Spooktober is ending, as it always does, with the celebration of darkness, the feast of ghosts, the ritual of the monstrous: Halloween.
This is not the time to play something upbeat and cheerful, nor is it a time to play something that rides itself on its realism. Instead, let’s take a step sideways into the twilight zone, and see what adrenaline-pumping game is going to scare you on October 31st.
The list of potential Halloween scares
Alan Wake was kind of unexpected, coming from the studio responsible for the Max Payne brand, but was nevertheless a great horror story. It followed a thriller author trying to recharge during a vacation in a small town, but instead having to face weird events related to a novel he hasn’t yet written. As in many a good horror, the border between reality and nightmare is very blurry.
The game is especially worth attention for it’s fantastic use of light as both mood-setting graphical achievement, and a proper gameplay element, necessary to defeat hostile monster emerging from the omnipresent darkness. Inspired in a huge way by works of Stephen King, Alan Wake makes full use of having a writer as the protagonist, and the act of writing as the theme.
Although later instalments of the franchise leaned toward the action genre, the original Alien was a horror movie through and through. With that in mind Creative Assembly went about designing Alien: Isolation as a horror game, and succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. And it has a strong connection to the movies, with Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda acting as the protagonist.
The xenomorph of Alien: Isolation is much closer to the terrifying presence of the first movie than to swarming cannon fodder of the fourth. Hiding from it and keeping all sounds down is crucial to survival, but due to the game’s hostile haywire androids it might not always be possible. It was a breath of fresh air for Alien-based video games.
Amnesia: the Dark Descent
Have you ever woken up in a dilapidated castle with a splitting headache and no recollection of what happened recently? Because Amnesia’s protagonist Daniel has, and trying to piece back his past is as important as exploring the dusty corridors and cobweb-covered rooms of the Gothic castle. And it’s not easy, what with monsters threatening his life, and his sanity degrading.
Amnesia is one of many first-person perspective horror games, not the first by a long shot, but one that helped ushered this approach into modern gaming. It also gleefully didn’t give the protagonist any weapon, forcing him to hide and avoid danger rather than face it bullet-first. And it works like wonder, making Amnesia a milestone for the FPP horror genre.
Although Dark Souls already had a, well, dark tone, Bloodborne dived head-first into horror tropes, with special mention to H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of scary stories. Bloodborne loves to play with sanity, loves extradimensional terrors, and love the dream theme possibly too much for its own good. And on top of that, the combat tends to take a lot out of you, being hard as it it.
In Bloodborne you play as someone referred to only as Hunter, and you find yourself in a city gone mad. Nightmarish creatures roam the streets, you have visions, and the things you eventually face are so mortifying, that the more you know about them, the worse it is for you, making you more vulnerable to going into a frenzied rage.
Dead by Daylight
There are few asymmetrical multiplayer games out there, and Dead by Daylight is one that is really, really good at selling its slasher movie atmosphere. The premise is simple: four Survivors need to escape from a locked arena before the Killer catches and sacrifices them to the Dark Entity that rules that pocket dimension and thrives on the hope of mortals.
Many survivors and killers are drawn from famous franchises, like Evil Dead, Halloween, or Saw, with perks reflecting their abilities in their respective series. The game itself also has a not insignificant amount of backstory and flavour text written, giving it context and lore. If you’d like to see how Ash Williams fares against a Demogorgon, Dead by Daylight gives you that chance.
|Developer||EA Redwood Shores|
Do you know John Carpenter’s The Thing movie? Because if you do, you have some of what awaits you in Dead Space. You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer called to make some repairs on a mining spaceship. The situation he encounters once on-site is far above his pay grade, and the monsters he finds are human corpses animated by some unseen intelligence.
The tight, cold environment provided by the spaceship’s interior, riddles with vents and other paces the Necromorphs can emerge from and attack Isaac make for a great horror location, proved years ago by the first Alien movie. And Isaac doesn’t have real weapons to help him, so he has to find creative uses for some of his tools and industrial devices he finds along the way to the end.
Arguably Ghost Master is the most Halloween game on the list, much more in tune with the general spooky-fun vibe of the occasion. What is Ghost Master? It’s essentially a strategy game tasking you with scaring the brains out of Sim-like people with the help of a band of creative and cheeky ghosts, wraiths, spectres, and spirits.
Each ghost has a specific anchor limiting where it can be summoned. It might need an electric device, or a source of water. Each ghost has a bunch of unique powers, ranging from the usual poltergeisting to illusions, to possession. There are also restless haunters bound to each location, which require some puzzle solving to discover and free from their shackles (and recruit).
Inside is a pretty distinctive game. Kept largely in a black-and-white colour scale, this side-scrolling 2,5D puzzle-platform game made a splash when it came out in 2016, and to this day remains a pretty damned spooky title. It’s all in the mood and the animations of its child protagonist. It’s also in how easily the boy can die if you mess up.
