It takes a special kind of person to enjoy a horror game. True aficionados intentionally seek out the scariest moments in video games because they assumedly love being drenched in a cold sweat. Some of the scariest video game scenes of all time come from games that aren't particularly well-remembered, but that might just be because players were scarred for life by the eerie titles.
The most terrifying sequences in video games pull off scares that no other medium can accomplish. Sure, it's spooky to see zombies chew up human flesh in the Resident Evil movies, but having to personally escape those zombies adds a whole new dimension of terror to a Friday night scarefest.
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Just about every encounter in The Evil Within is terrifying. Built like many of the best horror films, the game does anything it can to elicit frightened tears from its players. That said, there is one moment early in the game that likely caused more than a few players to scream out loud: the first encounter with the wretched Laura.
See, Laura isn't the type of woman you'd meet at the library. She's basically what you'd get if you crossed a human with a spider (and also Satan). Gamers are first introduced to her as a normal-looking corpse lying in an abnormal-looking pool of blood. Then, out of nowhere, extra limbs start exploding out of her body, and the abject horror chases the player down a series of maze-like passageways. The real challenge here is to finish the section without crying loud enough to wake up your roommates and/or parents.
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The first time players encounter Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2, the scene is unnerving but not altogether unexpected. When James catches a glimpse of the creature looming behind a gated hallway, the instance feels par for the course. The horror of the game comes from the horrid array of monsters who inhabit the town, so a dude with a triangular box on his head holding a massive sword feels right at home with the nurse demons and armless humanoids.
The second time Pyramid Head appears is significantly more unsettling. James dives into a closet, which gives him a front-row seat for a grotesque display of lust. From his hiding place, James catches a glimpse of Pyramid Head forcefully copulating with two of the nurse demons who appear to die after the monster climaxes. After that, Pyramid Head drags one of the corpses over to where James is hiding in the closet.
Suddenly, Pyramid Head grabs at his own face, and seems to sense James's presence. Just before he's captured, James grabs some ammo and scares away the monstrosity. It is a strange, chilling scene that's hard to forget about, even though the player doesn't actively participate in the action (the whole thing takes place in a non-playable cut-scene).
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Even before the game's release, everyone knew Dead Space was going to be scary. However, nobody was prepared for just how terrifying the game actually is. A few minutes in, Isaac Clark wanders onto a derelict space station with his team and quickly becomes trapped in an isolated room. As soon as Isaac is separated from the group, it's clear things are about to get bad.
Seconds later, Isaac is forced to watch his team get ripped apart by freakish, subhuman monsters, and that isn't even the scariest part. The true horror comes when the player realizes that the necromorph enemies love to play dead. There are few things in life more horrifying than inspecting a room doused in blood, only to be suddenly attacked from behind by a twisted corpse you thought was dead.
Even 12 hours into the game, Dead Space still manages to be scary, but there's nothing that compares to the surprise of the first time the player is ambushed and dismembered by something they thought was harmless.
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The '90s were a simpler time. Horror games didn't really exist (unless you count E.T. for the Atari 2600 as a horror title), so nobody knew what to expect from Resident Evil. While the game may seem dated by today's standards, it set the bar for causing gamers to leap from their chairs in raw terror.
The moment that made many gamers realize they were playing something special (and also that they weren't ready to die) comes when a pack of dogs burst through the mansion windows. Up until this point, the player has been slowly, methodically working their way through a series of cramped hallways. Then, out of nowhere, a bunch of huge, blood-thirsty dogs start leaping in through the windows and chasing the characters down.
On top of that, the strange control scheme and oddly placed camera makes escape even more harrowing and difficult than it could ever be in a modern game. If players want to avoid becoming dog food, they'd better be prepared to run as fast as they possibly can.