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Friday, 17 April 2015

Editorial: Top 5 Creepiest Video Game Levels.

Editorial: Top 5 Creepiest Video Game Levels.

I mean, outside of horror games. Mostly.

The art of creepy is a difficult one to pin down, but video games are the perfect medium for it - since you are in control of the protagonist, since you identify with them, since there is the possibility of failure that you won't get in a film or a book, everything scary is amplified.

So, it seems only fitting to look at some of my top five creepiest video game levels - not just in horror games (although one on the list is kinda-sorta a horror game), but also in games that just decided to take a break from being action packed to slow down the pace and wig their players out.

5. Dantooine, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Dantooine is probably unique on this list in that it's not meant to be creepy. After your first world, Taris, a hectic metropolis where you're in constant danger of your enemies discovering you, Dantooine is, if anything, meant to be relaxing. It is not relaxing.

The Jedi Enclave on the planet is the only place that feels alive and real - everywhere else consists of vast, empty grass plains littered with ruins, and the effect is less one of serenity and more one of 'where did everyone go?' It doesn't help at all that the background music is in the running for the creepiest in the game.

It also doesn't help that one of your major sidequests on this planet is about someone being murdered.

4. The Abandoned Mine, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

This one is also unique on this list, since Ethan Carter is a horror game, at least of sorts. But in every other area apart from the Abandoned Mine, it's a delicate, eerie kind of horror, less things jumping out at you and more a vast emptiness.

The Abandoned Mine breaks the mould by having you stealthing your way around the mine's labyrinthine corridors, trying to avoid a teleporting undead miner. He's not difficult to avoid: When you see him up ahead (and he's tough to miss, since he's carrying a lantern) you hide, wait until he's teleported away, and then continue - but since the game doesn't warn you about him at all, he will catch you at least a few times, resulting in him appearing right in front of you and grabbing you, only for you to wake up at the entrance.

It's some effective use of jump scares, primarily because that kind of abrupt horror is absent throughout the rest of the game, leaving a player totally unprepared for the change of pace.

3. Crazed Clockwork and About Face, American McGee's Alice. 

Actually, a lot of American McGee's Alice, but Crazed Clockwork and About Face - which are functionally a single level, since the latter consists solely of a boss battle - take the cake. After wandering around a strange, mirrored asylum, the Mad Hatter drops you into the heart of his domain, his vast, clockwork laboratory.

There are a lot of factors that go into making this creepy. The first is just the general creepy elements common to every Alice level: The dinginess, the eerie music, and so on. The second is that in your journeys you will inevitably discover the March Hare and Dormouse, both still alive despite having been strapped to tables, had body parts replaced, and in one of their cases, dunked repeatedly into tea. Both of them are heavily drugged, and seem not to comprehend their situation at all.

The final creepy element, though, is that you are constantly being stalked by the Hatter. He's been the most prominent villain in the game thus far, and every so often the game will show you a cutscene of him either in an area you just left or one you're about to go to. The boss battle isn't much better, as the Hatter is fast, looming, and will frequently teleport behind you.

2. Pokemon Tower, Pokemon Red and Blue. 

I'm not sure anyone would associate Pokemon, especially the older games, with scariness at all, but the Pokemon Tower was genuinely quite a sinister place. Quite apart from the fact that it's a vast graveyard for Pokemon, introducing the concept of death into a game that had previously cheerfully ignored that mortality even existed, but the first time you enter it, you are absolutely powerless.

This is because the Pokemon in the Tower are ghost Pokemon, including the ghost of a Marowak, and you can't see them without some special equipment that you pick up later - they just show up as fuzzy black shapes, unable to be attacked. You aren't warned that this will happen, and nothing earlier in the game suggested that it could happen.

1. The Ocean House Hotel, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. 

It's been years since I played it, but the Ocean House Hotel still jumped to mind as soon as I started this editorial.

It's one of your earliest quests in the game: Deal with a haunting problem at a business interest of a high ranking vampire. You are assured - not entirely incorrectly - that nothing will hurt you there (it's not entirely true, as one or two pieces of thrown or dropped scenery can kill you, but there aren't any monsters or aught like that).

What follows is a journey through a haunted hotel, with the spooky activities starting with suddenly thrown objects and ghostly figures seen in the distance; continues to voices whispering, half-seen men stalking you through boiler rooms, and ghostly women running through hallways ahead of you; and culminates in ghostly flames and an illusory past version of the hotel, sunny and intact.

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