TA Top Five: Scariest Moments

By Mark Delaney, 5 years ago
Halloween is right around the corner, and with that comes an abundance of horror movies on television, creepy lawn decor, and an excuse to leave the cobwebs in place around the house. The Xbox 360's scariest moment might be the first few years of Red Ring troubles, but if we're to forgive Microsoft for that and focus on the software, what would some of the scariest moments in gaming be from this generation? We compiled a list of some of the most fear-inducing, pants-soiling, sleeping-with-the-lights-on moments from the 360's admittedly sparse horror catalog. Then again, modern horror cinema is pretty lacking too, so if you're looking to experience some real scares, start with these games below. As usual, if what you fear the most are spoilers, you may not want to peek behind this door.

Honorable Mention: Silent Hill 2/3

We didn't think it was fair to include an HD re-release in this list, but it deserves mentioning that the contents of the Silent Hill HD Collection offer two of the scariest games of all-time, including the near-consensus number 1, Silent Hill 2. It's very difficult to pick a singular moment from these games as examples because the entirety of both of them possess an eeriness that we just really don't see in games anymore. Somewhat ironically due in part to their clunkiness and difficulty of controls, the pair of games ensured you felt nearly powerless in every single encounter with the twisted residents of the ghost town blanketed by fog. Some of the games listed below have continued Silent Hill's legacy of endless dread and haunting atmosphere, but if you've played these classics, you'll agree, they just don't make them like they used to.

5. Dead Rising (Xbox 360) - Limping to the save points

This first scare isn't so much a deliberate, tension build-up of events as it is just a matter of circumstance created by the game's poor saving system. Dead Rising is a lighthearted take on the zombie apocalypse, set in a mall where pretty much everything is either a weapon or source of food. The scariest part is how limited your save opportunities are. The bathrooms of the Willamette Mall are the sole save points and if you're low on food (health pick-ups), the limping rush back to a bathroom can end up spelling doom for your progress. Lose all your health and you can either start the game over with your level progress intact or load your last save, which for many people, was hours and hours of story progress ago. The world was colorful and the characters were often goofy. Even the zombies weren't terrifying in the least, not on the surface anyway, but the quantity of them between you, half-dead, and you, preserving your progress, was a scary feat to overcome.


4. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 - WITCH!

Generally considered one of the best co-op games you can get your hands on, Left 4 Dead is similar to Dead Rising in that user-created situations were what caused the tension here. Traversing the many different landscapes with up to three friends was consistently challenging thanks to Valve's AI Director that allowed the enemy spawning to vary every time you played. The location of common infected changed, as did the location of weapons, health, and of course the special infected. The most threatening of these specials is arguably the Witch, a crying, pale banshee of an enemy that, when startled, was the surest way to ruin everything your group had accomplished to that point. While the Tank provided a tense run-and-gun scenario, the Witch demanded a change of pace. The sounds of her wail stops gamers in their tracks and will have you playing with flashlights off so as not to startle her. If you're able to sneak past her, you can exhale at last, but in the event she does spot you, you might as well accept your fate, especially on higher difficulties where her slashing can result in an instant death.


3. Condemned: Criminal Origins - Your first encounter

Condemned: Criminal Origins was an early title in the history of Xbox 360 and, aesthetically, hasn't aged too well since then. For that reason, it's sometimes forgotten among gamers who aren't avid horror fans. But the scares in Monolith's first-person survival-horror stand strong in comparison to the best of the generation. Using the player's flashlight as the only source of visibility through much of the game, your character, a forensic detective, finds himself caught up with crazies wielding as many psychological ailments as they have melee weapons. As one of the first next-gen games to arrive for early adopters, the game caused legitimate fear in players, especially early on when the hide-and-seek tactics of your enemies were still new. They'd use diversions to lure you one way, then attack from somewhere else. You could never see much, your health was never abundant even when full, and your only defense was often a scrap pulled from your environment, like a pipe or 2x4, all of which degraded quickly. The sign of a great survival-horror is a game that does not empower the player, but instead gives us limited resources and terrible odds and demands we find a way to get out breathing. Condemned was the first game on the Xbox 360 to embody this unforgiving spirit of the genre.


2. Dead Space 2 - The Ubermorph

Dead Space 1 is arguably the best survival-horror game on the console. It's lack of a HUD and effective use of audio/visual cues to build tension are some of the best scene-setters in the genre for sure, but its sequel is home to one of the scariest moments in the series. Near the end of the game, Isaac is making his way through a laboratory to destroy yet another Marker. It's there where he first meets and is subsequently reintroduced over and over to the Ubermorph, a forever-regenerating monster that is all too persistent. Severing the limbs like Isaac is used to only slows down this creature, and before you can catch your breath, it'll be growing back its arms, legs, and even its head. Room to room, it'll remain on your tail even when you're overwhelmed with plenty of other necromorphs too. Most of the series to that point had players cautiously moving past every shadow and every air vent. This sequence demands the exact opposite, having Isaac haphazardly sprint through the enormous lab, destroying only what stands in his path to escape before the Ubermorph can catch up again.

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1. Condemned: Criminal Origins - Mannequins, man

For those of you who prefer your horror to come in of the form slow tension rather than gory deaths, Condemned is the surest bet of keeping you up at night. Fans debate which is better, the original or the sequel, but one of the best moments of the two comes in Criminal Origins when your character can't help but feel like he's... being followed? What the series lacks in polish it makes up for ten-fold in tense moments down dark corridors with nothing but a flickering flashlight and the sound of your own heavy breath. The famous mannequin scene is a perfect example of the uneasiness you'll feel if you play these games alone at night. Check out the video below unless you'd prefer to experience it firsthand on your own.

Now that you're in the spirit of Halloween, share with us some of your favorite terrifying moments in games.

The TA Team will be bringing you The TA Top Five every Sunday until we run out of coolness to debate and discuss. If you have an idea for a Top Five you'd like us to do, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.