All Hallows’ Eve; a time of ghosts and ghouls, when the living celebrate the dead and everything scary. Be it Trick or Treating, Pumpkin Carving, Costume Parties, or Lighting Bonfires, Halloween offers a chance for people, young and old, to get dressed up and have some fun.
Well what happens when all that fun has ended? The Trick or Treating is over, and the Jack-o’-lantern candle has burned down. Your loved one is fast asleep curled up after watching a scary film together and the kids are in bed, or maybe you are all home alone as the Witching Hour draws near.
You could throw on another scary film, or (most likely go to bed as you have work in the morning, but hypothetically) you could play a good horror video game.
Video games are an excellent experience into the horror genre if done easily. Of course, as with modern horror films, it is easy to fall into the jump scares and focus solely on that, but the main difference in video games is that you are in control of the character. Rather than just watching a teenager go up the stairs in a haunted house, having no control over their stupid choices, we, as the players, are in charge with what decisions the protagonist takes. WE have to walk past that suspicious window with the shadows outside. WE have to head down into the basement to find the key to unlock the next area. And WE are the ones that have to face the horrors that await us in the next room. Sure we are not actually there and we, as individuals, suffer no real consequence from some computerised avatar dying. We still do not want that to happen and, most of the time, will do everything in our power to stop that from happening.
So with that in mind, let’s speak about some of the best horror games or franchises out there. These are in no particular order, as each one brings variety to the table, offering a completely different experience to make you feel as if you are going to shit your pants.
Rather than the series (which did turn incredibly strange in the second part), I am speaking about the first Outlast game. A first person survival horror that is true to the word. You play a journalist who decides to investigate a remote psychiatric hospital on his own (one of the most classic horror settings), only to discover, shortly after becoming trapped in there, that the asylum has been completely taken over by the inmates.
The protagonist is no match for the homicidal patients and so must use stealth to avoid them, hiding in lockers and under blood soaked beds as the inmates search for them. The player can try to outrun them, but if they are caught then you are done for.
The game is also entirely in the dark so you must use your camera’s night-vision in order to see, but naturally this uses pound shop batteries that run out almost instantly, so you have to check the dilapidated asylum for other batteries to use.
The maniacs themselves scream and shout whenever they spot you, instantly changing the game from silent stealth, to intense action that causes you to run, but if you don’t know where you are going, chances are you will run into someone else. The game does force you to do this from time to time, even if you don’t really want to.
This is guaranteed to make your heart pound and your muscles cramp up as you sit there huddled up on the sofa, while your character holds his breath in a locker with a murderous lunatic waiting outside to butcher you.
- Alien: Isolation
While we are still on the subject, another similar game is Creative Assembly’s; Alien: Isolation. In this we play Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver from the films) daughter as she ventures onto an enormous space station to find answers to her mother’s disappearance. However, as this is set in the Alien movie universe, and is officially considered canon to the series, the station has a Xenomorph on board.
Rather than go down the action root that so many Alien games have gone (basing themselves off of the sequel: Aliens), Alien: Isolation took the core ideas from the original movie of a single alien entity hunting them down.
Although players have a variety of weapons (shotgun, handgun, flame-thrower, Molotov cocktails), these are more or less useless against the titular monster other than scaring it off from time to time, although it does not always work, or if you use it too much then it will become ineffective, as the creature itself adapts to your actions. If you spend too long hiding in lockers, then it will sniff you out, if you use the flame-thrower to scare it off, it will stand its ground, and if you keep making noise in a particular area, it will search it until it finds you. If the alien does find you then it will cause you instant death. There is no escaping its inner jaw.
The weapons are to be used against other enemies, humans or androids, but making too much noise will attract the alien. Like in Outlast, the player must hide and use stealth tactics in order to evade being eaten alive.
The real horror of this game, as well as its unique factor, comes from the fact that the creature is unpredictable and can literally be anywhere at any point waiting for you. You will not get through this game without dying.
