Looking for games to play to celebrate Halloween? There are plenty of games out there that pay homage to monster movies, the ghouls and ghosts from folklore, and the creepy urban legends; there are even some that create their own niche, crafting interesting, original stories. Some games draw on horror themes without being overtly horror games at their core, while others are about non-stop scares. Here is my list of six games that you should check out this Halloween. Before we delve into my list, here are some honorable mentions:
Splatterhouse – An arcade classic beat ‘em up, the Splatterhouse games lack the nuances of more popular games like Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and Final Fight, but makes up for it in style. The second and third entries have more complicated storylines and multiple pathways, but still have the same good, arcade-style fun. The visuals are genuinely disturbing and the monster designs are gruesome. The Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 reboot actually contains all three games, and like its predecessors, is a flawed but fun gore-filled romp.
7th Guest – 7th Guest is a PC classic, which has recently been re-released on touch devices. 7th Guest has the honor of being one of the earliest horror adventures. It’s a puzzle-based game set in a haunted mansion, which already means there’s a lot of creepy things to see. Not all games need visceral gore and shock value to scare you; sometimes, you just want to go into creepy manor and explore.
Silent Hill – This entire series is creepy and atmospheric, especially II. Silent Hill II is a psychological horror classic that should be played by any fan of horror. The fog is used in an ingenious way. Although it is used to However, because this game is usually mentioned on so many horror lists, I wanted to focus on some other entries.
Parasite Eve – This game is unique, because it’s a horror-infused RPG from Square, but it has more science fiction leanings and a modern setting. The first game is the most noteworthy and probably contains the most horror elements.
Dead Rising – This is the quintessential realization of the zombie game. The mall setting makes it a blast to play and the weapon combinations are unique and fun. Frank West has since become a fan favorite character and the series has become one of Capcom’s most significant of this generation. Even the sequels have performed well.
Alan Wake – This Is basically the perfect realization of a Stephen King novel in game form. In this game, the player controls Alan, a disgruntled writer who goes to Bright Falls to finish writing his book. However, his book begins to manifest in his life, creating nightmarish distortions in the world around him. Alan’s world has become a dark playground for his imagination to roam, threatening to destroy him. If you’re familiar with the film In the Mouth of Madness, you’ll have an idea of what this game is like.
Number 6: Sweet Home
I’m going to start this list off with something a bit more obscure. I actually have a more detailed write-up about this game, so I won’t delve too much into it again—instead, you can follow the link here for more information.
What Is It? A game adaptation of a film with the same name, Sweet Home is basically the great grand-daddy of the survival horror video game. It set the template for many horror games to follow, most especially the early Resident Evil games. Don’t brush this game off as just another primitive, 8-bit ancestor. Sweet Home is a thoughtful, fun, yet diabolical game. It blends together elements of turn-based role-playing games with the adventure and horror genre.
Why Is it Worth Playing? Sweet Home is perhaps one of the best RPGs for the Famicom/NES. The game has aged surprisingly well, with a creative gameplay system. The player controls a cast of five characters who must explore a haunted mansion. Their original task is to preserve frescoes left behind by painter Ichiro Mamiya. However, once they enter the mansion, they find out that it’s haunted by Ichiro’s late wife, and now they have to find a way to survive. The player has to constantly manage character rosters and items, because parties can only be split up into group sizes of three or less, and each character can only hold a few items. This makes exploring the mansion a stressful experience, but I mean that in the best possible way.
Number 5: Fatal Frame II
What Is It? The Fatal Frame series is largely inspired by Japanese horror films; it’s steeped in creepy atmosphere and is far more concerned with creating an unsettling atmosphere than with gore. In this game, twin sister Mio and Mayu are led into the woods—this is already a disturbing premise. It’s difficult to navigate the fog-shrouded areas, which only adds to the mystique. What makes the game more suited to the horror genre is it’s gameplay focus: it doesn’t feature combat.
Why Is It Worth Playing? Fatal Frame II is a PS2 thriller classic. Exploring the levels is a creepy experience, because of the excellent use of music/silence, atmosphere, and creative design. In this game, your camera is your only weapon. You are not equipped with a huge array of weapons, nor are you even expected to defend yourself. Instead, it’s about solving a mystery and trying to survive, and the tension only mounts when you draw your camera. You don’t know if the passive ghost is going to become enraged and attack you.
Number 4: Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2
What Is It? The Left 4 Dead series is one of the few co-operative horror games out there. Each level is basically a fight for survival; you have to fight against hordes of enemies, reach a safe house, and keep your friends alive until help arrives. Most would expect the typical fare, but Left 4 Dead manages to be creepy still.
