If you were ever wondering what real estate and horror games have in common, it's quite simple: location, location, location. A solid environment for the player to be frightened in is a crucial piece of the horror game puzzle, one of the many bits of machinery that allows it to function properly.
Where would we be without the Raccoon City Police Station in Resident Evil 2? Or Bart's Department Store in Condemned: Criminal Origins? Those games, and the ones we're about to talk about, all have creepy settings that they use expertly to their advantage.
These backdrops are special in their unique way, whether they be filled with monsters or a simple, unwavering tension that keeps the player on edge until the inevitable payoff. Some of them win the day with atmosphere and music, while others go for the gold and try to frighten you with gore.
That's the wonderful variety that horror offers in fiction, be it video games or otherwise. While the gap is closing fast between games and film, it's becoming easier for developers to create worlds and environments that feel like a living, breathing horror movie. And if you're a fan of the genre, you know all too well how truly terrifying some of these experiences can be.
So pack your flashlight, and let's get going with a look at 10 of gaming's most haunting locations.
The city of Yharnam, featured in From Software's marvelous PS4 exclusive Bloodborne, clearly draws heavy inspiration from Victorian London and 19th century European architecture. It gives the city a gloomy, weighty vibe that is perfect for this dark tale of a horrific plague. The streets are filled with fog, delicately crafted pieces of lore, and a sense of legitimate dread that few games can accomplish.
Yharnam is dripping with atmosphere, from the clever layout of the streets to the chilling thought of monsters at every turn. Bloodborne frightens you with what you see — and with what you don't see. There's something eerie about the feeling you get as you run through Yharnam's dimly lit streets, wondering just what creature is waiting for you around the corner.
9. The Sorrow's River
After Snake flings himself from a waterfall to escape his enemies in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, he finds himself in a never-ending river that is home to The Sorrow, one of the game's most memorable boss fights. But more than the fight itself, the Sorrow's river is a meaningful and brilliantly well-done area.
The colors are gray, the music is tense, and the Sorrow floats down the river as he beckons you ahead. Along the way, Snake is tormented by the spirits of all the enemies that you, the player, have killed up to this point. The river gives startling context to your experience, showing you the results of your actions, a poignant reflection on the entire game that preceded it.
8. Bottom of the well
Chances are that if you were a young child playing the Nintendo 64's magnum opus, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you were probably praying for the moment you could escape one of the game's most infamous mini-dungeons: the bottom of the well. The completion of this dungeon granted you the Lens of Truth, but, in all likelihood, you just wanted to get out of there.
It was not a place for children, filled with heart-stopping zombies known as ReDeads and a peculiar stain of blood that dripped across the floor. It's unlike any other dungeon in the Zelda franchise, equal parts horror and morbid curiosity about what deformed creature is waiting for you next. It was nightmare fuel for children of the '90s, while acting as a fond memory of being terrified as an adult.
You don't get to spend much time in Eli Vance's lab during Half-Life 2 because it's cut short by a Combine attack that sends you fleeing for your life. You're forced to enter an area that Alyx has some ominous vibes about: Ravenholm. You're alone, surrounded by enemies, and must escape this abandoned town before it's too late.
Truly one of gaming's most frightening locations, Ravenholm comes complete with hordes of headcrabs, zombies, and traps set by the maniacal Father Grigori, the madman who runs the show. Ravenholm enforces the concept of isolation, feeling more like a survival horror game than a first-person shooter. It's one of the many ways that Half-Life 2 reinvents itself throughout the course of the adventure.
6. Titan Station elementary school
Dead Space 2 certainly had a lot to live up to, especially considering the first entry in this franchise was well known for its attention to detail and spooky vibes. But more than any other setting in the first game, and even the entire franchise, Titan Station elementary school in Dead Space 2 is the ultimate experience of terror for the series.
