While not, strictly speaking, what is traditionally considered to be a horror game the Fallout series has always had a deeply unsettling atmosphere due to the horrors of the nuclear apocalypse. The developers do their best to alleviate the crushing depression that could set in wandering about the blasted remains of Washington DC for 40+ hours: cheerful music, slapstick, a high-energy DJ, the unmistakable optimism of the fifties.
However, one can only spend so much time picking through destroyed elementary schools and looting dog bones before the horror sets in. After delving into one more abandoned home, the family scattered, the furniture burned and tossed, the ever-present empty echo of the world stops being a background sound and begins to drill into the back of the player's head. The intensity goes from being charmingly over-the-top and becomes macabre. The plastic, lifeless human NPCs take on less of a personality than the hundreds of blackened skeletons. The dead still have stories to tell: in their last moments, the terminals nearby, the weapons lying discarded nearby having finally failed them. The living, vapid humans have a desperation that the dead don't: the player is always being sent on errands to find people lost in the Wasteland, or items in the ruins of Washington. The dead, with their stories, are far more alive than the living.
Worse: in the wide world there are pockets that are more frightening, off the beaten path, unmarked, home to monsters and men alike. Those who live there have done awful, unspeakable things to survive. What will you do to survive them?
25 The Insanity Experiment
Unravelling the mysteries of the underground Vaults is one of the great joys of the Fallout series. In addition to being underground bunkers, the Vaults are also a vast network of social experiments designed to test a variety of theories on human behaviour using a bonanza of compelled, but unwitting, test subjects.
Ten days after the doors sealed, Vault 106 pumped psychoactive material into the air filtration system.
According to the terminals, the Overseer knew about the experiments and told security personnel to observe the effects of the substance. When the player enters, 200 years later, the vault is full of people driven insane by the drugs and the player will hallucinate too upon entering. Deep down in the bowels, you can find a tunnel with some skeletons and mini-nukes, a clue that maybe they were trying to dig themselves out.
24 A Family's Last Stand
The Keller Family Bunker is one of the many locations without a quest in the Capital Wasteland. The player will stumble on holotapes out in the world that will give them clues as to the bunker's location, and each is a part of the code required to enter.
The Keller family has repurposed an old National Guard armory into their personal storehouse, and the Lone Wanderer has to travel through an office building to reach it. There's some great loot in there, including an MIRV launcher and some mini nukes. Once inside the bunker, the Keller family has all died with the exception of Keller Senior, who has been transformed into a hideous Glowing One. Once you put him down you discover the bones of the other family members, and are finally able to put the Keller Family to rest.
23 What Happened To Tom McMullin?
This quest is part of the DLC for Fallout 3 called The Pitt, which is about the Lone Wanderer journeying to the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is Pittsburg, truly one of the Fallout series most harrowing locations.
Before the war, Tom McMullin was the supervisor for a supply plant near to Pittsburg whose management was slowly replacing the workforce with Protectron robots, because sometimes a video game predicts real world issues ten years early. Tom did his best to slow the process down, but was found out and tried to escape the factory. His workers, mistakenly believing he was behind the replacements, locked him in a room. Tom heard the Protectrons arrive and slaughter the workers, then left the room only once before immediately running back inside to wait until the robots left. According to the skeleton found in the room, they never did.
22 The Saddest Dog
In a treat for classic science fiction fans, the house at 2096 Bradley Lane in Georgetown, The McClellan Family Townhome, is a deep reference to the Ray Bradbury story "There Will Come Soft Rains." In the story, a fully robotic house continues to service its residents, not knowing that they died long ago in a nuclear war.
In Fallout 3, the house contains the ends of a young boy and dog, as well as a deactivated Mr Handy robot.
By using the terminal nearby, the player can instruct the Mr Handy to reactivate and pursue a variety of chores, including reading the long-dead children a bedtime story, which is exactly what the house does in the Bradbury story. The story itself is a short, chilling read and was first published in 1950!
21 The Morse Code Mystery
This is one of my favourite Fallout secrets because I stumbled on it on my own and spent a whole weekend trying to track it all down. The Radio Towers scattered about the landscape of the Wasteland each transmit a unique morse code signal that can be used to discover a supply cache. Two of the towers, however, hide some frightening stories.
One of the messages is the voice of a father trying to find medicine for his son, who is quite ill.
Discovering the source of the message also reveals a grisly truth: no one ever responded to that message. Another is just a series of eerie gurgling and moaning, which seems to be caused by a group of feral ghouls milling near the HAM radio broadcasting the signal.
