Happy Halloween: Ian’s five favourite video game scares
With Halloween quickly approaching, Ian Bailey takes us through some of the gaming industry's scariest titles, moments, and characters.
Being that it’s almost Halloween, that magical time of the year when shops take a break from the Christmas sale that began in July, we here at Roobla thought that now would be an excellent time to take a look at the scary, creepy and downright disturbing titles, moments, and characters the industry has offered.
Be wary when reading onwards though, for what not only are their frights ahead, but also spoilers. And sarcasm. Lots and lots of sarcasm.
Take it away, Ian Bailey.
Darth Nihilus and Darth Sion – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (2004)
Darth Vader once said that the power to destroy a planet was insignificant compared to the power of the force. Boy, was he not kidding.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe (RIP) was home to a lot of stuff that George Lucas quite rightly wouldn’t touch with a double bladed lightsaber: eldritch abominations, a full explanation of just what the Sarlaac really is, and Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kashi (1998). But while there was a lot of crap, there was also a lot of good stuff there, too; stuff like the first Knights of the Old Republic game, The Hand of Thrawn trilogy, Exar Kun etc. The weird place where these two sides of the EU meet is Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (2004).
The reason why I say that KOTOR 2 is a nexus point for the bad and good parts of the EU is because while the game was rushed, it had a story that sought to de-construct Star Wars piece by piece. That’s interesting enough, but I’d argue that what made KOTOR 2 the missed gem that it is, are Darth Nihilus and Darth Sion.
In the game, Nihilus and Sion are the Sith Lords responsible for the destruction of the Jedi Order of that generation. That alone makes them, in theory, as frightening as any villain in the original or prequel trilogy, but to see where they take the gold, where other Star Wars characters falter you really have to understand them in depth.
Darth Sion is a wreck, not an emotional wreck (Lost hasn’t come out in the Star Wars-Verse yet), but an actual wreck.
He’s Count Orlok if the only thing keeping Count Orlok from turning into dust was his pure and utter hatred for everything, or Malcolm Tucker if Malcolm Tucker suddenly became a Sith Lord. He’s at once the angriest man in Scotland and the scariest man in the castle. And like both Malcolm Tucker and Count Orlok, Darth Sion has his own army of minions. Assassins. Invisible assassins. Invisible assassins that hunt you and can turn up at any moment. Invisible assassins that hunt you and can turn up at any moment with force powers.
Oh, and the part where he’s a wreck is only kept together by his hatred? Darth Sion’s hatred is infinite, and thus, like Keith Richards, he can’t be killed by conventional weapons.
“So what?” You say. “Big woop.”
Ah, I reply, but Darth Sion is just the warm up in terms of fright. The real scare of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is Darth Nihilus. If Darth Sion was Star Wars‘ answer to “what would happen if Count Orlok and Malcokm Tucker had a love child?” then Darth Nihilus is its answer to “what would happen if Galactus and Cthulhu got it on?”
That quote at the start of this section? That’s Darth Nihilus. He’s the thing that made the Death Star seem insignificant. He destroys planets for breakfasts. He literally destroys planets for breakfast.
To appease his hunger and sustain himself, Darth Nihilus devours The Force around a planet (and it’s got to be a living planet) and leaves the area dead and lifeless. We never actually get to see the affect of Darth Nihilus’ hunger in the game, but from dialogue the sensation afterwards is described like walking through a graveyard. There’s no sign. No battle damage. Nothing.
With the Death Star at least you could get an idea of what might have happened, and if you got there in time you might even see the space station, but with Darth Nihilus you don’t. You’d have to assume that everything just dropped dead for no reason.
And those are the lucky ones. If you’re unlucky and you encounter Darth Nihilus and he decides that you’re useful to him then he very well might decide to return life to you. It’s not life as we know it, you have no will of your own, no soul, and you have to do everything that the hungry dark lord says.
