Non-Horror Games That Were More Unsettling Than Most Horror Games
A few years ago, the staff at WayTooManyGames wrote about the horror games that failed at doing the one thing they were supposed to do: scare us or make us feel uneasy. The opposite also applies, however. There are countless non-horror games out there that manage to scare us or provide more tension than most proper survival horror titles out there, be it due to their setting or handling of two of the most important elements in horror: sublety and payoff. Here’s a list of our favorite examples:
This War of Mine
This War of Mine doesn’t have a single jump scare, nor does it feature body horror or any extreme imagery of the kind. Still, this game made me feel uneasy, unsettled and grossed out like very games have ever managed to. It featured all of the themes and imagery of decay, despair, and the downfall of human society that The Last of Us also featured, but without any of the gory and entertaining combat that breaks any semblance of immersion.
As a result, we have a game that makes you feel guilty, grossed out, and depressed whenever you have to kill a neighbor because your shelter is running out of food and supplies. It’s a game that can be perfectly summarized as survival horror without technically being part of the genre. It’s also the perfect showcase of the oldest cliché in horror movies and games: at the end of the day, mankind is the real monster.
Upon entering the city of Rapture, you’ll be greeted with corpses, debris, and that weird feeling that some serious crap has just occurred. This urges you to find out what the hell happened in this once utopic society. You’ll want to find out who’s behind the discovery of the supernatural substance known as ADAM, who created the Big Daddies and Little Sisters, who exactly Andrew Ryan is, and much more.
Bioshock‘s Rapture is a much more unsettling place than most horror game settings out there. It’s dark and claustrophobic, but at the same time, it’s gorgeous, inviting, and full of surprises to unveil. It’s also chock-full of heavily disfigured junkies who’ll try to murder you whenever possible. Just the perfect place for a trip.
Transistor is definitely not the first game that comes to mind when I think “horror games”. However, when you consider the premise of the story, there’s an existential horror that creeps in. As the equalizing entity known only as the Process sweeps through the city of Cloudbank and destroys all it touches, the protagonist, Red, pursues those responsible. Red believes that the Process are part of a grand scheme concocted by an organization known as the Camerata. Their attempt to silence Red by assassinating her was only partially successful. She sustained an injury that took the singer’s voice, but her life was saved when her partner sacrificed himself to protect her.
Be warned as there are some major spoilers ahead.
The weapon used to attack Red is the titular transistor which absorbs the dead into a new digital world within itself. By the end of the game, most of Cloudbank has been absorbed into the transistor, including Red herself. While the final moments suggest a happy ending, there’s a great many people trapped within the transistor, including the Camerata. There’s nothing preventing this new world from repeating the events of Cloudbank.
As pieces of data, the characters of Transistor are now trapped in a digital world for all eternity.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
You can play Majora’s Mask in its entirety and just consider it a wacky take on the Zelda formula, but if you start paying close attention to the game’s story, setting, and most importantly, its characters, you’ll realise this is a better horror story than most. This is because it nails one of the most important things for a horror game and movie to feature: subtlety.
Majora’s Mask doesn’t feature scares, but it knows how to make you feel unsettled and uneasy. The moon is always watching over you as a reminder that it will kill you and everyone around you in less than three days. Skull Kid will constantly appear before you to cause trouble and make your life miserable, as well as the life of others in Termina.
Those are the obvious bits, but there are also other more subtle things. You can notice the inhabitants of Clock Town slowly losing their hope and coming to grips with the fact that they’ll eventually perish. Characters like the swordmaster will hide in the back of their dojo crying for help, begging not to die. Even the music becomes more and more somber with each new day, making you more tense as a result.
A girl is trying to hide the fact that her father became a mummy. An entire valley, once full of life and produce, is now dead and full of zombies, overrun by darkness. Zora and Goron heroes die right in front of your eyes, while your Deku form turns out to be the spirit of the Deku Palace butler’s deceased son. There are other things that showcase how somber and unsettling Majora’s Mask. Without a doubt, it’s the most unique Zelda game ever released.
Bloober Team likes to boast that they’re one of the main horror game developers in this day and age, but honestly, games like Layers of Fear and Blair Witch made me question if they’re actually that good making titles of this particular genre. But then Observer arrived to shut us all up.
Observer is easily Bloober’s best work. It combined an eerie cyberpunk setting, great voice acting, gory imagery, and an incredibly intricate murder mystery, creating one of the most engaging and unsettling games in recent memory. The thing is, Observer is NOT a horror game, it’s a mix between a walking simulator and a crime thriller. Yet, maybe unintentionally, it outclassed Bloober’s other horror games in every single aspect. Whether you decide to play it on current-gen consoles, next-gen consoles, or the Switch, Observer will be one of the scariest non-horror experiences you’ll find out there.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid 2 is not a horror game. For the most part, it doesn’t feature anything that would make it even remotely resemble a horror game. But once you start its third and final act, Sons of Liberty becomes one of the weirdest, creepiest, and occasionally scariest games you will ever play in your life. If you know the twist already, then you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then I won’t say a word, but I still urge you to play it and find out by yourself. Have your diapers ready.