Plot-twists, instant deaths and naked missions

What has been the event within a video game that has shocked you the most and left you reeling? Maybe it was a major plot-twist, the death of one of your favourite characters or a gameplay element that seemed to come out of nowhere.

This is the subject of the latest EXP Share, a monthly collaboration hosted by DanamesX over at Tales from the Backlog to encourage everyone in the community to share their experiences. Here’s the question: “Share a story where an event in a game, television show, movie or book left you in shock and your reaction to it.” I always turn to video games when I have free time so most of the following anecdotes are to do with gaming, but I’ve thrown in a couple about other media for a bit of fun.

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. If you haven’t yet experienced the game, television show or book, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Video game: Final Fantasy XIII

As part of last year’s game-swap series, I was challenged to play this title by Ellen from Ace Asunder back in September. I’ve never been a fan of turn-based combat so I knew it was going to be difficult for me but I didn’t realise the sheer frustration I’d feel with the last boss. After its health drops below 80%, there’s a possibility it could use its Instant Death power – and getting unfairly hit by this several times at 03:00 in the morning meant I was ready to rage. I’m not sure I’ll ever pick up another Final Fantasy game.

Video game: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The game-swap before the one in the paragraph was with Athena from AmbiGaming and she challenged me to complete my first Metal Gear Solid title. I now have a lot of thoughts about the series in general, especially its depiction of women, but the strangest moment was when Raiden was captured and stripped naked. Seeing the protagonist perform attacks which had him doing somersault kicks – while firmly holding his crotch to keep his dignity intact – was perhaps one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in a game.

Video game: SOMA

This was a release which left me thinking about its story long after I played it in September 2018. I think it’s very cleverly written: all the clues about what’s going to happen at its conclusion are there all along but it’s so easy to overlook them and focus on your pursuit for escape. The questions it asks the player, such as what it really means to be human and how you would feel if you found out you were a copy of yourself, are far scarier than any monster hiding in the dark corridors of PATHOS-II.

Video game: The Eyes of Ara

My other-half and I decided to pick up this title after completing Quern – Undying Thoughts and being in the mood for another similar game. It started off well and we enjoyed the puzzles-within-puzzles, even if we weren’t overly concerned about finding all the various collectibles. That was until we reached the final section and raged when we realised the blue orbs weren’t optional. A note for developers: never trick your players into believing that an object is a collectible when it’s not, because it’s really not fun.

Television show: Behind Her Eyes

It’s rare that Pete and I watch television, but this was a mini-series we watched last month after finding ourselves with a free evening and picking the first thing that came up on Netflix. Although he wasn’t overly keen on the thriller storyline which suddenly turned supernatural, I really enjoyed it and loved the twist at the end. My allegiance kept switching between David and Adele all the way through because I couldn’t work out who the real villain was; so Rob’s body-switch and then Louise’s subsequent death caught me completely off-guard.

Book: Pet Sematary

I used to read a lot of horror novels when I was far too young for them and Pet Sematary by Stephen King will always be the one I remember the most. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared by a book since and I can still recall the feeling of clammy palms while forcing myself to turn the pages. Being rather attached to my pet at the time, I was both fascinated and horrified about what happened to Church in the story, and the thought of a zombie-cat lurking around the house was terrifying.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for another interesting subject this month! If you fancy joining in with March’s EXP Share, you have another week until the deadline and can find all the details in this post.

Scary games: only kidding

Imagine you were playing a horror game and suddenly, a child walks into the room and asks what’s happening in the story. You hit the pause button and consider your answer. How would you explain it you them without lying, but without frightening the hell out of them either?

This was posed to bloggers by the awesome Quietschisto from RNG as part of his Sunshine Blogger Award nominations at the end of September (sorry for taking so long to respond). It’s just the sort of question that suits me because I’m happy to watch someone else play a horror but I’m too easily scared to be able to do so myself. I’ve got some experience in this area too: when my stepson was seven-years old, he walked in on us playing BioShock and it gave him nightmares for a week.

Because I don’t search out titles from the genre regularly, most of those included on today’s list are releases my other-half completed while I was sat next to him on the sofa, bravely peeking out from behind a cushion. Let’s see how well I do at trying to describe their narratives in a way which would make sense to a child – and pretend we’d actually realised Ethan was standing in the doorway and had been quicker to press the pause button during that BioShock incident (I still feel bad).