One of the most controversial games ever made is in fact a stealth-base survival horror game. While we are still on the subject of stealth, Manhunt is another game when you will sit in the shadows waiting for the perfect opportunity to move as a crazed killer searches for you in a mask. The only difference is that at times you feel like the crazed killer yourself as you stalk through the darkness and take down your prey with a graphic execution.
The game is centred around a death row inmate who is sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection… only it was fake and the world thinks you are dead so that an insane underground movie director (played by Brian Cox… the actor, not the scientist) can use in his latest snuff film. You traverse various locations of a derelict city infested with warrior-esc gangs. From the Nazi-Supremacists in the Junk Yard, to the emoji mask wearing crazies of the Insane Asylum, the player must run, hide and kill their way through, with a variety of horrific weapons at their disposal (A plastic bag, used to suffocate an enemy, and a machete that can hack off an enemy’s head which can then be used as a distraction, to name a few), each with their own brutal death animations which you are shown in close horrifying angles.
Eventually you find yourself in a mansion as a large naked man in a pig mask hunts you down with a chainsaw. Manhunt is a horror in both the practical and psychological sense of the word.
Although the game does try and have its cake and eat it by making it a third person cover based shooter from time to time, the core mechanic of the game is stealth.
- Dead Space
As we move across the spectrum from stealth to action, Dead Space is EA’s third person science fiction survival horror series that deserves a place in this list. While later games in this series moved towards action, the original Dead Space (while still very much a third person shooter) is one of the most important horror games in recent years. There is no HUD, instead the character’s outfit and weapon display your current heath and ammo, creating a real sense of immersion into the game. Many games offer the ability to turn off the HUD to create that immersion, but Dead Space already has it incorporated.
The story follows Isaac Clarke, who is part of a crew sent to investigate a distress signal on-board an enormous starship. Soon the rescue team realise that the ship is overrun with grotesque monsters known as Necromorphs, which are basically made up of the former crew of the ship. They become stranded and Isaac must work his way across the ship, re-powering it and doing other various repairs, in order to get the hell off of it before you too are mutilated and join their undead legion.
The game offers a variety of jump scares, strange unexplainable moments that are thrown in to psychologically scare you, as well as intense action against horrific monsters. One of the scariest parts of this game is having to run from a regenerative monster, that can only be slowed down, as it hunts you through a series of movable bunk beds that block your path. You cannot move them without remaining motionless, giving the monster time to regenerate and continue coming for you. My arsehole is still recovering from the amount of time it was clenched during this section (and a few others) of this game.
Now what would be a horror list without a game that was inspired by the works of both HP Lovecraft and Bram Stoker. The spiritual sequel to Dark Souls (which itself can be quite the horror game), this is a third person action role-playing game, which follows the same rules as Dark Souls in which you can be killed incredibly easily. Players need to learn monsters routines and master the dodge roll in order to survive. While Dark Souls is more about defence, Bloodborne is all about offence, changing the shield for a gun and focusing on trying to kill the enemy quickly before it can kill you.
The story follows the player character; the Hunter, through the decrepit Gothic, Victorian era inspired city whose inhabitants have been afflicted with an abnormal blood-borne disease. The Hunter travels the city to unravel its mysteries while hunting down many terrifying beasts. Eventually trying locate the source of the plague, and escape the nightmare.
While different to most of the other games on this list, the setting and monsters themselves (being horrific creatures of gore, as oppose to Dark Soul 2’s dudes in suits of armour) create a real terrifying experience for players, especially new ones to the series who will surely be punished many times before they make it through even the first section of this game.
- The Suffering
A third person action psychological horror game, The Suffering follows a death row inmate who finds himself in a large island Penitentiary following murdering his family, which suddenly comes under attack from strange demonic monsters. The protagonist must escape the island, all the while discovering the truth behind his past. The players actions change the course of the game, as well as which ending you receive (whether he did kill his family or not), as it appears that the horrors that have befallen the island are directly relating to the protagonist. Don’t help the other inmates escape, or kill them, then you will most likely receive the bad ending. There are three endings in total which are all cleverly woven together into the sequel two years later (which is a classic issues with sequels from games that follow on from a multiple choice ending).
