Unexpected Horror: When Games Betray You

You know how it goes… You’re all settled in for a nice gaming session with one of your favorite, not-scary games, when all of a sudden bam you’re in this situation that gives you the creeps you’d have never expected in your favorite fill-in-the-title game. Sometimes the area turns out to be a lot of nothing, and the game is either purposefully or not-purposefully feeding on our well-honed fears exploited by horror games. Sometimes it’s an Easter egg.

Sometimes it’s supposed to be just creepy enough to let you know something is going wrong and push the narrative along a desired path. But whatever the reason, you’re now on an unexpected creep-tastic ride you weren’t planning on. Here are eight unexpectedly creepy sequences in games that are overall not creepy, and a little delve into what makes them so adrenaline-inducing.

Thanks to LightningEllen, one of AmbiGaming’s Patrons, for the idea!

Beware minor spoilers for Gone Home, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, RiME, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.


The Basement in Gone Home

Gone Home isn’t, at its core, a horror game. Playing through it gives a completely different impression, and there were many times when I just knew the story was going to have a bad ending, but at the end, there really isn’t anything conventionally frightening that occurs. There’s plenty of horrible things happening, like the state of the parents’ relationship and the state of LGBT rights in 1995, but nothing pops out, no one tries to kill the main character, and it’s overall a quiet evening in an empty house.

That doesn’t keep the basement from being creepy.

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Because of the atmosphere of the game, and because of certain expectations within the horror genre, walking into the basement is a bit of a harrowing experience. Lights flicker off by themselves, there are more clues that push the story along, and it basically feeds into every horror expectation without the expected payoff.

The Broodmother Sequence in the Deep Roads in Dragon Age: Origins

Boy, nothing like a creepy underground maze with a creepy pink behemoth that waves sickly tentacles at you, vomits poison, and tries to crush the life out of you if you step one foot into the slimy ground near it, am I right?

Smack in the middle of Dragon Age: Origins is a venture into the Deep Roads, and underground series of roads at at one point connected the dwarven cities. Now they are overridden with monstrous darkspawn and other creatures that want nothing more than to eat your Grey Warden’s face for lunch.

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But fewer things are creepier than the broodmother sequence, which is kicked off by a whispered poem depicting kidnap, cannibalism, assault, and horrific transformations.

After that, it’s wriggling, pus-filled sacks and bloody walls and piles of torn flesh. It’s almost a relief when you reach the Broodmother. Except not quite.

The Collector’s Base in Mass Effect 2

I mean, I signed up to play a science-fantasy RPG and suddenly I’m in a spaceship that liquefies humans right before your eyes and makes them into a giant robot.

Cool, cool. I’ll be over here crying with my teddy bear.

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In all seriousness, Mass Effect 2 is my favorite Mass Effect game and I really did love the collector’s base sequence, but the game seemed to change from science fantasy to horror upon opening the bay doors of the Normandy, complete with zombies, poisonous bugs, and the aforementioned giant robot human. It was creepy. Maybe you had to be there, but it was creepy.

Yeta’s Transformation in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Zelda games are adorable, aren’t they? There isn’t anything frightening about them!

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Um, okay so maybe I should have had some warning. Twilight Princess is one of the darker Zelda stories, in both art style and story, but yet it still managed to maintain its quaint Zelda charm throughout. I mean, Link gets to go snowboarding with a friendly abominable snowman, Yeto, and his pleasant wife, Yeta (I suppose together they are the Yeti).

Image result for yeto and yeta zelda


All is fairly pleasant as Link tries to help Yeto make soup to cure Yeta’s illness, until Link finally happens across the cursed mirror shard he had originally come to find. Yeta tells him he can take it, only to fall under it’s spell and…

I was not ready.


The Statue of Happiness in Grand Theft Auto IV

Hats off to Rockstar on this one, really. Poor Niko Bellic just wanted to come to the USA for a better life, and wound up having the same one. While Grand Theft Auto games are often irreverent, this one struck close to home for me. The real-life Statue of Liberty has stood as a symbol of hope and freedom to immigrants since her arrival in New York Harbor in 1875, and inside her base is this inscription:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

She stands for the American ideal, no matter how close or far we fall from it at times.

But in Rockstar’s version, the inscription (on the Statue of Happiness’s book) reads thus:

Image result for statue of happiness

Give me your brightest, your sharpest, your most intelligent,
Yearning to breathe free and submit to our authority,
Watch us trick them into wiping rich people’s asses,
And convince them it’s a land of opportunity.

I get it. Ha-ha, make fun of the United States. This isn’t a political blog, but I will say that seeing the Statue of Liberty’s message so bastardized was a little disturbing. It only got worse when poor Niko traveled inside the statue and found a beating heart, chained up and with spikes pointing at it, ensuring that the beating heart of the country was held hostage by this idea of institutional happiness.

Image result for statue of happiness heart

Creepy, right?

The Colonel’s Freakout in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The music changes, Raiden is without his gear (completely) after being tortured, and now you have to navigate through the literal bowls of a giant robot all while trying to not freeze poor Raiden’s butt off. And then The Colonel starts spamming you with codec calls, and… Things get extra eerie.

Image result for the colonel freak out mgs2

From talking about alien abductions, to talking about some things that sound rather personal and private, to utter nonsense, probably the creepiest call is when The Colonel calls and starts saying Japanese names at breakneak speed.

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From there, things get even weirder, with pictures of women invading the codec and radar, and the Colonel becoming increasingly irritable (and irritating). It was unexpected, and having this last line of support stripped away from Raiden made the whole thing more terrifying than any other part of the game.

