I’m not talking about Dead Space, no, the scariest game I’ve ever played is Might and Magic VI. Not a scary game in any traditional sense, it’s not a thriller or survival horror or even a murder mystery. But there are certain qualities of it that have me on the edge of my seat with tension building in my throat and a nervous fluttering in my chest as I play it.
Not actual gameplay.
For those of you unfamiliar with the game it’s a first-person, dungeon crawler, sandbox game, akin to a computer version of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, or a very early version of Skyrim. It’s also an old game with a graphics quality that is laughable by today’s standards. You create a team of four characters choosing their classes and starting stats and a portrait to represent each one. After a bit of story fluff you’re hurled into the starting town and left to your own devices. After which you’ll do the typical Morrowind and Baldur’s Gate stuff: talk to NPCs, kill random monsters, explore dungeons and loot everything that isn’t nailed to the floor.
Nothing particularly scary so far, but the first thing to learn is that death lurks behind every corner. The game can be quite difficult, perhaps due to its free-range approach allowing you to get in over your head rapidly. It’s not uncommon to find yourself surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies, the situation not being helped by the explosions and slash effects being writ large across your computer screen every time you take a hit, which happens a lot.
“Oh, hello…Didn’t see you there…Having a little party? We’ll be going then…Bye!”
Just like Doom, MM6 has a first-person perspective, and a lot of walls and corners, often with monsters waiting behind them and creeping up behind you. It’s not uncommon to turn around and see a monster in your face. Except, sometimes there won’t be a monster there, as every scary masterpiece knows, the expected isn’t scary so you’ll find yourself constantly checking over your shoulder to see nothing until the one time you don’t check…
What about the sound, surely that would give away a monster following you? It might well do, the problem is you’ll hear a lot of monster noises and they could be far away or right beside you. The noises ultimately just make you more nervous as you experience that feeling of there being someone there but you don’t know where, like a bump in the night.
There is another way to track nearby monsters, the game gives you a small gemstone for each character that changes colour. If it’s green you’re safe. Yellow means there’s something hostile nearby and red means it’s on top of you. It’ll be red more often than not though, early 3D systems rarely included height in distance calculations meaning the monsters on the floors above and below will be detected. It’ll also pick up enemies on the other side of a door, great! Except that you once again enter into that element of, ‘I know something’s there, but I don’t know what’. It could be a feeble rat creature, or a psychopathic, inferno wielding devil.
So we’ve got dark dungeons, surprise monsters, a lot of suspense and the unknown. What about vicious, all-powerful monsters that kill you in one hit? As I mentioned earlier, the free roaming element of the game can get you in over your head. There’s one particular way you might do that when utilising a cheat, or rather Easter egg, in the game. There’s a hidden teleporter in the first town that takes you to the developer’s room, where you can collect infinite money. What’s the catch? The teleporter doesn’t drop you in the room, it takes you outside an altar which teleports you to the room. Outside the altar just happens to be an enormous desert filled with hungry dragons eager to munch on some foolhardy adventurers. They’ll breath fireballs at you and almost certainly kill you in a single hit. The trick then is to pause the game immediately on teleportation, hold down the run button, unpause, and spam the spacebar like nobodies business to ensure you activate the altar teleport before you get hit.
It can’t all be nerve wracking danger, what about the safe areas? Well firstly, the safe areas are often close enough to the monsters that your gemstone will be glowing a permanent yellow, alerting you to the fact that nowhere is safe. A chest, no matter how innocent its location, will invariably be trapped and you will be treated to a large, acidic purple splat on your screen. And the NPCs aren’t much better, should you innocently murder one of them with a stray keyboard click the entire village will turn on you, and nothing says psycho village more than discovering every single villager has been hiding a knife in their pocket.
Chances are, you’ll die, a lot. And when you do, with the portraits of your entire team being replaced by gravestones, you’ll be treated to meeting Death in person. (I regret that I couldn’t find a clip or picture of this.)
He’ll take your money, tell you it’s not your time yet and boot you back to the beginning village. The first time you see him, pretty scary. Though admittedly after that it becomes quite laughable and I spent some time deliberately dying to see if he ever said something different.
I never finished this game, it took too much of a toll on my psyche to explore the dungeons with death lurking behind every corner and in every shadow. Some games are scary, deliberately so, but I reckon the scariest game for each individual probably wasn’t meant to be scary in the first place, so comment and tell me what’s your scariest game and why?