6 of the Scariest Levels in Non-Horror Games

Horror doesn’t just have to be relegated to horror games. Like some malign eldritch being, it often spreads its tendrils into other genres, appearing as a level or a locale in an otherwise predominantly non-horror game. And this is a good thing; variety is the spice of life, after all, and what’s spicier than the sweet taste of terror? So whet your appetite, because this list is serving up a ghoulish goulash of six of the scariest levels to appear in non-horror titles.  

We Don’t Go To Ravenholm, Half Life 2

Well, you knew this one was going to be here, didn’t you? After the thrilling escape from City 17 and Gordon Freeman’s short-lived rendezvous with the resistance, everyone’s favorite bespectacled mute is forced to take a detour through the abandoned town of Ravenholm. Infested with Headcrabs and their shambling victims, the game switches from sci fi 1984 to become an Eastern European version of Land of the Dead.  Armed with the Gravity Gun and as many buzzsaw blades as you can find, this infamous chapter is rife with brain-hungry mutants, deadly traps and fiendish environmental puzzles. Even now, creeping through Ravenholm’s dilapidated streets remains as underwear-soiling today as it was nearly 20 years ago.  

Mine Maze, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter 

Some may debate classifying The Vanishing of Ethan Carter as a non-horror game, given its obvious weird fiction influences. But this title by The Astronauts is far more of a slow-pace narrative adventure (or walking sim, if you’re being less generous) than a survival horror game, in the same vein as things like Dear Esther and What Remains of Edith Finch. Yet within it there’s this freaky mine level, where the terror suddenly gets cranked up to 11. Que darkened tunnels, a damned soul and a tale of an ancient Lovecraftian sea god. Forced to explore this underground labyrinth, players are hunted by a roving ghoul with no means of protecting themselves. Whilst the monster only sends you back to the start of the level, and whilst defenseless protagonists are a bit of a hackneyed mechanic anyway, it doesn’t stop this brief chapter from being absolutely nerve-shredding while it lasts. 

The Ocean House Hotel, Vampire: The Masquerade

Riddle me this, Batman. How can a game in which you play as a badass, nigh-immortal vampire still be scary? By having the Ocean House Hotel, that’s how. In a game that’s full of gunfights, gratuitous violence and larger-than-life characters, this level changes gear completely for a chapter of pure slow-burn horror. There’s no combat, and no real puzzles to speak of; it’s just you, your rapidly failing wits, and a great, big, empty hotel. The mission begins as a simple fetch quest on behalf of the Voerman sisters, with even the dialogue options scoffing at so straightforward a task. Yet as you reach the hotel, squatting evilly in its derelict construction site, you soon learn the folly of such arrogance.  What follows is an experience of nail-biting terror as you explore The Ocean House’s musty corridors, assailed by ghosts and poltergeists with every step you take. Whilst the story of the inn’s dark past is hardly original, the level’s superb mastery of atmosphere and pacing is a reminder that it’s the telling as much as the tale itself that counts.  

Dark Secret level, Return to Castle Wolfenstein

2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein reads like a checklist of pulp comic action. Nazis? Check. Mutants? Check. Evil scientists? Check. Sexy leather-clad assassins? Double check. But while the game is firmly rooted in the over-the-top action camp, its second mission stands out as a genuinely creepy chapter. Our stalwart hero B.J. Blazkowicz infiltrates the German town of Wulfburg, finding there a network of excavated crypts the Nazis are digging up as part of a secret operation to resurrect an ancient evil. However, in their misguided attempts to harness the supernatural they awaken the tomb’s undead guardians, who quickly go about showing their displeasure at this intrusion. As B.J., you have to advance through the underground necropolis, fending off both the forces of the Reich and the unquiet dead. Despite having an arsenal at your disposal, the claustrophobic environment and the unholy endurance of your unliving opponents earns this level a place on this list. But the real nightmare? The chapter doesn’t even give you a shotgun

Queen Vanessa’s Manor, A Hat In Time

A Hat in Time has to be the last game you’d expect to suddenly take a left turn into horror territory, but turn it does in the fourth act of the third chapter. Travelling through Subcon Forest, Hat Kid’s mission leads her to a spooky abode of the demonic Queen Vanessa. Here the game goes from being a puzzle platformer to something straight out of Amnesia. Stealth is the order of the day, with players having to keep as quiet as possible and hide under tables and beds to avoid the deadly attentions of the manor’s malevolent owner. Even though the house’s décor is about as scary as a Halloween decoration, it’s Queen Vanessa herself that’s frankly panic-inducing. A nightmarish figure wreathed in shadow, her glowing red eyes and screen-rending scream will leave many players suffering heart palpations as they’re sent to the Game Over screen.  

Zombie chapters, Timesplitters: Future Perfect

Image courtesy of Guns in Games

‘Time’ in the title and a level in a creepy gothic manse – hmmm, déjà vu anyone? Perhaps that’s appropriate, given the era-hopping subject matter of this 2004 console game by Free Radical. A bombastic FPS cult classic, two levels from its story campaign – Mansions of Madness and What Lies Below – are far scarier than they have any right to be. Playing as the musclebound Sergeant Cortez, your time-travelling exploits bring you to a sinister Connecticut mansion in 1994. Upon entering its cobwebbed halls, you quickly discover that the mansion – and its obligatory underground laboratory – are ground zero for a series of unethical experiments that would make the Umbrella Corporation jealous. Worse still, the twisted results of such research have broken free, and are now hungrily searching for their next brain to devour. Despite being armed to the teeth, the oppressive environments, jump scares, and excellent use of audio make these chapters as unnerving as any you’d find in a traditional survival horror experience. Ghosts, zombies and worse? Screw that; it’s time to split!