Spooky Non-Horror Video Games
By: Elijah Moon Blackwell
A genre is just a category. It is used for marketing, storefronts and general information. It’s not always set in stone or accurate.
Sometimes video games that aren’t classified as horror can be absolutely terrifying. Here are a few games that spooked me despite the lack of a horror classification.
Metroid Prime – 2002 – GameCube
Isolation is a classic horror trope. Sometimes it’s all you need to set a spooky atmosphere. Being alone in an unfamiliar or otherworldly place is enough to raise a heart rate.
In Metroid Prime you play as the franchise protagonist Samus. The game starts with her responding to a distress call in space from a vessel ran by space pirates. Not to spoil anything, but eventually Samus ends up on the planet Tallon IV.
The introduction of the game takes place on the vessel, but the rest is spent on this planet. There’s creatures, dark cavernous areas and impactful sound design. I think the ambient music mixed with the sounds the creatures make is what scared me so much back then. Now-a-days I love Metroid Prime for it’s creepy appearance. While it doesn’t scare adult me as much as it did kid me, I still get goosebumps when entering certain locations.
What propels Metroid Prime into a horror tone is the perspective. Unlike the previous 2D sidescrolling games, Metroid Prime is played in first person. Seeing everything through Samus’s eyes adds immersion to the experience. Encounters are that much more intense due to them being right in your face.
Metroid Prime is a fantastic game everyone should play.
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – 2000 – Nintendo 64
Impending doom, if conveyed correctly, can be a dreadful feeling. Majora’s Mask is all about an apocalyptic event that’s coming. What’s worse is that everyone in the game knows it’s coming.
Almost every character in the game is depressed.
In addition to the looming disaster, the game itself is terrifying. An example is the first boss, Odolwa. His chants are unsettling and the tense music really elevates the encounter.
There are so many examples of terror I can give but I really don’t want to spoil it. It’s a game with a lot of weird happenings that’s best experienced on your own. So if you haven’t played Majora’s Mask before, this is the perfect month to do so.
Majora’s Mask did get a special edition of sorts for the 3DS; however, that version has some changes. I’d suggest sticking with the Nintendo 64 version if possible.
Max Payne – 2001 – Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Mac OS X
I don’t know if this third person shooter is scary or just depressing. When am I ever going to mention Max Payne again? So, here it has a home.
I’m not a huge Max Payne fan; in fact, I didn’t play the first game until very recently. It’s fun, and it’s got slow-mo shooting action.
Kinda just put this here to give credit to a beloved game that I forget exists. There was a Game Boy Advance version, but it’s obviously not the same game.
Thief: the Dark Project – 1998 – Windows
Stealth games already have a higher degree of intensity than most genres. Usually you are outnumbered and outgunned, so being spotted by the enemy is enough to raise heart rates.
Thief takes it a step further by having dark and creepy levels. Thief takes place in a fantasy world that I can only describe as Victorian steampunk. Since you are playing as a thief, like the title suggests, the levels take place at night. It’s hard to explain, but the environments are just super unsettling. The soundtrack makes heavy use of ominous droning. The steampunk technology sprinkled about the maps just add to the industrial soundscape. Then you got the terrifying sounds of approaching footsteps.
You are outnumbered and only have a few combatant weapons to your disposal. Getting caught is almost certain death.
It’s such an atmospheric game. I highly recommend Thief to anyone who likes stealth games.
SWAT 4 – 2005 – Windows
It’s weird how creepy SWAT 4’s tone is. Almost every level is at night, and usually takes place at some of the most horror movie looking locations.
This is a vast contrast from SWAT 3, where the conflicts were happening in normal areas.
SWAT 4 has a bit of a reputation for having some terrifying sequences. Not to spoil too much, but there is a Buffalo Bill (character from Silence of the Lambs) like suspect you have to detain. His house is absolutely nightmare fuel. The developers knew what they were doing because the soundtrack is eerie or just straight absent.
If you’ve ever seen the 1995 movie Seven then you know exactly what these levels look like. Derelict, abandoned and spooky.
It’s a wild tone for a law enforcement game, though I applaud the developers because it was the best way to stand out from its predecessor.
