Confession time: I've only ever played one video game which is considered a part of the survival horror genre, that game being Amnesia. I've never played any Resident Evils, or Silent Hills, or Fatal Frames, or Dead Spaces, or Slender Mans or what have you. And it's not because I think they would be too scary, it's actually kind of the opposite. I think it has something to do with marketing. Video games, and movies too, which are marketed as terrifying experiences, excellent examples of the horror genre, just don't do anything for me. I'd go into them expecting to be scared, and it just wouldn't work. It's exactly what happened when I played Amnesia, which was a cool game, but it never made me jump in fright or feel dread or panic, because I knew the game was trying to scare me.
However, there are a few video games I've played which actually did scare the pants off of me, but interestingly they're never classified under the horror genre. And I think that's exactly why they were so scary to me. I'm not going into these games expecting any terrifying situations, so they creep up on me and surprise the crap out of me. Before I know it, I'm playing the game super carefully, as if I'm home alone at night, nervously exploring a darkened house to find the source of a mysterious noise.
The first game that ever truly scared me was the original Tomb Raider for the Playstation. Ugly graphics aside, the game was very immersive to my ten-year-old self who had just discovered 3D gaming. I was going into this game expecting an exciting adventure through caves and ruins in search of hidden treasure, probably fighting off bats and wolves and other adventurers, something like Indiana Jones: the Video Game (but hopefully without the melting skeletons!). And in fact, the first part of the game does feel very much like a video game version of Indiana Jones. There's caves, and bats, and wolves, and traps, and boulders, and secrets, and there's nothing that I can't handle!
Or so I thought. At this point in the game, everything seems pretty normal, save for a few unsettling things. The first weird thing I noticed was a nasty, half-mummified skeleton which is just lying out in the open. It doesn't do anything, other than provide some very creepy atmosphere. Not to mention it's constantly looking at you (due to being a 2D sprite in a 3D game). I spent a lot of time examining it because it seemed so weirdly out of place. What happened to this person? What kind of creature did this? My imagination was starting to run wild, so I decided to just put it behind me and continue on.
Then there was the music. While sometimes beautiful and mysterious, to bring wonder to the unknown ruins you're exploring, the 'music' for the most part consists of silence, interrupted by occasional strange noises. It puts you on edge, wondering what's making the sounds and what could be hiding around the next corner. There's also the enemy music, which can suddenly begin even when you don't see any enemies, so that you know you're being hunted! It can definitely surprise you, causing you to whip out your guns and look around wildly for the enemy.
The only other parts of the first couple levels that were slightly unsettling were the underwater parts, because you can't use weapons while swimming. Luckily, there were never any enemies in the water, so it was no big deal, but the first few swimming sections were pretty tense nonetheless.
So all is going well and good, until I get to the third level, the Lost Valley. As I wander around the level, picking up a shotgun and an abundance of health packs, I start to notice more and more skeletons scattered about. Maybe they were killed by all these wolves? Eventually I make my way to a jungle area, which must be the valley, and can't help but notice some odd tracks on the ground. They kinda look like they were made by a... no, it can't be. Then I hear footsteps and a terrible screech. What was that? Something red is running towards me. Oh shit, is it a dinosaur? Kill it, kill it!
After I take down the enemy, which took a lot more bullets than anything else I've killed up to this point, I carefully approach and examine the body. It looks like a raptor. Well this was certainly unexpected! I continue through the jungle, but now I'm being much more cautious. Any odd sound makes my heart skip a beat. I come upon a broken bridge way up above my head, and as I approach it, the enemy music starts up. More raptors? The ground shakes. Oh no. Out of the shadows leaps a massive T-Rex!
At this point, I shrieked, paused the game and promptly fell out of my seat. Like literally fell backwards off the ottoman I was sitting on. I just was not prepared for that moment at all, even after seeing the raptors. How could I fight something so big? I took a few moments to plan out a strategy of backflipping and shooting, before I finally unpaused the game. I hesitated, and the T-Rex bounded forward and ate me. It straight up grabbed my torso in its jaws, thrashed me around, and threw me to the ground, and I was dead. Welp.
Eventually, I manage to dispose of the T-Rex. I examine its corpse up-close, but very cautiously. I keep half expecting it to suddenly come back to life, I just don't know what to expect anymore. I make my way to the next level, the Tomb of Qualopec. This place is indoors, which makes me feel a little bit safer. But in the very first room, I'm assaulted by a rogue boulder and a pack of raptors. The dinosaurs escaped the valley?! Now I'm fully expecting to have to fight another T-Rex. They could be anywhere!
As it turns out, the Tomb of Qualopec is mostly devoid of enemies, save for the aforementioned raptors and a pack of wolves. But the scenery is becoming increasingly ominous. This level introduces the giant, bloody spikes of death, an obstacle that I quickly learned to avoid at all costs, because of how horrific Lara's death animation is when she gets impaled on them! There's like a popping, squelching sound as Lara doubles over, it was just too much for me. It sent shivers down my spine every time it happened.