Titan Elementary does a lot with very little, using the distressed crying of infants and splatters of blood that pepper the hallways and floors. The contrast is obvious, juxtaposing the colorful drawings with the palpable tension that permeates throughout the entire area. It's a masterclass in horror, utilizing every strength to maximum effort to create an environment that sticks with you long after the journey has ended.
5. Mount Massive Asylum
As you approach Mount Massive Asylum in the opening moments of Outlast, there's still time for you to turn off the game and just play a nice platformer. But for those brave enough to continue, you'll find yourself locked into its dark hallways with no chance of escape. The introduction is brilliant, scattering bits of lore right at the doorstep with scary precision.
One thing that makes the asylum so effective is how the developers will tease you with being able to escape, only to then brutally pull it away and let you sink deeper into the pit of despair. Not to mention that the entire building is filled with unhinged patients and a crazy doctor that is one of gaming's most charismatic bad guys, which means your journey through Mount Massive won't be without some lasting memories.
4. Spencer Mansion
It's the one that started it all, the innocent looking house that held many secrets and decades of in-game lore: the Spencer Mansion, made famous in Capcom's survival horror thriller Resident Evil. This house has a history, an ongoing story that existed long before you arrived, and it continued to tell frightening tales of bloodshed in your wake.
There's no way to forget the first time you entered the main hall, one that was soaked in atmosphere and deliberate design choices. Nothing is wasted in the design of the Spencer Mansion, each painting telling a story and each crevice leading you to a new discovery. And let's not forget that the mansion is infested with zombies and other baddies, all of them waiting to take a chunk out of your flesh.
3. Midwich Elementary School
If we haven't learned anything from Dead Space 2 yet, it should be made blatantly obvious by Silent Hill; abandoned schools are just plain creepy, and the Midwich Elementary School from the first game in the series is no different. You can't see anything, leaving you with just a flashlight and your trusty pistol to keep you safe.
Midwch Elementary is insanely unsettling, as the flashlight gives you just enough information to see in front of you but not enough to see the utterly horrifying Grey Children that stalk the hallways. Even though you have a flashlight, you still feel constantly blind, never quite sure of where to go and being locked into a constant state of panic.
BioShock begins with you escaping a downed plane into a lighthouse that allows you descend into the world of Rapture. The lighthouse pumps old jazz tunes into your ears, something which we've learned is always insanely creepy just on principle. But after you take the bathysphere to Rapture, you'll realize that there's more to this underwater utopia than the back of the box was willing to tell you.
It's an environment that feels completely real and credible, mainly thanks to the implementation of the Little Sisters and their protectors, the Big Daddies. They would simply roam the area, not attacking you unless provoked and delivering quite a challenge in the process. But because they were mostly harmless, they felt more real than ever — and more terrifying as a result.
Rapture's twisted history of betrayal and deception is just part of it, as the wonderfully realized world made everything within the city have context to it. It was a real place, and you were exploring this once-vibrant world gone wrong, which made it that much more effective.
1. The P.T. House
Although the game that would have been known as Silent Hills was cancelled, fans will always cherish the precious time they spent with the fully-interactive demo of the game, dubbed P.T. by new series producer Hideo Kojima and film director Guillermo del Toro. And within the relatively limited time you spend inside the house of P.T., it's likely that you'll come away needing something to bring you back to reality.
The P.T. house is wrong. It's just wrong. It creaks unnaturally, makes inhuman noises, and is presumably haunted by the spirit of a woman named Lisa, who was murdered in the home by her husband. Bits and pieces of backstory float throughout the house, all of it coming to a head as Lisa violently haunts your every step.
Each motion you take through the house is perfectly paced, all while Kojima and del Toro play the mad genius puppet masters, letting the house do the work for them. And let's just not talk about the talking fetus in the sink, alright? That scarred all of us for two lifetimes.
But that's only the beginning, as there are certainly more scary locations from games that we haven't talked about. So let it rip in the comments. Which video game location scared you the most? Was it one on our list, or do you have one we forgot about? Let's hear about it in the comments!