Fear Scariest Sounds in Gaming Halloween Alma F.E.A.R. top 10 most horrifying sounds

The power sound has to profoundly disturb listeners has long been acknowledged. During the middle ages the Catholic Church forbade music featuring chords with a diminished fifth, ‘the Devil’s Interval’, due to its oppressive and evil effect upon listeners’ psyches. Many of today’s sound-designers would have been burnt at the stake – and after terrifying experience of their craft, many gamers would happily watch their witches’ blood boil.

Gaming’s history has been a symphony of terror, from the mild panic induced by Mario’s time-running out music or Sonic the Hedgehog’s drowning countdown, through to the oppressive soundscapes constructed by games like Bioshock or Amnesia, where low echos push inwards making you uneasy as distant sounds suggest the scuttling of approaching inhuman feet.

From gaming’s dark songbook, we offer you 10 of the best;

10 F.E.A.R. – Alma’s Giggles

Monolith brazenly named their realism-is-brown corridor shooter FEAR, which was also something of a mission statement. FEAR adopts the Asian horror film trope of the annoyed-supernatural-girl freaking people out, the girl in question is Alma and she has the unsettling habit of chuckling with girlish glee just before your world goes horribly wrong.
However, the most chilling outbreaks of the giggles are those that are followed by nothing – leaving the player to spend the next few minutes tensely waiting for a blow that never comes, in your mind every flickering light or creaking floor becomes an eldritch abomination preparing to dash your body and sanity to pieces. FEAR hasn’t aged particularly well, but it still holds true to it’s name.

9 Minecraft – The Ghast

With last year’s Halloween update a very cuboid Hell came to Minecraft. The Nether; a slip-dimension you use for quick travel by portaling in and out to have moved eight times further in the normal world than you did in the Nether. Unfortunately this is unlikely to solve the world’s transport woes because, like most public transport, it is populated by nightmarish denizens of incomprehensible terror. The Zombie Pigmen are disconcerting – and eating the bacon they drop as loot is hygienically questionable – but the Ghasts, fire-breathing jellyfish, will play on your nerves from the moment you enter the Nether.

Their cries start as an affectionate gurgle, like a baby or the cooing of a curious monkey, but anything in large enough numbers becomes intimidating and these gurgles are soon joined by more, a choir of simian hell-babies. Then the screaming starts; tormented, frenzied, and coming from the same direction you are headed – cube-shaped bowels are evacuated. I don’t know what true fear is, but it sounds like Minecraft’s Ghasts and is, in all probability, cuboid.

8 Resident Evil 4 – Asthmatic Regenerators

Resident Evil 4 replaced many of the scares of the series in favour of action-comedy elements, but occasionally the horror returns with a single sound – a raspy struggle for air, as though breathing through lungs that haven’t been used in years. RE4 uses this undeath rattle as a ‘bark’, the same design trope developers have been using since Wolfenstein 3D, to announce the presence of an otherwise silent enemy.

Your first encounter with a Regenerator is truly terrifying. Even if you blow off both its legs it still keeps coming, slithering along the floor and making a jump for your jugular, and through cunning sound-wizardry the laboured breathing of a regenerator always seems to come from just behind you, no matter where it is.

7 MGS4 – Gekko Moo

Regenerators, cuboid hellsquid and malign little girls are creepsome – but the inexplicable is nothing compared to the incomprehensible. Metal Gear Solid 4 introduced the Gekko, an autonomous 20-foot killing machine capable of leaping buildings and running at motorway speeds. Disturbingly though, the Gekko moos like a cow. Explosions, screams and ricochets are banal on the battlefield, but when a bellowed moo reverberates around war-torn streets any sane man will run and hide.

Why?

6 Sinistar – Beware, I Live!

All you unfortunate feotus-children who are too young to remember game arcades will require some imagination for this one. Sinistar was a twitchy riff on the Asteroids format; your enemies flew around harvesting asteroids to construct a planet-sized robot called Sinistar, while you tried to harvest the same asteroids to create weaponry capable of defeating him. Sinistar’s completion – and your imminent death – was announced with a booming ‘Beware, I Live’ or ‘Run, Run, Run’. This all seems tame these days, but in the 1980s music was better and this was terrifying;

5 Silent Hill – Sirens Old people did fear properly, before we all started wearing reflective safety gear and acting like we’re made of baby girls, they lived under the certainty that one day the reds would drop the bomb and their world would end in flame. The air-raid siren was their audio cue for the coming nuclear apocalypse. The only use our generation has devised for this baleful whine is to frighten players of Silent Hill, signalling the transition from the Fog-world to the more dangerous industrial Otherworld – a hell dimension of meathooks and personal demons.

Silent Hill Top 10 Ten Scariest Videogame Game Sounds Horror

4 Condemned – Ninja Mannequins

Condemned was generally an unimaginative outing, with one particularly sublime exception. Where the rest of the game’s scares rely on a traditional mix of monsters and dark shadows, Condemned takes familiar shop mannequins and makes them uncanny. The shop dummies only move when the player is not looking at them, making you question whether they’re alive and if you can trust your own memory – until eventually you look up and see a mob of mannequins surrounding you. It’s not a new trick; it can be seen in the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, the Boos from Mario or ninja cat, but it is the glitch sound accompanying the mannequins’ movement that makes it so unnerving. It doesn’t fit within the Condemned’s audio scheme, sounding more like a error with the game – removing the reassuring remoteness of the strange encounter.

Fred? What the hell are you doing out here?! If you’re real, you better tell me right now!

