Top 10 Jump-Scares in Gaming: Cheap Scares That Really Got Us

In the world of survival horror there is no glory, no grandiose fantasies of triumph and success, just the cold hard reality of surviving in an uncaring world far from home. It doesn’t help that the horror elements react so nicely with this aspect. Why just make a compelling game about survival when you can add a few demon wolves in there to chase you around the map for a few minutes? After all, nothing says powerless more than an unsuspecting jump-scare and soiled pants. Though the term ‘jump-scare’ is one that often carries derision to whatever thing it describes as it often entails accusations of being a very unimaginative method of engaging the viewer with their work.

Typically a jump-scare is something to avoid during the long trek of developing a game, but done right a jump-scare can often add to the game’s apprehensive nature, giving the player something more to worry about than just the occasional wandering flesh-beast hungry for a slice of that protagonist pie. Though it is often a hard thing to pull off right, listed below are a few of those special gems of gaming jump-scares that really made us jump in more ways than one.

Playing Dead — Dead Space Series

This one comes from everyone’s favorite sci-fi survival horror necromorph slice-em-up by Visceral Games. In the grim and bloody world of Dead Space you play as Isaac Clarke, a space engineer who was tasked with repairing the communications arrays of the USG Ishimura after contact with Earth had suddenly dropped off after the discovery of a mysterious alien artifact in a distant star system.

Unbeknownst to this hapless every-man in deep space, the Ishimura had fallen prey to a particularly nasty ancient alien scourge that has a habit of mutilating corpses and bodies into twisted deformed flesh-monstrosities with a wide array of limbs, blades, and bludgeons to carry out their bloody work. Now it is up to Isaac to survive in this wretched place and find his way home so he can be called a nut-job by the general public and sectioned away in a mental facility.

Though the monsters themselves are a terrifying presence to behold even on their own, it’s when they start thinking and organizing that things really hit the metaphorical fan. Every often you’ll find these necromorphs lying still on the ground or hidden behind a convenient air vent waiting for unsuspecting Isaac Clarke to saunter past. In a startling moment of twisted contorted flesh, they appear talons poised and ready to strike at the player.

It’s a scare that fades in value over time understandably, seen one creepy-crawly scream at you while bursting through a vent, seen-em all. However, it is those first few minutes of piss-worthy moments that the ‘horror’ aspect of this game really kicks in.

Alma Wade — F.E.A.R. Series

It is here that I posit you, the viewer a question: How can you make a little girl, the bright and cheery-eyed picture of innocence, scary? Simple, give her long dark Japanese, horror-ghost hair, suck the bright out of her with a shop vacuum, and correct those cheery-eyes with plastic surgery in a permanent angry glare and singe her skin to the tone of pale death. That is pretty much how you describe Alma Wade, the demon-psychic child of Monolith Productions’ F.E.A.R..

The game revolves around the enigmatic Point Man, a recent recruit to a covert US government agency dedicated to discovering and containing paranormal anomalies known simply as First Encounter Assault Recon (hence F.E.A.R.), tasked with stopping Paxton Fettel and his battalion of telepathically controlled super soldiers. So it’s a shooty-gun game with a mildly convoluted storyline centered around magical psychics waging war on suspect mega-corporations who have done shady things for the name of profit, pretty standard fare for the genre of FPS even though the plot can get rather convoluted at times.

But there’s something more to this than just a simple “us versus them” scenario when it is discovered that this Mr. Fettle is under the control of an even more powerful individual by the name of Alma Wade. Occasionally, Alma will let her presence be known throughout the linear tale of this game, whether it be through the violation of your personal space or the psychotic delusions of a hemophiliac. The scares might lose their touch over time since they essentially boil down to just another set piece to move the plot along, but the first play through will very much inspire fear and terror for this devilish little miscreant.