20 Seeing Things In The Bayou
The bayou introduced in the final DLC for Fallout 3, Point Lookout, is a creepy enough location as it is, (See further down the list for proof) but one event stands out as a particularly chilling moment in a game full of upsetting experiences.
To be accepted into the tribe of Point Lookout, the Lone Wanderer must consume the fruit of the Mother Punga, a giant hallucinogenic plant that grows in the swamp. Upon doing so, the player is knocked unconscious and experiences visions, which would be a bad enough, but then the ferryman who transported the player to the island brings them back to the ship and cuts out a part of their brain. You can confront Tobar and kill him for the violation, and afterwards take the chunk of your brain, kept in a jar, and carry it around with you. For the memories, I guess?
19 Someone Actually Made This Thing
Those pesky feral ghouls are one of the best innovations Bethesda made in transitioning Fallout to 3d. Nasty, fast, angry humans who have been mutated for so long they've gone completely mad, they inject a welcome element of zombie horror to the game.
Unless you're wearing a terrifying mask stitched together from the faces of ghouls. Your reward for getting Roy Phillips into Tenpenny Tower is this… gift that would make Buffalo Bill proud. Wearing it makes feral ghouls friendly to the player, and even your companions, and causes certain people in the world to react with revulsion at your fashion sense. Considering what a nuisance the feral ghouls can be, especially later on when you can one-shot them, this is a useful, if grisly, item.
18 Science Experiment Gone Wrong
Isabella Proud has a theory about feral ghouls being attracted to sources of radiation, and she's gonna prove that theory by any means necessary. If this means slathering her and her partner with radioactive goo, Marie Curie-style, and seeing what happens, well, so be it. If her partner, who loves her despite her dangerous and dubiously useful obsession, doesn't know about his bait-covered rad suit, well, that's one way to ensure an authentic result.
You find Isabella and her lover long after the experiment has 'concluded'- both have been horribly ended by the feral ghouls who now infest the testing area. There is also a Glowing One named "Samuel" who is referenced in Isabella's research nearby, and the player can avenge the scientists by killing him and the other ghouls.
17 Fear The Puppet Man
I was a big fan of the long-running webcomic Penny Arcade when Fallout 3 was released in 2008 and thrilled when they announced they would be working with Bethesda to make a promotional comic. The comic they released is considered canon and added a few new Vault experiments to the lore of the games, including the famous "10 men, 10 women, and 1 panther" Vault which, sadly, has yet to appear in game.
The main story of the comic, though, was about a Vault that contained only one man and a box of puppets.
This character is referenced very subtly in Fallout 3, in the Paradise Falls slaver camp. Next to a unique Vault 77 jumpsuit is a holotape advising the slavers to burn it, as it is a memento of a mythical slavery-killer called The Puppet Man.
16 Sacrificial Lambs
Okay, I cheated a bit: this Vault is actually in New Vegas but it's so good I had to include it. It's one of my favourite Vaults in the entire series. Seems that, every year, the residents of Vault 11 were required to elect one of their members to be killed, sacrificed, in order for the rest of the residents to live. If they refused, they would all be killed. In actuality, the Vault was programmed to broadcast a message should the residents refuse to sacrifice one of their own. The message would say that the vault dwellers were to be commended for standing up to tyranny, and that they were free to go. The doors would open, and that was that.
Except they never refused, not until there were only five residents left. The story is a chilling tale of power, subservience, and, finally, revenge.
15 Find The Aliens
Every Fallout game includes aliens in some capacity. From the crashed spaceship in Fallout 2 to the marooned alien soldier in Fallout 4, the little critters have even been implicated in causing the war in the first place.
While Fallout 3 would eventually include the aliens in an official capacity in the DLC Mothership Zeta, their most chilling appearance comes from a random encounter in the Wasteland, a crashed ship surrounded by bodies, weapons, and ammo. There's something deeply unsettling about stumbling across the crash, way out in the middle of nowhere, with corpses that are even less natural than the mutated horrors you've discovered thus far. That such a discovery can continue to be exciting and frightening, even when its an expected easter egg, is a testament to Bethesda.
14 Go Mutated Bear Hunting
Speaking of terrifying mutated horrors, the absolutely devastating yao guai that roam the Capital Wasteland are just below the Deathclaw as the most frightening common enemy you'll see in Fallout 3. The mutated, irradiated descendants of the black bears that lived in the DC area before the war, yao guai were named by the survivors of the Chinese military forces in the area when the bombs fell. Yao Guai, in Mandarin, translates to "demon."
There's a location full of these horrible things in the Capital Wasteland and clearing it out is…
Well, it's up to you if you want to go in there or not. I wouldn't recommend it, if you have the option not to, but if you absolutely must make sure you load up on mines and stimpacks as the giant, drooling terrors tend to charge...