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. So if you haven’t yet played the games listed and intend to at some point, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Alien: Isolation

A lady goes looking for her mummy after she went missing on a space station. She flies all the way up to the stars and there’s a big, bad alien waiting for her! She tries to get it off the space station but the robot workers there turn nasty and want to stop her. Then she finds out that an evil company wants to buy the alien and its babies, but there’s a big explosion when she gets into a fight with one of their people. She tries to escape on a smaller spaceship but one of the aliens makes it out with her so she has to push them both out into space! Someone eventually finds the lady and she makes it back home, but she doesn’t find her missing mummy. So it’s actually a very sad story.

Blair Witch

A man who used to be a policeman goes into the forest with his brave dog Bullet to search for a missing boy. He feels very guilty because he shot the boy’s brother when he was trying to steal something, so the man wants to find the boy more than anything in the world. But he can hear things whispering in the trees and so he gets very scared, then monsters made from leaves appear and the witch makes him go down into the basement of her old house. Bullet tries to stop him because he’s such a good boy, and what happens to the man depends on what he does. But all you need to know is that the brave dog doesn’t get hurt and he makes it home, where his warm basket and plenty of treats are waiting.

Project Zero

A girl has to go to an abandoned mansion after her brother goes missing there. So she explores all the rooms and finds out that someone has cast a spell to keep horrible ghosts from another world from coming into our world. But the spell went wrong and now all the ghosts have escaped! It’s ok though, because the girl has her magic camera with her and the ghosts don’t like having their picture taken at all – they’re so scared of it that they run away when she tries to take a selfie with them. She manages to find her brother and together they cast the spell properly, so the mansion is made safe once again and the ghosts are all sent back home. So it has a happy ending and it isn’t that scary at all.

Shivers

A crazy professor decided to build a strange museum in America so he could show off all the weird things he found in countries across the world to people who wanted to buy tickets to see them. But he disappeared before it was finished and nobody knows where he went! So you go to the museum because you really want to know what happened. You find out that many years before you got there, two teenagers managed to get into the building and opened a set of pots that contained ghosts. Because you’re so big and brave, you manage to put all the ghosts back into their prisons, and you cause a big explosion before you leave so you know the horrible ghosts can never leave again.

SOMA

A man needs to have a brain scan after he is hurt in a bad car accident. But when he wakes up, he has travelled back in time to a place that’s like a space station but underwater and the world has been hit by an asteroid! There are lots of computers there that think they’re human, and they ask the man to help them upload their brains onto a hard-disk and fire it into space so they can escape. He tells them he will do this and he finds a huge cannon that will do the trick. Just before he pushes the button to send it out of the water and up into the stars though, the man decides that he would like to join the computers so he puts his brain on the hard-disk too. When he wakes up again, he is in a world that looks like paradise so he has a big party with all the computers.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

A man goes into an old house because he’s looking for his missing wife, but the family that live there have been turned into zombies! It’s ok though, because a lady calls him on his mobile phone and says they’re going to make a special medicine together which can turn them back into people. While they look for the medicine, the man finds out that it’s a little girl who has been making the zombies because she’s lonely and wants the man and his wife to be her mummy and daddy. The man tries to save her because he feels sorry for her, but then she reveals that she is actually a bad monster who’s trying to trick him! So he contacts the army and they capture the monster, and the man escapes with his wife and the lady that called him.

Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches

When your friends want to take their daughter on holiday to cheer her up, you go to their home in Wales to look after their farm while they’re away. A strange voice tells you about something that happened there a very long time ago: a heroic king and evil wizard got into an argument and fought a huge battle. The wizard’s ghost still lives at the farm and is very angry bout losing, so it’s up to you to calm him down again. You take his shopping list – which is full of weird stuff like a piggybank and chocolate fountain – and search the farm until you find them all. Once you deliver his shopping, the wizard decides that he can now go to sleep so the house is safe enough for your friends and their daughter to come back.

Until Dawn

A group of selfish teenagers decide to have a big party at a lodge on top of a snowy mountain. The person who actually lives there isn’t happy about this at all because he just wants some peace so he can forget about all the sad things that have happened to him. He decides to teach the kids a lesson and asks some friendly creatures who live on the mountain to help him scare them away so they leave. But one of the teenagers has done a very stupid thing: they left the gas oven on so it causes a massive explosion! Police come in helicopters to rescue everybody but it’s import to remember the moral of this story: never have big parties that disturb an adult’s peace, and never leave the oven on.



