5 Scary Moments from Non-Horror Games

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By Stan Rezaee on October 25th, 2021


When we think of the most frightening moments in a game, titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill come to mind. It makes sense to expect a scary moment from a horror game but we never think about how a non-horror game could present some of the most frightening moments (especially since we don’t expect it). Be it a dream or the wickedness of people, there have been some memorable frights in non-horror games. 

While everyone talks about their favorite horror game this Halloween, let’s look back at some of the scariest moments from a non-horror game. That means a game that is not supposed to be a horror survival or from the horror genre. The list will also exclude fantasy and hard science fiction titles (like The Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect) as they do share some elements of the horror or we do expect to encounter such a moment. 

All of Hantu Island in Just Cause 2

The Game – Rico Rodriguez has been deployed to the island nation of Panau. His mission is to find his former handler Tom Sheldon (who is suspected of going rogue) and topple the dictatorship of Pandak “Baby” Panay. To do so will require Rico to work with several opposition groups to cause as much chaos as possible. 

The Horror – For the most part, Just Cause 2 is a goofy over the top action game. Thus, you won’t expect to find a grim location like Hantu Island. While trying to travel near the island, an EMP blast will destroy your aircraft or boat. The island itself has an eerier atmosphere while players will encounter a “Smoke Monster” plus several haunting nods to Lost. While not the scariest encounter, it’s definitely something you would not expect in a game with an upbeat tone.

The Prologues of Max Payne

The Game – Max Payne follows the titular character with nothing to lose and on a path of vengeance. When his family is murdered by junkies, he goes undercover to take down the mob that has been pushing a new designer drug. However, the operation collapses when his handler is murdered and he is framed for it while his cover is blown. With nothing left to lose, Max embarks on a vendetta to prove his innocence and bring down the mob. 

The Horror – The game is broken down into three chapters, each being a moment of horror. “The American Dream” begins with Max coming home only to find his family murdered. “A Cold Day in Hell” and “A Bit Closer to Heaven” have Max relive that day in a nightmare while having to cross a path of blood through a dark world. These moments of horror and having to re-experience it in a drug-fueled moment showcases how Max Payne has solidified the series as a staple of the Neo-Noir genre.

Encountering the Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

The Game – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is hailed as the best game in the series and one of the defining titles of the PlayStation 2. After Snake attempts to help Dr. Nikolai Sokolov defect to the West ends in the destruction of a research lab (all thanks to The Boss), putting the world on the brink of a nuclear war. Snake must infiltrate a Soviet outpost in the Tselinoyarsk jungle and rescue Sokolov, destroy the Shagohod, and takeout The Boss along with Colonel Volgin. During the mission, Snake will be put to the ultimate test while and will emerge as the legendary Big Boss.

The Horror – Following his escape from the Groznyj Grad base, Snake encounters The Sorrow (the Cobra Units spirit medium) in the river. He is forced to walk down a path while having to face everyone he has killed during the mission (be it other Cobra operatives or regular soldiers) while being chastised by The Sorrow. By the end of the journey, Snake is hit by a powerful psychic blast that awakes him (revealing the encounter to be just a dream). It’s learned that The Sorrow has been dead for years, being taken out by The Boss.

Unlike the other boss encounters, this is not a battle but a moment when one faces the consequences of their actions. Players are encouraged to avoid detection and find alternative ways while there are non-lethal options when it comes to combat. If you opted to kill then you will have to face their soul during this moment. A reminder you had options and you chose poorly.

The Meat King’s Party from Hitman: Contacts

The Game – Hitman: Contacts is both a follow-up to the last entry and a remake of the first game. An assignment in Paris doesn’t go according to plan, resulting in Agent 47 getting injured. Waiting for help and on the verge of death, he reflects on his past missions (including several featured in Hitman: Codename 47). Among the most grotesque involved a meat tycoon and his brother. 

The Horror – “The Meat King’s Party” is a mission of revenge and rescue with a dark twist. A client believes that his daughter was kidnapped by Campbell Sturrock (the Meat King) but was found “innocent” by the courts. 47 has to infiltrate his victory party (a BDSM party being hosted at a meat processing factory) to take out Sturrock along with his lawyer and hopefully rescue the client’s daughter.

A BDSM themed rave at a meat plant (with blood stains on every wall) may seem eerie but the setting is not why this mission made the list. The real terror is when you find the client’s daughter, strung up and mutilated in a dimly lit room that is decorated with distributing messages written in blood. Adding to an already disturbing moment is the encounter with the real killer, Malcolm Sturrock (the Meat King’s brother). A moment that should feel like the classic setup to a slasher film, with the only difference being the deranged killer is being confronted by a professional assassin.

White Phosphorus during Spec Ops: The Line

The Game – Spec Ops: The Line follows Captain Martin Walker as he leads his squad into an abandoned Dubai (that has been ravaged by a sandstorm) to rescue survivors of the 33rd Infantry Battalion under the command of Colonel John Konrad. What they find are CIA backed militias battling rouge elements of the 33rd while civilians are getting killed in the crossfire. On the surface, this looks like any other military shooter that has special forces commanded going in to save the day. Instead, players embark on a journey of madness brought on by the horrors of war and the atrocities many perpetrate when in the name of completing the mission. 

The Horror – On the surface, Spec Ops: The Line looked like another generic military shooter. But once players go deeper into the city, it becomes clear that this is a journey into the effect war has on an individual. While there are so many moments of horror, the White Phosphorus moment has cemented the game’s legacy. 

During the mission, the team locates the 33rd base of operation and it’s heavily fortified. Capt. Walker makes the decision to use white phosphorus to obliterate them, thus allowing them to advance with no resistance. Following the success of the attack, the team walks through the base while having a look at the carnage they have caused. However, they come across a group of civilians who have taken refuge at the base only to get slaughtered in the attack. 

It’s at this point that Capt. Walker breaks and begins his path to madness, haunted by the horrors he has caused. Rarely does a game punish players for their questionable morals but Spec Ops: The Line makes immoral actions and the consequences a brilliant work of horror (in a game that is not even a horror title).  

I'm a journalist and gamer from the Bay Area who has been writing about the medium for over five years.


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