Along your journey through the hellish prison, you learn the horrifying stories of former inmates, crazed surgeons, murderous executioners, who all appear in some capacity, whether they are ghosts, or a some mutilated boss monster that you must face.
While the game is very action orientated, the themes of the game are reminiscent to that of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, in the sense that you see visions and messages that might not make sense at first, but over the course of the game, you begin to gain the full picture of one man’s tortured soul.
The original is a fantastically scary and atmospheric game. The player is the sole survivor of an aeroplane crash in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, who discovers a small lighthouse island with an elevator which takes them down into the deep dark depths to an underwater city overrun with insane splicers. Something I mentioned in my 10 years of Bioshock blog (http://beardedrobot.co.uk/gaming-blogs/bioshock-turns-10/) was that what made the original Bioshock scary was the journey into the unknown. We had no idea what would be waiting for us at the bottom of that elevator and even as we explored and pieced together the mystery of the ruined utopia that was once the city of Rapture, we never really knew what we would face. The game threw in deranged artists, murderous doctors, and mutated criminal masterminds, but it also gave us the Big Daddies. Big Daddies are genetically altered humans in enormous diving suits, complete with a large drill for a hand, who protect spooky little girls (another classic horror theme) who are charged with absorbing a chemical from the corpses scattered all throughout the city. When you encounter one, players will need to think about how they are going to approach this as the Daddies themselves are quite a formidable foe indeed.
While sequels lost the magic of the original and focused more on the action, the first Bioshock game is an intense horror action adventure that should not be overlooked.
- Until Dawn
The PS4 exclusive is an adventure game where your choices can get any of the characters killed at any point in the game (or at least the developers would have you believe). The game focuses around the classic horror storyline of a group of teenagers (of each possible type: shy, jock, anti-social, whore) who go to stay at their friend’s parent’s holiday home in some scary-ass mountains a stone’s throw away from an abandoned insane asylum. Shortly after arriving, the group discover that not all is what it seems and hunted by a crazed killer, and then something far worse entirely.
The game is played similar to that of the Telltale game series, but stars real world actors all fully rendered and life like. Players have to make split decisions, most of which have a rippling effect that can greatly impact later scenes.
This game is like you are playing through a classic horror movie and keeps you on edge in the fact that you feel as if you are going to make a decision that is going to get someone killed.
Me and my fellow Bearded Robot played this with another friend where we all drew characters out of a hat and passed the controller whenever that character was on scene. We managed to survive with only two of the characters being killed, but it could have been a lot more (and of course it could have been a lot less). We had a great time with this game and can be easily completed in about three sessions with a couple of good friends and some beer. Highly recommended.
- Layers of Fear
This is purely a walking simulator (similar to Gone Home or Firewatch) where you play as a psychologically disturbed painter who is trying to complete his masterpiece, as he navigates through a Victorian mansion, with disturbing secrets about the painter being discovered. The mansion is distorted and contort, appearing like a nightmare. The game heavily uses jump scares, but also creates that tension and suspense in knowing that something is going to jump out on you, you just have no idea when it will actually happen.
There are hidden things in the game, as well as a couple of different ways to do things and different routes to take, but overall the game is a single experience that will have you jumping out of your seat in the right circumstances. It is a short game, so well worth devoting a little bit of time to as an ‘in-between’ main games type job.
- Friday the 13th
A really recent online multiplayer, so naturally you think “how can any online multiplayer game be scary?”, as we know that games like Resident Evil 5 that offer online coop alternatically lose their horror because you can dick about with a friend, well Friday the 13th is different.
In this you can either play as the counsellor, or as Jason Voorhees (from one of the various films, each with their own set of abilities) as you either try and stay alive, or hunt down your prey. As Jason, the game is not overly scary, but instead you are the puppeteer of the horror. How you play affects the other players’ experience. If you cut the power, knowing a counsellor is inside, and smash the windows, then the player inside the house is going to crap themselves in knowing that you are toying with them.
