5 Scary Games to play for Halloween
It’s that wonderful time of year again when there’s a certain magic in the air. By magic of course I’m referring to the dark, sinister, and forbidden variety. There’s none of that romantic fluff to be found in any of these games.
Halloween is quickly approaching and while some may choose to decorate their yards and houses with fake spider webs, Jack-o-lanterns, and other props, I’m here to suggest another way you can get into the holiday spirit. How you ask? By playing some of the scariest video games of all time, of course! These are in no particular order and most are readily available at either your local video game retailer or an online digital distribution store. If you’re ready for chills and thrills then look no further.
RESIDENT EVIL by CAPCOM (Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo Wii as Resident Evil Archives)
It would be almost criminal to not include one of the most popular horror franchises in a list like this and there are definitely more than enough Resident Evil titles released on different platforms to choose from. I chose the Gamecube remake of the original Resident Evil above all. One can argue that the games have gotten better since the first game in the series and while that is true in terms of graphics or gameplay, there is one part where I believe it has decreased in quality: the all important fear and horror element.
For those of you who don’t know, Resident Evil takes place in a mansion in a secluded forest and it is up to the special division S.T.A.R.S. members to investigate the area. What starts out as a typical mission quickly turns into a nightmare when they begin to encounter horrible, freakish creatures including zombies, berserker dogs, murderous crows, mutated plants, and even a genetically enhanced shark. Despite the main characters, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, being special operatives, they find themselves in a fight for survival against the strange and unknown. Behind every door and around every corner something evil may be lurking.
The original Resident Evil release on the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn is truly a cult classic but sadly due to the graphics and inherent technical limitations of the time, it has aged rather poorly. Thankfully, in 2002 Capcom rectified this by giving us a remake of the original on the Nintendo Gamecube. The game has been completely redone featuring lovely CG models for the characters and rich environments and enhanced audio that add to the experience. One element that is great for players who went through the original version of the game is that Capcom purposefully redid parts of the game to add to the tension. You might be expecting something to burst through a window or crash through a door at a certain part but they will lull you into a false sense of security when it doesn’t happen immediately. You may be in a completely different area than the original when the revised scare finally happens. Resident Evil brought survival horror into the spotlight and while that genre may have peaked, this is still a worthy game for anyone to play.
FATAL FRAME II by Tecmo (Playstation 2, Xbox)
A slight departure from the typical survival horror game, Fatal Frame II is about two Japanese teenage girls who get lost in a forest and wind up in a village covered by fog. The twins quickly realize that not only is it abandoned but there are tormented souls roaming about. While the story is reasonable for a horror game, the actual gameplay is what separates this title from most other horror games of its day. While you may be accustomed to fighting back in games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill with weapons like guns or melee weapons, there is none of that to be found here. Instead, you are equipped with a special camera that can vanquish the spirits of the damned by capturing them on its special film. The drawback here is that it is only effective in close range. So while the game plays out in a third person view while you explore and solve puzzles, when it comes to fighting back the ghosts you must enter a special mode where you have to take pictures of the attacking spirits. The accuracy and quality of your photos determine the amount of damage done to the spirits so it may take a few good shots before you can finally exorcise them.
What Fatal Frame II does exceptionally well is put you into a world of supernatural horror as a young teenage girl whose only option is to fight her natural instinct to run away and investigate what really happened to this ancient village. The theme and setting are the real strengths here and it is definitely a fresh take on the genre. While it shouldn’t be too hard to acquire a used copy of this game, a remake of this title is in the works for the Nintendo Wii which is scheduled to be released this holiday season… but only in Japan, so far. With any luckwe may see this in the west next year or maybe even on the Nintendo Wii U. Using the Wii U controller as your camera to find the ghosts would definitely add to the immersion of this spooky title.
ETERNAL DARKNESS: SANITY’S REQUIEM by Silicon Knights (Nintendo Gamecube)
Eternal Darkness was developed by the controversial Silicon Knights development studio while it was a second party for Nintendo back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. It is actually the first game published by Nintendo to get an M for Mature rating by the ESRB which should tell you how much confidence Nintendo had in this title. Originally developed for the Nintendo 64 and then ported to the Gamecube, it was released to much critical acclaim but not with sales to match it.
The story revolves around the main character, Alexandra Roivas, and her trip to her late grandfather’s mansion where she stumbles upon a mysterious tome bound by human flesh and bone called “The Tome of Eternal Darkness”. As part of her investigation into her grandfather’s murder, she reads the book and relives several different characters’ points of view and their interactions with the tome starting all the way back in Ancient Rome and continuing throughout the ages to the present day. Each individual adds a small piece that fits into the gigantic puzzle and after spanning centuries, it is up to Alexandra to prevent the Ancient Ones from awakening and devouring the world.
The storytelling is superb and you can definitely see inspirations from other classic horror stories, most notably HP Lovecraft .Each chapter gives you a different character and an entirely new perspective on The Tome of Eternal Darkness. As the player recounts their tales, (almost all of them involving gruesome, horrific events and creatures), you definitely begin to feel that there is something larger at stake which is unusual in video games. With a focus on a strong narrative and storytelling, it’s definitely a refreshing take that differs from most horror games.
