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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.

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77 comments

  • FalseNegative - October 26, 2009 11:09 a.m.

    Your right, I've never even heard of any of these games. Oh, and first first! Sorry.
  • mattol58 - October 26, 2009 11:28 a.m.

    good article
  • PinkLenny - October 26, 2009 11:31 a.m.

    good comment
  • zer0hvk - October 26, 2009 11:34 a.m.

    good comment on that comment great article, might check out some of these games!
  • CheeseFiend - October 26, 2009 12:10 p.m.

    Holy crap, The Dark Eye looks scary, i might get it, even though it may give me nightmares
  • Trg564 - October 26, 2009 12:16 p.m.

    Thats some pretty freaky stuff there, I am now slightly afraid of puppets. Damn those things look scary
  • bonepicker - October 26, 2009 2:44 p.m.

    WTF HAUNTED HOUSE!! Lmao that game is no where near scary. It's(god I hope I got that right)bot even that fun lol.
  • Jacob816 - October 26, 2009 3:03 p.m.

    Ugh, another unnumbered Top 7...
  • NotBraze - October 26, 2009 3:25 p.m.

    The concept for The Path is absolutely brilliant! Regardless of the quality of the rest of the game (which I can't comment on, since I've never played it) it's a remarkable idea and someone should take it and use it in a different context.
  • garnsr - October 26, 2009 4:22 p.m.

    God, I hated Haunted House. I could never figure out what the hell was going on, but everyone seemed to have it. And shouldn't the main reason we've never played most of these games be that they were on PC, not consoles?
  • oryandymackie - October 26, 2009 4:25 p.m.

    I think they should make text-only games for the 360. Cheap. I would be willing to pay 50p for a text-only game, and let's face it, a text adventure is something a junior programmer can do in his lunch break. But not on Live. A DISC, MICROSOFT. Pleasums?
  • TKTOWA - October 26, 2009 7:23 p.m.

    I was a little dissapointed to see that Realms Of The Haunting was not mentioned. It's an Interplay game for anyone that's interested. I proudly keep the box on my "Legendary games shelf".
  • slickmcwilly - October 26, 2009 7:47 p.m.

    I played a demo of The Path, and i must say that did not fill my curiosity of it. it was very interesting, but i didn't really know what to do in it.
  • prahanormal - October 26, 2009 8:05 p.m.

    I've played all these games, and wholeheartedly agree. These are some of the scariest games I've ever played.
  • Schnipke - October 26, 2009 8:15 p.m.

    I haven't heard of Illbleed but I have heard of the rest, and I would play all but Haunted House and The Lurking Horror. And YOur right with the mind coming up with scary stuff, I will Lose sleep Because I will get HORRIFIYING images stuck in my head.
  • Useoam - October 26, 2009 9:14 p.m.

    The Path is one of the most amazing expirences I have ever had while playing a game. It's truely original and refreshing if you can digg it. I certainly reccomend it to thoes willing to try it out.
  • CH3BURASHKA - October 26, 2009 9:41 p.m.

    "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" is the best indie porno ever.
  • H2A2I00 - October 26, 2009 9:48 p.m.

    lol @ CH3BURASHKA but i seriously want to try the path it looks so cool and wen it said which path will u take the path of needles or the path of pins i just said i need to play this
  • Amnesiac - October 26, 2009 10:19 p.m.

    The Dark Eye, sounds interesting, I might see if I can dig up a free/cheap copy. And I have No Mouth sounds...wow.
  • Cyberninja - October 26, 2009 10:21 p.m.

    all of these look interesting and the old man in the tell tale heart wasnt killed for being ugly he was killed because of his "evil" vulture eye

Showing 1-20 of 77 comments

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