Slenderman Shenanigans — Slender

Undoubtedly one of the more popular inhabitants of the Creepypasta world, the Slender Man is a faceless entity standing tall above any normal human clad in a black suit and red tie with an array of tentacles protruding from his back. As the subject of many popular YouTube channels and internet ghost stories, Slenderman made his debut into the video game world with Slender, a low-budget indie title produced by Parsec Productions.

Set in the deep woods in the dead of night — prime horror movie setting for a good-old high-school massacre — you play as a nameless, voiceless protagonist whose obviously suffering from a muscle disorder since they can’t run for more than four seconds before they settle into a light walking pace on a mission to obtain six pages of suspect origin from around this gated abandoned woodlands. Much to your chagrin, however, it appears you have attracted the attention of a certain faceless entity with an affinity for killing wandering gadabouts traipsing through his forest.

In comes the horror elements. Despite it’s rather low-res appearance, Slender does a wonderful job at creating this tense oppressive atmosphere of just waiting for Slenderman to appear. The silence, the dreaded silence. All you see is darkness halfheartedly illuminated by a constantly dimming flashlight. You sneak a quick glance behind you, no one. You heave a sigh of relief and turn back towards your path only to find that empty face staring at you, its many tendrils outstretched. I scream profanities to the high heavens and the bottled water at my side conveniently ends up on the floor.

Your Own Personal Hell — P.T.

A more recent entry into the dimly lit halls of horror, P.T. was developed as a sort of interactive teaser for the latest installment into the venerable Silent Hills franchise. Directed by Hideo Kojima with assistance by film director Guillermo del Toro, it’s a terrifying game despite its rather humble origins and offers a rather well-presented glimpse at what we should expect to see from the team behind this new title to the series.

Following the story of one nameless protagonist with a dark history that is subtly impacting the world around him, P.T. is essentially a point-and-click adventure wherein you discover the darkness lurking deep within your human psyche and you discover more about yourself than you’d ever care to learn. Endlessly you wander the same hallway over and over, each time adding a new element to discover, a new horror awaiting to gnaw at your nightmares.

P.T. is your own personal hell, a suffering that you alone had wrought through your actions. A life ended in a flare of violence, a family snuffed out in its budding, all you can do is wait for the consequences of your anger to catch up to you, and when she does… let’s just say that you should probably have your eyes closed for that one.

Though P.T. may be more psychological horror than anything else, the one-eyed decayed form of the wife running at you from the end of that long hallway, her mouth ever turned into a freakish grin, will haunt the darkest depths of your mind for the rest of your natural life.

The Broken-Necked Lady — Fatal Frame Series

Often considered one of the hallmarks of the survival horror genre, the Fatal Frame series is centered around using the Camera Obscura to combat the cadre of tormented souls and spirits that haunt the winding halls of whatever place dark and damp enough to support them. An interesting take on the FPS mechanic, after all it wouldn’t be as intense of an experience if you were simply handed a fully loaded M16 and told to go kick those terrorist-ghosts in the face.

A lot of the horror happens organically because of the fixed camera angles. Imagine a scenario wherein you leave a room having just finished rifling through the possessions of whatever long-dead occupant had, the view angle lies positioned just above you, obstructing your view of whatever’s in front of you. Absent-mindedly you bring up the camera to gain a sense of your surroundings only to be greeted by a cold set of glazed over eyes leering at you from a head that is tilted way too far to the left.

The specter floats forward, mouth agape in a twisted, silent screaming, those cold, dead eyes fixated on you. Freak-out mode engaged, you start snapping pictures away, stunning the creature with your masterful expertise at photography. The specter fades and once more you are left alone in this forsaken village.

The Mannequins are Alive… — Condemned: Criminal Origins

A personal favorite of mine from the creatively demented minds of Monolith Productions, Condemned:Criminal Origins follows the story of Ethan Thomas, atypical white-bread American police investigator, who was tasked with discovering the identity of one Serial Killer X, a murder whose victims draw from other serial killers that are being investigated within  the city of Metro. The plot becomes a bit more supernatural near the end with the main antagonist being the pawn of some far more powerful demented monstrosity — kinda like F.E.A.R. which makes sense considering that Monolith was the development team behind both of these titles — but the scares are more than real.