How did I do? Hopefully I managed to convince you that these horror games aren’t really that scary and some of them even contain useful life lessons – such as not going into abandoned mansions to search for missing family members. If you fancy attempting to explain video game plots to a child, give it a go!

Halloween games for people who don’t like horror

As mentioned in my post about Project Zero, I’m a big wuss when it comes to horror games. My other-half can play them in the dark and not even flinch – but I’ll be left thinking about them long after the PC or console has been switched off, my imagination going into overdrive.

So what’s a cowardly girl to do when this spooky time of year comes around? My usual solution is to make Pete play while I hide from the safety of behind a cushion, because I enjoy the kind of stories shared through the horror genre although I don’t like being on the controls myself. I grew up reading books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz from a far-too-early age and this has made me terrified of monsters lurking in the shadows, yet also strangely intrigued by them.

But sometimes you don’t want to sit back and watch: you’d rather be in control of a game yourself. And the great thing about video games nowadays is that we have so much choice; there’s something out there for absolutely everybody regardless of how much a scaredy-cat you are. Here’s my list of recommendations for people like me, who want to get involved in the Halloween fun this weekend but would rather it didn’t involve them being scared witless or awake all night.

Catherine

Altus’ Catherine isn’t a horror in the conventional sense but it still gets pretty dark. The gameplay is split into two sections: the daytime segment where protagonist Vincent interacts with friends and other patrons at the Stray Sheep Bar, and the foreboding nightmares where he must solve block puzzles to climb a tower and escape from falling to his death. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to Vincent’s story as it chooses to focus on moral ambiguity, so you might find yourself questioning some of your choices.

Costume Quest

Go back to the Halloweens of your childhood with Double Fine’s Costume Quest, a cartoony RPG about a group of young kids out trick-or-treating when a sibling is kidnapped by a monster. Each of them wears a costume and their imagination takes over in the turn-based battles: they transform into giant versions whatever they’re dressed as and are granted appropriate super-powers to match. It’s a fun game which isn’t too hard to complete and will remind you of the excitement of eating far too many sweets.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

If you decide to pick up this point-and-click for Halloween, do yourself a favour: get the original version of Gabriel Knights: Sins of the Fathers by Sierra Online rather than the 20th Anniversary Edition by Phoenix Online Studios. That way, you won’t miss out on the excellent voice-acting by Tim Curry and some of the sleaziest so-bad-they’re-good lines ever in a story about a series of murders related to voodoo. Nathan from Gaming Omnivore recently played this for our game-swap so check out his thoughts on the game in this post.

Gone Home

The opening of Gone Home by Fullbright has all the makings of a horror situation: a thunderstorm, an abandoned house, rooms shrouded in darkness and many niggling questions. There are several moments where it feels as though you’re being followed – such as the part where you must go down into the basement – but there’s really nothing scary here. What you’ll find instead is a sincere story about teenage love and finding yourself, along with some of the best voice-acting in video games I’ve ever experienced.

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods by Infinite Fall is another game which contains nothing scary in the conventional sense. Instead, it manages to capture the hollowness of moving from the warmer months into autumn and winter, along with the uncertainties and pressures of real life. The story is told through a cast of wonderful characters that make it worth playing. A special mention for Candy: I love the way the story hints at her being more than just a mum, and how she’s dealing with issues she’s trying to keep her daughter shielded from.

The Bunker

If you’re a fan of full-motion video (FMV) games like me, check out The Bunker by Splendy Games for a tale about the last remaining survivor in a nuclear bunker who’s shielded from the outside world. And if you’re in the Essex area, why not plan a trip to the Secret Nuclear Bunker in Kelvedon Hatch before you do so? Getting the chance to visit the place where the title was filmed made it even more creepy for me and the atmosphere in real-life is just a heavy as the feeling I got when playing the title: dark, and full of memories and ghosts.

The Room series

The Room by Fireproof Games is one of the best puzzle series ever made. It’s amazing how much atmosphere is packed into each instalment – even more so when you consider that the games were originally made for mobile. Although the sharp piano notes in the background and the dust motes in the air speak of loneliness, it feels as though there’s always someone watching you. The visuals are realistic yet somehow hazy, which gives each episode a dreamlike quality: it’s almost as if you’re inhabiting a room straight out of your imagination.

