From Resident Evil To Dead Space, Which Generation Offered The Scariest Games?

People like me like to rattle on about how games were better in the old days and how modern games are all just bang bang bang but regardless of whether you think the original PlayStation is well past it or not, it’s fair to say it had some pretty scary games in its catalogue. Not that horror games started with Sony, of course – I distinctly remember Fright Night giving me some chills on the Amiga, and even the humble Spectrum managed to create a sense of suspense and terror now and again (Ant Attack did this brilliantly).

In the first of what I hope to be a fairly regular series of discussions on the site, though, I managed to prise our Peter away from his Halloween whiskey and cake to chat briefly about scary games from the PlayStation onwards. Looking back at the rudimentary graphics might make you think that there’s nothing in those giant pixels that could keep you behind the sofa, but that’s simply not the case – there were some crackers on the old PSone, and Peter agrees.

Peter: I think survival horror had a kind of golden age on the first PlayStation.

Alex: Examples?

Peter: Well, the first two Resident Evil games, Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark and some weird Japanese ones I played like something to do with a clock and I think one called Echo Night that might have been set on the Titanic, for starters.

Alex: Silent Hill was really, really scary. I remember having to turn down the sound and have Yoshi’s Story plinkering away in the background instead, the N64 providing an altogether more soothing audio soundtrack.

Most would happily cite the Resident Evil games as being major catalysts for the horror genre, the first two in particular were brilliantly executed and managed to create a tangible, inescapable sense of dread and fear. The lack of ammunition, limited save states and an enemy that in number were deadly all added up to being perfect Halloween fodder with a few mates. It hasn’t aged well, but still manages a better set of scares than the current Resi titles.

Alex: What about the PlayStation 2?

Peter: There were some great scary games on that, too, but they were mostly continuations of the series that were established on the PS1. I remember looking for a game that might have been called Ruling Rose too but could never get it. It might have been a Japanese game that never got released here.

Alex: This seems to have been a running theme.

Peter: I don’t know, I just remember seeing it in a magazine and thinking it would be like Resident Evil and Silent Hill then hunting for it for weeks, back when we still had independent games shops that you had to phone up or drive to.

Silent Hill 2 was great, yes, but the best last generation was probably Project Zero, a game that drew heavily on Japanese horror traditions and replaced weaponry with a camera. It was purely about ghosts rather than zombies, and was all the more scary to play as a result – the twisted visages of the enemies and the fact that you were largely defenceless meant that just playing the game was an exercise in real discipline.

Forbidden Siren, too, was a powerful game.

Peter: I think this generation has missed the scares to a great extent.

Alex: There’s been Dead Space…

Peter: Sure, but even that got less “survival horror” in its second outing and the third looks potentially more like Gears of War than Resident Evil. There was another Siren game but I didn’t hear much good about that so never bothered with it.

Alex: It was really smart, actually, and an early episodic title that was probably ahead of its game.

Peter: I suppose we got an upscaled release of Resident Evil 4, that had a few scares in it but was started that series’ move towards more action too and Resident Evil 5 wasn’t even mildly unsettling.

Alex: It’s been all about the zombies this gen, though, hasn’t it?

Peter: Yeah. Dead Island got a kind of cult following but nothing about it ever appealed to me and I didn’t find it scary at all. It was a bit gruesome, I suppose, does that scare some people? I think I need it to be a little bit psychological to make me scared and with open worlds and controllable camera angles, I guess that’s hard to do.

There were others, of course. There’s the Undead Nightmare spin off from Red Dead Redemption and, in some senses of the definition, the Zombie mode on Treyarch’s Call of Duty offerings. But publishers have been playing it safer this gen, and apart from a glut of PSN-based zombie shooters, there hasn’t really been a game that’s been as powerful as the likes of the early Resident Evil games, or the first couple of (brilliant) Silent Hill games.

Sony’s Until Dawn might change all that, of course, but that’s still to be released.

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25 Comments

  1. I’d say the original Playstation had by far the scariest games though I will confess that part of that is probably attributable to my tender age at the time and being more easily frightened.

    I’ve never felt more fear through tension than with Resident Evil. An unforgettable experience.

    I will also say that the Gamecube’s Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a fantastic and highly unsettling game. Unique for a Nintendo platform.

    This generation? The underrated (in my opinion) and genuinely tense Alan Wake. One of the 360’s best exclusives.

    Good read, guys.

    • I’m glad you mentioned Eternal Darkness as that was one game that really messed with my head. Not so much scary but definitely creepy. As mentioned in the article the scariest games I played were Resi Evil thanks to the save and ammo limitations and Silent Hill due to the radio and the downright creepy areas and enemies.