Overall, Inside is a fantastic follow-up to this developer’s Limbo, which was kept in a similar style and atmosphere. Inside is probably even more disturbing throughout, even though it doesn’t have Limbo’s spider. Whether it’s something that happens to the boy, or things going on in the background, Inside is a dark, unsettling, and there is no good ending.
Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear was Bloober Team’s first attempt at a horror game. It turned out so well, that the Polish studio seemingly made horrors their specialty, releasing several games in the genre after LoF. And it all began with a story about a painter returning to a his house to collect his thoughts and complete his final piece. Everything seems to go wrong when he paints the first layer, however…
The game does a really good job creating the atmosphere, and discovering the past of its protagonist paints an uncomfortable, grim picture. The ultimate fate of the painter is up to the player, with three endings available, based on certain things done throughout the playthrough. There’s also a sequel DLC following the painter’s, now adult, daughter.
One of the exemplars of the first-person perspective horror with non-combatant protagonist brand of video game horror. You play as an investigative journalist who got a leak about some weird things happening in an old psychiatric hospital in Colorado. The only thing separating you from the horrors is your trusty camera, which you can use to see in the darkness a bit better.
Outlast’s story is satisfying, and the tension of being helpless against the crazed, experimented-upon patients of the hospital. There’s also some other, darker presence, which you’ll discover, whether you want to or not. And then you’ll see another side of the story with the Whistleblower DLC, about the guy who provided the leak you followed in the first place.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil 7 was a firm return to the survival horror genre, albeit with a more modern form. Instead of classic fixed came angles and tank controls, RE7 took notes from other popular modern horrors and took to the first-person perspective to deliver its scares. This shift, coupled with excellent graphics, and great overall design made Resident Evil 7 a real hit, and rightly so.
In RE7 you play as one Ethan Winters, who rides out to rural Louisiana, spurred by a message from his missing wife. He winds up in a mansion of the Baker family, who are clearly something not entirely human. Although the game ties into to broader Resident Evil universe, it does perfectly fine standing on its own, and Bakers are one scary dysfunctional family.
Silent Hill: Homecoming
|Developer||Double Helix Games|
The Silent Hill series probably doesn’t need introductions. At the time of writing the franchise is twenty years old, and it even had a movie based on the license. The now legendary city covered in mysterious mists has brought nightmares and resolutions to many characters over the years, and it was also probably as source of lifelong nightmares to those who survived.
This time the protagonist is one Alex Shepherd, from the town of Shepherd’s Glen, just across the lake from Silent Hill. Over time he’ll discover more than he was prepared to handle, as is usual for a Silent Hill game. Curiously, the player is given more choice over how the conversations go, and Alex is pretty skilled in combat, a talent that would come in handy at many points in the story.
Coming from people who created Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Soma moves away from the 19th century setting and lavish European castles. Instead, it’s a science fiction horror set in an underwater research base of the near future. It’s quite a big leap, but Frictional Games made it with grace, once again delivering an interesting game that’s scary in a quite different way.
Some deals with the questions of consciousness, and delves into transhumanism to the point where the protagonist’s mind awaken in not-his body. The state of things he meets is disturbing, and declining fast. The rest you’ll have to discover on your own, especially since Soma puts quite a lot of emphasis on weaving its narrative and fostering the psychological horror atmosphere.
The Evil Within
The Evil Within was created under the direction of Shinji Mikami, the originator of the Resident Evil series. That’s as good a recommendation as they get in the genre. It follows detective Sebastian Castellanos on an investigation that has taken a turn for the weird. The game is a descent into a troubled mind, and a psychic reality it forged.
The Evil Within puts a lot of emphasis on scavenging, as resources and tool, while rare, substantially increase the odds of success. There is also the “green gel” you can find throughout the locations, which can be used to improve Sebastian’s skills. Thankfully, there’s a safe location that Castellanos can access via mirrors or when the story calls for it, a welcome respite.
Until Dawn is a really cool concept pretty well-executed. Effectively it’s an interactive horror movie featuring a bunch of your adults facing extreme supernatural danger while on a holiday retreat. The game involves a lot of decisions, which result in wildly branching storyline, with a surprising number of different endings.
The cast itself is really good, and includes Rami Malek, recently famous again for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury, and Brett Dalton, whom fans of the Agents of SHIELD TV show will know as Grant Ward. Gameplay-wise there’s a lot of QTEs, but they serve the story rather than distract from it, and they have substantial consequences for the way the game resolves.
Is this the end of the fright night?
Of course, this list is not, by any means, exhaustive. For instance we didn’t write about games like Five Nights at Freddy’s, or the asymmetrical multiplayer horror based on the Friday the 13th license, but there’s only so much text one could write before a listicle becomes too long. We are sure to have omitted some horror-adjacent game you love, because the genre is old, and there’s always a couple to come out each year. Nevertheless, we hope we put on your game radar some titles you’ve never tried before.