Bonus game: SOMA

It may seem strange to include this one on today’s list because it’s an entry in the horror genre in the true sense, but I’d recommend giving SOMA by Frictional Games a try – if you’re feeling brave enough after turning on the Safe Mode, of course. This will allow you to experience the title’s creepy atmosphere while removing the risk of in-game death. What’s truly scary about it isn’t the monsters but the questions it will force you to ask yourself, and you’ll stay thinking about them long after you’ve put the controller down.



Are there any other games you’d recommend for scaredy-cats like me at Halloween? Tell us about them in the comments below and, if you’d like to witness me hiding behind a cushion while Pete plays Amnesia, come join us over on Twitch this Saturday.

Creeped out: spookiest video game moments

As discussed in my Question of the Month response last week, it’s often the strangest things that scare us. We all have those gaming moments that have stuck with us, the memory of which only surfaces during the dark of night, scratching at the corner of our brains and making our hair stand on end…

In honour of Halloween and all things eerie, Brandon over at That Green Dude posed a question to the community recently: what is your spookiest video game moment? Below is the list of my own, which includes a few expected horror titles; but there are also a few less obvious releases that may just surprise you.

Warning: some spoilers are included below so if you haven’t played a title, you may wish to skip forward to the next entry!

1993: Myst

Myst, video game, Achenar, bedroom, Mechanical Age, tiles, poison, cage, torture chamber

Since receiving my keys from the Kickstarter campaign, I’ve been working my way through the Myst games recently. Replaying the original not only reminded me how much I loved it but also how much Sirrus and Achenar made my skin crawl. Reaching the Mechanical Age and finding their bedrooms revealed more about the brothers but it was Achenar’s space that I found particularly disturbing when I was younger: a hidden door to a secret torture chamber exposes an electric chair, bottles of poison and even a rotting head. These siblings are twisted.

1995: Shivers

Shivers, video game, ghost, spirit, water, Ixupi, river, boat

This was the title I chose for my Halloween QotM answer recently. It looks somewhat laughable now but as a teenager with an overactive imagination, left with a small group of friends alone one day, our first encounter with the evil Water Ixupi while navigating our boat on the underground river into Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual brought us all out in screams. Although we laughed it off, that night I went around our house turning every single light on and was extremely relieved once my parents arrived home.

1996: Resident Evil

Resident Evil, video game, dogs, window, hallway, corridor, broken glass

The original Resident Evil has appeared on numerous lists across the internet this Halloween, including Bandicoot Warrior’s own QotM response. It was the first real horror I played as a teenager and the bit I’ll always remember is the scene that sticks with most gamers: that moment when the mutant dogs come crashing through the window, splintering the glass and snapping at your heels. As well as genuinely terrifying the hell out of me and taking a few years off my life, it showed that horror games can be just as frightening as films.

1998: Sanitarium

Sanitarium, video game, Innocent Abandoned, statue, angel, man, child

This point-and-click isn’t exactly a horror, but its atmosphere is incredibly unsettling and I remember feeling constantly on edge while playing it. As if putting the player into the bandages of a man who wakes up in a derelict asylum with no memory of how he got there wasn’t creepy enough, the Innocent Abandoned scene with its ruined playground full of horribly-disfigured children who keep talking about ‘Mother’ is unnerving. The backwards clock and haunting music just add to the sense that everything is ‘off’ and you need to get out of there as soon as possible.

2008: Dead Space

Dead Space, video game, necromorph, alien, blood, spacesuit, astronaut, gun

Come on, admit it: you screamed too when that first ‘dead’ necromorph jumped up and started attacking you on board the Ishimura. After reading Fitzy’s recent post about Dead Space over on Game Time, I know I’m not the only one who started cautiously approaching the corpses throughout the dark corridors from that point onwards. I love the way Dead Space manages to capture a perfect feeling of dread, isolation and claustrophobia, and it’s the title that started my fondness for space sci-fi. As Fitzy said: “Once bitten, twitchy and paranoid forever.”

2015: STASIS

STASIS, video game, man, John, surgery, spine, blood, computer

Time for another space science-fiction now: how would you feel if you had to perform dangerous surgery on yourself while still awake, in order to remove a chip that’s wrapped around your spine? Utterly petrified, that’s how. This particular scene in STASIS had me squirming in my seat and looking away because it’s very uncomfortable to watch. It’s gory but not overly gratuitous –well-handled in terms of both timing and how it fits in with the title’s storyline – but it’s some pretty-messed-up-stuff that will stick with you.

