I've played a lot of horror games. I'm no aficionado, but I do enjoy being scared, to an extent. Creepy movies, eerie games, and the occasional haunted house around Halloween are usually a thrill, although sometimes they're too much.
I don't play games like Resident Evil at night. Resident Evil 3 was almost more stressful than scary, with Nemesis popping up out of the blue all of the time.
Silent Hill was also unsettling. The fine-tuned dark atmosphere built on the fearful experience. Another game that always stuck with me was Soma. It plays with the idea of consciousness and what it means to be alive. That was almost more psychological but still stayed with me.
However, no game freaked me out more than Outlast.
There's a specific feeling I only get when playing a horror game. It's almost like a ringing in my ears and a heaviness in my stomach. The blood feels thin in my neck, the hairs all stand up, and I get short of breath. The worst part is feeling like I'm stuck in that fear and will never get out.
It's why I play but also why I can't play for too long.
All of the games I listed earlier have one thing in common (except Soma for the most part): you can fight back. Resident Evil is scary but you have a shotgun! You can always shoot your way out while conserving ammo to survive. In Outlast, you only have a hand-held camera.
Let's back up. Outlast is a survival-horror game from 2013. It follows protagonist Miles Upshur, as he investigates a run-down psychiatric hospital. The game starts innocently enough, with Miles finding his way inside through a window.
Soon after, things get a lot more complicated. Miles can't do a lot compared to the average character. He has no health bar and cannot attack enemies. His options are to hide, sneak, and use his camera. The camera's night vision is necessary to see in the dark, but you can't get too comfortable. If you use it too much, then the battery runs out, adding to the tension. Fortunately, batteries are strewn throughout the game.
The game masterfully lays out jump scares and grotesque images. You never get the feeling that you're not being chased. It's so creaky and dilapidated that even though it's been years since I played the thing, I still remember that feeling. I don't know if it's the powerlessness I felt that really made it stand out. It merely looks like another cookie-cutter horror game with mutilated bad guys, yet it is so much more.
The sound when an enemy spots you, knowing you have to run and find a place to hide, is awful.
I stopped playing when these ghost-like spirits appear and start flying toward you. I keep telling myself I'm going to go back, but never do. Since then, DLC and even a sequel came out that might forever stay in the dark, for me anyway.
Maybe one day I'll return, but the years keep slipping by and I just can't bring myself to do it.
I'm not the only one that holds this opinion. A quick search for "scariest game" brings up a video from gaming superstar PewDiePie. The video's title? "SCARIEST GAME? - Outlast Gameplay."