. I winced, but knew it had to be done. I walked a few steps further and his in the darkness, just waiting for them to discover his corpse and come hunt me down.”
Ah, Outlast. How you messed me up and redefined just how far horror games can go. Much like the above mentioned game, Outlast was a stealth game. But unlike Manhunt, you got no weapons. Just a tiny, handheld camera with night vision. You were tasked with checking out Mount Massive asylum as journalist Miles Upsher. The game consists of jump scares, followed by scenes of you getting chased and needing to hide away from the motley crew of mad men who haunt these halls. The game is one of the scariest I have ever played, but also one of the best. The sense of hopelessness you feel in these scenarios is second-to-none in gaming. Some people wanted Amnesia to be on this list, but I think Outlast took the title from that game.
” I crawled through the vents, reaching an opening and pulling myself out back to the main wing of the hospital. I heard a noise, a grunting of sorts. I grew apprehensive, but walked forward camera out, as this was my job and this story needed to get told. I saw something moving, heaving, grunting in the shadows and I held my camera up. What I saw next I will never forget. A man in a hospital gown was grunting, having violent sex with a corpse, laying face down on the ground. I began to gag, and he looked up and spotted me, dashing over at me quickly, screaming how he didn’t invite me to watch….”
Yup, unsettling for sure.
Silent Hill 2
One of the greatest video game stories ever told is the story told in Silent Hill 2. If the second movie decided to follow the second game, it would have ended up being one of the most mature and amazing horror films ever made. From this point forth, I will talk about Silent Hill 2 under the assumption that you have all played it and know of the twist ending. If you have not yet played the game, I suggest you skip ahead now, as there will be major spoilers spilled.
“….and that is when it hit me. Why I was here. What I had done. I couldn’t stand seeing my wife like that. The love of my life, wasting away to nothing. The more I saw her like that, the less I remembered her how she truly was. A shining light. Time and illness had darkened that light, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I snuffed it. I didn’t want her to suffer anymore. But as I held that pillow over her face, with tears streaming from my eyes, I knew. It was selfish. I was doing it as much for me as I was her. I hated living like this. It was not fair to either of us. But THAT is why I am here. That is why I am back in this broken memory. Because it is just what I deserve…”
Um, unsettling much?
WHY HAS THERE NOT BEEN A CONDEMNED 3? The first two games were so good, so fun, and seemed prime and set up for a third one. So what happened? I demand answers!
In the mean time, I will talk about what made this series so amazing. It was a first person shooter that pretty much took away the guns and went full first-person-brawler. You are a cop in a city where all the homeless have started going crazy and turning feral, and it is up to you to find out why and put an end to it. The thing is, you have a few demons of your own. Condemned had amazing graphics, an awesome combat engine considering what it was (the hits felt heavy and real), and an amazing sense of constant dread few other games can deliver. Seriously, this game series is on a shelf by itself, quite unlike any other horror game out there.
” I wasn’t sure if it was the booze withdrawal, or this world was really turning to shit before my eyes. I found my answer as one of the mall Santa’s suddenly burst to life and started trying to bash my skull in with a tire iron in the middle of the decrepit department store. The lights were dim and flashing, and he was grunting and frothing, doing all he could to kill me. For a minute, it didn’t know what to do, it all happened so fast. But then I just pulled up the board I was holding and buried the one rusty nail protruding from it deep inside his temple. He fell the ground, limp. I sighed a breath of relief just as I looked over and saw three more dirty Santas, all running at me, full speed….”
Unsettling could be used here.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
I know old PC fans and point-and-click adventure fans and fans of great literature must be jazzed right now. But a great many other people must be muttering WTF to themselves. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a PC point-and-click adventure game from WAY back, based on the Harlen Ellison short story of the same name from 1967. If you know nothing about it, be prepared to have your friggin’ mind blown. Seriously, this shit is messed up.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is about a supercomputer that has destroyed all the world and chooses to keep the last five humans alive to torture them. Four men and one woman. Yes, this is a story about A.I, written in 1967. Do any of you realize how scary it is that every year we come closer to the chances that this story will come true? How it got made into a game in a time when games did not go places like that is beyond me. Oh, and the game itself? You play as the five characters, each in an episode by themselves. So what happens in those episodes? Well, AM (the name of the evil A.I) pretty much mentally tortures you in the worst ways possible before (spoilers) turning you into some weird, human-slug hybrid. Yeah, I HEARD there was a HAPPY ending among the four endings, but I sure as shit never saw it.
” I came to in the concentration camp. I immediately felt waves of nausea pour over me as I recalled the things I had done here. I swore I had left this part of my life behind me. I promised myself I would never do these things again. I repented, but knew from the smells and screams that I was back here, and had to do it all again. I looked over at the gurney next to me, and there was a bald child, weeping, covered in gashes and blood. He looked at me with his weeping eyes, and without speaking, begged me to stop. To make this end. But I knew what I had to do. I knew what they expected of me. I felt the sickly taste of bile rise up in my throat as I knew what I had to do next….”
If that does not unsettle you, you may need to get some help. Hell, I wrote it and need to shower.
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