Horror gaming is a popular and distinct genre of gaming that sits on the back burner to first-person shooters and RPGs. When Halloween comes around, gamers want their fix of horror that they may not necessarily get in movies anymore. The focus for horror gaming is creating a distinct atmosphere that sets the tone for fear in hopes of making the player feel like they’re in the literal moment they are playing. There may be different types of horror games and even some that may not come across as it, but the goal is the same. While games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Night Trap or X-Com might not be directly horror games, they create a specific tone that bring the games back towards having a horror vibe. Some of us over at Hardcore Gamer have contributed some of our recommendations of horror games to play for Halloween along with some of our experiences in playing them.
1. Resident Evil 4 – Jake Whritenour
Resident Evil 4 changed the way we play horror genre games. In 2005 it revamped the classic Resident Evil style to give players a new perspective of taking down zombie-like beings and deadly monsters. While it may not be the scariest title nowadays, back then it was highly regarded for its believable creepy atmosphere and deep storyline. There are plenty of scary moments and one stands out for me. Once arriving at the island you encounter the first Regenerator. It appears on a security monitor and makes its way toward you. I decided to backtrack and save the file before encountering the creep. Once I get back to the area and open a door I did not expect it to be standing right in front of me! Gave me quite a scare not only because it was sudden, but it’s an enemy I have no idea how to fight. Luckily, I survived and kept going forward. Resident Evil 4 continues to offer a great experience to this day. I may not be as afraid to play since I’ve gone through it a few times, but I’ll always remember that jumpscare.
2. Observer – Fran Soto
Developed by Blooper Team (Layers of Fear, Basement Crawl), Observer is a refreshing blend of the cyberpunk and horror genres. We play in first-person as Daniel Lazarski, a futuristic detective known as an “Observer.” Observers have the distinct ability to jack into people’s brains to access information for ongoing investigations. Either suspects willingly give up information or Observers will take it from them. Right off the bat, story sucks us right in as Daniel receives an encoded S.O.S from his estranged son he hasn’t seen in years. As we answer his call for help, we stumble upon a much larger, murderous plot. Diving deeper into the story, philosophical questions about humanity and technology add to the plot and even force us to challenge our own thinking. It can be rare that a cohesive story is found in the horror genre, as many titles focus more on scares and gameplay than actual story-telling. Observer checks all the marks for horror fans. Amazing cyberpunk atmosphere feels true to the genre and helps create a sense of fear. The world around us is glitchy and dark, with a similar feeling to the atmosphere found in Blade Runner, The Matrix and other cyberpunk titles. The game is not just linear either, as side-quests and collectibles encourage the player to go out of their way to explore the world. Observer is an amazing psychological horror title that puts story and atmosphere at the forefront to create a terrifying and chilling experience.
3. Yomawari: Night Alone – James Cunningham
One of the problems with horror is that it wants to start off strong, which is great if your name is Stephen King and a little more problematic for almost anyone else. Yomawari: Night Alone starts off small, then grows its tragedy into a tour of a town haunted by the unrestrained weirdness of supernatural Japan. A young girl comes home carrying Poro’s leash but the dog itself is nowhere to be found. The girl’s sister sets out into the evening to search for Poro and several hours later the girl has to face that her sister isn’t coming back. Flashlight in hand she sets off into the town, searching for missing sister and dog while dodging an increasingly active haunting of a small Japanese town. What makes the story work so well is how relatable it is. The girl may not remember what happened to Poro but the player does, and while the story wanders through the tropes of Asian ghost stories, there’s a relatable sense of sadness underpinning the whole affair. When the time comes the narrative deals with it head-on, providing a solid emotional base for the supernatural freak show that’s overrun the town.
4. Dead Space – Jordan Helm
Visceral Games may be gone but there’s no doubt that one of their more renowned IPs, Dead Space, still lives on in the memory of those accustomed and not-so-accustomed to the dread-laden, “don’t want to do it, but i know I must” premise of horror games. The 2008 original felt equal parts refreshing as it did nostalgic, placing a heavy but effective emphasis on one’s lack of sight, literal or otherwise. Amidst the pitch-black interiors, narrow corridors and disabled machinery to fix, was a game as much about the build-up, as it was the inevitable jump-scare. A game that made great use of sound (or lack thereof when in vacuum) as well as a cleverly-minimal user interface in order to make one’s trek that bit more vulnerable and personal, Dead Space’s gelling of old and new, subtle and obvious, make for one anxious yet entertaining survival-horror.
5. Eternal Darkness – Chris Shive
Eternal Darkness for Nintendo Gamecube is one of the scariest games to come out of the early 2000s. Eternal Darkness draws heavy influence from the Cthulhu mythos, even the Tome of Eternal Darkness is essentially the Necronomicon. The story follows several characters across different time periods, and while this game makes effective use of tone, atmosphere and other conventions of the horror genre what truly sets this title apart is the sanity meter. As the characters fall deeper into madness, the game plays tricks on the player. Bugs may dart across the screen or a character’s limbs can fall off when they try to walk across an area. The most terrifying is when a sudden on screen prompt appears, asking if the playing wishes to delete their memory card, with no choice that doesn’t result in the message that all data will be erased.
6. Alien: Isolation – Cory Wells
Imagine being able to experience playing a game that captured the exact same feel as the movie it’s based on. This is Alien: Isolation. While the movie franchise moved towards a more action and sci-fi genre, the original Alien was truly a horror movie. Isolation takes place on a ship fifteen years after the events of the first movie as you play as Ripley’s daughter, Amanda Ripley, as she is looking for answers as to what happened to her mother. That is really all the story that you need to know. Isolation is genuinely terrifying as you’re placed in outer space on a ship as you’re being hunted by an unpredictable Xenomorph. You are armed with a motion detector and sheer grit as you try to progress and avoid the monster. The Xenomorph is genuinely scary when looking at it, and the darkness, sounds and tight corridors truly create the most terrifying atmosphere in a game to date. Throw in the androids who stare at you lifelessly and have taken things into their own hands and you have the true survival experience that even includes puzzle solving. Take that moment when you’re sneaking and all of a sudden you stop and don’t know why, then you see the tail of the Xenomorph has impaled you. There is only a handful of times I have truly felt fear in a game and this is one of those times. I could not imagine this in VR. This game is a must for horror fans.