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Games You Shouldn't Play Before Bed

It's the evening. You've just gotten home from a hard day's work and cobbled together some leftovers for dinner. Now, for a precious few hours, your time is finally your own. And what better way to unwind than by indulging in a spot of relaxing gaming ...


... except it's dark now, there's no one else in the house, and OH GOD WHAT WHERE DID THAT NOISE JUST COME FROM?

Some games are designed purely to stress you out, to find that balance of wanting the player to push on and see what's around the corner, versus wanting them to eject the disk and throw it out of an open window.

In horror maestro Shinji Mikami's words, "Death and survival need to be on a constant see-saw." And as the creator of both Resident Evil and The Evil Within, he definitely knows a thing or two about anxiety. He also once said, ”Whoever first thought of killing someone with a chainsaw was a genius!” So, yeah ... not a man you want to trust with trying to relax you before bed. And he's not alone.


There are plenty more developers out there whose mission it is to ruin your evening by paralyzing you with fear. So with that said, if you do want a good night's sleep (and let's face it, who doesn't) here are the titles you should avoid before lights-out.

Some mild spoilers ahead

Silent Hill invented a whole new genre

Who could have predicted back in 1999 that this little-known game, made by a small group of Konami employees so maligned they were on the verge of quitting, would go on to effectively kick-start the 3D survival horror genre as we know it.


Don't be fooled by those who try to tell you that Silent Hill 2 is the pinnacle of the series. It's great, to be sure, but nothing can compare to the first, if for no other reason than because it was so unexpected. No one booting the game up for the first time could have possibly predicted what was in store for them.

And it certainly doesn't waste time in setting the tone. The opening of Silent Hill was a merciless assault on the senses, as the player makes his way by dim match-light down an alleyway strewn with crucified bodies and old hospital equipment, to the wailing of an air raid siren. Culminating in a savage knife attack by a group of skinless children — which you have to succumb to in order to progress — there's sure to be plenty of people out there who never even dared see the next chapter, let alone made it to the end of the game.


System Shock 2 brought terror to the void of space

"Your flesh is an insult to the perfection of the digital", chides the sentient AI over the ship's tannoy.

Regarded as something of a cult classic now, it could be easy to look back on System Shock 2 as the kind of menu-heavy sci-fi RPG that people so regularly played during that era of PC gaming. So what makes this one so different from, say, Deus Ex? Short answer: it's absolutely horrifying.


System Shock 2 manages to capture something that other games of its ilk so rarely manage to, and that's the overwhelming feeling of dread. In all your time exploring the Von Braun there's not a jump scare in sight, yet even with the now-somewhat-aging graphics, the atmosphere of the ship alone is enough to push anyone's nerves through a paper shredder.

And in case you missed the series the first time around — and have a flagrant disregard for sleeping like a baby — there's a successfully Kickstarted remake of the first System Shock on the way, though it may take a little longer than anticipated.

Condemned: Criminal Origins was truly disturbing

At the start of the seventh console generation, the PlayStation 3 launched with such exclusive titles as the visually impressive Resistance, and equally pretty speedster classic Ridge Racer 7. Nintendo opted for much-anticipated adventurer The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the record-breaking exercise simulator Wii Sports for their new machine. And Microsoft? Well they decided to release their new Xbox 360 console with an 18-rated game about a hallucinating policeman who trawls a city at night beating homeless drug addicts around the head with a shovel. Bold move indeed.


And if that sounds grim, it's because it was. Of all the stand-out moments in Condemned, none of them could be said to contain any semblance of an emotion other than "misery". The grisly murder scene investigations, the oppressive permanence of night time, and those mannequins in the abandoned department store that you could swear just moved on their own. It was all chilling, and it was all a nightmare to complete. But you had to play something, and the Xbox 360 installment of Halo wouldn't be released for another two years, so, that meant two years of not sleeping well.

Anatomy is meta horror

Do not let the 30 minute playtime, the simple graphics, nor the humdrum tagline "Study the physiology of domestic architecture" fool you: Anatomy is an experimental psychological horror game that will absolutely ruin your evening. Underneath its walking-simulator credentials is a game so genuinely menacing that you'll struggle to forget about it for a long time afterwards.


Ostensibly a simple 'walk here, collect that' indie game, Anatomy soon distorts into something far more ominous. As you explore the house, you begin to notice that things aren't always where you remember them being, and don't look quite how you remember them looking. As you push on further still, the building itself begins to slowly warp and deform around you, to the point where you're not even sure if the game itself is meant to be doing this, or if it's just broken. There's nothing chasing you, no loud noises. You're just alone, in a dark, quiet house that's gradually swallowing you whole.

There are many different interpretations as to what is actually occurring in the game, and what the ending(s) mean; but whether you think you've figured it out or not, there's no denying that Anatomy is seriously unnerving, and on a deeply meta level.


Manhunt is seriously messed up

Savage and profane, Rockstar's Manhunt was never going to be anything other than a controversy factory from the moment it was announced. Not that Rockstar would ever shy away from such a thing, creating as they did the Grand Theft Auto series. But even by those standards this new IP was something else.


The only game on this list to be outright banned in several countries, Manhunt's premise alone is enough to see why: you play as a death row inmate who is unwittingly drafted into a snuff video ring by the anonymous "Director," who rewards you based on the savagery of your kills.