Another sneaky entry from New Vegas but, honestly, if you're a fan of Fallout 3 and haven't played New Vegas, you really gotta get on that. I wouldn't say one is better than the other but New Vegas was made by Obsidian who have a trend of taking a game made by one studio, and turning it upside down, pulling it apart, and trying new things the original developers never thought of.
The Paranoia Vault Vault 19, is a great example of environmental storytelling.
When loaded into the Vault, the dwellers were separated into two arbitrary groups and kept isolated from one another. As sulphur started to seep into the air system, the residents began growing suspicious of those in the other groups. There's no clear evidence of what happened, other than dozens of vault jumpsuits suspiciously dumped in the abandoned rooms.
12 Don't Get Lost Down There
The metro tunnels underneath DC are an oft-overlooked element of the sprawl that is Fallout 3. Entire games have been set in the subway tunnels underneath post-apocalyptic cities (See the Metro series if you're a fan of Fallout and Russia.) You're sent into a tunnels a few times over the course of the campaign and their unceasing oppression can really wear on your nerves, filled as they are with dark spaces, rubble, and feral ghouls. Once you master them, however, they can be an invaluable way of getting around the city and some of the locations on this list are only accessible by braving the tunnels.
While you're down there, make sure you keep your eyes open for traps- valuable supply caches are well-protected as the denizens of the tunnels have had to fight for their territory.
11 Visit 1600 Penn
Fallout 3 does such a good job of creating a bleak, irradiated landscape it's easy to forget the game world is based on a very famous real-world location full of recognizable landmarks. While the Washington Memorial is easily recognizable and plays a major part in the main quest, one significant DC landmark is noticeably absent: The White House.
Or is it? Only accessible by the metro tunnels, and made into an actual location by the Broken Steel DLC, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is about as accessible in 2270 as it is now. Of course, the White House is now nothing more than a dried out crater of concrete, steel, and stone, having been one of the first targets of Chinese missiles at the outset of the war. Staring through the wrought iron bars of the fence at a hole in the ground where the President used to live is chilling.
10 Don't Go Into These Caves
A Deathclaw Sanctuary. Two words that should never have been put together. I don't know the story of the nightmare factory that is the subterranean (Of course it's underground, too) warrens that are infested with the armor-clad, razor-tipped lizards, and I don't want to know. Sure, there's some decent loot down there, the monsters themselves are good for carving up and selling for caps, but we're not playing Monster Hunter here. Go down there with a gatling gun and some nukes or don't go down at all.
Actually, yeah, don't go down there at all. What are you thinking? Going into a place whose very name is the equivalent of your friend putting his hand on your shoulder and slowly shaking his head. There's so much charming, post-nuclear content out there to see, leave the cave to the monsters who live in it.
9 A Shrine To Lincoln
No, I don't mean the Lincoln Memorial, another landmark that has made it through the nuclear war and subsequent two centuries of gangs, pillaging, and supermutants relatively unscathed, I mean a private little shrine to the man himself in a similarly untouched house on a hill in the Wasteland.
Seems the denizen of this federal-style mansion has gotten it into his head that Lincoln was some kind of holy figure worthy of worship, no idea where he got that idea consider Americans willingness to sanctify their favourite politicians. The shrine is tucked away in the house and easy to miss, but the devotion, the glow of the candles, the neatness of it all is enough of an outlier in the chaos of the Wasteland to send a chill down your spine when you stumble upon it.
8 The Rube Goldberg Grocery Store
At first glance, a grocery store that has been converted into an entire self-running Rube Goldberg machine may not seem like the scariest place in a world full of tunnels infested with dinosaurs, but the sheer complexity of the machine inside Gold Ribbon Grocers indicates someone whose constitution has been weakened by the horrors of the Wasteland. It's easy to imagine a haggard survivor, drained by the constant struggles of life in the wastes, stumbling onto this bonanza of plenty in an ocean of cruelty and lack, and having the bounty of the grocery store completely break his addled mind. What else is he to do but venerate these foodstuffs by adoring them into an elaborate machine? The care shown here to display and protect these items, and to never set it off himself, speaks to the depths of his madness.
7 The Artists' Vault
Vault 92 is tucked away in a rock outcropping near the town of Old Olney and is another of Vault-Tec social experiments gone wrong. Advertised as a vault for art and artists, and this is maybe why I find this one so disturbing, Vault 92 was actually an experiment in creating super soldiers by means of subliminal messages and white noise.
