It’s that time of the year, when you’re completely justified in locking yourself away from all the trick ’r treaters, putting on some scary movies and playing some horror based games. This year, we’ve got you covered with a list of some of our personal favourites that we highly recommend you play while eating all the candy you said you’d share with the neighbourhood kids.
The beauty of games over cinema, is more often than not, sequels are superior to the original. To kick this list off, we’re jumping right in with a sequel game that proves this very point, Outlast 2.
This game pushed further than the original and inadvertently much further than most other entries in the genre at the time. This game had me in hysterics, I was constantly having to wipe my sweaty palms off so that I could hold the controller properly due to the amount of fear and anxiety this game stirred up while I ran through corn fields, both hoping to lose my pursuers and getting myself lost at the same time.
This may not sound appealing to you the reader but when you’re playing a horror game, I believe the true measure of success is how much it unsettles you, how much it can stir up emotions and just completely ruin your mood. I believe Outlast 2 has done just that.
The original Outlast took place within a mental hospital that was filled with manic characters and grotesque scenery, the game is by no means bad but it feels a little stale, playing to many horror cliches, whereas Outlast 2 has you stranded in a mountainous region that is awash with characters all tied to a religious cult that all feels very Jonestown-esque.
Simply put, it is a refreshing take on a survival horror scenario. With your options being reduced to nothing more than running or hiding, this game prompts you to complete it just so you can leave the nightmare behind you.
If you’re undecided on whether you want to watch a scary movie or play a game this Halloween, Until Dawn manages to tick both boxes.
A game that does not rely heavily on how well you know your way around a controller. Until Dawn is a fun game to play in a group environment, often leading to people shouting out what your next decision should be.
Feeding heavily into the exploitation of slasher film tropes, this game is a product of all those times you watched a horror movie and thought to yourself, “I wouldn’t of gone that way!”. While not being as scary as some of the other options on this list, Until Dawn really makes you feel the weight of all the decisions your characters make along the way.
This game is a thoughtful experiment in how far you can go with multilayered player-driven narrative games, delivering an engaging experience where story and controls meld for powerful meaning.
Until Dawn was unexpectedly a lot more fun than what I first perceived, and the depth with which my choices mattered and affected the final outcome encouraged repeat play-throughs. In the end Until Dawn succeeds in being a great achievement in player-driven narrative, and a horror game you should definitely play if your Halloween forecasts a group context.
Dead Space 2
There are many games that fit the format of surviving on onslaught of nasty foes with whatever weapons you have at your disposal but none of them really feel as threatening as Dead Space 2.
Confession time, I never played the original game and I get the feeling that it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, you’re an engineer in space who is shooting his way through a plague of Necromorphs that have flooded the facility. Any questions? Too bad we’re moving on.
The atmospheric deep-space setting and terrific, distinctly sci-fi gameplay elements is what separates Dead Space 2 from any other survival shooter on the market. There’s something about being isolated in space which feels especially lonely and daunting, there is no possibility of the cavalry being just around the corner, there is little hope that safety is just out of reach, it’s just you and some of the scariest monsters in gaming.
That’s right I said it. The Necromorphs terrify me for 2 reasons; the first being that you often hear their blood-curdling screams well before you manage to spot them and the second reason being that by the time you do spot them they’re often swinging violently as they charge towards you. This means that despite your powerful and satisfying arsenal, you still feel as if you're in constant danger.
This alone is the key to Dead Space 2 being an effective survival shooter. Intimidating enemies and claustrophobic environments. As long as you've got the stomach for it, Dead Space 2 is one sci-fi horror thrill ride you definitely want to take.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Possibly the most underrated game on this list, more often than not overlooked on other halloween games lists and it's a shame.
Undead Nightmare is mostly eclipsed by the success of its host title Red Dead Redemption, so allow me to shine a light on this kitschy, fun and self-aware game entry.
Just how Red Dead captured the mood and feeling of early westerns, Undead Nightmare leans heavily into early horror movie tropes. This shines through brightest in the soundtrack, having the sound steer away from the Spaghetti Western sounds, heavily influenced by Ennio Morricone and towards more Southern Gothic Rockabilly, and it just works on every level.
How such a unique addition to a more mature title works is by it acknowledging its kitschy-nature and doubling-down on it. Everything from the misplaced narration, soundtrack, zombies, four horses of the apocalypse and even Sasquatch making an appearance, help contribute to Undead Nightmare’s tone being almost completely unassociated with its original title.
This game was created within a time when zombies where everywhere in pop culture. You’d be forgiven for thinking the creators at rockstar created a half-baked attempt at a zombie based game as a simple cash-grab but you’d be quite wrong. The moment you begin to play Undead Nightmare, it becomes apparent that there was quite a bit of love put into what could of otherwise been an underwhelming side game.
