I absolutely love the Halloween season. There’s a chill in the air, terror become rampant on most media outlets, and there is no shortage of thrills and chills to experience. When I was younger, horror movies were where I could get most of my frights. Anything horror related was pretty washed out so far as video games, my other prime source of entertainment, was concerned.
Now, though, there are more than enough white-knuckle gaming experiences out there to appeal to people who want to sit in a dark room with the lights off and their headphones on to get goosebumps while they roam through a dark mansion, a snow-covered forest, or any other environment you can imagine. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an expert on what does and does not deliver on scares from the video game world, here are five of the games that get me into the holiday spirit come October. Whether you consider these tricks or treats is up to you, but for better or worse, these games (in no particular order) are the ones that remind me that film and TV aren’t the only things delivering some good and creepy stories in time for Halloween.
UNTIL DAWN – Playstation 4 – 2015
Until Dawn focuses on a group of teenagers who, a year before the game takes place, played a prank on some of their friends that ended in tragedy. Now, on the isolated peaks of the mountain where the incident occurred, the friends gather to mourn, celebrate, and generally come together. As the night progresses, each of them is stalked by a sinister force that threatens to keep them from seeing the light of another morning.
Calling this game a sleeper hit would be almost an insult, as the game received very little publicity outside of gaming-centric outlets. Until Dawn received fantastic reviews from various sources when it came out, despite many expectations that it was biting off more than it could chew. As the player, you get to choose what each character says and does, finding hints about what is going on around them to piece together the plot of the story and hopefully keep them alive- or have them meet gruesome ends as the night progresses.
It can be amazing how the choices affect your gameplay, as the status screen that you have in each scenario (one for each hour until the sun rises) outlines hints that you’ve found, relationships that your character has had flourish or wither, and choices that have been made that have altered the story one way or another. While some might argue that the game relies heavily on Quick Time Events and prowess with controller movements- or lack thereof- the game kept me on the edge of my seat, along with the people I had watching intently as I made my way through the story.
FATAL FRAME 2: CRIMSON BUTTERFLY – Playstation 2, X-Box – 2003
The Fatal Frame series, of which the fifth installment is hitting the Wii U at the end of the month, is another series that has a die-hard fanbase but does not seem to have hit the mainstream as hard as some other series. In the second installment, players follow the story of Mio and Mayu, twins who, after one follows a crimson butterfly into the forest near an old playing area, find a village that has been trapped in night for as long as anyone can remember.
While most of my memories from this game stem from traumatic high school hangouts with good friends, the scares are all too creepy in this game. If any of your friends have played an entry in the Fatal Frame series, there’s a good chance it was this one- and they are probably scarred from it. Like the other entries of the series, rather than combating physical creatures or killers, you use a mystical camera called the Camera Obscura to trap malevolent spirits that will assault you as you unravel the mystery of the village.
Even as a sequel, this game stands on its own, and while the stories of the games in the series to end up intertwined, you won’t miss much by skipping the first one (which is creepy in its own right, to be fair). The combat is genuinely terrifying and tense, despite the sound of it, and the game is incredibly engaging. This, along with the first and third entries of the series, is available on the Playstation Network as a PS2 Classic.
CLOCK TOWER – Playstation – 1996
The Clock Tower series is disjointed at best. The original game came out on the Super Famicom as a point-and-click survival horror game, and the second- the subject of this third entry- was the first that North America saw of the series. The other two entries, vary wildly between horrible to mediocre to disappointing, depending on who you ask. If you want genuine scares and a decent atmosphere in your stories, the first two entries are the way to go- and this one holds a special place in my horror loving heart.
As the second in the series, Clock Tower for the Playstation picks up with Jennifer Simpson, the young survivor of a series of macabre murders, and her guardian, Helen Maxwell. Having escaped the onslaught of a figure known as Scissorman, Jennifer is trying to make a normal life with Helen, who seems to be one of the only ones concerned for her mental well-being. After a series of events that end with more lives being taken, the conclusion is drawn that Scissorman is back and after Jennifer and those around her.
