A castle backlit by a bolt of lightning on a stormy night. An abandoned space station with limited air and an unsettling ooze coating the entrance to the vent. A haunted house left to you by a distant, wealthy uncle. A dark forest with the light of a full moon shining through the trees, with the howling of the winds - you hope it’s the wind - the only sound for miles.
Games are full of eerie locations, sometimes dark places on the map for a scary side quest and sometimes the single setting of a horror game. So, for the first weekly thread of October, tell us about your favorite frightening locations!
Name something more iconic creepy in the 90s then Pokemon Tower in Red/Blue/Yellow
It’s the only place in the game that acknowledges pokemon can die with people there grieving and that Team Rocket did in fact murder a Marowak and as a 7 year old that combined with the music made it the most scary location in a game. It was also one of the first places I think I can distinctly remember kids on the playground making up creepy pasta horror stories about.
Then in Gold/Silver/Crystal they bulldoze it and turn it into a radio tower which is just as creepy from a “capitalists moved into our small town and bought up our local cemetery dedicated to our companions and turned it into a radio station” that plays the polar opposite music like
Skyrim’s Bleak Falls Barrow. The soundtrack kicks in with either the echoed percussion or the really high, dissonant strings to ratchet up the tension. And then those jerks spawn the spiders at ceiling level so they can drop them on your head. Fortunately, a helpful way to defeat a fear of giant spiders is the ability to shoot fire from your hands.
I gotta give it to the Greenbriar estate the first time I played Gone Home. Outside of the general buzz around the game, I had no idea what I was getting into back in 2013. The lightning storm and abandoned house were so tense to explore until the game released it with that incredible ending. Really a master class in establishing mood and tension.
My very obvious, almost redundant answer is Silent Hill. There are also some scary places within Silent Hill, but the most effective for me has always been the town itself, the fog-covered streets. The most eerie aura, I guess. I’m not really spooked by the eighteen or so discrete asylums and hospitals this one town has, and the otherworld stuff doesn’t really scare me even if there are some amazing ones aesthetically and atmospherically, but just walking around town is just… unsettling.
My less obvious answer is the archive from A Hand With Many Fingers. Great atmosphere, you spend the game piecing together a conspiracy and it feels like you could get arrested by a shady government agent if you pick up a file they didn’t want you to see.
I have never–NEVER IN MY LIFE–been more afraid to make forward progress than during reactor section of Alien: Isolation. I love that game and there’s probably better sections, but the reactor is, simply put, the scariest shit I have ever put myself through (twice) in the medium of video games. Your motion tracker becomes unreliable; you hear everything moving around you; you have to watch your step as face-huggers scurry at you and your limited supply of weapons; and the cruelest part: you have to step out into the open to pull some levers to get the fuck outta there. I hate it. I love it. My palms are sweaty just thinking about it.
The brilliance of that game and the way it embodies the original Alien film: often you must step out from that desk you’ve been hiding under and calmly walk towards your objective. Don’t you dare fucking run.
The most scared I’ve been going through a game are when I was playing the original Demon’s souls on ps3 and got to the world 3-1, Tower of Latria. The dark corridors with pitfalls, the inmates screaming, those dammed squid guards! I love the fact that it is designed to make you feel lost, as if you were navigating some sort of maze. I also love the greenish color palette and the chains in the sky.
Other location from the souls games that comes to mind is the Bloodborne’s hidden village. Everything, from the way you get there to the enemies you find the is very scary. And that ominous background track that plays there generates such a foreboding atmosphere! Its a nice place.
Getting kidnapped in the Cathedral Ward and ending up in Hypogean Gaol in Bloodborne is terrifying. There’s an eye collector hiding behind a doorway (you can see it run by if you pay close attention. I didn’t.). When you walk through the door it jumps on the character, and it was very scary. The whole area is unsettling.
So this one might be weird: the environment for Desmond’s Journey in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The brutalist environment and the memory fragments recall quite a bit of the sleep paralysis episodes that I suffer from. The entire experience was rather uncanny and still gets under my skin to this day.
I’ll also say Ravenholm. Still a classic, even when I played Half-Life 2 again earlier this year.
I feel like I’m drawing blanks on other examples but the Metro series has more than its fair share. Particular shout out to the Library in Metro 2033 (and the finale of Metro Exodus, which is kind of a reprise). If you haven’t played it, there are these mutants called ‘librarians’ that I think are some of the scariest enemies in a game. They’re like big, violent apes. What elevates them from regular enemies for me though is that their behaviour is so unpredictable: you’re kind of supposed to sneak through, but if they spot you, instead of fighting immediately you can stare them down and they might choose not to attack. And unlike, say, an invincible Mr. X-type character, they are actually killable, so you’re always forced to choose how to react rather than knowing the only option is to run away.