One of the more terrifying scares comes when Ethan, following a lead on a serial killer known as the ‘Match Maker’, investigates a dilapidated department store only to find this aforementioned murder slain by the hand of his own technique. During the trek through this once-vibrant outlet shop, you notice a group of mannequins arrayed in an odd formation around a hole nearby.

Suddenly the scree grows blurry, a loud screeching can be heard from behind you, tentatively you glance back only to find that same group of mannequins forming an impenetrable line barring the way back, all you can do is move forward. You take a few steps only to hear that familiar screech accompanied by that all-too-eerie fuzz, the mannequins have moved closer to you, each of their heads focusing their cold emotionless eyes on the player and again leaving you with only one way to go: forward.

They seem to multiply as you near your destination, growing from an even six to about a dozen by the time you throw yourself into the pit away from whatever paranormal anomaly had possessed these mannequins. You look up one more time and there they were, staring down at you with those cold, blank eyes in the same position they had been when you had stumbled upon this forsaken department store.

Killer Animatronics — Five Nights at Freddy’s

The latest sensation to his the horror highway of the Internet, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a point-and-click adventure from the eyes of a nebbish security officer tasked with watching over a grimy backhand Chuck E. Cheese ripoff in the late hours of the night. Rather boring topic for a game, right? Well you’d be surprised to learn that it is perhaps one of the most apprehensive title that I’ve ever come across.

Here’s the kicker, those funny animatronics that dance around all day singing about how great eating pizza is or why children should spend their hard-earned money on the slim chance that they’ll be able to get a bike with that pitiable hoard of tickets, they like to move around at night. Not only that, apparently they run on a ‘kill-all-humans’ programming that causes them to forcibly seek out any nearby humans and shove them into the cramped confides of an animatronic suit.

Your only defense are two blast-proof doors, an array of security cameras, and a weak generator with a power life just short of my iPhone battery (Dead at 34%? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?). All you can do is sit and watch as the horrible nasties dart from room to room, growing closer and closer to your little security booth.

Did you check those lights? What about the stage, is Freddy still there? The cove… look at the cove… Oh god, Foxy’s almost out…

It’s terrifying to say the least. The silence, the dreaded silence, in the distance you can hear the maniacal cackle of Freddy as he stalks the empty halls of this once vibrant pizza joint, searching for his next victim.

Shut the doors, check the cameras, and pray to god that he doesn’t find you. Because if he does… let’s just say you might want to sleep with the lights on tonight.

The Bloody Locker — Silent Hill

Another classic from the genre of survival horror, Konami’s first installment in the Silent Hill franchise stands as wonderful testament to the game’s apprehensive nature and it’s ability to induce pee-pants worthy fear in the user. It’s a game that uses limited field of view and restricted ammo reserves as a tension builder in a town full of horrible monstrosities seeking to rend your supple flesh from the bone.

The first game follows the story of Harry Mason and his daughter Cheryl who, while on an unspecified road-trip into the creepy hills, crash while trying to avoid a girl who seemingly materialized out of the mist. Harry ends up unconscious due and his daughter is carried off by a plot device, thus beginning his descent into the town of Silent Hill, a village that is beset on all sides by an eerie darkness.

Though the series might be more well-known for its psychological horror, it is a title that undoubtedly sports some of the most sheet-wettingly worthy jump scares that I’ve ever seen in a game. One particular one occurs while Harry is exploring the abandoned elementary school of Silent Hill. On the first run through the abandoned locker rooms, you discover that a cat had been trapped in one of the lockers. As night descends upon the town and you inevitably make your way back to that same locker, however, you discover something entirely different and much more terrifying.