After acquiring an artifact from the tomb, Lara travels to Greece, the second location in the game, to a place called St. Francis' Folly (probably my favorite level in the game!). The first part of the level isn't too bad, as we seem to be returning to more normal enemies. Lions and gorillas are much less frightening than dinosaurs! Then you reach a corridor which suddenly becomes a long slide down into a flooded sewer-like area. Water? No big deal. But wait, did I just see something moving? Is that a freaking crocodile? But I can't use my weapons in the water, so what do I do?! I gotta get out of the water, FAST.
And with that, I'm now terrified of the water again. No place is safe. Everything is trying to kill me. The latter part of the level is a tower with rooms devoted to gods of various mythologies, full of deadly traps based off of those gods' powers. Why not just Greek gods? Who knows. All I know is that even the gods are trying to kill me!
I make my way through the Grecian ruins rather uneventfully until I come upon the Tomb of Tihocan. I find myself at the entrance of the tomb, which is decorated with two majestic centaur statues. You can examine them to find that they basically do nothing, just decoration. You need to open the door of the tomb, though, which requires a switch. But after you pull the switch and make your way towards the door, one of the statues suddenly bursts and comes to life! You're faced with a grotesque, possibly undead centaur which appears to be all muscles and bones, and it starts shooting fireballs at you. I about had another heart attack, similar to the T-Rex reveal. And Jesus, this enemy is scary! What the hell is it? A zombie centaur? Once you defeat the enemy, it explodes, leaving no corpse behind to examine. So now I don't even know what kind of enemies I'm up against!
After clearing the second tomb, I find myself in Egypt, and now the game has entered full-blown horror territory. The Egyptian levels are crawling with all sorts of bizarre, hideous monsters. Mummies shriek and leap at you from nowhere, with freakish speed. Mummies are supposed to be slow and creepy, not quick and agile and fucking terrifying! Those things made my heart stop every time I encountered one. You'll find more undead centaurs, too, as well as other weird zombie creatures and even some horrifying, flying demon mutants! What the hell is happening? We've gradually gone from a grand Indiana Jones adventure to an unexpectedly gruesome horror game. And the creepiness doesn't stop here.
After Egypt, you finally make your way to the lost city of Atlantis. But Atlantis probably doesn't look like what you expected. The lost city turns out to be a pyramid of throbbing, pulsing flesh, filled with huge eggs which spontaneously burst open to reveal more zombies, centaurs, flying demons and the like. There's even a zombie which mimics your every move, and looks like a version of Lara that has been skinned alive!
This all leads up to the final boss of the game (essentially), which turns out to be a gigantic, legless, mutant torso, which pulls itself along the ground with its arms, as you stare in horror at its exposed bones, muscles and tendons. I mean, what else would you expect? Everything has been leading up to the most horrifying thing imaginable, and this is certainly it. The thing seems to take FOREVER to kill, and yet it can kill you with the flick of its wrist (literally; he'll grab you and slam you against the ground, breaking your entire body!). After it's defeated, you have to escape from the crumbling ruins of Atlantis, fighting one last boss along the way, the main antagonist, Natla. She's not nearly as tough or terrifying as the torso mutant (though she does grow demon wings), so I don't really consider her to be the final boss. After defeating her, you can finally escape from the horrifying hellscape that is Atlantis and beat the game!
The horror elements in Tomb Raider are exactly the kinds of things you would expect to see in a typical survival horror game. Foreboding music and atmosphere play a huge role, along with elements of surprise, grotesque monster designs, and an escalating amount of horrific situations as the game progresses. For a typical horror game, these elements would be expected. But since the game was marketed as an action-adventure game, they come as a complete surprise while you're playing. In this case, I'd say it was a welcome surprise!
It's interesting to see how the Tomb Raider series has developed over time. Most of the Tomb Raider games still retain that horror element to some extent, but the games have never been marketed as such. Even the newest game, the 2013 reboot, still has some story elements taken right out of the horror genre. There's gruesome human sacrifices, supernatural forces, and even a river of blood which Lara has to swim through. Yet you would never guess the game could be so horrific until you actually play it. I really think this is one of the Tomb Raider series' most entertaining qualities, and it's kept me coming back for more with every new release.
About Ben Davis One of us since 8:23 PM on 09.16.2010
Ben, a.k.a. bbain, has been a member of the Dtoid community since 2009. He enjoys the happier things in life, like whales, Katamari Damacy, yams, and cartoons. The first game he ever beat was Super Mario RPG, which ignited his passion for video games.
Disclosure: I have never backed any video game on Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform.
I was the Friday recapper for the Cblog Recaps team for 3 years!
Games that I thoroughly enjoy:
Shadow of the Colossus
EarthBound and Mother 3
Demon's Souls and Dark Souls
Persona 3 and 4
Team Fortress 2
Super Mario RPG
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Mega Man Legends
Super Meat Boy
Beyond Good & Evil
Dragon Quest VIII
Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII and IX
Mega Man 2
Super Mario Sunshine
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Endless Ocean: Blue World
Other things that I thoroughly enjoy:
Studio Ghibli films
Eels (the band... and the animal too)
Kill la Kill