Whether a video game is meant to be scary or not, the most memorable enemies are the ones that strike the most primal fear into our hearts. Yes, there are the really tough or the downright annoying ones, but the recall value for such foes isn't all that impressive. However, as fear is the most basic instinct hardwired into our brains, these creepy video game antagonists tend to touch a nerve in the deepest recesses of our psyche.
Nothing compares to tension of knowing that there may be a headcrab waiting to latch onto your head just around the corner, or unsettling uncertainty of having the Nemesis break through the wall at any time. Let's take a look at five finest examples of enemies that force us to roam the virtual corridors gingerly with guns drawn at all times.
Headcrabs: giving zombies a new dimension
Headcrab (Half-Life series)
Half-Life may be known for many of its game-changing features, but ask any gamer about its one standout virtue and the unanimous answer will be headcrabs. These little critters pretty much defined the game. The most disconcerting thing about these creatures was their deceptively innocuous appearance. On the first encounter, you'd wonder what these fleshy little critters are, that is until one launched at your face with a bloodcurdling scream. And then it's freak out time as you slammed in the trigger finger, wasting ammo like popcorn while trying to hit them in vain.
While they could not cause much damage, they were pretty hard to clip as they jumped around in mid air. However, it wasn't about how many hit points they could tear off in an attack, as much as what they could potentially do to you. There was something downright scary about watching scientists and Barneys flailing around helplessly as these infernal beings latched onto their heads and killed them, only to be reanimated as zombies bearing razor-sharp claws.
The venomous variety introduced in Half-Life 2 had the terror quotient dialled all the way to 11. Their tell-tale hiss made you frantically scope out the area with guns drawn, for even a single bite would drop your health down to 1. Even the zombies they created were gluttons for pain that could lob more of these venomous horrors at you with pinpoint precision from incredibly large distances. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.
I freakin' hate clowns!
Adam the Clown (Dead Rising)
Although Dead Rising couldn't reach its potential due to some terribly poor design decisions, it carried some of the most forward looking and ingenious innovations in the open-world zombie genre. The concept of employing psychopaths as mid-level boss enemies was easily the best element it had leveraged from the zombie mythos. The long term effects of a zombie siege on sanity are even graver than actually being eaten by the undead. Dead Rising captured this essence well by depicting regular civilians who have come unhinged and transformed into murderous madmen far dangerous than zombies themselves.
Among the many sublime enemies based on this theme, a demented clown by the name of Adam McIntyre was the most terrifyingly crazy of the lot. For starters, everyone's afraid to some extent by clowns. Maybe it's the unnerving rictus, or the fact that you always get the feeling that they are about to say something—something decidedly sinister that makes our hair stand on end inexplicably. Dead Rising takes that fear and multiplies it by two. Two chainsaws that is, because Adam the clown's crowning act involves juggling a pair of full-sized industrial logging tools. Fighting him is no laughing matter because he takes no time to shred you down into little bits with the deafening roar of his weapons.
Even running away from him, which will be your natural response anyway, is nerve-wracking because the gradually increasing roar of his twin-chainsaws behind you makes even grown men soil their pants. Even as he is butchered by his own chainsaws at the end, you don't hear him scream. Instead, he goes down in a gurgling laugh even as his bowels empty out on the floor. This kind of imagery stays with you long after you have played the game.
It's a trap!
Cleopatra (Dante's Inferno)
The God of War clone Dante's Inferno was based on one of the most evocative literature classics bringing Biblical horror to life. The game puts you through all the circles of hell populated with grotesque abominations and rendered with a singular pursuit of making even the most seasoned horror fans wince at the gore and horror. The most memorable experience, however, comes from the second circle of hell, where you have to face off with Cleopatra, who symbolises lust.
If I were to tell you that this boss encounter involves nudity, sexually suggestive themes and nipples being used as weapons, you'd ask me what's so terrifying about that. This is where I remind you that this isn't supposed to be a porno flick. This actually is the twisted imagination of very creative people tasked with recreating hell itself, which manifests into your worst nightmare. And boy have they done a swell job! That is, if the said job involves irrevocably ruining your mental image of a naked woman.
Yes, although the undead Cleopatra bears a lithe, sexy figure as she represents lust, but it's the little details that make all the difference. She's decked up in what can be best described as an S&M fitting session gone wrong, with loads of blood, scars and otherwise cringe-inducing gore evident on the undead queen. It is this disturbing blend of lust and physically repulsive portrayal that makes your skin crawl at the very thought of sex at that moment. In this respect, the designers have managed to achieve the goal of turning something as appealing as erotica into the most ghastly horror you've witnessed.
And then it gets worse. As the boss battle progresses, Cleopatra's nipples burst open in an unholy shower of pus and gore. If that didn't make you crouch in front of commode, you also have grotesque unbaptised children spewing out of her nipples. Yes, this shit isn't pretty at all. If you are the squeamish kind, face this boss encounter at your own risk, because there is a possibility that even Viagra might not be able to help you after you've been scarred by it.
It's not just terrifying, but clever too
Pyramid Head (Silent Hill 2)
Pyramid Head was the most iconic characters in this series. For a good reason too, since it was modelled after real old-school executioners, who were pretty messed up to begin with. It's hard to put down exactly what makes him so terrifying. Is it his slow, deliberate and almost zombie like gait as he shambles down towards you, knowing that there is no escape from him? Is it the fact that he utters no words, or makes no sound as he stares at you through his sightless gaze that seems to pierce right into your soul? Or is it the fact that nothing you do can kill him, while he in turn can end you in just one stroke from his oversized blade?
I wish I could have answered those questions, but, you see, I was too busy running away while screaming like a bitch to think of all that. Words cannot express the terror and apprehension of peeking around corners and hoping that the damned Pyramid Head isn't blocking your way. The eerie sound of his blade grinding across the floor and gradually getting closer is stuff that nightmares are made of. His true power is displayed when you see him raping the monster nurses. A fact that isn't immediately apparent until the conclusion, when you realise the clever symbolism used to render the character.
The Pyramid Head, you see, is a manifestation of the protagonist's shadow archetype. He represents James' violence and oppression against his wife. Towards the end, the final sequence with the Pyramid Head explains how the abomination is a means for James to repent for the sins committed against his wife. That is, in the most masochistic and twisted manner possible, I must add.
That's your cue to run
Tyrant (Resident Evil series)
The Tyrants are Bio-Organic Weapons created from the Umbrella Corporation's T-virus in the Resident Evil (RE) universe. While most kids will recall this behemoth from the Paul WS Anderson's butchering of the Hollywood adaptation, it was at its very best in Resident Evil 2 (RE2) and Resident Evil 3 (RE3). These are smart, resilient and incredibly powerful mutations of Umbrella's weaponised virus made for the singular purpose of seeking and destroying STARS members. Oh, and that happens to be you.
These lumbering juggernauts really put the horror back in Survival-Horror. The T-103 Tyrant found in RE2 took loads of precious ammo to go down. By down, I mean temporary unconsciousness, for he invariably pops back again, smashing his way through a wall at any point in the game. With a scarcity of ammo and no real way to put him down for good, encounters with a Tyrant make gamers whimper at the first sound of its heavy footsteps.
If this wasn't worse, the one in RE3 (Nemesis) has a rocket launcher to boot. And the only time he isn't shooting explosive death at you is when he's slaughtering fellow STARS teammates, as you look on helplessly wondering whether to engage him or run away. However, deep down, you know that pussying out and making a run for it is the only viable option.