Upon approaching the rumbling kitty-locker, you noticed that blood is seeping from the bottom of it and opening it only confirms your suspicions that whatever was in there was viciously and brutally massacred. Thinking that the worst is over, you let your guard down only for a nearby locker to burst open with its fleshy monster-shaped contents in tow. There’s not enough bleach in the world to alleviate these soiled trousers.

Sanity Checks — Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Now we move to a relatively unknown cult-hit from the Nintendo Gamecube era, from Silicone Knights we have Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. It’s a unique game centered around a ‘sanity meter’, a green bar that usually determines whether or not you have received your allotted fright for the day. It gets depleted the longer you are seen by the enemy, however, finishing them allows your fragile psyche to recover a bit. Let it reach zero, though, and the game begins to exhibit some rather weird symptoms from intentional texture glitches that causes the player’s head to fall off to terrifying flashes of a long dead roman general staring at you with a ghoulish set of hollowed sunken-out eyes.

You play as Alexandra Roivas, a jilted granddaughter who is attempting to investigate the murder of her grandfather at his Rhode Island mansion, she discovers a mysterious tome called The Tome of Eternal Darkness, a book that is capable of allowing the user to experience the lives of people of ages past. It’s one the supernatural side of the whole ‘horror’ genre, with Alexandra occasionally being chased around the manor by evil undead minions.

But, like I said, the horror elements really kick in when that precious ‘sanity meter’ reaches zero. One of the more compelling sanity checks occurs when the player is visiting a rather nondescript bathroom. Everything seems fine initially, however, that all changes when you near the bathtub. In an instant the camera flashes an up-close look of a dead girl lying bloodied and cut up in a bathtub filled with blood, you hear a scream somewhere in the background and you’re unsure of whether or not it was the game or you that had produced that audible shriek.

The Zombie Doberman — Resident Evil

Another classic of the survival horror genre brought to us by Capcom and Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil follows the F.E.A.R. mode of survival horror by setting the protagonist against hoards of mutated products of science gone awry with nothing but a few clips of ammo and a combat knife. The story pretty much follows that same format too, now that I think about it: government sanctioned team of professional soldiers and police officers tasked with uncovering evil plot x and end up getting in way over their head when evil man y does evil mad science all over the place.

You play the role of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two members of Raccoon City’s Special Tactics And Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) Alpha Team, tasked with investigating a recent rash of cannibalized murders on the outskirts of the city. Events naturally coalesce into full-blown zombie dog jam-fest and the remaining members of Alpha Team are forced to take shelter in a nearby ‘abandoned’ manor in order to escape the hoards of dogs.

It’s a game that wears its horror elements proudly on its chest with confining camera angles and shambling zombies, but perhaps one of the greatest scares ever levied against the audience comes when you traipse down a rather innocent-looking hallway. Remember those zombie dogs I mentioned earlier? Well the game wasn’t all too keen on simply keeping them as some interesting set piece. The hallway you end up traversing is home to many man-sized windows perfect for crashing through and these undead canines are keen on just doing that.

The first one gets you primed for the next one and then the next one. It’s too bad I’m too busy filling up my shorts with congealed fear to indulge the surviving aspect of this game.

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5 Comments on “Top 10 Jump-Scares in Gaming: Cheap Scares That Really Got Us”

  1. 10/28/2014 at 10:30 PM #

    I remember constantly “testing” all the corpses in Dead Space with some gentle taps (or possibly that not so gentle uber curb stomp move). I kind of felt like a terrible person, but I wasn’t taking any chances!

  2. 10/29/2014 at 5:44 AM #

    Excellent choices! It’s weird that you know that some of them are coming but when it happens it still makes you poop yourself.

  3. 11/04/2014 at 10:30 PM #

    Know what the first jump out of my seat moment for me in gaming was? I had just installed Daggerfall, and made it out of the first dungeon. I had restarted a time or two, and this time it was snowing around me at night, with that crazy peaceful nighttime music.. all of a sudden a BEAR CHARGES ME from the side growling. I was so taken in by the peaceful atmosphere that it just shattered my world. I jumped and shouted in real life.


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