what makes a scary game scary

THRESHIN

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This is really just my opinion of what I find most frightening in a game. I absolutely love horror games, especially sci-fi ones. I think system shock 2 was the first game to really scare me back in the day, still love that game.

But what is it that does the trick? For me I find it's when the player feels completely helpless. Most fps games are not scary because you have superior firepower in some way or another. Fighting cyborgs in quake 4 would be terrifying in real life, but not so much in a game. Hard to feel frightened when you have a railgun to smash through the scumbags.

But to go back to SS2....you start the game with a crappy wrench. When you eventually find a handgun, it has almost no bullets and it's probably broken anyway. Once you get a working one you don't have enough ammunition and it's probably going to break when you need it the most. Meanwhile you're getting gangbanged by a hoard of mutated hybrids while the security alarm calls in more.

The next game I found truly frightening after SS2 is alien isolation. The link here is obvious. You don't have much in the way of weapons and the alien is an enemy that is overwhelmingly superior. You can't fight it. Even the flamethrower only gets it off your back for a very short time.

All the above and lots of atmosphere to pull me in.

Just some random thoughts. Comment, argue, whatever.

BTW when are we going to get good scary games again?
 

Mchart

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I thought the new Prey had the potential to be quite scary, but they make you so powerful that all the enemy encounters become trivial.
 

THRESHIN

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I thought the new Prey had the potential to be quite scary, but they make you so powerful that all the enemy encounters become trivial.
I felt the same and really liked the strong atmosphere. In the end I got bored and never finished it. I felt like it was a half-assed version of SS2.

Kinda lends to my thesis I guess :p
 

polonyc2

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I loved System Shock 2 but didn't find it scary at all...I only played it a few years back when it became available on Steam so maybe that's a factor...Alien Isolation was definitely scarier...I think audio immersion plays a big part in creating a scary atmosphere...silence can be scary as well as atmospheric noise like a steam pipe bursting or clanking of pipes etc...so audio plays a big role for me
 

Dan_D

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Aliens vs. Predator 2 had some moments early on with the motion tracker that were terrifying. It's quite a while before you see your first Xenomorph. Alien Isolation might do it for me as well, but I've never played it. Aside from that, Dead Space 1 was about the only game I thought was scary outside of certain places. In the leaked Doom 3 E3 alpha, there is a part where I was admiring the moving mechanisms inside a room through a window and taking in the environments when a reflection of a monster shows up standing right next to you and doesn't react immediately until you move. That's probably the single scariest moment in gaming for me. It wasn't in the final game either for whatever reason.

Doom 3 was on track to be scary but it used the same scare tactic over and over again and it lost its effectiveness really quickly.
 

Armenius

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Dead Space 2. The sound, setting, and Isaac progressively losing his mind in an intimate way are what did it for me. Plus, body transformation is a primal terror. The idea of the necromorphs always creeped me the fuck out. DS2 is the only game to this day that I stopped playing for periods of time because it made me physically and mentally uncomfortable. I imagine it being like those who hear the call of Cthulhu. I've always had a sensitivity to what lurks on the other side of the veil to begin with, and it scares the hell out of me.
 

Dan_D

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Dead Space 2 was too much like the first one to be scary for me. However, seeing the ship from the first game in the second one did send a chill up my spine.
 

Archaea

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“The Thing” on the original Xbox was scary enough a game that I didn’t play beyond about an hour in.
 

Denpepe

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I'm going to say the original Resident evil, limited saves and ammo, weird camera angles so you hear stuff b4 you see it, some jump scares, and those giant spiders were so well done (for the time anyways), oooh I hate spders.
 
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Mchart

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Yeah, both Dead Space 1 and most of 2 were terrifying. That's a good example of what makes a scary game scary. It's not just jump scares or a creepy atmosphere - They also make sure you never feel too powerful.

Alien Isolation is pretty good, but the Alien AI is too gimped and not random enough to really make you feel on edge once you figure it out.
 