The game plays in the same fashion as the first. You point and click your way through different environments through three scenarios, in which you play as different characters who are confronted by Scissorman and must escape. It builds into a ‘whodunnit’ as the player, along with the cast, tries to figure out if this is really Scissorman or if it’s a copycat killer with ulterior motives. Sadly, the game has not aged as gracefully as some on this list, but the game has charm and some solid scare moments, should you come across them. The game also has ten endings to achieve, so you can take the resolution you like to the tale.
FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S – PC, Mobile – 2014
I’m not too proud to admit that jump scares can get to me. Admittedly, there is a difference between a jump scare just ‘getting’ to you, and the jump scare being a payoff to buildup, anticipation, and overall dread that comes from whatever was before it. Love it or hate it, 5 Nights at Freddy’s did just that to me- a number of times.
There is little to the story of Freddy’s on first glance, and what there is on first glance is flimsy. You play as the new security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, who I can only assume is paying in solid gold bars given that on your first overnight shift, the animatronic cast, summoning every terrifying image of a particular children’s playground/restaurant you can think of, seems to come to life and be closing in on you in your little ‘safe room’. Survive the night, and you come back for another night. In fact, you come back for five of them.
The mechanics are simple: you click on particular cameras to see the goings on throughout the building. Eventually, the figures on the stage go missing and noises start to come from certain rooms. If you catch one figure on camera, it stops moving, This doesn’t mean the others do, though. As they creep closer, you can choose to use some of your electric power, of which you have limited supply, to shut one or both doors, turn on lights to see if anything is outside of the room, or keep an eye on the floor. Everything takes place from the same dark little security center, and it all goes downhill pretty quickly. As an added note, should you take my advice to check this game out if you haven’t already, a set of headphones does wonders to illustrate just how immersive the game can be, as simple and oddly prolific as the series has been.
ETERNAL DARKNESS: SANITY’S REQUIEM – Gamecube – 2002
Ask anyone who has played Eternal Darkness and you’ll hear a bevy of stories of how the game affected them when they played through it. The scale of shenanigans that this game pulled on its audience, most of whom weren’t expecting such on the Gamecube of all systems, were tales to be told that have yet to be rivaled.
Centering around Alexandra Rovias, a young woman investigating the murder of her grandfather, Edward, the game really begins when you pick up a tome called The Tome of Eternal Darkness in your grandfather’s effects. By engaging with the book, Alex finds herself immersed in past events where characters interact and either succumb to or prevail over mystical godlike beings that want to immerse the world into a time of eternal darkness, hence the title. Each chapter plays out with the player taking control over a new person in the past, but the viewpoint always returns to Alex between chapters as the overlying protagonist.
While the game has its moments of terror, mostly drawing from Lovecraftian wells of fright it would seem, the real terror comes from the interaction between the game and its player. Each character has a ‘sanity’ meter. As it goes down, your character may mumble to themselves in gibberish. If it sinks lower still, the player becomes the target. Imagine playing through the game as normal, and suddenly, a screen pops up that your game has stopped and your save file is corrupted. You start to moan and freak out about how this could happen. Suddenly, the screen flashes back to the game at hand, and you’re expected to jump back into the action. Your file is fine. Your game is fine. You- well, you feel like you’ve been played by the game. Other gimmicks may transpire- including a wayward ‘fly’ on your television screen and the volume raising and lowering by itself- but Eternal Darkness proved that the experience doesn’t have to stop at the polygons on the screen. Fans are still clamoring for a sequel to this day.
So there- five games that you can hopefully check out- be it through the appropriate platforms, YouTube playthroughs, or other means- to keep your Halloween holiday spirits up. There are plenty of others, and I could certainly go on for pages and pages about some great titles out there. If you’ve got any that you want to recommend or feel didn’t get the chance to be on the list (there are plenty that I haven’t played that probably should rightfully be outlined here), feel free to comment or share!