The PS4 had some great horror games. The best had a way of creeping into my mind subconsciously, lingering until a vulnerable moment and striking terror when I least expected. It’s interesting that with the increase in graphical power, the games that scared me most last gen weren’t necessarily the best looking ones; sometimes, that grindhouse low budget feel makes a game more authentic and scary. While nothing will be quite as scary as the first time I entered the mansion in Resident Evil or that initial pursuit following a trail of blood in the streets of Silent Hill 1, these are the games that scared me most on the PS4.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School
An imperfect and flawed first-person horror game with a confusing name, White Day had special appeal for me because it was one of the first games I’ve seen drawing on Korean history. Its legacy of blood and past terror give the ghosts a psychological edge that make them more than just freaky looking spirits. There’s a purpose to their madness as they haunt and prey on the students stuck inside Yeondu High School on “White Day.” The true menace, though, is the possessed janitor who makes it his mission to cleanse the school of intruders. Move aside Nemesis and Mr. X.; the bald headed janitor is in relentless pursuit. If you’re able to escape his mop, a grisly mystery reveals itself, making it the strangest kind of Valentine. I actually attended school in Korea for two years, so the architectural quirks of the high school reminded me of my own past and all the bizarre ghost stories I used to hear. If the game could focus primarily on the tragic phantoms and their connection to Korean history, this is definitely a White Day I’d like to revisit.
I’ve never been forced to save so many characters I disliked. The realistic graphics were mesmerizing and the character models were remarkable. Some of it dropped into uncanny territory, but more often than not. I was engrossed into their ridiculously tropish tales that had me on the edge of my seat one moment and laughing hard the next. Campy, but clearly respectful of the material it’s taking horror inspiration from, this is a B-game with higher production values than many of the old B-movies combined. The environments of Blackwood Mountain gave me chills, both out of fear and the sense of cold I felt because it looked so realistic. My favorite moments were the isolated treks focused on exploration; finding the sanatorium stands out as an especially creepy sequence. Until Dawn does stumble a bit under the magnitude of its ambitions, but I appreciated that it tried to fuse a serial killer slasher with the masochistic Saw type machinations of a psychological thriller, a wendigo-driven monster fest, and a surprisingly well-voiced soap opera.
I also thought the VR rail shooter based on the franchise was scary as hell and I’d go so far as to consider it one of the most mortifying experiences on the PS4. I had a hard time finishing it as the murderous clowns ran truculently towards me and had my heart racing. If the developers could make the experience multiplayer VR so I could play with friends, that’d only increase the thrills as we do our best to survive until dawn.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
Scarier than the plague are the humans who exploit and manipulate the tragic events to reinforce their authority. A Plague Tale is one of the most visceral games I’ve played, with corpses scattered so liberally about, it made me feel sick. As though the disease wasn’t bad enough, the Inquisition is lurking at every corner, ready to kill without provocation. The tension is pervasive, draining away any sense of comfort the players might have. The macabre cruelty with which the Inquisition execute their religion seems farcical in how diametrically opposed it is to the creeds they follow. Which points to a bigger philosophical question; what’s the greater disease? The minds that justify pogrom for “the greater good,” or the terrible calamity that has killed so many? I’d say both are terrible, which is pretty much the plight you find Amicia and her little brother in. Eventually, they do gain an army of rats to even the odds. But by then, the mental scarring is done. Amicia is a remorseless killer in whom innocence is no longer recognizable. The journey is a memorable one, even if it left me feeling like a terrible human being.
FMV games are my groove. There was a summer back when I worked at LucasArts that I had access to their entire game library and I played through games like Phantasmagoria, Seventh Guest, and more. That sense of interactive realism brought the terror home. Erica’s production values are superb and the story it weaves is as disturbing as it is fascinating. The eponymous Erica is at the center of a cultish mystery somehow connected with her father’s death. More psychological thriller than pure horror, I was mesmerized by the hypnotic descent into madness. Questions of who to trust become murky as what earlier seemed like paranoid suspicion becomes justified caution. The appeal of FMV games are that you’re basically controlling the flow and direction of a movie. Fortunately, Erica is one of the most immersive. Multiple playthroughs are required to get a grasp of the story, which is both esoteric and satisfyingly unnerving. I do wish there were a bit more control over the player, similar to how those old FMV games incorporated limited gameplay. But either way, a followup would be welcome.
A visual novel with a penchant for the lurid, its creepy web of terrors revolves around Japanese folklore. For some reason, strangers are getting the Death Mark on their body, meaning they’ll soon lose their memory and die a gruesome death. Structured as five separate cases, the diagnosis for their curse is as foreboding and ominous as the creepy environments they enter. Lots of corpses abound; the spirits want revenge. As a trypophobiac, I found the multitude of densely packed perforations visually repulsive, especially in the victims who get their bodies turned into honeycombs. Uncompromising in its vision, the text sets a slow pace and sticks to it until moments of shock disrupt the flow. But even then, Death Mark is less about jump scares and more about the terrors that lurk in everyday life. It does have sequels on the PS4 as part of the Spirit Hunter series, but I hope it makes the jump to the PS5 as well.
Underwater horror, the end of the world, and the future of AI. It’s heady material for this first person survival horror game that questions the definition of life itself. Taking place in the PATHOS-II research facility at the bottom of the ocean, it preserves the last vestiges of humanity in a data-based ARK. There’s a lot going for the game, developed by the same people who made the fearfest of Amnesia. The veil of the truth is bound up with how much players trust their own memories in this grotesque brandishing of humanity’s limits. There’s just the right mix of helplessness to keep players anxious, but story bread crumbs to motivate curious players to explore. I don’t know what it’d be like to be stuck in an underwater facility knowing everyone else in the world was extinct. But Soma gave me enough of a glimpse to know I never want to go back. At least until there’s a PS5 sequel.
This is a bonus entry mainly because, for full disclosure purposes, I’ve met Hideo Kojima several times and have even told him in person how much I love P.T.. So yes, I acknowledge I’m biased. But honestly, no list about the scariest PS4 games would be complete without a mention of P.T., the playable teaser that struck terror into so many. I know a direct P.T. sequel is unlikely, but I would love to see a spiritual successor that takes what was teased to full fruition. The interminable hallway that slowly rips apart the mind, there’s a reason it’s resonated with so many, sapping away one’s sanity, hearing the whispers of a ghost literally following the player from beginning to end.
Bonus 2: The Fatal Frame Series
I hope the Fatal Frame series can make a comeback on the PS5. The series has been absent too long and we need to bust out our camera obscuras again!