Carrying on this month’s theme of horror in video games, it would be a disservice to not cover some of the creepiest and most terrifying enemies and creatures these games have. After all, what good is a creepy setting without the looming fear of danger to accompany the atmosphere of horror?
Even if some of those dangers can be taken down relatively easily, it’s not their combat that makes them scary; sometimes, their sheer presence can be enough to make us want to put the controller down, turn our gaming systems off, and binge a video playlist of puppies to bleach our eyes before calling it a day and drifting off to sleep.
This week, I’ll be covering my top 5 picks for some of the scariest creatures and enemies in video games. Keep reading to see which entries were picked, and why!
1. Clickers (The Last Of Us)
Since its release in 2013, Naughty Dog’s award-winning and critically acclaimed The Last Of Us has stood as a paradigm of the potential that compelling storytelling and character development can have in video games. While the game itself may seem like more of an action-adventure title, its gameplay and combat are both deeply rooted in elements of stealth and survival horror. To see what I’m talking about, just take a look at the game’s primary enemies: Clickers.
Unlike other infected humanoid enemies in the game, Clickers are creatures that appear more fungal in nature than zombie-like; the result of prolonged exposure to and infection by the Cordyceps parasite. As a result, their faces and skin are covered in protective fungal plates, keeping the host’s body barely alive while the infection spreads both within the host and to other potential hosts around them.
What makes Clickers so terrifying, although, is the subtle sounds and clicks they use to hunt via echolocation—sounds which also give them their name. Even more terrifying, however, is that Clickers are able to patiently wait in shadows and hidden corners in a kind of passive state, letting out a blood-curdling screech whenever they detect the slightest sound. With intelligence almost as high as their numbers, Clickers are rightfully one of the most feared enemies seen in video games over the past decade.
2. Hunters (Resident Evil)
Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise is one that routinely pushes the boundary of horror themes, be it existential, psychological, or body horror. Sure, fighting through hordes of different types of zombies and undead in an abandoned mansion in the mountains is creepy enough, but when a creature appears that plays on all of these themes while also treading the edge of the uncanny valley, that’s when Resident Evil’s horror truly gets to shine.
Few enemies in the series do this as well as the Hunters: a group of genetically engineered bioweapons that look like an equally tragic and menacing hybrid of humans, lizards, and apes. The bad news for players is that Hunters tend to exemplify the best qualities of the creatures used to create them, possessing the intelligence and musculature of humanity’s early ancestors, the armored scales and razor-sharp claws of a large reptile, and the lower body strength of a frog that allows them to close the distance between players almost faster than most of us can blink.
Though encountering one of these creatures can be startling enough, it’s when a Hunter spots a player and signals to its nearby kin that prey has been spotted that players really need to worry, as Hunters can rapidly leap around an already claustrophobic room causing bullets to miss while their claws and teeth rip the in-game character to shreds.
3. Gatherers (Amnesia: The Dark Descent)
Sometimes, less truly is more — especially within the realm of horror — and Frictional Games’ 2010 title Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a master example of this. In Amnesia, players follow the game’s protagonist, Daniel, on a spine-tingling journey through an 18th-century Prussian castle to discover why Daniel willingly consumed an amnesia-inducing potion. Between solving puzzles, fighting the onset of insanity, and exploring every nook and cranny Brennenburg Castle has, one aspect of the game becomes very clear early on that only adds to the title’s horror element: Daniel has no access to weapons, rendering him virtually defenseless.
This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the Gatherers — loyal servants of the castle’s patron twisted by poison, torture, and bodily experimentation — that aimlessly wander the castle’s halls. The only notice these monsters give Daniel to their presence is an audible growl when they enter his proximity, prompting the player to run and hide in the shadows. If the player attempts to look at the Gatherers, Daniel’s sanity wanes further, and staring at them for too long will actually alert them to the player’s location—all adding to the castle’s horrific setting and atmosphere.
In a further play on the game’s sanity mechanic, Daniel can even hallucinate the sounds and silhouettes of the Gatherers if his sanity gets too low, which can easily happen if a player lingers in the shadows of the castles for too long. And since there are no weapons Daniel can use to defend himself, players have to be very creative with the tactics they use to escape and survive these malicious and malformed monsters.
4. Skeletal Giants (Dark Souls)
It should be expected that a game notorious for its unapologetic difficulty and learning curve boasts at least some elements of horror, right? Fortunately for fans of horror themes in video games, Dark Souls does anything but disappoint.
After defeating the startlingly easy boss of the game’s Catacombs, the necromancer Pinwheel, players are given a direct path into the game’s next area: the Tomb of the Giants. Well…maybe not a direct path, since the route into the Tomb is as cavernous as it is pitch-black, meaning that players without an item or spell to offer extra light will be walking into the area essentially blind. With only gut instincts and audio to guide them, it’s not long before players catch their first glimpse of the dangers that await them deeper in the Tomb.
Through the stygian gloom, two tiny pinpricks of white light become visible. As players approach these lights, it quickly becomes clear how the Tomb gained its name, as they are attacked by a skeletal giant more than twice their size wielding an equally large sword. For players who refuse to steer clear of the threat, moving deeper through to winding pathways of the Tomb will soon force players to encounter two even more terrifying iterations of these creatures: skeletal archers, and quadrupedal skeletal beasts. To make matters even scarier, the latter possesses no eyes at all, meaning the only clue players have to their presence is their animalistic panting through the Tomb’s shadowy void.
5. Winter Lanterns (Bloodborne)
Every now and then, a video game will release with a certain enemy or creature so terrifying that it leaves players wondering just what kind of mind could come up with their design. Few games, however, exemplify this quite as well as the Winter Lanterns encountered in From Software’s 2014 hit title, Bloodborne.
The Lanterns are a near-perfect combination of bodily and cosmic horror. While initially appearing as a vaguely humanoid silhouette, it soon becomes clear that these enemies are abominable, eldritch horrors that would send H.P. Lovecraft himself running in fear. Their heads are covered in an amalgam of glossy, bulbous eyes and flesh that devolves into dozens of squid-like tentacles.
As if this weren’t horrifying enough, should one find the player’s character within their line of sight, the Lantern will make a b-line for the character and cause its Frenzy meter to rapidly build-up, resulting in a sudden and massive loss of health before the player has a chance to react. But even worse than that, however, is the demented “song” these creatures sing as they aimlessly wander Bloodborne’s hellish landscape. Just that sound alone is enough to induce nightmares in the most stoic of wills.