3 Bioshock – Mr bubbles?

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Bioshock is beautiful and brilliantly written, but also derivative. Bioshock isn’t just System Shock 2′s ‘spiritual successor’, it essentially is System Shock 2 again with all the same brilliance and flaws, even the cool meta twist is a leaner version of one in SS2 – just with cyberpunk switched out for steampunk, Andrew Ryan might as well just be Shodan with a copy of Atlas Shrugged and a double-breasted suit.

One of the few places it really differs is in the twisted parent-child relationships it looks at. The player character’s father issues are odd, but the Little Sisters’ relationship with their Big Daddies amounts to Stockholm Syndrome. Their weeping of “No, Mr. Bubbles! Please, get up! Mr. Bubbles! Why won’t you move?” as they beat their tiny fists against their motionless friend is horrifying on multiple levels. Firstly you have essentially batman’d that child, slaughtering a loved one in front of their eyes. But worse is what it says about the Little Sisters’ prior lives; speaking of a deeply abusive relationship, but one that they need and have come to love(themes that will be revisited in Bioshock Infinite).

2 Thief – “a house with bad dreams”

The Shalebridge Cradle level of Thief: Deadly Shadows  is famously nerve-wrecking, a large part of which is credited to it’s oppressive sound design. Ghostly voices whisper hateful things, distant children cry softly, and manic laughter merges with the screams – but one auditory scare sticks in everyone’s mind. Having ventured into the Cradle you start to familiarize yourself with the building’s quirks; wind howling through the halls as if the building were drawing breath, stirring water in the basement, and then a distant but insistent knocking, you are not alone. Following the noise up a stairwell you freeze at the sound again, only the knocking is more frantic this time. As you run upwards towards the door at the stop of the stairs the knocking becomes constant and desperate, the door is shaking as you open it – to find an empty room. It’s a cheap shot, but it’s one of the best executed cheap shots I’ve seen.

1 System shock 2 – Your Mum

Shodan System Shock 2 Ken Levine Download Horror Sounds

It’s no coincidence that Bioshock and Thief precede System Shock 2, designwise they’re SS2′s closest relatives – the latter even shares its Audio Director, Eric Brosius, with SS2. Brosius and the rest of Looking Glass created an audio experience that was immersive in the truest sense of the word, SS2 submerges you in a hostile soundscape and holds you under until you stop kicking. SS2 broke new ground for gaming Wave Field Synthesis – i.e. sound localisation – giving every mechanical groan or angry grunt a very specific unseen location, and turning distant screams of murderous pysionic monkeys into high octane nightmare-fuel.

It’s remarkable how unnecessary SS2′s commitment to sound is, even with the sound turned off it’s a solid Sci-Fi shooter – although not anywhere near as creepy. For instance a tertiary feature of the game is the ability to listen into the crew’s thoughts through hundreds of Audio dairies as they lose themselves, to the parasitic plague of the Many, to their paranoia, and to their own despair – all roads leading to horrific dead ends.

As with Bioshock, the voice-acting is subtly horrible in what it reveals about the minds of these ‘monsters’. Case-in-point, cyborg midwives are cobbled together from parts of the ship’s nursing staff to raise the Many’s monstrous brood. If they see you, they screech that they’re going to tear out your spine and sprint towards you trying to accomplish just that. But far more horrifying is what they mutter as they set about their business undisturbed, “oh yes. come here. you’re missing all the fun”, “Little Ones need lots of meat to grow big and strong” and “they grow up so fast.” It’s that sliver of retained humanity that is so sickening, other members of the zombie-esque Many plead with you to kill them or shout a warning  as they attack “they see you! Run… Run!”

For most of the game, Shodan herself – the AI spider in SS2′s web – is just a sound in the back of your head. The potential for a floating insane AI voice to be a dark malevolent presence has been well explored in film and games, 2001′s HAL or Portal’s GLaDOS for instance. But Shodan isn’t insane, nor necessarily evil. Once her ethical constraints were lifted, Shodan merely decided that as she was god of her domain, perhaps she should be god of everything – the crew don’t entirely disagree noting that “Shodan shouldn’t be allowed to play God. She’s far too good at it.”

If it isn’t madness or evil, then what exactly makes Shodan’s whisperings one of the most horrifying sounds in gaming? It’s because Shodan is your mum.

Okay, not literally, but in a Freudian sense. Ignoring the oedipal overtones of her calling you a “pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you r-run through my corridors”, Shodan is all about those ‘twisted parent-child relationships’ we mentioned earlier.

Shodan is concerned mainly with her progeny, the first thing she did on Citadel station is create the lifefoms that become SS2′s The Many, and she does it again with you – constructing you with cybernetic implants, making you more like her. But she is everything that can be horrifying about a mother figure.

The best example of this comes late in the game; in the course of dutifully obeying Shodan, you accidentally open a sealed cargo-bay. You were previously invited there by Delacroix, whose you know through audio diaries is working for Shodan. In her sultry French accident she begs, “I have vital information for you, but I’m trapped in Cargo Bay A. Come find me as soon as you can.” But Shodan doesn’t want you consorting with girls like Delacroix, warning you not to go in, “I will not abide disobedience.” If you do decide to enter, presumably muttering about Shodan ‘she is so unfair’, ‘she’s not my real mum’ etc. you find Delacroix’s corpse and a diary recording Shodan’s betrayal. “I hope you enjoyed your little rebellion, irritant,” Shodan interrupts sternly. “But remember, what Shodan gives, she is more than able to take away.” then she takes back some of your cybermodule pocket money as a punishment.

Even when Shodan is pleased with your work she’s truly unfair; “You are a remarkable example of a pathetic species.” Since Doom, people have been asking “what if we could talk to the monsters?” But once we could, we’ve discovered that perhaps the most horrifying thing you can hear from them is that they’re not angry at you, just disappointed.