Horror games have been around for decades, even dating back to the days of Infocom’s text adventure The Lurking Horror from 1987. As opposed to games like Ghosts ‘N Goblins or Castlevania that are merely “horror-themed,” true horror games aim to genuinely frighten their players, usually with a vivid atmosphere and a sense of impending danger.
But some games manage to be scary, or at least creepy, without overtly being part of the horror genre. So, I thought I would take a look back at a few non-horror games that I’ve played that managed to put me on edge and make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Ecco the Dolphin
In Sega’s Ecco the Dolphin, you of course play as Ecco, a dolphin who searches the world’s oceans, travels through time, and even ventures into outer space to rescue his family from alien invaders known as the Vortex.
The entire game takes place underwater, and while I’m not afraid of the water, I’ve always found submerged areas in games to be very unsettling. The underwater is dark, it inhibits your movement, there’s no air, and it leaves me feeling really vulnerable. Not to mention, there are often some pretty creepy things lurking around down there.
So, having an entire game built around this is a little intimidating. It can be very beautiful and serene, but when I come across those giant octopi, or get chased by alarmingly fast spider crabs, I get a little tense. I even freaked out a bit the first time I came across Big Blue, a large blue whale trapped under an arctic ice berg, even though he’s a friendly character! And I won’t even get into the Vortex aliens.
It’s a little weird to include Cyan World’s Myst in this article, because I would also consider it a very relaxing game to play. It’s a point-and-click adventure in which you wander through several surrealistic areas (called “ages”), solve puzzles, and piece together the story. There’s never any actual danger, and much of the environments are quite beautiful and atmospheric.
But it’s also very isolated and lonely, and it’s easy to let your imagination run wild. It makes me feel a little paranoid, like someone is watching me. After all, there’s evidence everywhere that there used to be other people around, but where did they go?
It’s even worse in the sequel, Riven, where the few times you do encounter other people, it’s quite startling! But then, it’s that atmosphere that makes these games so appealing. It’s funny how something unsettling compels you to investigate it further.
The Legend of Zelda (series)
People are so used to thinking of Nintendo as family friendly, or being for kids, that it’s surprising how much they actually get away with in some of their games. The Zelda series was initially inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto’s childhood memories of going hiking and discovering things like caves, and the emotions he felt as he did so. The games seem aimed at recreating those feelings.
In particular, Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess manage to be the darkest and creepiest the series has seen yet, but even The Wind Waker can be eerie. The mix of foreboding exploration and downright bizarre enemies (and even some friendly characters) are made all the more unusual by the strange humor they’re tinged with. I would even go so far as to say that parts of Twilight Princess have an atmosphere not unlike that in Resident Evil 4.
It’s that eeriness that I think often gets overlooked with the Zelda series, but it’s a major part of its personality. And if you still don’t think they can be scary, then I have only one word for you: Redeads.