Horror is a genre that, at its best, utilises vulnerability to great effect. We are scared of the monsters because if they existed, we’d be vulnerable to them. We sympathise with the protagonists – some of the time, anyway – because they’re vulnerable against the antagonists. It’s why ghosts and vampires and demons are such prominent figures in the genre; they have powers and abilities that allow them to outclass humans. Then again, it is the reason for some of horror’s stupidest moments, like the teens acting like idiots and Jason teleporting.
Still, this does mean horror usually does well in video game format; then, the player gets a closer feel of the protagonist’s vulnerability because they have become the protagonist. You’re no longer watching people attempting to escape monsters and make stupid decisions, you’re attempting to escape monsters and make stupid decisions. You criticise the teens for being stupid when facing Jason only to find when you’re trying to hide from Amnesia’s Grunts, you have moments of stupidity too.
In order to make this effective though, you need good monsters. If you’re going to protect a virtual world from monsters, then by god, those monsters better be memorable. You better be scared of them. You better feel vulnerable when facing them. So here we go, my four favourite horror game monsters.
Foxy (Five Nights at Freddy’s)
Five Nights at Freddy’s was just released this year, but amassed a phenomenal fanbase in a short amount of time. The most popular character of the whole game ended up being Foxy up there, and I can really see why, even if some of the fan-art he spawned is a little…uuhh…
In Five Nights at Freddy’s, you play a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, which is more or less the type of pizzeria you’d expect Krusty the Klown to own. Really, if it were a hotel, it’d make Fawlty Towers look prestigious. You’re stuck in the security office, and the only way to see the rest of the restaurant is through the security cameras. The animatronic animals they use to entertain the kiddies come to life at night, and you’re supposed to keep them away from your office lest they kill you by stuffing you in an animatronic suit (those things have loads of pointy bits). You only have a limited amount of electricity to do so, and closing the doors, sadly, drains power. Everything has to be fucking electronic these days. It’s a silly idea to be sure, but the game makes it work.
The trailer only shows three animatronics to avoid – Freddy the bear, Bonnie the bunny and Chica the chicken though most people say she’s a duck – and for the first night, it’s Bonnie and Chica you have to deal with. But wait, what’s the deal with this “Pirate Cove”, that’s sealed off? Already you’re caught off-guard; you’re wondering what other nasty surprises this pizzeria has in store for you.
Now, on the second night, you learn the Cove is where Foxy lurks, and he’ll remain still as long as you constantly look at him through the security cameras. Now, most of the time the images you see on the security cameras are still, there’s no movement, so it is a pretty big surprise when you check on the cameras for the West Hall and see an animated Foxy running for you.
If you haven’t closed the door to your left, you’re greeted with the image above, and you can see Foxy’s design in all its glory. He’s most effective when you’re looking at him through the cameras, when you see him emerging from Pirate Cove like a hungry lion leaving its cave, but his design is pretty interesting, more so than the other animatronics.
The other animatronics have huge teeth and eyes which make them look eerie, but they are still somewhat pristine, and you can imagine children being amused by them in the daylight hours. Foxy, however, is rotting, with his endoskeleton exposed in several places, making him seem terrifying and pitiable at the same time. It’s almost like he’s a metaphor for the game itself – an innocent façade being chipped away to reveal the darker truth. Then again, with his fangs and hook, he does seem a little terrifying for a kiddie animatronic, which does solidify the shittiness of this particular pizzeria, and the pizzeria being shitty is the whole point of the game. Not only are they too cheap to repair the animatronics, they’re putting up this…thing to entertain the kids.
Like the best horror stories, Foxy leaves things to your imagination and hints at a larger story. His attraction is out of order. Why? Was it simply because the kids found him scary? An expository phone call in the beginning of the game mentions a “Bite of 87”, and several fans have looked at Foxy’s fangs and put two and two together. ..
He’s prompted a lot of discussion, and made the world of his dark game seem a little bit darker, and that’s why I love Foxy.
The Manpigs – Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Amneisa: A Machine for Pigs wasn’t as good as its predecessor. It wasn’t as scary, the storyline wasn’t as good, and yet I still find myself admiring the monsters they used. Not that the Grunts and the Brutes in the first game weren’t effective, because they were, horrid perversions of the human form which had your heart pounding when you saw them lumber down a hallway, but there’s something about the piggies from the sequel that keeps my interest.
In Machine for Pigs, you play as Oswald Mandus (get it?), who is looking for his two sons while being instructed by an eerie voice calling him through some phones. The setting this time is Victorian London – think Oliver Twist meets Silent Hill – and along the way, you’ll be coming across these horrible fusions of man and pig.
Of course, like the best horror monsters, you feel unsafe against them. You can’t attack them, you can’t kill them, you can only hide and run from them. Granted, that’s pretty much what you did with the Grunts, but then there are the Tesla Manpigs, piggies with a glowing caged mouth that pop in and out of existence, a sight so surreal it makes you feel weaker; how can you defeat something you don’t understand? An explanation is given for why they are that way, but that doesn’t make them any less bizarre.
Then there is something about the regular pig/human hybrids – they are partly human. Look at that thing up there. Its bizarre anatomy – one human foot one trotter – and blank eyes make it horrific, but you almost feel sorry for it, given its unnatural existence and its hunched-over posture. Later in the game, you see the piggies playing with building blocks, implying that they’re more innocent than you thought. Still, an innocent doing scary things is still scary; implications of a simple mind mean they can’t be reasoned with, and it makes the main baddy all the more terrifying, given that he’s using these pitiable souls for his own ends, not to spoil anything. They can also catch up to you and see you in the dark, so they are a threat.