The project leader thought the messages were benign until the Overseer secretly triggered one resident to have a violent outburst, ending three people with his bare hands before being taken down by Vault security who required more than 20 bullets to end him. Other residents start to collapse as well: the player can find the diary of Zoe Hammerstein whose spelling and grammar deteriorate until she begs her friends to kill her. The most chilling image is the skeletons of two lovers, locked in a recording studio, surrounded by mines.
6 Discover The Fate Of Argyle The Ghoul
One of Fallout 3's best contributions to the series is the radio, which plays period-appropriate tunes dripping with irony broken up by post-punk DJ 3Dog or jingoistic speeches by the President of the US, depending on the station. Every once and a while, the player will be treated to the adventures of Herbert "Daring" Dashwood and his ghoul manservant Argyle. The stories seem to be light, radio-play fare and entirely fictional, until the players discovers Rockopolis.
Turns out, the plays are based on true stories.
An aging "Daring" Dashwood can be found at Tenpenny Tower where he laments at the loss of his "faithful manservant" and asks you to report back if you find him. You do. Buried under the rock and abandoned, discarded like a servant and not the best friend of a man now living in luxury.
5 Complete The Mission Of A Chinese Spy
There are a few hints in the massive worlds of Fallout as to how and why the bombs fell in 2072, including some pretty overt espionage and often outright warfare on the part of the Chinese and US in the 21st century. A sidequest in the Point Lookout DLC has you tracking down and finishing the mission of a Chinese Spy in the mission The Velvet Curtain.
Similar to the 'sea monster' quest in Fallout 4, you'll find the dead spy's diary and the codes to scuttle the stranded Chinese submarine. Swimming out to the grounded sub is frightening enough, the murky waters of the swamp hiding all kinds of dangers both real and imagined, but there's something about skulking through the hull of the sub, surrounded by the corpses of the sailors who died there, that is extra creepy.
4 Out On The Bayou
You know what? Why don't we just slap all of Point Lookout into this list, as most people will probably never get through all the content of Fallout 3 alone, let alone the four full expansions released for the game. While Broken Steel and The Pitt added depth to the Capital Wasteland, and Mothership Zeta took a turn for the bizarre by finally embracing the alien easter eggs that have run underneath the series since the beginning, Point Lookout turned Fallout 3 into a full-on horror game.
The swamp is unlike any other locale in Fallout 3, with heavy fog and dense reeds hiding al manner of mutated lunatics who are somewhere between ghouls and super mutants. The still-sane residents of the bayou don't fare much better- cults, raiders, opportunities, and murders infest the area and harry the player with tough encounters and jumpscares that play up the atmosphere of dread.
The most infamous Vault in the Fallout series is the cloning facility of Vault 108, often simply called "The Gary Vault."
Somewhere in the 200 years since the Vault was loaded, all the residents have been replaced by clones of a man named Gary. All are Gary. All speak only "Gary." All hate Gary. All hate those who are not Gary. Their one-word vocabulary haunts the player the moment they enter the place, and they are soon confronted by hordes of identical blonde white guys, with sinister beings and blunt objects. What happened to lead to the Gary-pocalypse? While we don't know exactly, we are told that the original Overseer had cancer and was expected to die within 40 months of the vault being sealed. We also know the clones had a disposition for cruelty toward non-clones, and that Vault 108 was allotted way, way more weapons than the other vaults. Then things get hazy.
2 The Town With The Secret Menu
The town of Andale is far to the south-east of the Capital Wasteland and is a popular feature on "creepiest Fallout locations" lists. While initially appearing to be a normal settlement town with two families and an old man living off the land, the player is warned of the residents'… special diet.
By talking with the old man, you learn that the current residents of Andale are descendants of war survivors who took to eating passersby, a tool of survival that has become a family tradition. You can pick the lock on the shed in the back of the town to discover a grisly horror show of a 'workroom,' with unfortunate travelers strung up from the ceiling and kept in cages until ripe.
1 H.P. Lovecraft's Summer Home
Finally, of course, the most infamous of the "creepy Fallout locations": The Dunwich Building. Named after the famous HP Lovecraft story 'The Dunwich Horror,' which is one of the core pillars of the Cthulhu mythos.
The Dunwich building seems unremarkable at first, but once inside you'll begin to experience floating objects, hallucinations, and other haunted house jumpscares, all made worse by the oppressiveness of the building and the general unease that Fallout is so good at cultivating. Venture into the basement, and you'll find the source of the evil. While the Point Lookout DLC would add a quest to the Dunwich Building, it's much better the way I found it in vanilla F3: just another abandoned building in the Wasteland, luring in greedy prospectors and desperate wanderers alike to add to its macabre menagerie.