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Terrifying video game moments that shook us to the core

From survival horror titles like Resident Evil to more action-oriented supernatural fare like Doom, the horror genre has a tight grip on the video game industry. As long as people enjoy being scared, horror video games will serve as a go-to interactive experience for the more courageous among us. However, even the most hardened horror hounds have their limits. 

While video games sometimes go too far, featuring elements that are in extremely poor taste, other encounters are brilliantly designed. Devious game developers continue to push the envelope, with some establishing themselves as masters of the art of freaking players out.

With that in mind, let's take a look back at moments from video games that were so scary you probably had a hard time shaking them. These scenes sit in the back of your mind and rear their snarling heads whenever you think about a particular game. You know you love to fear them. There be monsters (and spoilers) ahead.

Lost in the dark - Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice has no shortage of ways to frighten gamers. It's not only an effective horror tale, but it also doubles as a fascinating and unforgiving look at the ravages of mental illness. The game takes advantage of every trick in its arsenal to make sure you're never completely at ease. 

One of the ways it accomplishes this is by removing or manipulating the senses. Its use of sound design is incredibly unnerving, but its when Hellblade takes away your sight that it becomes almost unbearably scary. With only the sound of water and the breeze to guide Senua, the Blindness Shard Trial is easily the most nerve-wracking sequence in the game. 

You find yourself creeping along as slowly as possible, catching only fleeting glimpses of a disgusting, shifting mass. The dark is deep and full of horrific creatures. One wrong move and you're finished. The moment when Senua realizes she's not alone is enough to send chills down your spine, particularly thanks to Melina Juergens' incredibly vulnerable voice acting performance.

The thing in the sink - P.T.

Given its brief run-time and general feeling of hopelessness, nearly all of interactive demo P.T. could be considered one long terrifying moment. However, if we have to narrow it down to one segment that truly gave us the willies and threw us through a loop, that's easy. It'd have to be the unforgettable encounter with a talking fetus that is still messing with our heads.

Though it seems to take forever to reach the end of the haunted hallway in P.T., you may wish you had stayed with Lisa, the ghost who always follows you, when you see the Baby. This bloody creature writhes in a sink and will occasionally address the player directly. Speaking in a voice previously heard through the in-game radio, the Baby will taunt the protagonist over his crumbling marriage and professional failures. It's fully unnatural and upsetting, and made even worse by the dim lighting and the Baby's twitchy movements.

Mia attacks - Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7 turned the series' formula on its head. Rather than starting with a town infested with zombies, players spend the first chunk of the game in a seemingly-abandoned farmhouse. Ethan, the main character, is looking for his wife, Mia, who disappeared in the area. When he finally finds her, he'll wish he had never come looking.

While Mia appears confused but mostly unharmed, Ethan quickly finds that nothing on the Baker farm is as it seems. Mia grows violent, culminating in one of the most chilling moments of a game full of heart-stopping sequences. 

After getting separated from Mia in the house, Ethan descends a dark staircase. All you can hear in the darkness is the sound of labored breathing. After a few excruciating moments, you see Mia crawling up the steps. She comes at Ethan with a superhuman amount of strength, signaling once and for all this will be a Resident Evil game unlike any other. Seeing her lurching out of the shadows is the single scariest moment in the game.

Moira Asylum - Thief

Thief isn't exactly a scary game. Sure, it embraces the supernatural in interesting ways, including exploring the concept of a city's life essence. There's also a lot of tension to be had as part of the sneaking around inherent in the game's premise. Still, nothing can really prepare you for a visit to the hellish Moira Asylum.

This part of the game drips with atmosphere. The ambient sounds and jump scares keep you on edge, but it's the Freaks that will really have you trembling. Freaks are patients at the asylum mutated by magical experiments. Though you'll find them here and there throughout the game, they come out in swarms in this area. 

You'll also have to contend with disorienting flashes from the past and statues that seem to move on their own. These elements all add up to create a disorienting and spine-chilling chapter.

Man-Bat makes an entrance - Batman: Arkham Knight

While not strictly a horror game, Batman: Arkham Knight delves into much darker territory than previous installments in the franchise. With the mind-altering Scarecrow serving as the game's central antagonist, how could it not? However, the single scariest moment in the game doesn't even involve the iconic villain. 

Tthe biggest scare occurs while Batman is traversing the Gotham rooftops. Just as he pulls himself up onto a skyscraper, he's greeted by the nightmarish, screeching visage of Man-Bat, a human/bat hybrid monster. This kicks off a chase to hunt down the creature, just as soon as you catch your breath. 

The first encounter with Man-Bat seems completely at random, making it all the more shocking. Worse, as Batman's hallucinations intensify later in the game, a vision of the Joker appears out of nowhere in a similar manner. It's almost like the game is mocking you for being spooked the first time.

The Dunwich Horror - Fallout 3

While the Fallout series is no stranger to darkness (after all, it takes place after the end of the world), it rarely delves into the plainly supernatural. However, one of the series' most infamous flirtations with the unexplained is the Dunwich Building in Fallout 3.

Inspired by the works of author H.P. Lovecraft, the Dunwich Building looks like an ordinary office building on the outside. Inside, you'll find multiple hints that something otherworldly has transpired there. Notes scattered throughout the building hint at ancient rituals gone horribly wrong, as well as some kind of occult activity that still occurs on the site.