Why Is It Worth Playing? Left 4 Dead manages to be chaotic, shooter-filled fun and tense, disturbing horror simultaneously. Shooting everything in sight is fun, but the feeling of security and empowerment quickly goes away because of the dark, foreboding levels. Enemies come out in waves, leaving you feeling vulnerable no matter where you are. And the fact that you have to rush to safety, sometimes crossing wide-open spaces, only makes things more stressful. Also, if you draw near a Witch, I can absolutely guarantee you will be scared—no doubt about it.
Number 3: Dead Space
What Is It? Dead Space shouldn’t need much of an introduction. It built on the formula laid out by Resident Evil 4, which is now considered one of the greatest games of all time. It adapted it into an outer-space setting. Terrifying, gruesome Necromorphs have taken over the space ship Ishimura, turning the crew into hideous monsters. The cramped ship corridors evoke memories of the Alien franchise, which makes it an excellent horror experience.
Why Is It Worth Playing? Dead Space is gruesome, brutal, and violent, but it also manages to infuse some aspects of psychological horror. You never know when an enemy will pop out of the ducts to come after you. The cramped, quiet corridors of the ship constantly evoke feelings of dread and tension; you never feel safe whenever you’re exploring the ship because you just don’t know what’s coming. What’s worse is that the enemies are quick and can’t be put down with just a simple headshot—you have to completely dismember them. The sequel delves more into Isaac’s shattered psyche, as he battles his loss of sanity and fights for his life. He has to keep a grip on what’s really happening to him while all hell breaks loose. Excellent gameplay mechanics and a brilliant setting make this an excellent game to play.
Number 2: Resident Evil
What Is It? This game needs no introduction. The first Resident Evil is the pioneer of survival horror video games, but we’re not talking about the original PlayStation adventure. That game is important, but it’s dated and clunky. I’m talking about the GameCube remake, often considered one of the greatest video game remakes of all time.
Why Is It Worth Playing? Resident Evil on GameCube is the perfect realization of the early Resident Evil games. Resident Evil 4 was a landmark action game that changed how games were made from beyond that point (and it’s one of my all-time favorite games), but the remake of the first game has some of the most visceral scares the series has to offer. For 2002, the graphics were absolutely stunning, and even in 2012, the visuals are impressive. The environments are intricately detailed, with so many knick-knacks around the mansion.
Exploring the mansion is a nerve-wracking experience. The whole time, you never know when enemies when arrive. When an enemy does show up, you are hopelessly underpowered. In this game, fighting is almost never the answer. Shooting a zombie is the equivalent of trying to slap it with a fish; it just won’t do anything. Simply because you have a gun, most gamers will try to take the zombies down, expecting that they can win. That’s where this game shines. It makes you think you are a badass, when you’re actually not; you’re completely helpless, trapped in a diabolical madhouse. All of the enemies can easily make quick work of you and the cramped hallways, brilliant use of perspective, and low amount of supplies only enhance the mood. You scan the hallways for signs of an enemy, only to find nothing. Finally, when you feel safe, you hear that familiar groan.
Number 1: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
What Is It? Eternal Darkness is a masterpiece of both the adventure genre and of horror fiction. It draws heavily on Lovecraft with its demon-inspired mythos and bizarre foray into insanity. It was released as an exclusive for the Nintendo GameCube courtesy of Silicon Knights, and as remained a cult favorite with critical acclaim. The game is a pleasant mix of third-person action gameplay, puzzle solving, exploration, and monster fighting.
Why Is It Worthy Playing? The narrative is one of the best reasons to play this game. It’s creepy, disturbing, and weird. The tome of Eternal Darkness is countless years old and contains dark secrets mankind was never meant to understand. The game focuses on different characters throughout history who have come into contact with this cursed book; this isn’t so much a survival horror game, because there really is no hope for survival. The story is cruel and dark; no character is safe. What makes this game really shine though, is how well the narrative is tied in with the gameplay. Characters can go insane after seeing hideous monsters, that much goes without saying. But how does a game transfer this feeling to the player? Eternal Darkness did this in a very clever way–it takes every opportunity to mess with you. Cockroaches will crawl across the screen, the volume will go up and down, even the menus conspire against you!
For the sake of keeping the best part of this game in tact, I won’t link a video here. It would be too easy to spoil the sanity effects. However, experiencing them firsthand is really what makes this game memorable. Full disclosure: When I first played this game, I stayed up late into the night. Before I knew it, it was 1:00AM. I was playing in a dark basement, with all of the lights off; only the faint glow of the TV filled the room. I was getting tired, but the desire to see more of the game (and some caffeine) kept me going. That’s when the first sanity effect hit me. It was subtle at first. I thought my brother was in the room. I called his name, looking around. For the next half hour or so, I was tense, because I thought he was just in the room, hiding…but when I didn’t hear anything, I got on edge. THAT is what this game does…it messes with your mind.
What do you think of my list? What are your recommendations? Are you upset that I didn’t mention games like System Shock, The Thing, or Amnesia: The Dark Descent? Or how about the Castlevania and Clock Tower series?