As I creep my way through the streets of Lexington in Fallout 4, a nightmare scenario begins to unfold. Parts of a dilapidated house jut out onto the road before me, and a connecting steel structure with decaying windows sits overhead. The interior decor bleeds out from its crumbled walls, but most of the structure remains intact. I must pass the building in order to reach my quest destination, but I hear a sound that stops me in my tracks... and fills me with dread. I know what's coming before I even see it. That's the tell-tale groan of what I believe is the most fearsome enemy in the Commonwealth: the Feral Ghoul. One must be on the other side of the wall, and I begin to tense up in my seat.
Now I'm on high alert. I don't know where it will appear from exactly, but steel myself for the ghoul's impending reveal. As I inch closer, my heart leaps out of my chest. There's no time to prepare for what happens next. Not one but five Feral Ghouls fall directly into my path – three shower down on me from the rooftop above as two others crawl out from walls of the rundown abode – and the panic I feel sends me jumping from my chair. This is it, I think to myself. My Fallout 4 adventure has turned into a true horror show.
The Fallout series might not fall into the category of horror strictly speaking, but I often think it's about as close as I get to the genre in the world of games. I mean, let's be honest, the world of Fallout 4 is bleak at the best of times. If you're not being shot at by Raiders or Gunners, you're being attacked by giant Radroaches, Mirelurks, Deathclaws, and a whole host of other nasty nightmares. And if it's not the disquieting, robotic words of a synth hunting me that leaves me feeling unsettled, it's the beeping sound of a Super Mutant in close proximity who's armed with a small nuke. But for all of its frightful foes, nothing puts me on edge or gives me palpitations quite as much as the Feral Ghouls.
I've always been spooked by the ghouls in the Fallout series. In Fallout 3, I would do everything I possibly could to avoid coming into contact with them. Naturally, that meant that anytime I had to venture into the subway, which was home to many a ghoul, my heart would beat like a kettle drum and I'd shy away from my screen like I was eternally bracing myself for a jumpscare. My fear of them grew tenfold when I stepped into the world of Fallout 4. The Feral Ghouls in the commonwealth are on a whole other level thanks to the way they behave and move.
Ghouls can often be found lying still on the ground as if dead, but of course, they're really just waiting for some unsuspecting sole survivor like me to come around, so they can rise up and attack. Their sleeping facade trained me to use VATs anytime I enter a new location. If some are lying in wait nearby, the targeting system is a great way to detect them and protect my poor heart from any potential scares… and it also helps me take them out before they wake up.
The waiting game they play is definitely not the worst of it, though. The habit ghouls have of emerging out from under small crevices and gaps legitimizes their horror status in my eyes. Whether it be slithering out from underneath the rusty shell of a vehicle, or slinking out from the holes in walls, I always fear their sudden appearance. In fact, the mere thought of it puts me into such a state of unease that taking a stealthy stance whenever I venture outside of safe zones has become a permanent state of being.
There is something rather tragic about the ghouls that have gone feral, though. In the world of Fallout, Ghouls were once humans who are now living with the after effects of the nuclear bombs. While some don't completely lose themselves and maintain their sense of self – as evidenced by the many ghoul NPCs you meet – Feral Ghouls have completely succumbed to the radiation. The Feral Ghouls, coupled with the post-apocalyptic landscapes, are a constant reminder of the terrible events that once took place here, and how badly it all affected the world and its inhabitants.
Still, I don't know if I'll ever quite get over my fear of the Feral Ghouls. Sometimes I wonder if I'd be more at ease if it weren't for them, but who am I kidding? There are so many unnerving creatures in the irradiated world of Fallout 4, and this Halloween season I've come to the conclusion that it's as close to a horror experience as I want to get. During my time in the Commonwealth, just knowing Feral Ghouls may pop up haunts me every step of the way. Honestly, thank goodness for Dogmeat. At least if I get a nasty surprise like the five-Feral ambush, my canine companion will keep some at bay while I try to get a handle on them in-game – and sit myself back on my fallen chair in reality.
Looking for some scares this Halloween? Here's our pick of the best horror games you can play right now.