N4CR

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Fear was creepy in it's own way too.
The thing I find scariest is when your mind can fill in the blanks, so a game that sets this scenario up is on the path to winning, audio immersion really helps with this factor too.
Doom 3 was really well done, especially without the flash light mod. But yes a little repetitive. Doom 4 had a few scary moments, I'd love to see more stuff like Doom 3 though.

Early resident evil and silent hill on psx were pretty well done too!

And yes AVP playing as a marine on hard really got the cold sweats going. That damn locator.... I couldn't even finish that campaign. Noped the hell out, it was to much for me and yes it made you feel vulnerable as heck!
 

Comixbooks

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Ok what they did with FEAR that game was good it had to do with the lighting in the game and simplistic design without alot of textures. Plus the enemy had some werid voices..
When you add familar objects in a game it loses the scary part.


 

zamardii12

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Doom 3. Which only let you use flashlight or gun, but not both at once — I played beginning to end, but only 15 minutes at a time. The jump scares, the audio, the setting....all intense.
Doom 3 for sure.. And that's a perfect game to play through while my main box is dead ( SSD faliure ).
Doom 3 is one of my favorite games of all time... I much preferred it's style to the new Doom.

That being said, jump scares do not a scary game make. I always compare jump scares in scary games to stand-up comedians tickling their audience members. P.T. on the PS4 was a master-class example on how to scare people without resorting to jump scares. Yes, there were 1 or 2 but atmosphere is everything. I am 31 years old, and to this day Silent Hill 2 is still the scariest game to me (which I still haven't completed) and there are many reasons for that. The atmosphere, and especially the music of the Silent Hill series is what creates the uneasiness. Also the creatures were unnatural, but with human elements to them which just made them disturbing.

Really, I HAVE to emphasize the music of Silent Hill 2. You can literally just listen to it and get the sense of the game. Take a short listen to these:




Here is the full playlist if anyone is interested.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3701130022801F23
 

Gavian

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“The Thing” on the original Xbox was scary enough a game that I didn’t play beyond about an hour in.
That was a great game. Not knowing if your teammates have been assimilated until they transform is scary.

I was actually thinking of installing it the other day, now I will play it for sure.
 

Dan_D

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Fear was creepy in it's own way too.
The thing I find scariest is when your mind can fill in the blanks, so a game that sets this scenario up is on the path to winning, audio immersion really helps with this factor too.
Doom 3 was really well done, especially without the flash light mod. But yes a little repetitive. Doom 4 had a few scary moments, I'd love to see more stuff like Doom 3 though.

Early resident evil and silent hill on psx were pretty well done too!

And yes AVP playing as a marine on hard really got the cold sweats going. That damn locator.... I couldn't even finish that campaign. Noped the hell out, it was to much for me and yes it made you feel vulnerable as heck!
I forgot about FEAR. The first one was great. Those moments where Alma would appear randomly were pretty freaky.
 

Kinsaras

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I remember being scared the first time I played System Shock 2. Nothing like turning a corner seeing one of those Hybrids swinging a pipe at you saying "I'm sorry" while doing it.

Dead Space had me on the edge of my seat. I would play with nice pair of headphones. Sound effects are fantastic for its time.

This might surprise many people but BioShock, the first one. Play on Hard with Vita-chambers turned off. You'll question every battle you should or shouldn't get into.
 

Armenius

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Doom 3 is one of my favorite games of all time... I much preferred it's style to the new Doom.

That being said, jump scares do not a scary game make. I always compare jump scares in scary games to stand-up comedians tickling their audience members. P.T. on the PS4 was a master-class example on how to scare people without resorting to jump scares. Yes, there were 1 or 2 but atmosphere is everything. I am 31 years old, and to this day Silent Hill 2 is still the scariest game to me (which I still haven't completed) and there are many reasons for that. The atmosphere, and especially the music of the Silent Hill series is what creates the uneasiness. Also the creatures were unnatural, but with human elements to them which just made them disturbing.

Really, I HAVE to emphasize the music of Silent Hill 2. You can literally just listen to it and get the sense of the game. Take a short listen to these:




Here is the full playlist if anyone is interested.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3701130022801F23
SH2 is one of my favorites of all time. I didn't really think it was scary to me so much as it was disturbing and emotional, which the soundtrack does a great job of playing to. This is the first game I can remember that made me cry.
 