Anyway - might be stretching the definition of “scary location” as its much more about the Librarians than the Library itself, but as its the only place in the game they appear, that’s my suggestion.
I’m a bit of a scary game wimp, but the first game that really got me was System Shock 2. During the first few hours on the Von Braun there are some not particularly dangerous monsters that were talking, obliquely it seemed, to me. There was a constant sense that when I open that next door, I would learn something awful, and wouldn’t it be nice to crawl into a corner and not do that.
Probably my #2 is the Tower of Latria in Demon’s Souls. The sound design is immaculate, and reinforces this feeling that there is something deeply, pervasively, wrong with the world. Just chills thinking about it.
Everyone here is picking one place, but as you all know by now I have no restraint. There’s a bunch people have already mentioned — Ravenholm (which somehow spooks me more now than it did when I was a teenager), the Gone Home mansion, Pokémon Tower (which is also the site of one of my favorite contemporary poems), the Hypogean Gaol, the Tower of Latria (which I haven’t stopped thinking about eight months after playing Demon’s Souls Remake, might be one of my favorite levels ever) — but I can’t resist making a list.
Bloodborne - Upper Cathedral Ward. If I had one answer, this would be it. Over some very misty catwalks with slug-child monstrosities worming their way everywhere lies maybe the best jumpscare in a video game and a truly terrifying sequence where a chandelier breaks, plunging you into darkness, just as you realize there are several werewolves waiting at the bottom of a staircase.
All the locales in Majora’s Mask are eerie in their own ways, and I have a hard time choosing between the poisoned waters of Great Bay and the ghosts and zombies that populate Ikana Canyon. One of the things that game does so well is mix horror and genuine pathos, and both of those locations are balanced perfectly between the two. Also, the Moon. Just… the Moon.
Resident Evil 7 VR is the scariest game I’ve ever played, and everything in that game fits here, but there’s one particular section very early on that makes you swim through a submerged hallway and as my head went underwater I literally felt my lungs tighten and my chest compress. It was both one of the most arresting moments I’ve ever had playing a game and the moment I fell in love with VR.
Devotion’s central apartment. There are no fail states in Devotion (unlike Detention, Red Candle’s other excellent horror game), but the way its apartment setting twists and warps space to mimic failing memories can be incredibly creepy at times.
When you enter the Dunes biome in Subnautica, your AI assitant — normally a dry, ironically funny voice that doles out survival advice, says “detecting multiple leviathan class lifeforms in this region. Are you certain whatever you’re doing is worth it.” It almost certainly is not. There are around 20 Reaper Leviathans in Subnautica, and something like a third of them are in the Dunes — a murky expanse of wreckage, sinkholes, and endless sand. Subnautica might not be a pure horror game but it understands horror at an integral level — how to modulate it, how to create it through perspective and range of motion. The more protection you have in Subnautica, the less agility you have and the harder it is to see what’s behind you. With just your diving mask and a seaglide you can whip around in an instant. When piloting the Cyclops, you might not know a Reaper’s nearby until it starts attacking the hull. Below Zero is a bit friendlier, but I physically could not push myself over the edge of the map in that game because seeing that void drop away and knowing what was in there had me on the edge of a panic attack.
I’m going to stop there, but I think the clear conclusion here is, video games, give me more ocean horror. The depths of the sea are even scarier than the edges of space. SOMA did it. Returnal did it (well, did both, really). Give me more, please!
Edit: WAIT HOW DID I FORGET DARK BRAMBLE. DARK BRAMBLE IS TERRIFYING, FULL STOP. The only thing scarier than giant sea creatures in places they do belong is giant sea creatures in places they don’t belong. Outer Wilds is on my ocean horror train. (That said, while I know a lot of people find Giant’s Deep very creepy, I found that planet to be really relaxing. Virtually nothing can hurt you there and the waterspouts just push you up and down like a cosmic swingset.)
Oh, also, because I just played it, and it shows you can do this kind of thing in “old games” with restrictions -
PalmliX’s map (The Dead Room) in the third-party Quake map pack “Sinister 625” (made to celebrate Quake’s 25th anniversary by contributing maps in a restricted format) is an amazing example of how to do horror - in the “eldritch location with restricted lighting and corridors and spaces that move around when you’re not looking” sense - with few resources. So I’m going to argue for this as my pick now.