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The Top 7... Scariest games you've never played

The Path (2009)

Why you never played: The Path, self-published by a small handful of designers and marketed almost entirely through word-of-mouth, is about as indie as games can get. Plus, depending on which confused critic or obscure message board you ask, The Path can’t really be “played,” and may not qualify as an actual game at all.

What’s so scary: Remember the tale of Little Red Riding Hood? How an innocent little girl got lost in the woods, and preyed on by wolves, on her way to Grandmother’s house? Now imagine that the woods are filled with deserted playgrounds, foggy cemeteries and decaying movie theaters. Picture the girls – you can choose between six – as depressed preteen Goths, or as cripples with limps and leg braces, or as rebellious flirts on the cusp of adulthood. Recast the wolves as metaphors for temptation and puberty, creepy male strangers who appear out of the shadows to offer the girls cigarettes and other sins. And, by the end, make Granny’s the last place anyone would ever want to go.

The terrifying genius of the game – and what some argue qualifies it as art instead – is that most of what we just described is optional. The adventure starts with explicit instructions: “Go to Grandmother’s house… and stay on the path.” If you do so, you’ll arrive safe and unharmed in less than a minute; if you wander into the trees, however, you’ll risk danger, death and depravity with every forbidden step. Worse, when you reach your final destination, the formerly cozy cottage will have transformed into a nightmarish gallery to remind you of each grievous mistake and avoidable transgression.

You’ll still disobey, though, won’t you?
You can’t resist, and The Path knows it.

Current availability: Released earlier this year, The Path is still readily available on Steam or through the creators’ website for $10.

 

Haunted House (1981)

Why you never played: This game is the oldest on our list, so unless you were born in the early to mid-‘70s – and our demographic research suggests you probably weren’t – then Haunted House on the Atari 2600 is completely unfamiliar to you.

What’s so scary: On the surface? Nothing. Sure, you’re exploring a dead man’s mansion, trying to steal pieces of his broken urn while avoiding bats, spiders and ghosts, but the way in which all of that is represented on screen is exceedingly simple… today, laughably so. The nearly empty environment is made up of straight lines connected by 90-degree corners, and the often indistinguishable enemies are a few colored blocks smushed together. The player is just a pair of rotating eyeballs, surrounded by pixels upon pixels of pitch blackness. Again, you ask, what’s so scary?

The fear – or at least the overwhelming, palm-sweating anxiety – comes from how Haunted House is played. Except for on the easiest difficulty level, you can’t see either the surrounding walls or the items you’re looking for unless you hit the Atari’s “fire” button to light a match… which reveals only a tiny radius and almost immediately goes out again. Monsters roam everywhere, and if you brush into them more than eight times over the course of the entire game, you’re killed. On the bright side, there’s a scepter that can be wielded as a defensive weapon against them; on the down side, you can’t hold it at the same time as a key or precious piece of urn, rendering it practically useless.

The Atari 2600 may not be capable of much, but you won’t find horror this hardcore – in the true gaming definition of the term – anywhere else.

Current availability: Legally? Try Atari Anthology for PC, PS2 or Xbox. You can get Haunted House and over 70 other old-school titles for $5 used.

Topics

Halloweek

76 comments

  • PatHan-bHai - March 1, 2013 11:35 a.m.

    i've actually rad some of Poe's stuff......creepy shit D:
  • holic237 - April 27, 2012 2:11 a.m.

    I remember watching my dad play Illbleed when I was eleven, and crapping my pants (metaphorically speaking). That whole woodpuppet thing - horrifying. And the music was the stuff of nightmares to an elementary schooler. xD
  • holic237 - April 27, 2012 2:14 a.m.

    Also The Path looks interesting but I'd be such a baby I would never stray from the path which would defeat the whole purpose of the game lol.
  • lilspooky - October 28, 2010 6:48 p.m.

    I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is only $154 dollars on amazon! what a deal. lol. http://www.amazon.com/Have-No-Mouth-Must-Scream-pc/dp/B0008EM0E2/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1288291583&sr=8-4
  • threedog - October 27, 2010 4:16 a.m.

    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was an amazing story...I really need that game
  • gamefreakl1996 - July 22, 2010 8:21 p.m.

    plus The Path looks good too!
  • gamefreakl1996 - July 22, 2010 8:21 p.m.

    EDGAR ALLAN POE IS AWESOME I WANT "THE DARK EYE" SO BAD
  • nonamenomad - December 18, 2009 5:31 p.m.