As you clear graveyards of undead infestations, save townspeople from being eaten alive and vanquish zombie hordes that were overrunning town areas all the while listening to the sound of rockabilly licks and riding the flaming apocalyptic horse of War, you can’t help put feel the strong association this game holds with the goofiness of Halloween.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE GAME
Sometimes you just want to pay honour and respect to a great within the Horror genre and Friday the 13th is one of the best ways to go about it.
Whether you want to be Jason or one of the unfortunate camp counsellors, you can try your hand at either hunting down the other players as the iconic killer or you can attempt to escape his clutches. This game, while still quite buggy, is still a horror fan’s dream come true.
Much like other games on the list such as Until Dawn, the in-game choices you make will effect how things play out for you. For example, you could attempt to collect all the missing parts of your car in the hopes of driving away to safety but you may find that this is quite a noisy task as opposed to simply sneaking around and waiting out the night.
This game is operating at its peak when played in online co-op mode. Having other players either working with you or independently makes for a richer horror experience.
As a fan of the Alien franchise, I need to make it known in the great debate between Alien and Aliens, that I am firmly planted in Ridley Scott’s camp with Alien.
For those that aren’t sure what I’m referring to, James Cameron’s Aliens is basically a Vietnam war movie with Aliens, whereas Ridley Scott’s Alien is Jaws in space.
It’s this specific distinction that makes Alien: Isolation a head and shoulders superior game to any other in the “Alien franchise”. While most Alien games followed Cameron’s lead in giving the players weapons to blast their way through their foes, Alien: Isolation taps into Scott’s original vision for Alien, throwing the defenceless protagonist into a labyrinth in space with an often unseen but ever-present danger.
Alien: Isolation is terrifying because it’s a simulation, not a game. You aren’t running through the mechanics of a playthrough, rather you’re on the ship, the Sevastopol with the infamous Xenomorph traipsing around the corridors and air ducts. There is a forward moving story but there is no set way in which you get from point A to B. With this fact, along with the flawless environment and tonal recreations that call back to the original movie, you’d be forgiven for becoming fully immersed in the experience and shrieking like a terrified pup when the Xenomorph inevitably yanks you out from whatever hiding spot you’ve tucked yourself into and puts an end to you promptly.
The AI system in the alien makes it impossible to truly pin down, it learns from your playing style and adapts. Imagine spotting a big, ugly spider in your bedroom, after your initial fright you go to collect whatever tools you need to dispose of it and upon your return you discover that the spider seems to have disappeared. This is essentially the relationship you maintain with the Xenomorph in this game. When the alien is present to your location, you are doing all that you can to avoid it and then when it appears to be gone you are not met with relief but in fact more dread and panic.
Left 4 Dead 2
Halloween doesn’t always need to be about getting completely spooked, sometimes you just want an excuse to lay waste to a horde of zombies with your friends, and that is exactly what Left 4 Dead 2 delivers.
While the Nazi Zombie side games from the Call of Duty series strike a similar tone, they quickly run into the issue of being repetitive in nature, while being stuck in rather small maps. Left 4 Dead avoids these issues by having clear cut point A to point B missions, this creates both a sense of urgency and purpose behind each play.
Along with the AI system in the game encouraging the zombies to spawn differently each time, the special infected trying alternative attacks, and even weapon drops changing all based upon your performance. This keeps players on their toes with every single play-through being slightly different, and the resulting strategy to survive much more organic and integral than any other FPS on the market.
Unlike most other shooters, Left 4 Dead hinges on cooperative multiplayer. You and three friends must shoot, tear and slash through an unrelenting mass of raging zombies. From the moment you leave the safe house to the final rescue chopper, you are completely dependent on each other which goes a long way in making this game so fun in a group halloween hangout.
Left 4 Dead, although it may appear as a mindless shooter, can be far more. Played properly, L4D offers 100+ hours of unrivalled co-op insanity
Surprisingly, Left 4 Dead 2 is able to out-gore, out-scare and out-explode the original in just about every way. Instead of a very grey, kinda boring cityscape, you’re running through hotels, swamps, plantations, river fronts, malls, abandoned highways, amusement parks… we could go on. The diversity is staggering and ultimately makes each movie-like campaign more exciting, tense and memorable than the first game.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
When I was young, I went to my friends house and played the first three Resident Evil games, I remember being terrified but also not wanting to be uncool in front of my friend so I choked down my fear and pushed into the experience. As years went on and the titles continued to be released, it seemed that Resident Evil lost its balance between being a horror/shooter to becoming a full-blown shoot ’em up experience… with monsters.