      For me, there has to be a real sense of loss of progress to make a game scary and suspenseful. If dying does not inconvenience you in any real way then why would you care if you die? I feel modern games have lost this sense of suspense even with great games. Borderlands 2. You die, you lose a paltry amount of money. . Dishonoured, you die, it loads the auto save from a few minutes ago. Demons souls was great at making this seem modern and fresh. Dying would potentially make a lot of game time seem like a waste if you didn’t have the right mindset for it.

      Another thing that is key is the constant sense of impending doom. Resident evil managed it perfectly, it wasn’t always about the time the game jumped out at you, it was about the times that it didn’t. FEAR seemed scary at the beginning then I realised the times the girl appeared couldn’t kill you so that completely ruined the game for me.

      So for me, the old games win out. Having said that, nowadays developers have their work cut out trying to thing of something we haven’t seen before because surely it is the fact that something happens for the first time in an unexpected way that makes us truly surprised and scared?

  2. Resident Evil 1, Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Fatal Frame (Project Zero), Silent Hill 2.. Eternal Darkness. Condemened,Siren Blood Curse, Dead space 1 just to name a few. Now all good franchises have been turned into action games. There is no feeling of survival anymore just point and shoot.. Possibly the most recent to get my pulse racing is amnesia: dark descent on pc.

    • I remember trying Clocktower and while it was tense, all I really remember is the horrible stories behind each episode(?). That little girl in particular.

  3. Project Zero was terrifying. But my all time scariest games would have to go to Silent Hill. The second one in particular was the worst. The atmosphere in that game was just done so well. Even if i play it now, with the sound turned up really loud, i will scream. It’s just too damn scary.

    I fell out with the Resi series as it moved away from the horror, and became more about the survival aspect. My favourite Resi was 2, and it too had parts whereby you would be absoloutly terrified.

    But Silent Hill, wins hands down. The original ones anyway. So, i’m tied between PS1 and PS2.

    I have yet to play a truly terrifying game on the PS3.

  4. I should probably go back and play all these scary games that I’ve missed… as, well… the only scary game I’ve played is Dead Space (2 I didn’t find scary at all really… not like the first), well that, and Slender. I remember my older brother playing some of the games mentioned, and I remember him being scared s***less, on more than one occasion I can recall some terrified noises coming from his room.

  5. PS1 has it all the way. PS2 had some good ideas of it’s own but this gen just isn’t scary. There are some really hyped up games that were plain old not scary (I’m looking at you Dead Space).

  6. On PS3 it’s been pretty much Siren Blood Curse.

    First Dead Space wasn’t very scary at all compared to it and the others? Pah.

    But that’s been it for good horrors really. Poor.

  7. define scary?
    this gen… medal of honor poor fighter….
    scary thing is that i parted with £30.00 quid only to be served with an utter box of plop..other than that seriously how the fek can a bunch of pixels and renders be scary?
    its not real………

  8. I remember inviting a prospective partner around, PS1 days, playing Dino Crisis & literally launching myself several feet backwards when the T-Rex battered thru the wall. OMG.

    • oh but, the original Alien game on C64 & no doubt Spectrum, you couldn’t actually see what was happening but all you’d here was the “ping… ping… pi..pi..p.p..p..p” of the Alien sensor – feeeeeeeck!

      • Funnily enough I posted a reply to another feature mentioning Alien on the spectrum, and how I shat meself playing it

      • Nice one blast – it was a great game!

        Alien (both film & game) were about what you couldn’t see as opposed to see. Same thing that’s happened to (typically) Hollywood films – it’s what you don’t see that counts, stop wasting money on digital effects that aren’t required.

      • yeeah! right there with you on both

  9. For me, the first Resident Evil was king (just that voice in the title screen!) until Silent Hill came, in the then new DualShock era. The fact that the controller vibrated, mixed with all that darkness and the radio hissing when monsters approached… yeah, those where the good old days.
    Only Dead Space came close to remind me how good it is to be spooked by a game, although sometimes the “being afraid” of something get’s mixed up with “boy there are a lot of monsters on screen right now”, with a nice score on the background :)

  10. *Puts on a low gruff voice* RESIDENT EVIL
    Its the the best original scariest game for me. Its all about Survival the fear of running low on ammo and not knowing what lurks behind the door. 2nd will have to be Dead Space. Just magnificent. Love the sounds in Space and the lights/shadow effects.
    3rd there’s F.E.A.R some jumpy scenes throughout the game.
    On Xbox360 I played Condemned (1 and 2) freaky scenes.
    But overall Resident Evil is the King of Horror. Shame that this generation is mainly action shoot ’em up and Dead Space 3 will join amongst them!
    Really going to miss these games.

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