It’s Halloween! But as with everything this year, it’s going to feel a little different. So, in the absence of being able to go and irritate your neighbours by begging for sugary treats, why not stay in and scare yourself silly instead? After all, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
Of course it is. So let me provide you with some inspiration for this scary season, where you can experience the most chilling moments from three generations of games that have graced the Xbox family of consoles.
5. Project Zero 2 (Fatal Frame II): Crimson Butterfly – Using the “Camera Obscura” (Xbox/Wii)
This game was released as “Project Zero” in Japan and Europe, but was renamed “Fatal Frame” for the US market (hence the title above). It’s set in The Lost Village – an abandoned town where all of the residents disappeared after a failed attempt at an ancient ritual.
You play as one of the Amakura twins, Mio, who are visiting a special place from their childhood before it is lost to construction works. After your sister goes missing, you stumble upon the mysterious abandoned village. As you would expect, naturally you aren’t packing heat, so when you start to encounter restless spirits who turn violent, you really feel a sense of vulnerability. This is where the central game mechanic comes into play, and it’s quite ingenious.
You only have an item called the “Camera Obscura” with which to defend yourself effectively. It has the power to exorcise the spirits, but only when you take the optimum photograph of them. This often means you have to watch them sway or lunge towards you, holding your nerve until the last possible moment to take your shot. Certain symbols will light through the camera lens to signal when to take the most effective photo. It’s a truly chilling experience that you’re forced to relive over and over if you have any hope of beating the game.
Sadly, you’ll have to do a bit of searching for the original Xbox release if you wish to play it as the game was never brought to future iterations of the console. The game was, however, re-released for the Nintendo Wii back in 2012. Both versions are now pretty darn expensive and hard to find, but occasionally they do crop up on Amazon.
4. Alan Wake – Fighting off “The Taken” (Xbox 360/Xbox One)
I’m sure Alan Wake needs little introduction. It’s a fantastically original, well-made game that has left fans wanting a proper sequel for many years. There is now hope, as the titular character was confirmed to appear in Control, as part of the “Remedy Connective Universe”. I mean, it’s a start, right?
However, the original game sees you wandering Bright Falls looking for answers, which is rather ironic as it’s always pitch dark, giving off a strong sense of isolation for the player. Again, here it’s a clever gameplay mechanic that helps immerse you in what’s happening, and makes the game all that more scary.
“The Taken” are enemies you will encounter throughout the game which are puppets of the “Dark Presence”, a mysterious force that is determined to take you out. They include a whole range of possessed humans, animals and other beings which can literally appear from thin air. At first, they are invulnerable to any of your weapons thanks to a shroud of darkness which protects them. The only way to cut through this is with light, often from your torch, which then leaves them vulnerable to attack. You can also retreat to light spots to briefly escape the hordes as they gather.
When you first encounter “The Taken”, it’s a combination of the sound they make, the disorientation of where you are and their black, featureless silhouettes that makes it such a chilling moment. Definitely one to play with the lights out… if you dare.
3. Dead Space – Surviving the “Drag Tentacle” (Xbox 360/Xbox One)
In Dead Space we have a hugely successful franchise that not only has spawned several video games, but has also expanded into CGI films and comic books. It tells a story of a mining ship which is wiped out by an ancient alien species that has the ability to revive the dead and slaughter everything in its path.
It falls to engineer Isaac Clarke to try and return the alien artifact which has brought the parasite onto the mining ship – the very same vessel which he was sent to help. Quite unlucky, you might say. The game is filled with gruesome moments and jump scares aplenty, however there’s one that stands out from the crowd.
During the third chapter of the game, and seemingly without warning, a huge tentacle will whip around the corridor corner and attach itself to your ankle. It will then proceed to slowly drag you along the floor until eventually you’ll be pulled into its hidey hole and quite grotesquely get minced into pieces. The only way to stop it is to shoot at its fleshy yellow parts to weaken its grip until it eventually explodes.
It’s quite possibly just because it’s so unexpected, but this is a moment that will initially make you jump. It’s only after you (hopefully) survive, that the fear of what just has happened will set in, putting you right on edge as you play through the rest of the game.
2. Alien: Isolation – Encountering the Alien (Xbox 360/Xbox One)
Despite not making it to the number one spot on this list, this is hands down the biggest “jump scare” moment I have ever experienced in a game. And the beauty of this is that each player’s experience is unique, thanks to the way the game works. Alien: Isolation is a tribute to the original movie, seeing you play as Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. Whilst searching for the Nostromo’s flight recorder aboard the Sevastopol, it doesn’t take long to realise that there’s a familiar foe on board.
What doesn’t help is that the alien is fast and clever. You’re equipped with a motion tracker, which only makes things worse for your nerves. For example, as you’re hiding in a locker you can see the alien approaching on your screen and must remain perfectly still, or it will rip the door off and make short work of you. You can’t kill it either, so evasion is your only option.
To clarify, the moment I’m referring to is the first time you encounter the alien whilst in play. The beauty of this is that the alien’s movements are randomised, meaning you cannot learn its patterns to easily avoid it. So the first time you are wandering down a hallway and suddenly notice a spiny tail drop out of the air vent, you know it’s time to run and hide. It’s a genuinely surprising and terrifying moment, which when I first played the game made me absolutely crap myself.
1. Resident Evil 4 – Meeting a “Regenerator” (Xbox 360/Xbox One)
Resident Evil 4 is an all-time classic. I can’t count on both of my hands the amount of times I have played through this game – it’s been so many. Despite originally being released on the humble GameCube (I remember rushing out to buy it), it’s since been brought to pretty much every console since, including Xbox.
Leon’s search to rescue the President’s daughter, Ashley, takes him to a very creepy, derelict prison island. You stumble upon an abandoned laboratory and discover that some truly horrific experiments have been taking place. This is revealed through the classic Resident Evil combination of finding old memos detailing eye witness accounts combined with examining the scene itself.
Here, after studying some corpses in varying states of decay, you discover the keycard you are hunting for. As you turn and approach the door to leave, it slides open and a tall, lumbering, humanoid figure slowly approaches you whilst snorting seemingly uncontrollably. It’s a truly horrific site, but if you’ve read your memos then you’ll realise killing it will be possible but very difficult. This is because you need to shoot away the flesh until you can destroy it’s hotspots, but they can only be seen through your thermal rifle lens when you acquire it. In the absence of any explosive weapons, you’ll simply have to navigate the tight space and run for your life.
When the Regenerator goes to attack, it will stretch its mouth and teeth to bite at you, or lunge straight for you. It’s name becomes apparent when you blow parts of its body away, because if you don’t take out its hotspots it will simply grow those body parts back. Terrifying.
There are many moments to choose from, despite Resident Evil 4 mixing up the survival horror vibe with some action elements for good measure. However, it was still very, very capable of delivering those old school scares, as is the case here. I remember having to pause the game and psyche myself for what may be coming next. You will encounter these vile creatures many more times, but nothing quite matches the first time you see the seemingly invulnerable beast staggering towards you.
Now, if you managed to survive that lot, you’ve got nerves of steel. Do you think you’ve got an even more horrific gaming moment to share? Let us know below in the comments.