Is it just me or does the knowledge that some Sith Lords were able to create soulless force zombies and eat planets make the Death Star look insignificant?
Beth and Hannah Washington – Until Dawn (2015)
Ah, Until Dawn (2015), the game with magic towels. There’s a lot of bad reasons to be scared while playing Until Dawn, but we’ll ignore the dialogue for the moment, and talk about the two girls that started the whole bloody affair.
Beth and Hannah Washington start the game in pretty much the same way that every pair of twins in media who aren’t Patty and Selma do: one is trying to save the other after they make a mistake.
Long story short for people who haven’t played the game: During a trip to the Canadian Wilderness with friends, Hannah was pranked by Michael Munro (played by Brett Dalton). Because Hannah had a crush on Mike, she was hurt and ran out into a massive snow storm where she encountered a man dressed like Leatherface battling monsters. Meanwhile, Beth (having no knowledge of the prank and being a good sibling) ran out into the storm. Luckily, Beth found Hannah just in time for them to be set upon by a pack of Wendigos. Beth and Hannah ran from the Wendigos, but as these things usually go, eventually went over a cliff.
And that’s where the story starts.
Beth has the nicer time through the game because she dies on impact. Hannah, however, is left alive, stuck down a mineshaft with only her twin sister’s body for company and no food. She buries Beth and is left to sit there for a month, alone. As she sits there she makes notes in a notepad. That’s a frightening idea enough: being stuck in a cave with only the corpse of your sibling and a single notepad for company, but wait, it gets worse.
You see, when I say Hannah is alone, she’s not really alone. There are other things in the cave, too. Evil things: the spirits of dead Wendigos waiting to take control of another host. They whispered in her ear for a month, over and over again, while Hannah continued to get hungrier and hungrier. Until, after a month, Hannah could stand it no more, dug up her sister’s corpse, and devours it, leaving on Beth’s head as a memento of this sisterly bonding exercise.
Oh, and did I mention that you the player also get a chance to find the head? Because you totally do.
But what about Hannah? Is she now a cannibal? Hannah, who if you’re really feeling the need to be a smart aleck, you might call Hannah-ble the Cannibal? Well, if you know anything about Wendigos then the answer should be pretty obvious.
Meet Hannah the Wendigo. Hannah likes eating human flesh, hunting her former friends and brother, toying with her pray, and generally causing nightmares amongst Until Dawn‘s fanbase. Her dislikes include fire, people who dislike butterflies, her former friends, letting the aforementioned former friends live until dawn and apparently other wendigos. She’s the game’s main antagonist and will be the creature chasing you through most of the story. Being that she’s the host of a wendigo spirit, she also goes by the name Makkapitew, which is Algonquin for “One who has big teeth.”
But both of these “real” entries pale in comparison to the final “not real” example, the nail in the coffin that makes the Washington sisters the scariest thing about Until Dawn, beside the fact it’s a PS4 exclusive. You see, while Hannah and Beth were sisters, they also had an elder brother, Josh, who was there with them the night that they disappeared. And he didn’t take it well. Not one bit.
Near the end of the game, after falling into the same mine that his sisters did, Josh starts to have a hallucination. Actually, calling it a hallucination is underselliing the experience. This is the hallucination the same way that the sun is bright. It’s a hallucination, but it’s so far past what should be acceptable according to the laws of reality that the only way I can describe this scene in a way that communicates the horror behind it is that it’s what I imagine it’s like to drink Satan’s private bottle of absinthe: the bottle that he keeps under the floorboards in his office because he fears it.
Don’t believe me? Look:
For me, at least, this scene ticks of every option on the list of scary. You’ve got: the dead, creepy singing, twins finishing each other sentences, giant pigs, vomit etc. But it gets even creepier. Josh is obviously dealing with some intense psychological issues, and that’s where the hallucination probably comes from, but it’s also possible that the hallucination is coming from something supernatural, something like the wendigos but separate, something else that is drawn to the mountain. And in a game that relies on darkness as much as Until Dawn does, the unknown is a truly terrifying concept.
