Friday, November 23, 2012

KGB Top 5: Games that Terrified Us

Look, we know this is late. But why don't you settle down, eat a turkey sandwich, and breathe? Here's a Top 5 in which we look at some games that have made us poop a little. Out of fear. Not some kind of fart gamble. Speaking of which, is there any more mashed potatoes?

5. Condemned: Criminal Origins by Rock

Yep, this dude and his friends want you dead. Now.

Condemned has a very interesting way of getting under your skin. Throughout the whole game, you never feel like a badass or tough guy. Sure, you ably deliver beat downs to many a foe, but it always feels like you just barely make it through each scrape- that if you had made just one mistake, you'd have been killed. This feeling gets worse and worse as the game progresses: while you start out taking on crackheads and hobos, things get to Creepytown in a hurry! From people disguised as mannequins sneaking up on you to pale-skinned, crawling, bandaged monstrosities, Condemned never gives you the feeling that you're getting ahead of it. The game's use of imposing darkness, increasingly disturbing enemies, and skin-of-your-teeth melee combat left me feeling like death was always just around the corner. That Condemned effectively rides you with this feeling all the way through to the end is absolutely astonishing.

4. Limbo  by D. Bethel

This little spider killed you.

Putting aside scares that are created by closet-spawned monsters and sudden volume jumps, the only game that has truly terrified this Griefer is LIMBO. Though it ultimately becomes a physics-based puzzle game, at its outset LIMBO crafts a singular experience built through the tense and specific sound design, influential visuals, and simple controls. To describe LIMBO is to describe a tone; the fear is not generated in the same way that Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Dead Space frighten. Those create “scary” situations, moments, and set pieces. LIMBO frightens because it is dire. It feels hopeless from the first moment, but not because of a cinematic exposition describing the odds that are against you––LIMBO, instead, tells the player nothing. In fact, the game doesn’t even start until the player gets restless and pushes a button on the controller, which, in turn, awakens the nameless, faceless child protagonist from, what must be, a previously permanent sleep. From there, the player must guide this child with only the analog stick and two buttons. Soon, the player is hunched over, listening for every cracking branch in the dead, dusty forest and for every rattling bolt in the rusty industrial wasteland; every hollow footstep reminds you that this child is utterly and completely alone in a world that wants nothing to live. Simply put, LIMBO is not a horror game, it is a nightmare.

3. Fallout 3  by Chris Linendoll

Oh dear god

The vast expanse of the Capitol Wasteland in Bethesda’s masterful Fallout 3 was my first experience with that style of open world RPG. Before then, I was never much of a role player, and had never seen any of the Elder Scroll series. The sheer vastness of the world Fallout 3 offered was mind-boggling to me upon first sight, and I was awestruck by possibilities it offered.

Upon breaking out of Vault 101, the open streets and broken down buildings of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. were too much for me. I played for a short time, and was soon overwhelmed by hordes of mutants and raiders that were constantly attacking me. I was so perplexed and discombobulated by the constant attacks that I ran right past Megaton, the small settlement that is designed to serve as a training ground of sorts for players first exploring the Wasteland.

I found my way into the Metro Tunnels fairly early in the game, and promptly got creeped the fuck out. The abandoned subway tunnels were dark, dreary, and filled with rubble. That’s not to mention all the horrible creatures lurking down there as well. Mirelurks, radscorpions, and filthy raiders lurked around every darkened corner, and only the light of my trusty Pip-Boy provided any relief from the unending blackness. I was constantly filled with a feeling of dread while exploring the filthy sewers and tunnels, and found myself nearly jumping out my skin every time I was attacked by an off-screen enemy. If there’s one thing a Wasteland explorer needs, it’s a buddy.

2. Silent Hill 2  by Dan Smith

That's what she said.

Horror comes in many flavors, but for me, it’s always been the psychological stuff that affected me the most. All of the gore and suspense pales in comparison to the dark, brooding symbology present in the series like Twin Peaks or films like Mullholland Drive. Nothing is ever quite as secure as you might like, and everything is open to interpretation. It can be done poorly, of course, but fortunately this is not the case with Silent Hill 2, my vote for the greatest Horror game of all time. Surrounded in uncertainty, the protagonist James Sunderland finds himself searching for his wife in the town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter requesting his presence there. The only problem? Mary died years ago. This begins hours of doubt, overt sexual imagery, and questionable decisions and actions. It creates an air of distrust between the player and everything around them, and the payoff is brilliant. Silent Hill 2 is astounding, and you owe yourself a playthrough.

1. Slender  by Chris Linendoll

Terror defined.

This entry is almost cheating, seeing as how it is such a new title. On top of that, Slender is a game that is purposefully designed to scare the ever-living fuck out of you. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever been so genuinely nervous to play a game as I was when we here at KGB loaded up Slender recently to get in on the scares. The reputation Slender has built for itself over the past few months has been nearly impossible to ignore: YouTube playthroughs, endurance runs, and livestreams have flooded the Internet. Everyone who has played Slender can attest to the effective art and sound design the (free) title delivers in spades.

There’s not much to Slender when you think about it. The map is very tiny, with 10 very recognizable landmarks that also serve as choke points for encounters with the Slender Man. Increasing fog covers the forest, and each run-in with Slender Man builds the plodding soundtrack to an effectively disorienting assault on the ear drums. Collecting all 8 diary pages, the game’s one and only goal, proves to be a nearly impossible task, and the environment, lighting, decreasing flashlight power, and constant sightings of the Slender Man all work together to halt the player’s progress. We here at KGB never made it to more than 4 pages before being overcome by long, tall and creepy, and we’re more than okay with never playing Slender again.

This was a KGB group effort. Well, except for Pat. He couldn't be bothered.

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