Needless to say, I no longer felt that terror I once did. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, is a return to order, filling the player with the subtle notion that something is wrong before ripping their limbs off. Swapping out the 3rd person view for a 1st person experience was vital in making this new claustrophobic environment feel, truly gritty, oppressive and overwhelming.
I believe Resident Evil’s biggest problem was that it was a unique property that attempted to create new content on top of new content, eventually this practice would run thin on new and innovative ideas. There is no shame in drawing from the well of other’s works, in fact most historically great films, songs, literature and games all steal elements of other people’s works and birth something new from it.
It's quite evident that the team behind Resident Evil 7 was aware of this fact, showing strong film influences throughout the game, touching on elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Devil's Rejects, The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust.
Bloody, tense, and exciting throughout, Resident Evil 7 is exactly what the series needed. Full of dread and brimming with anxiety, the series that started it all has finally found itself after decades of wandering.
The Horror genre by nature is mostly abstract, but Limbo is the most independent work on this list.
If you’re wanting to have a Halloween experience that isn’t planted in immediate terror but more a subtle and inescapable world of dread and melancholy, Limbo is the game for you.
This game is bleak, cold and truly lonely, so why do we as humans subject ourselves to such ominous gameplay? I have a theory that this game connects with people on an unspoken level, presenting itself as a physical manifestation of how we make sense of and deal with our inner-struggles in the form of a grim fairytale. I could go down a whole rabbit hole on this topic alone but I’ll save you the trouble.
Limbo is a simple but effective game, as you play as a young boy looking for his sister in a nightmarish world, wandering through gloomy forests, exploring forbidding caves and try to escape an industrial complex of whirring machines and smoke stacks – all painted in silhouette against the smoky greys of an old flickering film. It's amazing that such a simple approach can create such a gloomy atmosphere.
This games dark tone is sealed by the apparent fact that you're in a world that doesn't want you there. Any run-ins with other young boys, tends to head in a direction very reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, having them chase you down with spears and rocks, any creatures such as the iconically big spider, will mercilessly hunt you down until they make a meal out of you. You may feel personally attacked in the moment but if any of the antagonists succeed in killing you, you quickly come to realise how much the world doesn’t even acknowledge you were ever a part of it. You are just a smudge that needs to be wiped out. Heavy.
P.T. is a teaser to a game that is no longer happening, so how on earth does it continually manage to show up, time and time again on lists such as this one?
When I was a child, I had a lucid nightmare that I unwillingly navigated with a sense of dread, knowing the whole time that something was wrong but unable to identify what exactly. An unidentifiable figure was haunting me throughout and I woke up from that dream drenched in sweat and completely exhausted. P.T. tops people’s lists because it manages to capture that unexplainable feeling and take people like myself right back to that place.
To cut to the chase, the Silent Hill series has always managed to pioneer what a horror experience can be on a console and P.T. being the latest instalment has somehow managed to become a complete game-changer in every sense of the word. The trajectory for horror gaming was altered by this teaser alone, in fact P.T. has become the new gold standard of what a good horror game is, inspiring many replicated experiences such as Visage, Alison Road and even to a degree the earlier list entry of resident Evil 7.
Up until P.T. was released, most horror based games have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope when dissecting what makes for a good horror experience, choosing to make first and foremost “games” that have a garnish of horrific tonal elements and scary aesthetics. Whereas P.T. has opted to provide a nightmare simulation.
I was unprepared and ignorant to the fact of just how malnourished I was within the context of horror game experiences. I’ve never felt more psychologically tormented and anxious in my life. period.
The reason being, that it was just too much. Not just in the sense of scares (don’t get me wrong, some of the most genuine fear induced fright I’ve ever experienced) but the sheer level of directorial and artistic ambition that overwhelmed me, I couldn’t find the edges of the experience.
Up until playing this game, any horror element in a game was an external threat, a transient fear, something that could be defeated or avoided. However, psychological fear and trauma, never goes away. The creators of P.T. understood this. Creating experiences and dread that follow you and only grow stronger and more overwhelming with time.
This game doesn’t play by the rules of game mechanics and logic, just another way in which it leaves you feeling exposed and vulnerable. The best outcome from all this being that the game has reached folklore status through the whispers of the internet, with people offering up solutions as to how you can escape this shared nightmare.
When the real world is touched by the urban myths a game has cultivated, the nightmare has spread from the console into your everyday life in order to continue haunting you. That is the true measure of a successful horror game.
So that is our list. Make sure you set yourself up with at least one of these titles, come October 31st and go easy on the candy. If you want to put forth your own top 10 for Halloween, then please enter your list into the comments below.