We've just updated our list of best horror games in time for Halloween, which is handy if you're looking for spooks today. Sometimes, though, the scariest moments in games don't come from the horror genre, emerging from much stranger places instead. Below, you'll find a rundown of the games we didn't expect to find scary, but did anyway, because we are so very afraid. Expect a mix of existential dread, dolphins, truck driving, vampirism, and lost Kerbals.
American Truck Simulator
In games, 'night' usually just means the sky turns a darker shade of blue. But in American Truck Simulator the desert roads are plunged into total darkness. Highways are well lit, but the backroads of Arizona and Nevada are dark and isolated, and all you can see is the glow of your headlights in front of you. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes when I'm out there in the wilderness, surrounded by that black void, I feel a bit on edge. I remember during one particularly long haul being genuinely scared by a tumbleweed rolling suddenly across the road. Who knew a truck simulator could be so unnerving.—Andy Kelly
On the surface this philosophical adventure... thing seems quite harmlessly weird. You roam around strange, colourful environments inhabiting various forms—a beetle, a tree, a molecule, a planet—and listen to serene clips of philosopher Alan Watts talking about the nature of existence. But then you start getting into conversations with the things around you and things get dark. "The world will end in the year you die," a blade of grass told me, filling me with existential dread. “This is Hell,” said a milk carton. “Real actual Hell.” Then a loaf of bread told me it was depressed. It's just too much.—Andy Kelly
I rarely venture into those systems in EVE Online where other players can attack you without immediate repercussions from the space cops, but the first time I did it was utterly terrifying. A friend and I went to a lowsec asteroid belt to mine some ore, aware that these are often the hunting grounds of players looking for clueless people to rob. And, of course, after about ten minutes of mining someone in a much bigger ship warped in and started shooting at us. The ensuing panicky flight back to a safer system had my heart racing more than any horror game. I haven’t returned to lowsec since, and I never will.—Andy Kelly
Ecco the Dolphin
When I was a kid, my parents took me to a local game shop where you could try the second-hand games before buying. I gave Altered Beast a go, and my dad said it was too adult for me, so I had to pick something else. What could be terrifying about a kiddie dolphin game, though? I played for two minutes and it seemed fine.
When I was a kid, my parents took me to a local game shop where you could try the pre-owned games before buying. I gave Altered Beast a go, and my dad said it was too adult for me (I was eight or nine), so I had to pick something else. What could be terrifying about a kiddie dolphin game, though? I played for two minutes and it seemed fine.
That's how I ended up with Ecco, a deeply scarring and overly difficult game that features killer sharks, strangely-animated dinosaurs, creepy octopuses and a hellish finale against a disembodied alien head that rattles when you hit it with a sonar blast (see above). And don't get me started on the opening moments, where the contents of the ocean are sucked into strobe light-flashing sky.—Samuel Roberts
There's an enemy in the third level of Dark Forces that I absolutely despise: the Dianoga, Star Wars' squid aliens of A New Hope fame, and this is an entire level of being ambushed by them in a dark sewer. In the days before we had the internet, my dad got stuck on this level for years and years. It's such a complicated environment to unpick—having to light the place up with laser fire, only to see a squid monster emerge out of brown goop (space poop, I guess), is surprisingly disturbing. I finally beat the level four years ago, and I'm never going back.—Samuel Roberts
Final Fantasy 8
Ordinarily, the only thing that's scary about Final Fantasy games is the occasional nightmare laughing scene. In Final Fantasy 8's secret Deep Sea Research Center, though, the game attempts to go for more of a mysterious horror vibe. You go deeper and deeper into this abandoned facility, and it culminates in a fight first with the dragon Bahamut, then with Ultima Weapon, one of the hardest bosses in the game (it's still not that tough to kill, though, admittedly). Check out the opening minute above. It's some spooky, 2001-style weirdness.
Another section earlier in the game has you entering a tomb where a student died as his friends flee the place, which is similarly unsettling.—Samuel Roberts
Kerbal Space Program
It’s all fun and games when my rockets are exploding on take off or spiralling into the ocean, but the moment I leave the atmosphere and I’m suddenly lost in the vastness of space I feel a cold dread. It’s too quiet up there, and I have the feeling that the slightest error will lead to unrecoverable disaster. Exploding seems fine, I’m more terrified of the idea of my rocket veering off into the darkest corners of the universe with my Kerbals inside, dying slowly in perhaps the loneliest way possible.—Tom Senior
The Battlefield 3 beta
I find it unsettling whenever this happens in a game, but falling through the floor in Battlefield 3’s beta was particularly disturbing because I could still hear the sounds of other players having fun above me even as I sank into the grey blank underworld. If I died and became a ghost I imagine it would be a bit like this. I can see the warped geometry of the underside of the level, I can see the players, but I can never interact with anyone. Falling through the level reveals the fakery of virtual scenery in a way that can make the whole endeavour of building these fake places seem a bit sad. Ho hum.—Tom Senior
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
About a week into playing Oblivion, I woke up in a roadside inn to find my skin unusually pale and my face unusually haggard. Sunlight hurt my eyes, and I became stronger when night fell. In my sleep, it turns out, I'd been bitten by a vampire, and I had absolutely no idea what to do about it. After awhile I stumbled upon a quest that helped me cure my vampirism, but for awhile I was venturing in completely unknown territory, and when I finally managed to get rid of my curse, I remember it seemed like a one-off solution, a quest I couldn't replicate if I was bitten again. I did not want that, after spending full days only venturing out at night, and sneaking up on people to feed on their blood. So a few weeks later, when I stumbled into a cave filled with an entire band of high-level, outlaw vampires, well, I was scared shitless. I spent the entire fight terrified one of them would bite me and turn me into a vampire again, so I kept running backwards, flinging fireball spells at them until I eventually took them all down. Never again, vampires. Never again.—Wes Fenlon
Final Fantasy 15
You'd think the only thing scary in a game about four bros going on a prolonged car ride together would be the smell of their collective BO, but Final Fantasy 15 has some surprisingly spooky encounters tucked into its out of the way dungeons. Early on, for example, Noctis and friends enter an abandoned mine where lights flicker on and off and doors slam shut unexpectedly. It's all rather cliche, but FF15 manages to sell the tension of that moment surprisingly well—or that's just how I'm choosing to justify how often these dungeon crawls scared the shit out of me. Just about every single one of them had moments where I outright jumped in surprise when a group of enemies ambushed my party. It was all just a little too tense and atmospheric for me. More than once, I had to pause before the entrance of a dungeon and take a deep breath and remind myself that, uh, Final Fantasy 15 isn't a horror game.—Steven Messner