It’s almost October, and you know what that means: Halloween games. Not sure what to play this year? We’ve got you covered. This week we cover a handful of games, both scary and silly that will keep you in the holiday spirit all month.
Transcript below the cut.
We’re on the cusp of a new month–more specifically, we’re on the cusp of a new month dedicated to candy and scaring yourself silly. We’ve chosen to get ready for Halloween this year by thinking back to some of gaming’s spooky standards.
First, the classics.
When speaking about horror in games, we’re usually referring to “survival horror” the amorphous genre on which few can agree, but most can accept started with Capcom’s original Resident Evil. While not the first game to trap players in a creepy mansion with limiting controls, Resident Evil established these design decisions as the model for making scary games. Implementing tank controls–meaning the player pushes “up” to go forward regardless of the direction their character is facing–allowed the developers to use a set camera to better frame the action cinematically. This afforded Capcom unique control over how players read the space. For example, setting the camera in a low corner of the room reminded players of the stalker film’s i-camera, giving them the distinct, creepy feeling of something watching them. This also allowed the game’s developers to strategically hide important information from view–like the zombie lurking just off screen. The original Resident Evil is a must-play for understanding how a generation of games came to be, and we’re excited to play the HD re-make due next year.
Silent Hill jumped into the horror game to perfect Resident Evil’s unsettling atmosphere with an extra dose of psychological horror. This hit its triumphant peak in the second and arguably best of the series, Silent Hill 2, a game that did as much for setting the bar for storytelling in games as it did for horror. Silent Hill 2 takes full advantage of its creepy, abject setting to hinge its narrative on seemingly innocuous decisions. Do you stop and listen to the disembodied voice screaming at you, or do you run through, wishing it was all over? This actually informs the narrative outcome, ultimately forcing players to think about their relationship to the space and the horrifying events that have taken place. Silent Hill 2 is an essential part of the video game canon and makes for a great title to revisit when you’re in the mood for terror that sticks with you and festers.
That same year marked the start of another influential addition to the horror canon, Fatal Frame. The game is a classic haunted house story, and instead of having an arsenal filled with lead pipes or rocket launchers, protagonist Miku’s only line of defense is a camera that captures ghosts’ spirits. The camera changes the way players think about ‘head shots.’ Limited film means they must conserve it until the perfect shot, but getting too close can be fatal. Like in Resident Evil or Silent Hill, The third-person exploration is cinematically framed. But when Miku has to defend herself, she is fully in control of where to focus. In a way, her gaze is her power, the more she stares down her enemies the stronger she becomes. In empowering and punishing the player through their gaze, Fatal Frame puts an interesting spin on the dynamics established in Resident Evil.
But if your friends aren’t interested in keeping the couch warm while you play, you can always boot up Steam and start a four-player campaign of Left 4 Dead. Left 4 Dead is a first person shooter that puts you in control of one of four survivors during the zombie outbreak. You and your team must work together to make it through hordes of the undead to finish the campaign. The moment-to-moment stakes are the core of the Left 4 Dead experience; unlike the carefully staged, terrifying set pieces of previous games on this list, Left 4 Dead’s AI generates enemies and supplies based on you and your friends’ progress. This results in stories of miraculous near-misses and especially hilarious hits that are unique to each session. Left 4 Dead’s sequel builds on the formula with added weapons, monsters players can play, and general mayhem, making it fun to revisit time and time again with friends.
But maybe you don’t like scaring yourself. Maybe you like your Dracula with cereal. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In that case, Plants Vs Zombies is a must-play. Unlike the aforementioned classic horror games, Plants vs Zombies doesn’t have the set, cinematic camera angles and creepy narratives. What it does have is a satisfying tower defense game, with a goofy, Saturday-morning-horror aesthetic. The zombies that besiege your garden are numerous and hilariously designed, as are the plants you employ as your defense. Plants vs Zombies is easy to pick up with a steady and rewarding difficulty curve, making it a great pick for achieving a zombie-like zen.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a charming game that’s surprisingly addictive. Sequel to the Gamecube launch title, Dark Moon builds on the original in every way, even adding a multiplayer mode so you can go on spooky adventures with your friends. The portability of Dark Moon makes it far more accessible than the original, with a mission-based campaign so you can sneak some playtime in on your commute to work or during a lunch break. If you’ve ever wanted a lighthearted Nintendo meets Ghostbusters game, you might want to dust off the Poltergust 5000 and prepare to exorcise some ghosts.
And a list of Halloween games wouldn’t be complete without Costume Quest: the trick-or-treat RPG from Double Fine. As an RPG, the game is fairly shallow: you control three party members who can wield different abilities to chip away at enemy’s health bars. It’s the Double Fine bit that sells it: Costume Quest is wonderfully silly. The traditional RPG classes are abandoned in favor of costumes, which the trick-or-treating heros trade with the nonchalance you’d expect from children and the humor you’d expect from Double Fine. The game is quick and relatively unchallenging, making it easy to sit back and enjoy–especially with its sequel waiting in the wings for this Halloween.
Even some of these light-hearted entries have become classics in their own right. What about the new school of horror?
Five Nights at Freddy’s is a simple enough concept: think Chuckie meets Chuck-e-cheese’s. You play as a night-shift guard who has to use the tools provided to him, in this case, security cameras and a control console, to make sure the dangerous animatronic inhabitants of the restaurant don’t make a midnight snack of you. The game’s jump scares will keep you on your toes, and it can be surprisingly difficult to make it through the night. One of the more notable aspects of the game isn’t the creepy setting or novel gameplay, but it’s almost overnight notoriety. The game itself reached meme status soon after its release, and is now infamous for the many parodies, fanart, and let’s plays you can find to accompany the experience. It represents where horror is thriving currently: small low-budget projects that creatively utilize their limitations to scare.
Lone Survivor is a beautifully detailed pixel-art horror game. Set in a post-apocalyptic world You must scavenge your abandoned apartment building for supplies and food. As the game progresses the protagonists delicate mental state is highlighted as he encounters both genuine threats and hallucinations. While some of the story is relayed through flashbacks the most fascinating aspect of the game is the aforementioned unreliability of what you’re seeing in the present day. This added confusion and paranoia make the game’s decision-making even more difficult. With several different endings and a variety of hallucinations and interactions to encounter this is a game you’ll get a lot of playtime out of.
That does it for our take on gaming’s Halloween standards. What games do you find yourself returning to? Let us know in the comments, and join us next week when we roll out the games club!