Five of the Best is a weekly series about the small details we rush past when we’re playing but which shape a game in our memory for years to come. Details like the way a character jumps or the title screen you load into, or the potions you use and maps you refer back to. We’ve talked about so many in our Five of the Best series so far. But there are always more.
Five of the Best works like this. Various Eurogamer writers will share their memories in the article and then you – probably outraged we didn’t include the thing you’re thinking of – can share the thing you’re thinking of in the comments below. Your collective memory has never failed to amaze us – don’t let that stop now!
Today’s Five of the Best is…
Scares! Boo! It’s beyond me why people play scary games. I look at someone like Ian Higton, playing Resident Evil 7 in VR, or Alien: Isolation in VR, and I wonder what’s wrong with him. Why willingly put yourself in that position? He’s the person in a horror film who walks into a dark basement on their own. I, on the other hand, am the person on the sofa screaming “don’t do that you wally!” while hiding behind the pillow. Look, I’d love to be as brave as Ian but I’m not. I nearly threw the PlayStation VR headset across the room when the shark started attacking my diving cage. Heck, I nearly threw the Vive headset across the room when I was standing on a sunken pirate ship and a whale swam up next to me. Ian, I am not like you. And sadly Ian is too busy to contribute to today’s piece, but he suggested the above games as well as Dead Space so I thought I’d at least mention them here.
Scares don’t have to come from scary games, though. Any game which ramps up the tension can make you jump out of your seat. So here’s to being scared and here are five of the best scares. Let’s hear yours below. Happy Friday!
Oh man. So you’re going to meet Jeff. How bad can Jeff be? Here’s a guy who’s surviving the Combine. He warns you that if you go any further you’re going to be in Jeff’s domain. But really – How Bad Can Jeff Be?
Jeff is, um, quite bad actually. I think he was once a person. But now his head has sort of opened out like a kind of meat flower. He wanders around spreading toxic spores out of a little meat factory he has in his back. He’s very angry.
Jeff can’t see but Jeff can hear you. So for a while you have to inch through Half-Life: Alyx with your hand over your mouth and nose to stop those spores from making you cough. And you have to distract Jeff while you collect things from the maze where he lives. And you have to try and make it to an elevator. Which is very loud.
You don’t have to be a classicist – I’m not! – to understand the myth that Valve is tapping into here. But annoyingly there is no Ariadne in this version, no red thread to follow. Instead, you have to inch forward, one risk at a time. Surely I’m not meant to do that? Surely I’m not meant to try this?! The moment when you finally fire the lift up… and Jeff…
Okay it’s too horrible. But the weird thing is as much as you fear Jeff, you sort of feel for him too. Poor Jeff!
Eternal Darkness is a horror game, which means scares are all over the place. I remember evil monks, cursed Legionnaires, spooky rooms and all sorts of creepy stuff. But the biggest scares cross through the screen and are frightening in a more practical way.
This is one of those fourth-wall breakers. Sometimes while playing Eternal Darkness a fly will land on the TV screen, or the volume will start to turn up or down. But the biggest scare by far – I feel bad spoiling it – comes when you try to save your game at a particularly tense moment. DELETING FILE reads the on-screen text. For a minute, first time I encountered this, I totally forgot all the fourth-wall malarkey that had come before it. Some things in games are sort of sacrosanct – so of course that’s where Eternal Darkness chooses to get to you.
Dead by Daylight
There’s nothing scarier than another human being. This is something I’ve learned not only from watching horror films and reading my Twitter replies, but also from gaming – with Dead by Daylight remaining one of the most stressful experiences so far.
That’s because it tackles a problem I’ve encountered with many horror games, in that after a certain point, you just stop getting scared. Once you’ve been caught for the first time, you remember it’s a game, you can’t actually die, and the monster is beatable. Then it’s merely a matter of figuring out the system to win.
Not so in Dead by Daylight, where as part of the asymmetrical multiplayer, the monster chasing you is a fellow human. Out goes the rulebook of a single-player game, and suddenly you’re playing mind games with a real person. One who may well bait you into a trap, try to outsmart you during a chase, or relentlessly track you down. There’s something distinctly menacing about knowing another human is sitting behind a screen somewhere, planning to impale you on a meat hook. And although with enough playtime you’ll become more familiar with the strategies, that element of unpredictability will always be there – and that’s what gets me scared.
Scary games are good fun, especially if you’re playing them in a group. You rush through the dank water, a monster close behind, screams of terror from the player and screams of laughter from those watching. But for me, the scariest moments I’ve ever experienced in a game have been in Counter-Strike.
In Counter-Strike, you’re always thinking about where your opponents might be. There are two teams of five, necessarily spread out across a wide map, so if you’re defending a bombsite you might not see another player, friend or foe, for the whole round – you’re just sitting in a corner, holding an angle, biding your time, listening to your teammates. Occasionally you do see someone, or hear the click of a grenade’s pin being pulled, and you get that kick of adrenaline as you anticipate the onslaught to come. They could come from anywhere! You could be challenging a whole team by yourself! This is exciting – but not scary. You’ve prepared for this.
Scary happens when that mental model – that understanding you carry of what is happening on the map right now – is disrupted. When you’re holding down B and someone calls “Five on A! They’re planting!” You relax. You think, ah, brilliant. I’ll just wander over to A now and help out. Shall I go via spawn, or through the middle? Do I still have grenades left? Let’s look at the kill feed and see how the defense is going – am I going to have to clutch this one, or are we doing alright? Just then, someone walks out into the B site and shoots you in the face. And you shit yourself, because you are not prepared for this.
I mean, it’s in the title – how can it not be scary?! What was so special about First Encounter Assault Recon though, a name no one ever used – besides the slow-mo and besides the level-shattering action and besides the aggressive, flanking AI – was the brand of horror it opted for. FEAR went for psychological Japanese-style horror at a time everyone else was going in-your-face jump scares, and the result was something insidious, something which got under your skin. A girl called Alma who had supernatural powers. A girl with lank dark hair who might as well have been pulled straight out of The Ring and The Grudge horror films, which I still rank among the scariest I’ve seen (and if you know any better, please suggest them below). She was always there but never quite there, haunting your every move. Menacing, malicious and absolutely pant-wettingly creepy.