    Quick(ish) vid of the game. youtube.com/watch?v=gMffho0hv9I
  • nonamenomad - December 18, 2009 5:26 p.m.

    Anyone ever played the Penumbra series. The only real weapon you have is sneaking and stealth.
  • Spritle101 - November 23, 2009 5:03 a.m.

    Illbleed looks fun. So does The Path.
  • dslayer99 - November 8, 2009 6:33 a.m.

    orionsaint, that vid on youtube is the opposite of scary, even if it had sound!
  • dslayer99 - November 8, 2009 6:21 a.m.

    OMFG!!! I bought that path game last week at half priced books!!! that thing is disturbing and gives you nightmares and i'm 22 years old!!! one time i followed the path the entire time and it was really nice and pretty but *SPOILER ALERT:IF YOU GO IN THE FOREST AT THE END, IN GRANDMA'S HOUSE YOU FALLIN A PIT AND DIE!!!* it's on youtube!!!
  • deathrebellion - November 6, 2009 2:06 p.m.

    The Path and the dark Eye looks gr8 i soooo wannna get them :D
  • vitoruss - November 2, 2009 8:42 p.m.

    When I read about how you can get to grandmother's house in under a minute if you don't get off the path, I literally said, "That's genius!" The concept is so nice. A shame that the graphics don't have the same power to reinforce the type of experience. Playing a game like that with the realistic polish of a game like, say, Arkham Asylum, would be an incredible experience. Also, as a writer of short stories, the concept for "The Lurking Horror" really gave me inspiration for a new story!
  • TreyTable - November 2, 2009 4:17 p.m.

    I played 'Haunted House' quite a bit on the Atari VCS (2600) although I was more interested in Warlords and Night Driver at the time.
  • Orionsaint - November 2, 2009 12:51 a.m.

    You guys missed a good one. Rescue on Fractalus for the Atari 5200 and Commodore 64. Created by Lucasfilm games. Yeah prelucasarts. It was released between 1983 and 85. Yeah after the great Video Game crash and before Nintendo rose from the ashes like a Phoenix. Essentially the dark ages for console gaming. I picked it up at K-mart for $9.99. This was the first game to genuinely scare me. On the surface it seems simple enough. Your spaceship launches. You go through a planets atmosphere and shoot alien turrets over mountains. Occasionally a human needs rescuing. You land your ship and you watch as the human comes running towards your ship and comes onboard. Yay! You rescued him. Then you rescue a few more. Oh look here comes another human AHHH!!!! WTF!!! An alien pops up in front of the screen and smashes your ships window and you die. This comes as a total shock. No where does it say in the manual this will happen. It just comes out of no where. The first time it happened. I nearly fell off my chair and screamed like a little girl. From then on every time I picked up a human I was waiting for the alien to pop up. It was nerve wracking because it was random. So you never knew when it would happen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8opv5u9nf0
  • Orionsaint - November 2, 2009 12:50 a.m.

    You guys missed a good one. Rescue on Fractalus for the Atari 5200 and Commodore 64. Created by Lucasfilm games. Yeah prelucasarts. It was released between 1983 and 85. Yeah after the great Video Game crash and before Nintendo rose from the ashes like a Phoenix. Essentially the dark ages for console gaming. I picked it up at K-mart for $9.99. This was the first game to genuinely scare me. On the surface it seems simple enough. Your spaceship launches. You go through a planets atmosphere and shoot alien turrets over mountains. Occasionally a human needs rescuing. You land your ship and you watch as the human comes running towards your ship and comes onboard. Yay! You rescued him. Then you rescue a few more. Oh look here comes another human AHHH!!!! WTF!!! An alien pops up in front of the screen and smashes your ships window and you die. This comes as a total shock. No where does it say in the manual this will happen. It just comes out of no where. The first time it happened. I nearly fell off my chair and screamed like a little girl. From then on every time I picked up a human I was waiting for the alien to pop up. It was nerve wracking because it was random. So you never knew when it would happen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8opv5u9nf0
  • lorchan - November 2, 2009 12:21 a.m.

    OH GOD THE UNCANNY VALLEY USED FOR GOOD. Anyway, I REALLY want to play The Path, now. And read more Poe, but that's beside the point.
  • axelgarcia1 - November 1, 2009 5:46 a.m.

    @Cyberninja your right, but that still wasnt the scary part, the scary part was the way the old man still haunted the guy... but that was just his conscience
  • Fuhjem - October 31, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    Any ever play Exmortis? Scared the living hell outta me when it came out.

Showing 1-20 of 76 comments

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