There are plenty of gaming moments that set out to scare us, but only a few of them actually strike enough fear into our hearts to leave a lasting impression. From chainsaw-wielding pigs to murderous mutant babies, these are the tensest, creepiest and most terrifying scenes you’ll ever experience on Xbox.
The Man-Bat – Batman: Arkham Knight
There are a lot of creepy set-pieces in the Arkham games, usually involving Scarecrow and his fear toxin, but it’s in Arkham Knight where you’ll experience the series’ greatest jump scare. In the early stages of exploring the city, while grappling up a building, Batman hauls himself up, only to find himself staring into the screeching face of the grotesque Man-Bat. This triggers the ‘Creature Of The Night’ side mission, in which the Caped Crusader hunts down the mutated scientist. Brilliantly, the location for this encounter is completely random, so it could frighten the tight superhero pants off you on replays too.
The Crawlers – Dead Space 2
As Isaac Clarke makes his way through the Necromorph-infested Titan Station, he finds himself in an eerily abandoned elementary school. As he moves deeper into the building, he sees a tiny shape disappear down a corridor and hears the sound of children laughing. He steps into a classroom and is suddenly attacked by Crawlers – twisted baby-like creatures with upside-down heads who gurgle and shriek as they rush towards him. The flickering lights and cacophony of the Crawlers’ babbling is incredibly disorientating, as they pour relentlessly out of the darkness around you.
Alma Appears – FEAR
The spooky little girl with long black hair is fairly overused in horror cinema and games. But when supernatural shooter FEAR was released in 2005, just a few years after the American remake of Ringu, it still felt reasonably fresh. Alma is the main antagonist of the FEAR series, and has a nasty habit of suddenly appearing in front of you at the worst possible moment. In the first game, the nameless Point Man goes to climb down a ladder. He looks down to find his footing, and when he looks up again Alma appears in front of him. She immediately disappears again in a cloud of inky shadows, leaving you with a pounding heart and a scream in your throat.
Shalebridge Cradle – Thief: Deadly Shadows
Taking place in a haunted orphanage, Thief’s ‘Robbing The Cradle’ mission is one of the most nerve-shredding levels ever made. Its dark halls are stalked by the reanimated bodies of former residents and the building itself seems to ebb with consciousness. A masterful use of audio, lighting and shadow drenches the place in an uneasy atmosphere, and notes you find scattered throughout the building reveal the grim history of the place. It’s a great example of how to spook a player without resorting to jump scares.
The Spider – Limbo
The evocative monochrome world of eerie platforming game Limbo is full of grim sights, including the silhouetted bodies of children swinging gently from trees and mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. But the biggest fright comes when you’re chased by an enormous, spindly-legged spider that’s five times as big as you. Developer Playdead has some of the best animators in the business, and they bring this monstrous arachnid to life in horribly vivid detail. The way its powerful legs lunge and scratch at you as you flee is the stuff of nightmares, and enough to make arachnophobes pass out. There were some chilling moments in Playdead’s follow-up, Inside, but nothing tops the thrill of running from the spider.
The Capra Demon – Dark Souls
On your first playthrough, every single second of Dark Souls is scary. But your first encounter with the Capra Demon is a particularly terrifying moment because of how unexpected it is. Usually when you pass through a fog gate you have a few seconds before the boss appears, but step into this goat-faced demon’s lair and it immediately rushes towards you. If you don’t roll the second you enter, you’re dead. Then if you’re able to survive that initial assault, there’s the battle itself, which takes place in an incredibly claustrophobic space, not helped by ol’ Capra’s vicious canine pals.
Lisa Trevor – Resident Evil HD Remaster
Among the new content added to the remake of the original Resident Evil is a cutscene about a girl called Lisa Trevor. Aged just 14, Lisa was subjected to a series of horrific experiments by the Umbrella Corporation and locked up in a crypt beneath the mansion. Naturally, Chris and Jill disturb her and a boss fight ensues. The experiments have turned Lisa into a foul, mutated beast that lurches towards you, armed with tentacles that explode from her back and wriggle horribly as you fight. This frantic battle, combined with Lisa’s pitiful back story, becomes one of the game’s most disturbing moments.
Piggsy – Manhunt
In Rockstar’s dark, brutal Manhunt, sadistic voyeur Lionel Starkweather forces convict James Earl Cash to take part in gruesome snuff films. At the end of the game, Cash faces Starkweather’s star performer: a disturbed man wielding a chainsaw and wearing nothing but a pig’s bloody, severed head. Piggsy chases you through a dilapidated building, revving his chainsaw and squealing, quite literally, like a pig. It’s a creation straight out of an X-rated ‘80s movie, and one of video gaming’s freakiest villains. Being able to see his dangling, uh, ‘little pig’ as he pursues you only adds to the surreal horror.