I did do a video review for this game a long time ago, so check it out if you’re interested in hearing more about it.
King’s Field – 1995 – PlayStation 1
I’m mainly referring to the whole series, but you should start with the first game. Well, I say first game, but there’s something to clear up.
The first King’s Field game was only released in Japan. In the West, King’s Field II was changed to King’s Field to avoid confusion. That way no one outside of Japan would be wondering where the first game is; it’s kind of a mess but I had to clear that up to save myself a few emails.
FromSoftware developed King’s Field, and this is way before their 2011 ultra hit Dark Souls. It’s a first person RPG that takes place in a medieval fantasy world full of interesting creatures. The soundtrack is stellar. The gameplay, however, is really outdated and can be a struggle for the unaccustomed. Even at the time the game was considered extremely difficult.
What puts it on this list is the graphics and tone. Since this is a 1994 PS1 game, the 3D graphics are very crude. For me, this period of early 3D is scary because you can’t fully tell what everything is. When you know that it’s a skeleton you are looking at, the graphics make it look more dreary and otherworldly.
King’s Field isn’t listed as a horror, but it and a similar FromSoftware series Shadow Tower have some really spooky elements. From giant Venus Flytrap looking things to sentient tree things, King’s Field is very unsettling. Each monster growls and groans. They scream as they die. Some can even be heard while they move, making it tense for the player exploring dungeons.
On top of all this, the characters are all faceless. When you talk to them they slowly turn their heads to look at you. Once done they slowly return to the position you found them in.
If you can get past the severely antiquated controls and the steep difficulty curve, the entire King’s Field and Shadow Tower series is a fantastic series of games worth exploring.
The Division – 2016 – Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
This is another game that isn’t really scary, but the moody atmosphere and story make me want to mention it. Society collapses and you are part of an organization that’s trying to save what’s left.
It’s an MMO but one that can be played by yourself. It’s a third person shooter with some small RPG elements. It came out during the height of RPG looter-shooter multiplayer games like Destiny.
The spooky parts come from the dark sections of the maps and encountering a large number of hostile forces.
It’s kind of like Max Payne I’m not sure if I’d ever mention this again, so it has a home here. I personally love the first The Division game. I’ll admit that the Darkzone is definitely an area that generates nightmare fuel but for different reasons. Trying to make it to the exfiltration zone with a backpack full of loot is enough to make a heart race.
It’s a fun game and it does go cheap during holidays.
Far Cry 5 – 2018 – Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Cults are scary. That’s all there is to it. Far Cry has had some horror themes in the past (such as the first game having literal mutants), but 5 kicks it up a bit. The entire map is being controlled by violent zealots and you have to stop them. They are physically brutal and psychologically disturbing.
Each region is home to a different cult leader. The scariest is Faith. She gets the populace hooked on a hallucinogenic drug that makes them essentially zombies. You begin to have some hallucinations at the most inconvenient times.
You’ll be sneaking about in the woods approaching a base to attack and you’ll see Faith dancing nearby only to find out that it’s just a vision.
Faith is creepy.
Far Cry 5 is one of my least favorite games in the franchise. However, when October rolls around I give Faith a visit just to remember how spooky the game can be.
Spec Ops: The Line – 2012 – Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The last game on this list is horrific in a very different way. Most military shooters romanticize war or invoke some kind of patriotism. Some games try to give a “war is Hell” kind of tone. Spec Ops: The Line is one of the few anti-war ones. On top of this, it’s also a psychological thriller with many twists and turns.
It’s a wild game with a plot I don’t want to spoil.
The Line is a third person shooter. There are no RPG elements or gun customization or anything like that. It’s pretty basic in terms of gameplay. The best part about the game is the plot.
It generated some controversy at the time for a specific moment during the plot. So I will give somewhat of a content warning now, as this game explores war crimes and PTSD.
It’s a simple shooter with an amazing story line. This game deserves more attention.
That’s all the games I got to recommend this year! I’m not a big horror game person so I have to be somewhat lenient with my criteria. However, I still feel that these games can scare some of you (even if it’s just a little bit).
Have a happy, spooky Halloween. Be safe, eat candy till you vomit and, most importantly, play something a little scary.