2015: SOMA

SOMA, video game, chair, robot, body

SOMA leaves the player questioning what it is that makes us human through a storyline about scanning human intelligence. Say the body you’re currently in is failing and you’re offered the opportunity to be copied into a new one. Which version of you then takes precedence? Should the old version be terminated? If both copies should be allowed to live, how do you come to terms with there being multiple versions of yourself in the same space? And how would you feel if you found out you were the copy? These thoughts are far scarier than any blood and gore.

2017: Stories Untold

Stories Untold, video game, House Abandon, text adventure, monitor, lamp, desk, keyboard

When I played text adventures as a kid, there was always that feeling that if you looked up from the screen you’d start to see elements of the game in the real world. This is exactly what Stories Untold recreates. I had to resist the urge to look over my shoulder as I played through The House Abandon episode and found it difficult to stop myself expecting my phone to ring when the handset does in-game. For a simple and unassuming release, it creates an awful lot of atmosphere through a number of very clever moments that I won’t spoil by saying more.

So there you have it: eight moments from both horror games and other genres that left me spooked. Let us know which gaming scenes sent a shiver down your spine in the comments below.

SOMA: the real monster in the dark

Horror games are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. There are plenty of gamers who can’t wait to step across the threshold to an abandoned mansion, hiding in terror from the demons that stalk them in the darkness while they search for inhabitants’ secrets.

Then there are others like myself who transform into a quivering mess as soon as they pick up the controller and start imagining all sorts of monsters once the lights go out. What can I say, I have an overactive imagination.

It’s therefore somewhat strange that I suggested SOMA when my other-half and I were looking for something to play recently. This 2015 release from Frictional Games, the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, is advertised on its Steam page as a ‘science-fiction horror’ in which the player ‘faces horrors buried deep beneath the ocean waves’. It’s one of those titles I’d heard a lot of good things about from friends and thought we should finally get around to checking out… although I did make it clear to Pete he’d owning the controls for this one.

The following post contains some major spoilers for the game. If you haven’t yet played it, I’d highly recommend doing so before reading on otherwise you’ll ruin the experience for yourself!

During the 11 hours it took us to fully explore the underwater research facility known as PATHOS-II, we encountered all manner of threats while trying to figure out how protagonist Simon Jarrett ended up there and his method of escape. A variety of enemies were on standby including corrupted humans, deranged robots and angry fish who wanted nothing more than to rip off our head; and many typical horror elements including isolation, tension and uncertainty were present.

But would I say that SOMA as a video game was scary? Ultimately, no. Although there were a few freaky moments and some yelp-inducing jump-scares, it didn’t leave me diving for the nearest cushion on the sofa so I could hide. However, its themes are a different matter altogether; they’ve left an uneasy, anxious sensation in the Later Levels household and have been the case of several interesting philosophical conversations in the fortnight since we reached the end credits.

SOMA leaves the player questioning what it is that makes us human through a storyline based on the idea of scanning human intelligence. In its world of 2104, scientists can use advanced technology to take an exact copy of your personality and then upload this into a robot or simulation to give it your memories and experiences. This being then goes on to live a version of your life from that point forward with your beliefs and feelings to guide it through its new existence.

Does this mean you’re still you? And if so, are these copies something less than you with a reduced right to life? Situations thrown at Simon throughout his journey poke holes in our answers to these conundrums. For example, take the point in the game where it’s necessary to obtain a chip from a robot using force. Are you simply taking a part you need from a machine; or does the fact that it has the personality of a real person and therefore considers itself to be human make it more than that?

These questions become even more complex when it’s your own personality which is at stake. For instance, say the body you’re currently in is failing in some way and you’re offered the opportunity to be copied over into a new one. Which version of you then takes precedence? Should the old version be terminated? And if both copies should be allowed to live for however long they have left, how do you come to terms with there being multiple versions of yourself in the same space?

More importantly: how would you feel if you found out that you were the copy?

The things we discovered in SOMA and its questions around what it really means to be human were far scarier than any of the monsters encountered in the corridors of PATHOS-II. Instead of being just another release about demons chasing us in the dark, Frictional Games have given us something infinitely more terrifying.