If there’s one element that defines Crystal Dynamics’ bold 2013 reboot, it’s the game’s cinematic approach to Lara Croft’s origins story. Across the rolling hills of Yamatai, players experience all manner of blockbuster sequences — from the QTE events to the rip-roaring set-pieces — though there’s one film that Crystal’s Tomb Raider pays particular homage to, and that’s Neil Marshall's 2005 cult horror flick, The Descent.
About mid-way through the game, Lara finds herself in a tomb — surprise! — riddled with baddies. Cast astray from her friends, the scene involves Miss. Croft emerging from a pool of crimson blood. Not only is the image as vivid as it is unsettling, it’s a direct send-up to The Descent showcasing that for all of the reboot’s action tropes, there are still some horror tendencies lurking beneath Lara’s origins tale.
Half-Life 2. The name alone is enough to spark hour-long conversations and debates about the game’s fiction and, naturally, where Valve could take the beloved sci-fi in the future. But along Gordon Freeman’s defining journey, players stumble into the desolate, all-too-quiet alleyways of Ravenholm, an abandoned mining town that is simply oozing with atmosphere.
Rather than honing in one moment in particular, it’s the potent, almost omnipresent sense of dread that was enough to send our nerves a-twitching, as players were forced to tiptoed down dilapidated corridors, slink around menacing saw blades, and avoid nine kinds of traps.
There’s something decidedly eerie about Ravenholm and the emotions it evokes, and for that reason it will always remain burned into our gaming memory — for better or worse.
On paper, the Grotesqueries of Drakengard are towering interdimensional eldritch beings; on the screen, they’re giant bulbous babies with razor-sharp teeth. Kill them. Kill them with fire. Depending on the particular ending you’re greeted with upon finishing Drakengard, the fate of Manah, Inuart and Seere will change depending on each branching finale.
In one particular sequence, it’s the latter character that sacrifices herself to save the planet from the oncoming wave of cannibalistic baby demons. Ranging from 10-50 feet in height, the Grotesqueries would be a potent dose of nightmare fuel in just about any video game, let alone a PlayStation 2 RPG that blended dark fantasy with the supernatural.
By this stage in the game, few could argue with From Software being described as the masters of suspense. It’s a legacy that can be traced back to Demon’s Souls in 2009, providing Game Director Hidetaka Miyazaki with the platform to craft a deep and intricate RPG.
Of course, it’s the excruciating difficult and old-school design that separated From’s title from its contemporaries, while the foreboding medieval setting helped to drive home that sense of vulnerability. But your journey across Boletaria is punctuated by moments of gross-out horror, and things take a turn for the — IS THAT A HUMAN CENTIPEDE?
After descending past the Tower of Latria and after a jump scare or two later, you’ll be knee deep in the game’s aptly titled Blood Swamp. Crawling with all manner of evil, the sequence is creepy and revolting all rolled into one, and this all culminates upon battling the strange, gigantic heart.
Survival horror elements are littered all across the Souls series — mutating into all-out gothic horror in Bloodborne — but the Blood Swamp in Demon’s Souls will forever be etched into our memories for all the wrong reasons.
Oh, Shaun. Where art thou? In order to find and locate his missing son, Ethan must undergo a series of rigorous trials set out by the sadistic Lizard figure. The third — and certainly most brutal — one involves Ethan having to “cut off the last section of one of his fingers in front of the camera” or fail the challenge entirely.
And so, with only 5 minutes on the clock, players are sent stumbling across the apartment in search of a suitable tool to complete the horrific task. Whether you go for the quick and clean strategy of the butcher’s knife or retrieve the piece of wood and whiskey to number the pain, the very fact that, in typical Quantic fashion, the choice rests in your hands makes this sequence all the more terrifying.
Unnerving. Brutal. Blood-curdling. Those are only some of the words to describe Heavy Rain’s most harrowing scene. For a game that strives to be cinematic, it’s a gameplay segment that channels the Saw franchise in all of its tormenting glory, and the result is a truly unnerving experience.
Insomniac Games’ woefully underplayed first-person shooter series has gone on to become something of a cult hit among the PlayStation faithful, with many citing Resistance: Fall of Man as one of their very first experiences on PlayStation 3.
And though the studio’s alternate history conjured up a lot of haunting, alien imagery, the one sequence that still lingers in our thoughts to this day is the ending to Resistance 2. Whether you loved or loathed Insomniac’s sequel is another question, but there’s no question that it’s finale left plenty of food for thought.
All of the history and lore buried beneath the game’s grimy, WWII aesthetic — Malikov, the Cloven, the Chimeran virus, Daedelus, everything — all culminated when Hale fell foul to the after-effects of Project Abraham. And so, when an explosion at the Chicxulub crater seemingly teleports Earth to the Chimeran galaxy, leaving a partially-mutated Hale to turn to Joseph Capelli — and, by extension, the audience to whisper “can you hear them? They are calling to us — it’s beautiful.” Chills.
Yes, the lost city of Shambhala. Throughout the course of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, our good ol’ wisecracking protagonist can be seen disposing enemies with relative ease, bringing more one-liners than actual sweat. But that all changes when Nate encounters the lost city. Guarded by all manner of towering, supernatural Guardians, it’s one being that is particularly haunting, stalking Drake and the rest of his party from the shadows before leaping to attack.
As tension reaches the perfect point, the creature is revealed to be a Guardian — an ancient Tibetan, most likely — dressed as a Yeti to scare away leering strangers. What makes this encounter so jarring is that the beast is literally bulletproof. If horror games pride themselves on rendering the player completely vulnerable, then Naughty Dog did a stand-up job of ratcheting up the tension here.
There was an intensity and supernatural aura to the sequence that was a significant step up from the usual running and gunning. It may not be, say, Outlast levels of spooky, but it left us feeling uneasy nonetheless.