It is really interesting how the game offers the player who is playing as Jason the chance to mould the game to their own personal play style. A poor Jason is going to make the experience weak, however, when you get someone who is an expert at it, then the counsellors will be in constant fear of the classic movie maniac. Over the course of the game, Jason will become increasingly stronger, to the point where the counsellors will be nothing but deer caught in the headlights.
Playing as the counsellors is your more standard survival horror experience. You will need to hide and run in order to find the means to escape from the terrifying summer camp, or else you fall victim to Jason and his machete. Players’ voices are only heard in a certain area, and if other players can hear you, so can Jason. You must search buildings to find fuel, keys, or other items to aid your escape, barricading doors to buy you time before the killer inevitably comes for you.
Be sure to check out Peter’s review for this terrifying horror experience: http://beardedrobot.co.uk/gaming-blogs/friday-the-13th-review/
- Resident Evil
Of course this does not refer to all Resident Evil games. This is covering the best ones in the series and the ones that actually do create that sense of horror, and not the action orientated third person shooter the game became (before being rebooted back to its horror roots). Resident Evil is regarded as one of the grandfathers of the genre in the video gaming world. While it is not one of the first scary games on the consoles, it is one that last left its mark in the history of video games forever.
Whether you are exploring the Spencer mansion in the original or the excellent remaster, the overrun zombie infested urban of Raccoon City, looking for President’s daughter in rural Spain, or hiding from the Baker family in their derelict plantation, Resident Evil is no doubt one of the greatest horror experiences you can find today. The most recent edition to the series; Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, even has a VR option for all of you technologically up to date gamers, offering truly terrifying game play.
My personal favourite in this series is either the remake of the first game, Resident Evil 2, or Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. The first game was a masterpiece and the remake did exactly what a remake should do and not take anything away, only add to it. It added in the frightfully good Lisa Trevor, as well as new areas and puzzles to mix it up, as well as updating the graphics to really make the atmospheres perfectly terrifying for the players.
Number 2 is just brilliant. Changing the setting from the mansion to the streets, and making it an overrun city just brings back memories of my childhood and started my fascination of the zombie genre.
- Dino Crisis
Writing about Resident Evil made me remember this amazing game. Dino Crisis is from the makers of Resident Evil and plays very similar to it. Instead of making it a zombies or mutants, the game shifts over to dinosaurs and does a rather effective job of making them actually scary. The first section of the game has you on the edge of your seat as you explore the secret laboratory on a jungle island, which is now plagued with the extinct reptiles.
While the sequel focused on action and lost the horror element of the game, as well as trying to branch itself away from the Resident Evil series, it is still a good game, if not very different. A third was created but the less said about that the better, and fans, like us at Bearded Robot, are waiting for the true sequel to the series, or if not then a remake of the original.
- Silent Hill
Finally we come my own personal favourite horror video game franchise. It is easy to write about both this and Resident Evil, which is why I have kept them short to focus on the other games in this article, but it would be unimaginable to write a video game horror list without adding in Silent Hill.
While later games in this series became a little dull and missed the point, when the franchise was taken over by an American company, and sadly nobody does horror quite like the Japanese. They have a way of really getting into your head and messing about in there, leaving you with horrifying thoughts that no mortal dares to dream.
Silent Hill 2 is one of the greatest games ever made, and while Silent Hill 1, 3 and 4: The Room, are all fantastic entries to the series that only add to the expanded universe and bring their own distinctive elements to each game, the second Silent Hill is bar far the best of them all.
Be sure to check out my previous article on Silent Hill 2 (http://beardedrobot.co.uk/gaming-blogs/the-horror-of-silent-hill-2/) and/or Peter’s article on Silent Hill 4: The Room (http://beardedrobot.co.uk/gaming-blogs/silent-hill-4-the-room-a-false-sense-of-security/)
Happy Halloween to all gamers out there, and, as always, if I have missed off any of your classics, be sure to let us know in the comments below.