Don’t you just love holidays with family and friends?
The Dark Presence – Alan Wake (2010)
As a rule, writers like Alan Wake. Especially male writers. We like anything that shows us to be competent, athletic, and somewhat handsome individuals. It’s the same reason why a lot of male writers watch Castle (2009).
Alan Wake is one of those wonderful games where a writer can sit back and say “yeah, you would react a little like what’s going on”. By which I mean you’d be a terrible shot and be deathly afraid of the dark. And you’d have good reason to be afraid of the dark while playing Alan Wake because Alan Wake goes against a force called The Dark Presence.
Why should you be afraid of something that sounds like a HIM cover band?
Well, for a start, take a look at this fella and tell me you don’t feel the hairs on the back of your neck standing up just a little bit:
That thing? That was a person. He wasn’t made into zombie or anything like that, no. For all intents and purposes he is still there. The only thing that differentiates him from you or me is that he’s filled with The Dark Presence. In the game, they’re called The Taken and they’re everywhere.
Let’s talk about The Dark Presence for a minute because it’s only when you know and understand something you get an idea of why you would, and should, fear it. The reason why you should fear The Dark Presence is that we don’t know anything about The Dark Presence. At all. The only thing that the game tells us about the “thing” (because it being alive is up for debate) is that it appeared one day and started targeting creative people. Last time it targeted a poet and it might have also targeted a rock band called The Old Gods of Asgard. Other than the fact that the thing has a thing for creative people, we don’t know anything about it. It just is.
What about everybody else?
It doesn’t target them but it doesn’t ignore them either, no. The Taken? They’re everybody else, footsoldiers, cannon fodder. And being a member of The Taken is a very bad future. A very bad future. A “you are now a creature of pure, unimaginable and primordial darkness and you will not be happy until everyone else is too” kind of bad future. Something to really spoil your day.
The Flood – Halo Franchise
Ah, The Flood, Halo’s answer to zombies.
Zombies as a concept get a lot of exposure in video games, from the ur-example T-Virus in Resident Evil (1996) to Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (2005), but The Flood, to us, takes the cake, and it’s not for the reasons that you’d think. Sure, The Flood is scary for a lot of reasons, most of them obvious and nightmare inducing, but instead of concentrating on that, the spine tingling introduction to the parasite in Halo: Combat Evolved (2001), the introduction to the Gravemind in Halo 2 (2004), or any scene involving in Halo 3 (2007) I thought we’d instead talk about The Flood as they are presented in the wider scope of the Halo-verse, more specifically Forerunner Saga series of novels. You could argue that this is cheating, but the Halo novels are pretty much canon at this point anyway.
Anyway, in the Bungie era media The Flood are just space zombies, scary enough, sure, but the Forerunner Saga by Greg Bear takes it a step forward. At the risk of sounding like a rabid fan, in those books it’s revealed that The Flood are actually one of the remnants of the Precursors, an incredibly ancient and powerful race who seeded life throughout the universe millions of years ago, but who were destroyed by the Forerunners for not passing on the Mantle of Responsibility. Destroyed as a power, the Precursors scattered themselves throughout the universe as a form of dust, dust which eventually found its way back in the Milky Way Galaxy. Eventually the dust reconstituted itself as a malevolent force that wanted to destroy sentient life form in the Milky Way Galaxy: The Flood.
The Flood is a virus, that’s always been known, but before the Forerunner Saga it was never shown that they had a guiding will behind them other than the occasional Gravemind, and doesn’t that make it all worse? Plagues are scary enough, but the idea that there could be an intelligence behind it, something that actively wants to kill as much as a plague does? Something that decides when to infect and when not to infect? Something that has forethought? Malice? Something that derives a kind of enjoyment from what a plague does?
