We all need a little fear from time to time, even in our video games. It’s a motivator after all, especially when tension rises and there is a monster just down the hallway. Sometimes there is safety in a gun, and others, simply hiding in a locker. Overcoming that emotion can be just as sweet, but only after the deepest depths of the mind are explored and we are stripped of sanity. There are many titles that can show this, in various ways, but I think we can all agree that playing these scary games on Halloween adds that extra chill that tingles down the spine. So on this, the most hallowed of eves, the Rebels present their favorites to play with the lights out on Halloween.
Lumpz the Clown | Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within (PS1)
For many years, after my own trick-or-treating era, Halloween meant turning off the lights and staying in to watch classic horror films. Whether it be watching Michael Myers pin a douchy guy to a door using only his trusty butcher knife or seeing Jason twist the head off a teenage girl like a bottle cap, the classics are simultaneously compelling and cheesy.
And when it comes to video games, nothing fills that lactose-based bill better than Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within. Here, you play a girl named Alyssa Hale who is host to two different souls: one good, one evil. On the one hand, she is a typical, naive 15-year old girl. On the other, she’s a stone-cold, murderous male with an insanely twisted sense of humor.After being sent to live with her aunt and uncle, the shenanigans shortly follow when Alyssa arrives to a seemingly empty house. A few unsettling discoveries later, she finds the severed head of her cousin Ashley, which prompts her evil side, Bates, to come to the surface. After a snide quip, it’s off to explore the rest of the house and beyond, spanning three different scenarios and multiple endings.
In short, Alyssa is able to keep Bates from taking over by wearing her Amulet. Without it, the minute she gets scared, he takes over. The good news is that Bates, being a wily and conniving bastard, can come in handy when you need to perform research, deflect the advances of dirty old men, or shoot a gun. Kooky zombies, slow-moving hatchet-wielding murderers, a bloodthirsty, even slower suit of homicidal samurai armor, and a knifey first grader round out the action; which admittedly may be the weakest entry in the series. But to me, it’s the living, breathing embodiment of classic Halloween tropes. If unsettling environs laced with the tiniest inkling of dark humor are your bag, I suggest playing Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within at least once.
Andrew Haden | Waxworks (DOS)
Life-like figures made of wax perfected the art of the uncanny valley long before any Japanese robot. This uneasy feeling always has us second-guessing if there’s a true soul before us or nothing more than the lifeless wax given form. In Waxworks a curse was placed on a family by a witch, ruling that for every case of twins in their bloodline will result in both a good and a possessed evil twin. The player is such a twin, and your journey starts at your Uncle’s wax museum.
He has set up four wax exhibits, each resembling a historical time of twins in the family. These are portals to such times, and we transport to places like London 1888, a time of famed Jack the Ripper, or an ancient pyramid ruled by a cruel priest of Anubis. The goal in each locale is to hunt down the possessed evil twin and revoke the witch’s curse.
Wander about in a 3D, step by step perspective and pick everything up Skyrim-style. Some items are useful for magic, such as a fresh human heart warm to the touch thoughtfully left by the zombies in the graveyard. Above all else, grab a weapon to help defend against hand-to-hand attackers who are also walking around looking for the player. A chemical sprayer works much better against the distorted, mutated humanoids in the mines than flailing about with bare fists.
The atmosphere is creepy enough as it is, but the true nightmare fodder comes in the gruesome visuals. Some of these are even animated such as the vines that dismember and decapitate the player. Upon entering London-town, a young girl lies with her throat slit in the darkened, evening streets. Don’t stop to stare, because the guards are nearby and are looking for the main character’s identical twin. And they are ready for you, noose in hand.
Nefarious Wes | Splatterhouse (PS3)
The critics got it wrong—dead wrong. Splatterhouse on the PS3, the reboot of the eponymous horror series created by Namco, is a fantastic game. Not only is it great, but it’s also the perfect horror romp to compliment All Hallow’s Eve.
After waking up in a pool of blood, metalhead-nerd, Rick, discovers that his main squeeze, Jenny, has been kidnapped. To make matters worse, Rick finds himself transformed into a hulking, grotesque monster—the result of a cursed Mayan relic affixed to his face in the form of the Terror Mask; a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed entity playing the role of anti-hero. Graced with the Terror Mask’s supernatural powers, Rick is thrust into a living Halloween tale. Traversing the dark and dank mansion of the evil Dr. West, the duo is met by hordes of zombies, illuminated by moonlight through the house’s gigantic windows. From there the settings only conform more to the stereotypical environments one is accustomed to during our favorite Pagan holiday; slaughterhouse killing floors drenched in gore, haunted carnivals festooned with demonic clowns; and living, amorphous caverns made up of organs and entrails from some unnamed, gargantuan behemoth. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Naturally, being encompassed in such hideous environments translates into blood-splattering conflicts against their nefarious inhabitants. Biggy Man, Ghasts and Abhores—who resemble mounds of deformed flesh with limbs–surround Rick and his latest fashion accessory with malicious intent. Crush their skulls with 2x4s, vivisect with rusty chainsaws, and hell, rip off their goddamn limbs and bludgeon the beasts with their own appendages! Better yet, go in for the “Splatter-Kill”, where heads are squished flat, arms pulled from sockets and entrails ripped and tossed aside from “one-way” cavities–all along to a galloping Metal soundtrack! Splatterhouse simply epitomizes what Halloween gaming is all about!
