The Scariest Game I’ve Ever Played

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.

MM6

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.

Goblins

“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?

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Driving You Mad

I’d just liked to preface this post by pointing out that I don’t play games competitively online so people are spared my annoying habits (or quirks as I like to call them).

What annoying habit do I have? Many probably, but the one I’m particularly talking about involves first-person shooters and in particular shooters that give you access to vehicles. The best example of this is Halo, where you can play deathmatches on foot with conventional weaponry or hop into the nearest armoured vehicle and have a tank off.

Halo Quad Bike

What do you mean this is a war zone?

Now this is where I step in and say “I reject your notions of warfare,” find myself a vehicle and drive it around haphazardly. Now granted a tank is an awesome instrument of destruction, but I find the same appeal in driving a quad bike around the battlefield like a maniac, honking the horn and occasionally scoring points by running other players over. Other activities include: driving up walls and into supposedly inaccessible areas in a Warthog and loop-de-looping in a Banshee until you find the top of the map.

You can probably tell that I’m not very competitive and it doesn’t take too many kills from a hidden sniper to turn me away from the path of war. Or, alternatively, to hop in a tank blowing up everything in sight and imagining the sniper watching through his scope as the tank turret turns ominously in his direction.

There’s always something silly to do in shooters if you look hard enough. Another of my favourites: the sticky mines in Timesplitters, which I liberally apply not just to the floors but also the walls, the ceiling and especially other player’s faces.

What about you? Are you deadly serious in these games or do you have a habit of straying from the strategically sound and into the certifiably insane?

Life Goals in 4X

For anyone unfamiliar with the term 4X it refers to a subgenre of games based on four ‘x’ words: explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. These games typically involve you building an empire from its humble beginnings by managing a combination of military, domestic and scientific affairs.

Alpha Centauri Forest

When nature strikes back!…slowly…over millions of years.

I have a habit of setting self-imposed achievements in these games. I’m referring to tasks beyond aiming for the cultural or scientific victories in the Civilization games. For example, in Civilization’s sci-fi spin off Alpha Centauri, I constantly find myself overcome with an urge to cover the entire planet in forest. To the extent that I will continue playing the game long after the other factions have been exterminated and long after all technology has been researched. Why? Because I can.

Civ City

These cities are too close, they should be outside the two tile radius!

Civilization is not exempt, from creating an efficient mass-production empire on which every tile is farmed or mined to its fullest, to spreading every possible religion to every possible city in an attempt to make a pan-religious empire. Such is the extent of my obsession with these little (or indeed large) goals that I get very irked with the computer who doesn’t seem to agree and insists on building cities where I don’t want them.

I’ve mostly referred to Civilization but it happens in other games, such as Warlock: Master of the Arcane and a need to build cities everywhere including the empty planes. You’ll also find my idiosyncrasy in other genres; long have I had a dream of constructing a base in a Command and Conquer game that is neat, ordered, with wall and gates that make it generally aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately the enemy has a curious notion of attacking my base while it’s still in development and avoids the designated turret defence zones.

C&C Turret

“Excellent, now build the next turret over there.”
“But sir, there’s no enemies there.”
“Yes, but this way it’ll be symmetrical.”

You’ve heard mine now tell me yours. What obscure goals do you chase in what games and why do you do it?

A Thought on Final Fantasy IX

Spoiler Warning: for those who haven’t played it.

I very much enjoy the Final Fantasy series, so much so that I can pick holes in it as easily as a voodoo doll, one full of love of course. To me there is a moment of staggering gameplay and story segregation in Final Fantasy IX at a heightened point of the games plot.

Some context:

Birdwatching was more dangerous than Kuja realised.

Birdwatching was more dangerous than Kuja realised.

During the course of the game Queen Brahne is given various destructive magical weapons by the antagonist Kuja. She quickly becomes power mad and on acquiring the usage of the summoned eidolons she targets Kuja as her next victim. Amassing an armada of ships she tracks him down and orders the summoning of Bahamut, King of Dragons. Kuja, unphased, calls upon the Invincible to gain control of Bahamut and sets the dragon to demolishing Brahne’s fleet. While all this is happening it is implied Brahne’s fleet is under attack by, unseen, waves of monsters.

The Queen's organic oven was not successful.

The Queen’s organic oven was not successful.

Meanwhile, and nearby, Princess Garnet and her companions see the battle. Wanting to save her mother Garnet senses an eidolon nearby she can use but discovers it is Leviathan. As she then explains, this eidolon destroys its enemies with a tidal wave. Not particularly useful in saving a fleet of ships against a flying foe.

I have two thoughts on this situation. First and mainly is the usage of Leviathan. Here Garnet doesn’t want to risk harm to others with the summon’s total destruction method. It uses the tidal wave attack in battle, conveniently disappearing Garnet’s allies, summoning a tidal wave to batter the monsters with the water draining away rapidly and the environment and anyone else around is unaffected. So Leviathan avoids hurting the party, but not the ships he would be summoned to protect? Or vice versa, if he is all destructive how is the party and nearby civilians unharmed whenever he is summoned in battle?

FF9 Leviathan Seal

“A fish against a dragon? Maybe I should rethink this.”

Also could Leviathan not use other methods of attack? Perhaps not but we do see in the cut scenes Bahamut attacking with small target fireballs and flying manoeuvres and his trademark Megaflare.

The other thought is on Garnet’s self-defeat at finding Leviathan unusable for the situation. Has she forgotten that she earlier acquired Ramuh? Perhaps she thinks his thunderstorm methods would be equally as problematic. What about her other summons? (I can’t recall what she has access to at this point but Shiva, Ifrit and Atomos would seem likely.)

One of the best things about liking something so much is coming up with ways to explain away and point out the plot holes and necessary suspensions of disbelief. So tell me, what do you think?