What Eternal Darkness excels at even more, however, is the gameplay. You control Alexandra or whichever character she is reliving through the book in third person. Each individual has different weapons which are unique to their place in time as well as profession. In addition to this, there is a unique magic system that opens up the game world. As opposed to traditional magic spells being cast from a list or preset to a specific button, Eternal Darkness employs a more mythical system. During the game you find magical runes which you employ in various sets of three, five or seven ‘circles of power’ to cast your magic. With the base you choose the alignment of the spell, each one belonging to an ancient one, a rune consisting of a “verb” and a rune that is the “noun” of the spell. There are many different runic spells for you to cast in this manner and can range from anything to a typical damaging spell to self-healing or even summoning the very monsters you’re fighting.
Lastly, the most unique element to Eternal Darkness is what they call the “sanity meter.” In addition to your health and magic, there is another bar of green which represents your character’s sanity in the game. As you begin to encounter bizarre, supernatural creatures and monsters your character will lose some of this meter, depending on what you’re fighting and if you are taking damage. As your meter gets lower your character will see different effects due to the lost sanity. It may be something as basic as a sudden banging of doors, the sounds of footsteps not too far in the distance, screams of women and children and so on and so forth. But the further you go towards insanity, the more profound the effects become. Soon you’ll be seeing a tilted angle of the game camera, extra monsters appearing that aren’t actually “real”, and even walls bleeding. The game will even break the fourth wall and display the volume being lowered on your screen or scaring you by saying the game deleted your save file accidentally.
SILENT HILL by Konami (Playstation)
If Resident Evil represented a typical “B” horror movie film in a video game form, then Silent Hill would represent a psychological horror film. Debuting on the original Playstation, the Silent Hill series is the other pillar of the survival horror genre. However, instead of the main characters being trained in combat, the characters in the Silent Hill series are typically ordinary people thrust into a twisted, bizarre world.
The original game is probably the most memorable of the series for its groundbreaking elements at the time. Players take control of Harry Mason, a man in search of his daughter in a seemingly abandoned town. He soon discovers that not everything is as it seems. By the end of the game you might think he had gone through an outer circle of hell. Due to the limitations of the Playstation hardware at the time, the game took advantage of using a fog to lower the draw distance of objects in the environment. Normally something like this would detract from the gameplay, but in this series, with the darkness being an overwhelming force in immersion, it only enhances the ominous effect.
It is here that Silent Hill clearly sets itself apart from other horror games of the time. Instead of relying on scare tactics with reactionary gimmicks like a sudden bang on the door or something bursting through the window, Silent Hill throws the character and the player an environment that’s designed to instill a feeling of uneasiness and dread. But make no mistake, there are some shocking, disturbing moments throughout the series with one of the most perverse, unsettling acts in any video game occurring in the second Silent Hill. There have been multiple iterations over the years and the quality has maintained, for the most part, throughout. Luckily for you if you haven’t played the original, you can find Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii which is a modern ‘reimagining’ of the game with some added twists and turns. Not only that, but Konami is working to bring a Silent Hill HD collection to the Playstation.
AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT by Frictional Games (PC Windows / Mac / Linux)
The scariest game I’ve played in the past few years, Amnesia, is brought to us by the indie developers responsible for the Penumbra game series, another excellent series in the horror genre. Amnesia, however, is the game that exemplifies everything that a horror game should and can be. Unlike most horror games, Amnesia is played in a first person perspective which changes a few things. First of all, there are no awkward “tank controls” to fight against or adapt to. Next, since you view things as you would if you were the character, everything in the environment is that much more immersive. Going off on that, you can explore that much more of the excellently crafted game world, checking every corner and dark corridor you come across, unhindered by static or awkwardly forced camera angles that are typical in 3rd person suvival-horror games.
Having released within the past year, Amnesia takes advantage of all the wonders that modern technology in home computers can offer. The game world is extremely realistic from a graphical perspective and the atmosphere is rich with detail. It is very easy to get immersed in this game as the sounds are particularly haunting as well. But that leaves us with the gameplay which is above all the most important aspect. Thankfully, this game offers the player a horrific time (in a good way) all the way through.
You play as a character named Daniel who wakes up in a castle with no memory of anything but his name, where he comes from, and that something is hunting him. Upon his awakening, he finds a note that he had written to himself. Along with cryptic details that he had to erase his memories for his own good, his past self gives himself instructions that he must journey into the castle to kill someone named Alexander. With that as the plot to the game, the player is given control and can freely explore the seemingly possessed castle.
One of the defining aspects of Amnesia is that Daniel is no combatant and must rely on his wits and cleverness to survive and escape the horrors that lurk within the castle. Any enemy the player encounters is capable of killing him and the only way to avoid this is by outrunning, outsmarting or hiding from them. This is a refreshing take to the horror element as your shooting skills will offer you no advantage here. You must be quick to react to the monsters that will chase you to the point of going into other rooms and corridors. The other element to the gameplay is the separate ‘sanity meter’ that the player also needs to be aware of. Much like Eternal Darkness, in Amnesia the main character has a certain amount of sanity before he begins to hallucinate. Remaining in the darkness, staring at monsters or seeing disturbing images will all reduce your sanity to the point where not only does Daniel see things but monsters will more easily notice him. Darkness is particularly dangerous as the castle is extremely dark and the character has a limited amount of tinderboxes and oil to provide him the light he needs to stay sane. It is often a game of finding an acceptable balance between being in the dark or providing light to the nearby surroundings.
Despite it being relatively new, Amnesia is great enough to place itself among even the classic horror game franchises that people worldwide have come to know and respect. If you want an atmospheric game that will give you chills and have your spine tingling from fear, look no further. Playing this game alone in the dark is mandatory and well worth your time. You don’t play Amnesia, Amnesia plays you.