Ghouls wait around every turn, as well as occasional visions forced on the player. During these brief flashes, you see the building as it appeared before the nuclear war. You see the feral ghouls as ordinary human beings, as if time has broken in some places. Fallout often expects players to rely on their wits to survive, but this is one place where you can't even trust your eyes. By the time you reach the mysterious obelisk in the basement, you'll long for something less spooky, like a swarm of radscorpions.

Whatever you do, don't move - Until Dawn

Until Dawn is full of quick time events that require you to react in a prompt manner, lest one of the cast of characters suffer a terrible fate. Most of these take the form of button-mashing or a quick combo of joystick moves, but there's one type of QTE that will really have you sweating.

During the "Don't Move" segments, you must hold the DualShock controller perfectly still to avoid alerting the monsters in the game to your presence. This sounds simple enough, but you're only asked to do this during the most jitter-inducing segments, usually after a particularly tense chase sequence. This is especially difficult during the game's final moments, in which a twitchy controller can make a world of difference when it comes to how many of your characters make it out alive (if any). Love them or hate them, these QTEs stick with you.

Must be something in the water - Amnesia: The Dark Descent

People continue to talk about Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It's a moody experience that messes with your perception of reality. The fact that the lead character doesn't even understand what's happening keeps you unsettled for nearly its entire run-time.

However, there's a single sequence that likely comes to mind for anyone who has played the game. Amnesia is a triumph of sound design and this really comes through in the flooded cellar of Brannenburg Castle. After teasing you with the sounds of something creeping after you through the catacombs, you finally see an invisible force stomping toward you in the shallow water. You have no weapons (not that you can fight what you can't see), so your only choice is to run.

This terrifying scene has burned itself into the collective brains of the internet thanks to plenty of amazing reaction videos. Even if you know what to expect, it'll still scare the living daylights out of you.

The finger amputation - Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain is a bizarre interactive mystery featuring more than a few moments that come entirely out of left field. At one point, the player character, Ethan Mars, is put in an unenviable position. The serial killer Ethan has been tracking offers to give him valuable information, but Ethan has to do one thing in return: cut off a finger.

The killer sets a timer, presenting you with an impossible choice. Not only must you decide whether you can take the Origami Killer at their word, but which of the instruments in the room to use when amputating Ethan's digit. Will you use a saw or a knife? Will a pair of pliers do the trick? It's a gut-wrenching sequence made even more horrifying by voice actor Pascal Langdale's blood-curdling screams.

Trapped in the basement - The Last of Us

The Last of Us is a violent and frequently horrifying experience. Beyond its many encounters with infected creatures and evil human beings, it grapples with heady feelings of hopelessness and the fear of abandonment. This is how Naughty Dog makes you care so deeply for the tale of Ellie and Joel as they traverse the apocalyptic landscape.

When it wants to, the game goes for straight-up monstrous scares. Fans tend to agree that one of the most intense moments in The Last of Us occurs when Joel is separated from Ellie in the basement of an old hotel. The lights are out and you can hear the infected somewhere in the shadows.

After cranking up an old generator, the monsters come screeching out of the darkness. Though the infected are ever present in the story, the game rarely throws this many of them at you at once, especially in such a cramped space. This is an early moment when Joel is swarmed, so it's easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when you see the giant "bloater" shuffling towards you.

Debilitas just wants to play - Haunting Ground 2

Haunting Ground was something of a spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series, featuring several horrific hallmarks of that classic scary franchise. One of the nods to Clock Tower includes characters who act as stalkers, unstoppable forces that chase the protagonist throughout the game. The most frightening of these stalkers would have to be the very first one heroine Fiona encounters: Debilitas.

Debilitas is a hulking creature with a childlike personality that stems from years of abuse. The worst thing about Debilitas might just be that he doesn't seem particularly malevolent. He sees Fiona as a new doll to play with. He's huge, powerful, and cannot be reasoned with. 

When Debilitas first appears, it's a genuinely shocking moment. A small doll is thrown angrily across the room, slowly followed by Debilitas stepping into frame, who is immediately taken with Fiona. Oh, and did we mention that he has the senses of a dog? Yeah, Debilitas will occasional drop down to all fours and give chase, which is the kind of nightmare fuel that sets the tone for the rest of the game.

The empty locker gag - Silent Hill

The Silent Hill series is full of disgusting monsters and terrifying moments. Some of the series' most upsetting sequences are the dreaded jump scares that come out of nowhere and leave you howling and throwing your controller in terror. One of the greatest of these frights occurs in the franchise's very first installment. 

While exploring a locker room in the Otherworld, you'll hear the sound of something slamming and knocking around. You'll finally find the one locker with a door that looks as though something wants out. You work up the nerve, open the locker and ... nothing is inside. After a moment, you cool down and continue walking through the room, only to have a corpse to come slamming out of another locker next to you.

This subversion of expectations makes it the single best jump scare in the first Silent Hill game.

Watch your feet, Sam! - Death Stranding

Death Stranding is full of small oddities, as you expect from the brainchild of games maestro Hideo Kojima. Even when you know the game is going to be weird going in, there are still moments of genuine shock found within even the most seemingly peaceful areas.

Case in point: the private rooms. These spots are littered throughout the game's open world, allowing protagonist Sam Bridges to stop and recuperate before continuing with his missions. They're meant to be safe havens for Sam and the player, which is why one particular hidden scare seems so out of left field. 

If you move the camera down to Sam's feet and zoom in, you may be treated to a surprising cutscene. An inky black void forms around Sam's feet and hands rise up to grab him. Just as the face of Sam's attacker starts to become clear, Sam seemingly wakes up from a nightmare. Everything appears back to normal, but you won't feel quite as safe in a private room ever again.