It’s hard to make a scary video game because it’s hard to scare someone who can just press a button and wipe out the entire world they’re playing with. That’s why Putin never looks worried.
The best games manage it with slowly building atmosphere, imposing enemies, and terrible consequences surrounding your every move. Many great examples of classic horror games come to mind: Silent Hill, Dead Space, Resident Evil, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, and many more.
But the titles on this list aren’t exactly great examples of scary games, memorable as they may be. If you’re looking for some true campy goodness this Halloween, though, we’ve got you covered. Brace yourself for some terrifyingly bad games.
2012 | VectorCell | PS3, X360
Forget zombies and psychic powers, the scariest thing about Amy is how someone said “Let’s make the entire game an escort mission,” and everyone else went along with it. Their next release will probably be a superglue-covered controller which explodes when you save.
The eponymous Amy is an 8-year-old girl who can magically heal you, hack computers, crawl through vents like a miniature Bruce Willis, and cause the laws of sound and space themselves to cease operation. She’s the Swiss Army knife of annoying movie kids, featuring every improbably useful power any Hollywood child ever had.
The game mechanics are escorting down hallways, frequent healing, and sometimes slowly shambling forward. That’s not a game.
Friday the 13th
1989 | Atlus | NES
Making a horror game on the NES is like making glue out of My Little Ponies: technically possible, but you’re destroying innocence and the bright colors make it all really disturbing. And the result stinks. The game’s true psychological success was getting players to empathize with the suicidal intent of all the campers vacationing at Camp Crystal Lake after the first murder. Yes, this is stupid and unpleasant, but you’ve paid for it and you’re going to see it through to the end.
2003 | Sony Computer Entertainment | PS2
Lifeline was a voice-controlled PS2 game destroyed by the same thing that ruined Wiimote lightsabers, Kinect controls, and the entire genetic future of several steam age sexbot inventors: the technology simply wasn’t ready yet and fatally screwed things up. You were locked in a space hotel’s control room and communicating with a cocktail waitress through voice commands on her headset. But either the space contractors skimped on the space phones, or she had a few before finishing her shift, because she could be staring straight at a slavering space monster and she’d stand there asking “What, you want me to BUN YOU CUPID PITCH?”
It was a fantastic idea, and the true tragedy was that the technology didn’t quite work, but the result was more like drunkenly watching a horror movie than playing: incoherently yelling at an idiot who can’t hear you while they do stupid things that get them killed.
1992 | Digital Pictures | Sega CD
The most terrifying monsters in fiction are the Lovecraftian Elder Gods, monsters spawned from the infinite horror of the universe, terrors resulting from the sheer mind-breaking size of existence. The electronic equivalent is Night Trap. Which is what happens when you give eight hundred megabytes to developers who can’t even count that high. They were given more space than they could ever imagine and hired the world’s worst writers and actors to imagine it for them.
Night Trap‘s cast couldn’t record a convincing selfie, let alone an entire movie. You’d encounter more horror randomly pressing buttons on a television remote. Which would also be more enjoyable gameplay. There’s more seasonal terror in tasting candy corn.
2001 | Crazy Games | Dreamcast
Illbleed was set in an amusement park filled with lethal traps. And it applied exactly the same fun-reversal technique to the rest of the game. Instead of charging forward to do battle with evil, the only way to proceed was laboriously and tediously checking every single step for traps. A much better strategy for anyone actually trapped in a horror movie, but the absolute worst strategy for anyone trying to enjoy a video game.
If a first-person shooter applied Illbleed mechanics, it would start with a gun license application, feature a real-time three-week application process, and then send you to jail after firing your first shot. And that would still feel less tedious than this game.
1976 | Exidy | Arcade
Death Race desperately wanted to be controversial, but someone drawing Carmageddon on a blackboard would have been scarier because at least they could create an awful screeching noise. In Death Race, you drove some little lines you were told was a car into a little squiggle you were told was a person, and this sentence was more exciting than the game because it didn’t come to a full stop after you hit the first person. Hitting pedestrians turned them into impenetrable tombstones so that both you and they slammed to a dead stop. There’s more dynamic flow in an actual dead body.
Druuna: Morbus Gravis
2001 | Artematica | PC
Druuna is a pornographic space comic character whose only function is finding new life and flinging her post-apocalyptic panties at them. And we don’t mean aliens, she’d consider a janitor sufficiently “new life” to commence first contact all the way to fourth base. Her comic reads like someone thought sex was how you shake hands, and the game plays like someone loaded those scripts into a computer without bothering to convert it into code first.
Druuna moves like someone who’s concentrated 80% of their body mass on the outside of their ribcage and finds it even more impossible to jump without dying. No gaming character has ever been so titular. You might think the only fear in this game is somebody walking in and catching you playing it, but it strikes at the scariest thing any gamer could imagine: screwing with your save files. Because Druuna screws everything. Saving your progress damages your health, which means you have to choose between making it impossible to proceed or being forced to replay whole swathes of the game. And playing this more than once is a nightmare more terrifying than facing Freddy Kreuger on bad acid.
1986 | Exidy | Arcade (1990 | NES)
Chiller featured the worst-judged gore in gaming history. The game’s entire plot was killing helpless innocent torture victims who were already motionless, strapped down, and trapped in murderous machines. But still took ages to die. This game tried to invent the Saw franchise two decades early.
The graphics weren’t scary enough for people who like to play these games, but absolutely scary enough to terrify everyone else. If Jack Thompson got a time machine, this is the sort of game he’d plant in the past to prove himself right. Most US arcade owners refused to stock it.
Ju-On: The Grudge
2009 | feelplus | Wii
Ju-On: The Grudge says “HAUNTED HOUSE SIMULATOR” on the game box, because even it feels bad about pretending to be an actual game. This is first-person Pac-Man without any Power Pellets: you’re in a pitch-dark maze, you can never kill the monsters, you can only see a small part of what’s ahead of you, and you have to keep finding randomly-spawning batteries to feed it.
Your only play mechanic is “panicked flailing through a dark room while swinging a Wii remote.” Aiming at specific points with a Wii remote is halfway between being drunk and using a Ouija board: you’re at the mercy of spirits instead of relying on any kind of physics. And even the resulting drunken nightmares will have more control schemes.
There’s no way to win. Your only reward for helping your character escape the monster for an entire level is watching them get killed at the end, then taking over another equally-doomed nobody in the next. If this game were called Sea Monkey Experience Simulator, it would at least have had an excuse for lacking good motor control. The only horror is worse jump scares than someone throwing a dead kangaroo onto your trampoline.
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.