There’s also the fact that they are pigs, and I keep seeing pigs used an awful lot in horror contexts. There’s Professor Pyg in Batman, of course, one of the terrorists having a pig mask in The Bridge, and hell, half the DVDs in the horror section of the video store have pigs on them. The creatures in Machine for Pigs looking like pigs makes them even more horrific and intriguing. Why? Well, there is the connection between pigs and slaughter, which is brought up in the game. The association with an animal that rolls around in its shit makes them seem more filthy and atrocious. It reminds me of Peppa Pig and I’m pretty sure she’s pure evil.
Richard Trager (Outlast)
Well, first things first, look at that design. A good horror game takes something familiar that we’re used to, and warps it; we’re scared because we’re in a different world from the one we know and thus can’t understand it. The common stereotypical doctor is a calm-looking balding man in a lab coat, and Trager takes that stereotype’s head and puts it on another, more-horrific body. We know doctors that wear glasses and face masks, but we don’t know any doctors without skin who are naked save for an apron. And we certainly don’t know any doctors who’ll cart you off into a filthy bathroom and cut off your fingers.
Outlast uses the old chestnut of a dude breaking into a looney house and being pursued by scary looneys, but makes the journey an intense one through its atmosphere and enemies. Again, you can’t really attack or defend yourself – you can only run or hide. The thing with Outlast is, while some of the enemies are nameless maniacs, there are ones with a personality and history, which makes the experience feel a little more real. One of the more annoying enemies in the game is the tubby yet strong Chris Walker, but then you find out he was ex-military police and suffers from PTSD, and that makes him go from irritating to terrifying. This monster pursuing you was once a human being with a life. A man can become a beast, maybe even you can considering how fucked up the asylum you’re visiting is.
During a particularly frantic chase sequence, where your character is pursued by several screaming inmates, you hear a benign-sounding voice saying to get in the dumb waiter if you want to escape. You think, thank god, finally, a break, but when you see the source of the voice, that’s when you fully realise this asylum isn’t going to be easy to escape from. You expect some other victim who’s escaped, but instead find yourself face to face with this…thing.
I also love how casual he is about his work. He straps you to a wheelchair, does so while calling you buddy and saying “keep your hands and feet in the car at all times” with a laugh. Not a maniacal laugh, a nice little chuckle at his own joke. He also adds a little extra figurative kick in the ass when he wheels you over to the front door, asks if you want to leave, but then just wheels you to an elevator – backwards, as if your chances to escape are fleeing before your very eyes. Along the way, he says he cut off a guy’s tongue because he was tired of licking his own stamps in the same way a real doctor would make small talk with a patient.
Then he brings you to a bathroom and cuts off some of your fingers, a fact you’ll be reminded of throughout the whole game when you see your hand lifting a camera or opening a door. When Trager leaves, you free yourself from the wheelchair, and then you throw up. Yep, that’s when you really know coming here was a mistake.
When you get out of the bathroom, you find that Trager’s still about, and you have to elude him. Observing him, though, means that he’s somewhat different from the other inmates. Most inmates break down the doors, Trager casually opens them. Trager’s also more thorough in his searches than most other patients so there’s a bigger chance he will find you. You does die when you escape him though, in a sequence that’s horrifically hilarious. Notes also say that he used to play golf and has an e-mail address, so he was a normal human one time, and you shudder as you think how a person could become a maniac like the one you’ve been facing.
He may not be the most prominent villain in the game, but my word, he’s the most effective.
The Jabberwock – American McGee’s Alice
It is pretty debatable whether or not American McGee’s Alice counts as a horror game – hell, I daresay it may be the weakest game on this list – but it does have plenty of unnerving moments, and the Jabberwock is one of the most unnerving.
The basic idea is that after the events of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Alice’s parents die in a fire which she managed to escape from, which drives her mad and leads her to be committed into an insane asylum. She does manage to return to Wonderland, only to find it’s been warped by her own madness and she must destroy the evil Queen of Hearts to set things right.
Before Alice can defeat the Queen though, she must face off against the Queen’s guardian, The Jabberwock, the creature from the similarly titled poem from Looking Glass. Now, in the poem, the Jabberwock did nothing but stumble about and “burble” before being beheaded. That, and the classic conventions of hero fantasy should lead you to believe the Jabberwock is an unintelligent roaring beast, but he’s worse.
Though you would expect a being like this to enter the game breaking out of a cage and roaring at the heavens, the first time you see the Jabberwock, he’s standing quite calmly, looking down at you. He’s also capable of speech, voiced by none other than the guy who did Mojo Jojo in The Powerpuff Girls. His tone has an edge to it, but his speech isn’t overly excited or furious. What’s more bizarre than seeing a robotic dragon is seeing a robotic dragon with human-level intelligence.
What’s more, he isn’t here for idle conversation. When Alice faces him, he starts talking about the fire that killed her parents, and how Alice is to blame for her parents’ death, saying she was too busy with her fantasies to notice the fire. This is a game based in a person’s mind, and the Jabberwock is the embodiment of Alice’s survivor’s guilt, one of the most blatant pieces of symbolism in the entire game. One would expect to face the evil Queen’s dragon in a cave or coliseum, but the Jabberwock lurks in a replica of Alice’s burning house.
He also has one of the most striking designs in the whole game. Like Foxy, he is a children’s character made horrific through the use of exposed machinery; once again, the fantasy is peeled away to reveal the machinations behind it. This may be a game with talking animals and monsters, but behind all of that is a story about a young woman attempting to deal with the death of her parents. He also looks enough like the original Tenniel illustration that you can tell who he’s based on, but the game still makes him its own character. You see several dragons in games, but rarely do you see them with furnaces in their stomachs and gears where their entrails should be.
Sadly, when Alice kills the ‘wock, that’s the last we really see of him. He, aside from a few cameos, doesn’t appear in the sequel Alice: Madness Returns, and his presence was missed.