Ravenholm – Half-Life 2
While touring the laboratory in Half-Life 2, you notice a sealed door and Alyx Vance tells you that it leads to the town of Ravenholm. Then she adds, gravely, “We don’t go there anymore.” Later you find out why. Valve’s shooter isn’t a horror game, but the Ravenholm section is one of the scariest things on Xbox. The moonlit town is crawling with zombies, and not just the shambling kind. Here you meet the dreaded fast zombie, a cat-like creature which sprints on all fours, leaping at you when you least expect it. As ammo is scarce, you’re forced to make use of the Gravity Gun, grabbing radiators, paint tins and sawblades to use as makeshift weapons.
The Nest – Alien: Isolation
Alien: Isolation is one of the scariest horror games ever made, and the first one that’s ever done H. R. Giger’s famous creature justice. Its unpredictable, intelligent Xenomorph AI is a formidable adversary, and you never know when it’s going to drop out of a vent and impale you with its razor-sharp tail. Towards the end of the game, Amanda Ripley finds herself in the alien’s nest, which is filled with facehugger-spewing eggs. It’s here you realise that there must be more than one alien on Sevastopol, and suddenly find yourself having to sneak past two of the merciless alien bastards.
Meeting Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2
As James Sunderland explores the foggy, haunted town of Silent Hill, he’s stalked by an executioner with a rusty metal pyramid for a head. Later you face him head-on, but your first meeting is the scariest and strangest. In the Blue Creek apartment complex you notice a faint red glow at the end of a dark corridor. You move towards it and find the way blocked by bars, with Pyramid Head standing behind them, not moving, in complete silence. Your radio, which lets you know if enemies are near, hisses and screeches with static, and he just stands there: watching, waiting, judging. Absolutely chilling.
The Locker – Condemned: Criminal Origins
Here you investigate gruesome crime scenes using a high-tech analysis tool to scan for clues. By the time you reach St Joseph’s Secondary School you’ve already witnessed several crime scenes, slowly zooming in on a variety of macabre images with your camera. So when it comes to examining a body stuffed in a locker it’s business as usual. But as you’re scanning it, peering through the viewfinder, it comes to life, reaching out and violently grabbing you. They might have made Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor since but we still haven’t forgiven the devs.
Disturbing the Witch – Left 4 Dead
The first Left 4 Dead is incredibly well-designed, and the Witch is one of its best, and most terrifying, ideas. Most of the time, Left 4 Dead is a noisy, chaotic game about mowing down hordes of zombies with shotguns and uzis and friends. But then you hear it: the distant, haunting weeping of a young girl. That’s your first clue that the Witch is nearby. Get too close, make a noise, or shine your light on her, and she awakens, lunging at whoever disturbed her with blackened, needle-sharp claws, and almost certainly killing them in an instant. The first time you see her is a true heart-in-mouth moment.
The Dentist – Bioshock
BioShock is a fantastic horror game, with some of the most atmospheric world and sound design on Xbox. The leaking halls of underwater city Rapture, lit by the soft green glow of the ocean outside, is home to many scary moments, including the brilliantly creepy Spider Splicers. But it’s in the Medal Pavilion where you find the cruelest and most well-executed jump scare. As you explore a dentist’s office, the room suddenly fills with steam. Through the haze you notice a tonic on a shelf. You grab it, turn around and see the dentist – now a crazed Splicer – standing watching, inches away from you, before he suddenly attacks. If you were uneasy about going to the dentist before, you’ll never want to go again.
Dr Salvador – Resident Evil 4
Ever since Leatherface first swung one around his head, the chainsaw has become a staple in horror. But no appearance of the wood-cutting deadly device is more terrifying than hearing it revving up in Resident Evil 4. This heralds the arrival of Dr Salvador, a powerful, sack-headed Ganado who, if he gets close, can slice Leon’s head clean off in an instant. It’s one of the most brutal deaths in a game full of them, and we still wince every time it happens.
There are lots of horrific moments in the Resident Evil series, from a body bag shuffling suddenly in Code Veronica to Resi Zero’s slug man on a train, but nothing beats the first skin-crawling moment you see Dr Salvador coming towards you. He also often appears in tight, claustrophobic spaces, which is probably the worst type of place to find yourself facing a parasite-infected maniac who wields a chainsaw like a deadly foam finger.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here (opens in new tab).