THRESHIN

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I loved dead space, and yes it made me jump, but I never found it truly scary. Sometimes it was....but more just jump scares.
 

M76

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I think you're on the right track. Not being overpowered is key. When you're not the hunter but the prey. Any game can have a few cheap jump-scares but that's not an actual scary game. I'd even prefer to use the term "tense" opposed to scary. Because even otherwise docile games can become tense when the odds are not tilted in your favor. Like FarCry 1, on the mutant levels, where you really had to fear that something will jump you from the trees. But for this to work you have to play the realistic difficulty setting. Even games like Ghost Wildlands can be very intense. When you know you've used up all your revivals but there are still enemies that need clearing out but you don't know where they are. It can become extremely scary, and that's why I loved that game, even though everyone else seem to hate it.

So what makes a scary game is the tension. When it is always present and you cannot relax for even a second. SS2 is a good example. To me the scariest part wasn't even the hybrids but the robot midwives. The sounds they were making. You didn't even see them just heard one and you already could feel the tension building. They weren't set up as jump scares, there was no element of surprise as they announced themselves long before you could see them with the sounds they were making. But you still feared them.

So far the most scary game I played was Alien Isolation. That made my heart rate go up like nothing else, and I had to stop playing it in the evening because it would keep me from sleeping. That didn't operate with jump scares either. You always knew the alien was there somewhere but you also knew you were helpless against it. And even the creepy androids were scary, because they could easily gang up on you and force you into a corner. They weren't invincible but they presented a clear danger if you didn't respect them.

Even Fallout games present some scare factor if you wander into areas infested with deathclaws or other enemies that are far stronger than you.
 

N4CR

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Even Fallout games present some scare factor if you wander into areas infested with deathclaws or other enemies that are far stronger than you.
Yes! I remember first time playing fallout 3, enjoying the wasteland and the emptiness, total newfag in the game, when suddenly a big yellow mutant came at me with a hunting rifle, I don't even think I had a hunting rifle at that point - genuine panic material! Just like running into a group of deathclaws in close proximity, later in the game.
 

Armenius

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I think you're on the right track. Not being overpowered is key. When you're not the hunter but the prey. Any game can have a few cheap jump-scares but that's not an actual scary game. I'd even prefer to use the term "tense" opposed to scary. Because even otherwise docile games can become tense when the odds are not tilted in your favor. Like FarCry 1, on the mutant levels, where you really had to fear that something will jump you from the trees. But for this to work you have to play the realistic difficulty setting. Even games like Ghost Wildlands can be very intense. When you know you've used up all your revivals but there are still enemies that need clearing out but you don't know where they are. It can become extremely scary, and that's why I loved that game, even though everyone else seem to hate it.

So what makes a scary game is the tension. When it is always present and you cannot relax for even a second. SS2 is a good example. To me the scariest part wasn't even the hybrids but the robot midwives. The sounds they were making. You didn't even see them just heard one and you already could feel the tension building. They weren't set up as jump scares, there was no element of surprise as they announced themselves long before you could see them with the sounds they were making. But you still feared them.

So far the most scary game I played was Alien Isolation. That made my heart rate go up like nothing else, and I had to stop playing it in the evening because it would keep me from sleeping. That didn't operate with jump scares either. You always knew the alien was there somewhere but you also knew you were helpless against it. And even the creepy androids were scary, because they could easily gang up on you and force you into a corner. They weren't invincible but they presented a clear danger if you didn't respect them.

Even Fallout games present some scare factor if you wander into areas infested with deathclaws or other enemies that are far stronger than you.
You have to go a step further than that. Tension is not enough by itself to create a sense of fear within the observer. The environment and situation has to be created such that the observer's mind starts to make assumptions as to what is going to happen. In an answer to the broader question, this means that really everything has to play together to make a game scary. Without that then you just basically have a firefight, or you create a fight or flight response without reaching down to that primality that makes us want to curl up into a fetal position.

It breaks down like this: Games like Doom 3 make me fear for my life, while games like Dead Space make me fear for my soul.
 
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