Waypoint Weeklies: Scariest Moments in Non-horror Games

100% agree with you on Metal Gear Solid 2. When I was growing up the Playstation 2 was in the same room as the family computer, and my younger brother played through the entire game while I was playing something on there. This was the first experience with the series for both of us. I wasn’t paying close attention to anything that was happening, but hearing “RAIDEN, TURN OFF THE CONSOLE” with a digital skull on the screen and real human footage of a woman where the mini-map was supposed to be gave me the freakiest chills I’ve ever had from a piece of media.

Close second, only because of how often it happened: The “WARNING: Challenger Approaching” screen in Super Smash Bros. Melee scared the shit out of me every single time as a kid. I would sprint out of the room and find someone to press A so I could leave the screen haha

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I used to have fever dreams of the opening of the Tomb of Tihocan level in the original Tomb Raider. You start underwater in this narrow tunnel and are carried through a tunnel by a fast moving current. Used to have dreams of just being stuck in there holding my breath for as long as I could. The same mould covered stone polygons sailing past me.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with them, but something about those old PSone graphics can just have a really icky oppressive feeling. I wonder if it’s a disconnect between the visuals and the audio. The visuals are so low res, but the audio can still sound quite real. Minecraft capitalises on this better than most horror games.

This is kind of a throwback but the water in Blueberry Garden rising higher and higher freaked me out. I’d be happily flying around and suddenly destinations would be underwater.

Subnautica. Reaper Leviathan.

Alternatively: Subnautica, the entire game. If you want me to be scared put me under water.

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When you’re ratting in a BR and you hear footsteps.

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I played Subnautica while mostly listening to the Interstellar soundtrack. On one occasion when I got to the end of that soundtrack, the Jaws soundtrack came up and it was legitimately terrifying. After being disorientated underwater and coming up to the service and just open water stares all around.

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Those first few games of PUBG were the most intense moments of gaming. Walking into a building that was multi storied and realizing you were not alone was heart stopping.

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I have always just assumed Subnautica was a horror game. It seems to involve being deep underwater, giant fishes, and darkness, all strong horror tropes…

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I think Subnautica has a lot more range than what we typically talk about as horror games — there are real moments of beauty and intrigue and things that border on wonder in that game that I wouldn’t expect from a horror game. Below Zero even more so, because the world in that game is a bit less hostile. But I think the line between those things and horror is pretty thin, and it knows that and plays with it in a lot of small, intentional ways.

Yeah, Subnautica has a ton of range. I believe this comes from it not trying to be a horror game. The developers even refer to it more as “terror” rather than horror, and didn’t intend for it to be quite so scary. I think they misjudged how quickly the fear ramps up once the many elements stack together, especially in the early parts of the game around the Aurora.

Credit to their approach, though, the world feels unsettling all the way through to the end. Even navigating through known areas in my fully stacked Cyclops I never felt truly safe or comfortable in the depths. Except while inside my deep sea habitat constructed by a cliff, sitting in the observatory looking out towards the beautiful surrounding flora and fauna. A short moment of relaxing by a scenic vista before facing the depths again.

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Hmm, reading the RPS interview, I’m not sure I agree with their implicit statement that “horror” involves malevolence necessarily. Sure, there’s a lot of horror that does (especially survival horror), but, for example, “cosmic horror” is really about the sense of horror you get from realising that you are a tiny insignificant entity surrounded by unknowably vast forces and beings that might destroy you (or worse) without even noticing or trying to. To quote Lovecraft, who may have been a horrible and messed up person, but did know how to write horror, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”.
(I disagree even more with Brendan’s intercalated suggestion that “horror” games should have “scripted encounters”, which seems completely off the mark.)

I do accept that Subnautica tries to have a bunch of things in it which aren’t explicitly scary, threatening or stressful - but does that make it not part of the horror genre?
Does something with strong horror elements have to not have any uplifting, non-scary bits in it? (And wouldn’t such a lack of internal tonal contrasts just make it less scary with nothing to contrast to?) A lot of Clive Barker’s later works mix his early horror with non-horror moments of awe and so on (and horror and awe overlap a huge amount - it’s why we have words like “terrific” with roots from one implying the other).

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