Your guide to gloom, your textbook to terror.
Horror games are difficult beasts to make. By giving control of the protagonist to the player, the designers instantly relinquish total freedom to carve their own atmosphere and direct their own scenes. That’s one of the reasons that, when they’re good, we love a good horror game.
We’re not going to pretend that all of the games of this list are horror in the purest sense, some are parodies and one is even an unintentionally parody. However, they all feature monsters, crazy costumes and a lot of darkness. Isn’t that what Halloween is all about nowadays?
Also, we’d like to point out that the following are not the games that we consider the best all-time examples of horror. Rather (in an effort to stay relevant to as many people as possible), we’ve stuck to relatively recent releases from a range of core genres. Hence the exclusion of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Penumbra, Amnesia et al.
Enjoy and don’t be shy to give us your suggestions.
Shadows of the Damned
In part designed to resemble a Robert Rodriguez road movie, Suda51 and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture have succeeded in creating a crazy, vibrant and brilliant adventure. Technically it may not always score par, but in terms of charm it knocks most of its contemporary peers out of the park.
The lead duo of demon-hunter Garcia Hotspur and floating, flaming head Johnson are (as a couple) one of the year’s best gaming personalities – simultaneously humorous, clichéd and devastating in all the best ways.
If you’re being picking, you’d say that Shadows of the Damned is not a horror but a horror parody. However, you’ll find silly costumes, strawberries that are actually ground up tongues and bad guys with six eyes. That sounds like Halloween.
Now this is a horror game. One of only three games to score an IncGamers 10/10, Dark Souls is foreboding, intimidating and psychologically challenging. Much of that challenge comes from the fact that death is an ever-present possibility (likelihood even), forcing a cautious, fearful style of play that trumps anything demanded from a traditional survival horror.
If you are going to start Dark Souls this Halloween then don’t expect to finish it in the same day. This is not only a big game, but it’s one that benefits from an exhaustive approach. There’s joy to be had from finding valuable loot, defeating difficult bosses and experimenting with new techniques that is second to none and to rush through is to miss out on all of that. Adventure horror anyone?
Described by publisher THQ themselves as a ‘flawed masterpiece’, Metro 2033 is one of this generation’s overlooked games. Yes, the pacing is flawed and the gunplay can feel sloppy when you’re faced with too many enemies, but the characterisation, the atmosphere and the plot are fantastic.
As a horror game, it’s a slow burner. It’s relies on you associating with the characters before you really feel the dread and desperation seep through them and into you. Once it does, though, it grabs you and forces you to think about the plot’s events long after completion. Allow yourself to be caught up in the narrative and Metro 2033 is a wonderful game, albeit one that probably tries to do too much.
A flawed masterpiece indeed.
With one of the most striking art styles of any game this generation, Limbo proves that atmosphere and engagement can be derived as much from what you don’t show as from what you do. The monochrome colour palette makes Limbo unmistakeable and allows it to instantly stand out amongst its peers.
A mix of platformer, puzzler and action game, Limbo presents its gameplay in a manner that prevents it becoming stale and overcooked. Certain moments (most famously the spider scenes) are so well designed and presented that they’re solutions are easy to ascertain but difficult to execute. A feature that so many developers struggle to balance correctly.
As a digitally distributed title, Limbo is fantastic value for money. It’s not a long game, but its memory will remain with you after that black and white fades to nothing.
Dead Space 2
Not as strictly-horror as the first game, Dead Space 2 is still unnerving and intense. The setting of ‘The Sprawl’ is fantastic and has already become an iconic videogame location thanks to a well designed combination of interior and exterior areas, as well tight corridors and large expanses.
Featuring much more shooting than the first, Dead Space 2 creates much of its sense of danger through action and forced aggression. It plays the classic survival-horror cards of limited health and ammo to great effect; demonstrating there’s still a world beyond regenerative systems and enemies dropping firearms at every turn.
Plus (like Shadows of the Damned), Dead Space 2 is not particularly long – if you’re looking for a quick Halloween fix it’s a good bet.
Ok, so I know Deadly Premonition is not a good game in the usual sense of the word. What it is however, is that most rarest of things: a game that’s so bad that it’s good. This phenomenon is common in music, films and television (especially in television) but in games it’s not so. That’s probably because games demand your full attention and, as such, irregularities and poorly constructed moments/mechanics are more noticeable and less easy to forgive.
How do you satire poor gameplay without making your own gameplay poor, for example?
Deadly Premonition’s structure, gameplay and controls are barely passable but it’s the terrible acting, repetitive tasks and awkward visuals that put it over the edge. It’s trying so desperately to be Twin Peaks, but in that regard it fails horribly. But as an accidental satire on the horror genre (and videogames in general) it’s a masterpiece.
(It also gets a bonus point for the crappy cover art.)