Snake’s Dream in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

One part Easter egg, one part nightmare, there is a portion in Snake Eater during which Snake is tortured and imprisoned. He can then call people on the codec, as one does in Metal Gear Solid games, and one of those people he can talk to is Para-Medic, a medical doctor/movie buff who tells him a story about Dracula.

Turn off the console and turn it back on, and Snake Eater is nowhere to be found.

Instead, you’re thrown into this sepia-toned warehouse, in control of a man with dual swords being attacked by men wielding giant meat-hooks. Kill enough of them, and your character turns into some sort of beast for a while before transforming back into a human. This goes on and on and on….

Image result for snake's dream mgs3

Until Snake finally wakes up in his cell. Some claim this isn’t in the Legacy collection for PS3, but I haven’t yet played that version so I can’t confirm if this Easter egg was kept in the game (rumor was that it was a teaser for a game that was never released).

But still. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t disorienting and creepy at the time…

Honorable Mention:

Bargaining (Chapter 3) in RiME

All I have to say is that everything was just fine and dandy until these shadows showed up and started following and hissing at me.

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What about you? What pleasant games surprised you with an unpleasant section? Are you familiar with any of the ones above? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!

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  1. Great list! I love that bit in MGS 2, it is so freaky! I actually find Zelda games quite scary in general and I think Twilight Princess is a particularly dark example.

    MGS 3 is a scary game! There were two bosses in that game that scared me a lot – The Sorrow and The End. The Sorrow is a weird one because it’s the way in which you beat him that’s the scary element. With The End though it’s a sniper battle across a large area. If you lose track of him and lie down to try and find him using your scope he can creep up behind you, and you catch a gilmpse of him just as he kills you. Absolutely terrifying!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! MGS games really are good for an “unintended” scare, aren’t they? I can see how The Sorrow is frightening. I thought that whole sequence was so fascinating I sort of forgot to be scared, and I was so angry at The End’s battle that it must have burned off any creep factor, but yeah I know exactly what you’re talking about and it is SO frightening!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s the original Thief rather than the remake, and you end up needing to go to an abandoned orphanage/asylum (obviously) that’s filled with undead former inmates that are near invulnerable. The atmosphere is fantastic in a game that’s so far been dark, but not horrifying, and there’s a lot of lore to discover about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The scariest moments in non-horror games I remember come all from edutainment*. One example I can think off the top of my head is Dinosaur 3D Adventure. 🤔 For some reason the combination of sad and at times dissonant music, the ticking clock, and the video of all those poor dinosaurs dying left an impression. And my young self was convinced for months that we were all going to die like dinosaurs did.

    *And the Broodmother. Because seriously, that’s actually the scariest moment in a non-horror game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First day the come, and take everyone… I have that whole poem memorized, if you can believe that… ugh ugh ugh.

      Poor dinosaurs! And poor mini-Fern…I guess there really isn’t anything like horror that lingers. But who is to say that we aren’t going to go the way of the dinosaurs?? dun dun dun… (don’t be mad 😛 )

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the boss fight with The Fury is waaayyy scarier in MGS3. You’d think it would be The Fear from his name alone or the creepy ambience of The Sorrow, but no. With The Fury, you’re being chased through pitchblack corridors by a flame-throwing astronaut in a jetpack. And then when you finally beat that fucker, he turns into a giant, flaming skull and comes straight at you. In the three times or so that I replayed MGS3 I was always dreading The Fury.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Fury was pretty horrifying, for sure!! Ugh. I found The Fear to be annoying and The Sorrow to be interesting, so any intended spookiness was lost on me. But yeah, I’m glad you bring up The Fury… and that face/skull at the end…. ugh…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ugh. The Collector Base in Mass Effect 2… I can’t shake that horrific feeling I got when I saw those poor people getting liquefied. Luckily, my Shepard saved Dr. Chakwas and Kelly from that terrible fate, at least. And Broodmother… *shudders*

    Anytime I see a redead in any Zelda game is a horrifying moment for me, haha. Oh and Mad Monster Mansion in Banjo-Kazooie scared little me a tiny bit. In Grand Theft Auto IV the parody serial killer named Eddie Low freaked me out a ton. I’m glad Niko took care of him.

    Thank you for the shout-out and for writing this post based on my Patreon suggestion!! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep… ugh.

      Redeads… oh man, those things scared the heck out of me when I was little. Those screams, man… I guess I haven’t played enough of Banjo-Kazooie or GTAIV to know those, but they sound creepy.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sure you’ll laugh at me, but the Ruined Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey was really unsettling. It was so against the grain of Mario games, and I hated how the Lord of Lightning (dragon) literally hung around after you defeated him. I was so afraid he’d wake up and attack me again, and his eyes are still open. It was just offputting in a game like that.

    Any unexpected body horror is terrifying. I need to be prepared for that! I mentioned FFVII’s Jenova in iplayedthegame’s post, though I can’t say it was entirely unexpected since FFVII does have more of an unsettling air to it than most other Final Fantasy games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t laugh! If something is scary, it’s scary, even if it’s in an adorable game like a Mario or Zelda one! At any rate, that does sound really really creepy… Maybe the game wanted you to live with the idea that you killed him? Was he an ambiguous character?

      You are right… I guess because to a certain extent we can all on some level imagine our own bodies in that situation and.. I’m going to stop that line of thinking right there. But still. Jenova sounds unsettling at best….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have an even longer list of scary stuff for Zelda games. I can’t believe series marketed towards children has screaming zombies o.O Well he wasn’t actually dead? You could actually talk to him. He just hung around afterwards. His eyes followed you and I just worried he’d attack you again.

        Yup, that’s what makes Body Horror so horrifying. That loss of autonomy gets to the core of how you see yourself. I think about movies like Tusk or The Fly. Oddly though werewolf movies don’t really incite that. Maybe because you can switch back.

        Liked by 1 person

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