The horror game is a hard thing to get right. At its best, the immersive nature of a good video game means that the player is attentive and absorbed, focused and primed to get scared out of their skin.
Done badly, though, it can be embarrassing - there’s not much worse than aiming for scary and ending up lame.
Horror is conjured by concepts and of course atmosphere, but in a video game, if you want to do scary, you need a good monster. Whether these are psychological enemies playing on human fear, grotesquely designed demons, or simply big beasts who can tear you apart, an imposing baddie is the best way to keep your players on the edge of their seats.
It can be hard to find much that's original in the horror genre these days, given how much content is churned out, but over the years creators have continued to find new and novel designs to keep our hearts racing.
However sick and twisted, gruesome and grotesque the designs get, just remind yourself - it’s only a game.*
10. Silent Hill 2 - Pyramid Head
The best horror comes from within. The Silent Hill series is the thinking man’s Resident Evil, adding a psychological depth to the survival horror genre. Its best creation is Pyramid Head, who appears in the eponymous town as a physical manifestation of protagonist James’ guilt over the death of his wife.
Pyramid Head is an avenging angel of sorts, a force of judgement summoned so that James might atone for his sins. Silent, brooding, and iconic in appearance, the monster stalks James across the game, swinging his blade like the Grim Reaper’s scythe.
Beyond the psychological elements, he’s simply a great piece of game design, imposing and seemingly unstoppable. Pyramid Head has become the distinctive image, the totem of the Silent Hill series, and unsurprisingly has been dragged out in further games, but the initial appearance remains by far the best, impactful and ingenious.
After so many years of pop cultural prominence, Pyramid Head’s fear factor has perhaps diminished, but he remains one of the best designed villains in gaming, as well as a lesson in diminishing returns.