And if it even made some of the developers who created it feel sick, imagine how it would make you feel, playing it alone in a dark room. Especially when you come across a certain late-game, chainsaw-wielding mini-boss with a penchant for wearing pig heads, who's being held captive by the Director in an attic. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth will make you go insane if you look at it

Cosmic horror is hard to do, possibly because at its core is the idea that it's hard for a person to even understand it in the first place. The idea is that you're so impossibly small, that even trying to think about the vastness of the alien abominations that rule over you will drive you to madness, let alone actually seeing them.


Some Lovecraftian-inspired games do get it right (see: Amnesia, Bloodbourne), but the best of them to actually retell a story from the author's source material is Dark Corners of the Earth, a 2005 title that has stood the test of time. The game was notable for both its complete lack of a HUD (not even an aiming reticle) and its use of a looking-at-the-monsters-will-drive-you-insane mechanic, which even went so far as having the player character committing suicide if your sanity became too fragile.

Unfortunately towards the endgame it tends to rely a bit too much on its sloppy shooting mechanics, with increasingly large weapons being wielded against enemies that look like they should be lying down in a paella, but that doesn't detract from the initial hide-and-seek thrills of trying to piece the mysteries of Innsmouth together. It also features one of the most heart-pounding chase sequences ever, a beautiful example of action without combat.


The good news for those of you who yearn for more of Lovecraft's misanthropic horror: there's a new Call of Cthulhu on the way, and it's looking great.

Alien: Isolation is the monster at its best

One of the few games to do the Alien franchise any justice, Isolation is a brooding love letter to claustrophobic space opera of the '70s. Developer Creative Assembly's attention to detail is nothing short of spectacular, with even the smallest assets meticulously crafted to match the look and feel of the analog aesthetic. Alien: Isolation is simply staggering to behold, where any single frame of the game looks like it could have been scooped up from the cutting room floor of the original film.


This same attention to detail has also been lavished upon Giger's titular creature, which boasts one of the most complex AIs in a video game at the time. Being stalked throughout the ruined spaceship by a predator that is quite literally learning from your evasive techniques as you play is unsettlingly realistic to say the least, but add on top of that the "will they/won't they" threat of the ship's intimidatingly stoic androids and you've got yourself a recipe for sleeping with the lights on. For weeks.

Anchorhead is a Lovecraftian spin on adventure games

True horror, they say, is at its most scary when left to the imagination. A visual image can only startle you so much, but your mind can always construct far worse. And so it is with Anchorhead, an unforgiving, Lovecraft-inspired interactive novel. The Dark Souls of text adventures.


Taking place over just three days, Anchorhead tells the story of you, the unnamed female protagonist, traveling to a New England town to inherit an ancestral family home. All is not what it seems of course, and what's uncovered in the creepy town is guaranteed to send so many shivers down your spine you'd think you were playing it outside an arctic research facility.

The game won "Best Setting" at the 1998 XYZZY interactive fiction awards, and was also nominated for "Best Game" — and it's easy to see why. The prose and environments are meticulously crafted, yet leave just enough to let your imagination paint the unsettling pictures in full.

Best of all, it's completely free to play online, so you can give it a shot right now, if it's not too late in the evening ...


Dead Space is a synthesis of great inspirations

"Cut off their limbs!" it says, written in blood on the wall. "Cut off their limbs!" cries a garbled voice over the radio. "Cut off their limbs" says the tutorial pop-up window ...

Hmm, okay maybe that last one was a touch superfluous, but you can't blame developer Visceral Games for making sure we understood the concept: every game you'd played up to that point was all about scoring the headshot. The enemy design beautifully reflects this limb-centric approach too, with all the creatures having gangly limbs or long, probing tendrils that are ripe for the severing.


Dead Space certainly wears its influences on its sleeve. It's far from subtle about where it draws its inspiration from, be it the dark, industrial corridors of Alien, or the grotesque body horror of The Thing. But, originality aside, those influences are very scary ones, so it stands to reason that a game which bolts them all together is going to be an exponentially frightening experience — and Dead Space definitely doesn't disappoint.

Resident Evil 7 VR is a terror in all directions

Played on a television, with other people, in a well lit room, Resident Evil 7 is still utterly terrifying. But alone, shrouded in virtual reality — the closest thing to being in the Baker mansion yourself — it's another world of fear. The claustrophobia becomes real, the enemies are as tall as you are, and because the screen is strapped to your face, it's literally impossible to look away.


The fear in VR can be ramped up in the simplest of ways, such as the modest act of peeking around corners becoming the real physical motion of your head, making the tension of seeing what's around the corner as authentic as the movement itself. And when what's around the corner happens to be a seven foot tall monstrosity with an entire face made out of teeth, lurching towards you through a pitch black basement, then the next 'very real' movement you'll probably be making is taking the headset off.

And so we return to where we started, with Shinji Mikami. The man responsible for creating this series, the man who thinks chainsaws are neat. He parted ways with Capcom in 2006 after creative differences over the release of the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4, but now he's played number seven and he thinks it was "beautifully crafted," which may well be enough to lure him back to make number eight. Better get a good night's sleep while you can.