And, on top of being a sentient plague (that creates zombies, remember) as a Precursor, the Flood has access to Precursor knowledge and technology – technology which, quite frankly, makes the Forerunners (the former premier advanced civilization in Halo) look like a bunch of chumps. Firstly, the Flood had the ability to stop their enemies from being able to travel faster than light. That’s a problem right there. For one, it meant that any Forerunner planets or ships could easily be separated from the rest of their people and become easy pickings for the Flood. Secondly, the Precursors had the ability to create “star roads,” giant structures made out of indestructible material in space that the Flood could use to swat Forerunner planets and tearing apart planets.
Oh, and remember that I mentioned that the Flood is a remnant of the Forerunners? Well, it turns out that there are more of them. If you played Halo 3 or Halo 4 (2012) or have seen the advertisements for Halo 5 Guardians (2015) then you might be familiar with something called the Domain, which was presented as the Forerunner version of the internet. Well, it turns out that the Domain was also a Precursor, and that it hated the Forerunners just as much as the Flood did. And was actively sabotaging the Forerunners during the last days of their war.
I tell you, our internet is a lot of things, but I don’t think anyone has ever accused it of being the still living corpse of an ancient, god-like alien, hell-bent on the elimination of all life in the Milky Way galaxy.
So, just to clarify, not only is The Flood a sentient virus that creates zombies with the ability to create giant space tentacles that could rend planets and could deny their enemy the ability to retreat/coordinate, but it’s also allied with a homicidal internet.
It’s actually a good thing that nobody at Bungie ever thought any of this up before Halo was sold to 343 Industries because if the Flood from the 343 era were encountered in the games there wouldn’t be much point in playing Halo.
Vault 87 – Fallout 3 (2008)
Fallout 4 is due to come out in a few short weeks and we’re all really excited about it here – isn’t everybody? – and while we’re sure that the new entry in the long running series will feature lots of frights (beyond, you know, the whole nuclear apocalypse thing) we have to remember what came before. Now, while Fallout 3 is filled with horrors that will keep you up at night, for our money the very worst has to be Vault 87.
The Dunwich Building is Lovecraftian Horror in its most exquisite form, and Tranquillity Lane does for video games what Pleasanville (1998) did for movies, but Vault 87 takes the cake for two reasons:
It can’t be ignored if you’re doing the story missions.
There’s nothing funny about it.
Sorry, did I say two? I meant three because not only are you likely to encounter at least a dozen super mutants:
And at least one of these things:
In the game those things are called Centaurs, but let’s be honest, mythical creatures these things are not. They’re what lurks in the darkest nightmare of the most evil mad scientist, the kind that sits wistfully in their lab late at night, starring at that framed picture of Victor Frankenstein and think to themselves, “Today I’m gonna do it. Today I’m gonna make you proud.”
And the super mutants? More on them in a moment. For now, let’s concentrate on the actual vault, because in terms of property, it’s pretty much a pit of evil. (So you know that there have been a few Cowboy Builders in there.)
If the super mutants decide to turn the unlucky captive into one of them then they’ll dunk (yes, dunk – if you thought that creating an unholy monster was any more scientific then applying ketchup to chicken nuggets then clearly you haven’t been playing enough Fallout) the unlucky person into a vat of FEV (Forced Evolutionary Virus). If the FEV succeeds then that person will be a super mutant: they can’t speak, their personality, intelligence, any sense of self is all but destroyed, and their only goal will be the destruction of everything that isn’t a super mutant by killing it or eating it.
And if the FEV doesn’t succeed? Well, let’s just say the results aren’t pretty.
Oh, and those people that the super mutants decide to eat? The lucky ones? Sometimes the super mutants don’t finish eating the whole person. Sometimes they decide to display their victims’ body parts on their walls like a hipster displays vinyl records.
No matter which way you look at it, Vault 87 is not a good place to be. Let’s just be thankful that it’s not part of the main…. Oh.
That’s enough scares for now. If you’ve got any alternative choices or any comments please feel free to leave them below.