VGElucidator | Layers of Fear (PS4)
[Spoiler Warning] The first time I played Layers of Fear was not that long ago—maybe a month or two back—but the impact the game left on me as a contender for my favorite horror title was one that will stick for some time to come. From the beginning, the player is thrown into a house and…it’s creepy…Okay, nothing new here, right? Well, the longer you play, the more demented and twisted things become. After solving some puzzles and doing a bit of exploration, you eventually encounter a creature—that I always referred to as “The Paintman”—and guess what? There’s nothing you can do about it. You see, what I’ve grown so tired of with the horror genre is that you’re generally able to confront whatever the scary thing is with some kind of combat system, which always felt weird to me. Silent Hill, for example, had the player fight nurses, or bosses, or whatever other hellspawn the game conjured up…but that gave you power! To truly make your player feel frightened or uncomfortable, I believe developers have to keep the hero at a point where there’s no way out and nothing to do to fight that fear! This is where Layers of Fear excels. In order to get the best ending, you have to face the Paintman head on—no weapons, no anything, and you lose every time. The best part? You instinctively want to avoid it, so your first go at the game results in the bad ending. Through its gameplay, it teaches a very important moral lesson—sometimes when you face your fears, you are defenseless, it’s scary, but you’ll at least be a better person. And guess what—it didn’t have to feed you a bullshit narrative to do it. That’s what I call clever. Stay spooky.
Derik Moore | Bloodborne (PS4)
My favorite horror game is Bloodborne, because it melds together two of the greatest genres of horror that ever existed. What makes the game even better than this melding is that it turns both of the genres on their heads to examine them through a different view. The game starts up with all the trappings of classic gothic horror, as exemplified by Castlevania. Starting up a new playthrough the player is dropped into a Victorian-styled town full of darkness, and immediately fight a werewolf. So far, so Stoker. The twist comes by the fact that all of the townspeople, and even the other hunters, are working with blood. The second boss of the game is in fact a hunter who gave into blood lust so much he’s a classical vampire, and will whip your ass.
What’s interesting is that the game slowly unveils itself from Gothic horror into Lovecraftian cosmic horror. In Lovecraft’s work sinister, dark cults worship unearthly alien gods with bizarre rituals that destroy their sanity as they work to let their gods reclaim Earth. Bloodborne examines what happens when these hidden cults become the dominant religion. The insanity from the alien gods becomes rewards for good worshippers, while the bosses become the sort of eldritch abominations that Lovecraft was so fond of. Even the Hunter’s Dream where you recuperate and level up is a nod to the Dreamlands, a fantasy realm that powerful human dreamers could enter and explore. The end game even has you offered the chance to become one of the eldritch gods to watch over the hunters.
Melding two disparate horror genres, one where humans are a deadly force and the other where they are insignificant, makes Bloodborne truly unique. A lot of games try to meld different genres together, but few nail the feel of both correctly, and Bloodborne does just that.
Stephen Wilds | Silent Hill (PS1)
Sometimes I prefer Resident Evil 2 if I feel the need to shoot and fight, but when I want to be truly afraid there is a place where I know to go, that all are welcome but the innocent, and which no one leaves unscathed mentally for sure, my beloved Silent Hill. I’m not saying that the first entry is the best, but it certainly has no trouble cementing the tone, creating an atmosphere, pushing me toward the edge. The fog keeps me blind, the radio’s screech has all of the tension I need, and the urgency—I have to find Cheryl! I need to keep my flashlight off so I’m not spotted, but it is so dense and dark without it.
The team behind this game worked hard on the sound, the creature models, and boss encounters to make sure the experience resonated with players, but it’s the details that can bring it home. I love just standing at the drop off sections of road, realizing how completely fucked Harry Mason is, feeling the true weight of nothingness, or realizing that the street names are all famous horror authors. The city itself is meant to be a character, an entity, something that has explanations, but unlike many slasher film baddies, can never truly be defeated, even after somewhat understanding where it all comes from. Harry is the everyman, untrained with a firearm, and it shows in the controls as he keeps missing, like the developers wanted. Weapons are not scarce, but it is not always wise to fight, and there is a whole other world that feels like Hell itself waiting for an unsuspecting player. I never go for the goofy endings, because I want to keep that fear, remember the chill it sends, and head back in afraid and uncertain.
Chris Neal | Hide and Shriek (PC)
When people think about Halloween gaming, their minds generally go for the typical horror stuff. And that is perfectly fine and something I enjoy as well. Still, there’s something to be said for the more good-natured scare: the scare that playfully says “Boo!” instead of menaces you with pain of death. That’s why I instantly thought of the multiplayer game Hide and Shriek.
Hide and Shriek is made by the same developers behind the excellent (and similarly Halloween-appropriate) MMO The Secret World. It’s set in the school hallways of Little Springs High School, where the mystical students of Little Springs and Innsmouth Academy play a game of magic-powered hide and seek. Play works out in 1v1 matches, where players have 10 minutes to wander the halls and set traps to either scare their opponent three times in a row or bring magic orbs to a constantly moving altar for the highest score.
On the surface, it sounds pretty basic. However, there are a couple of cunning wrinkles; namely the fact that each player is completely invisible. There are a couple of ways of sorting out where opponents are, like casting spells that snare them in place or coat them in sparkles to discern their movement. You can also manipulate things in the map to try and draw someone to you and your scare trap, like slamming doors. Of course, the trade-off there is the risk revealing your own position.The tension becomes playful: a cat-and-mouse that makes participants giggle like the mischievous prankster you’re meant to be. The customizable scare trap masks roar in your face, but then playfully laugh afterwards. The whole game delights in the more pleasant and fun part of spookiness for this time of the year, making it the single best Halloween game in my opinion.
Jared Waldo | Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)
While this title is not necessarily a ‘horror’ game of sorts, the sequel to the Game Cube original certainly provides an eerie and unsettling mood that pushes players closer to the edge of their seats.
With natural dark tones complimented by bright, colourful sprites, Dark Moon provides a great setting for late night gaming. It’s not your typical ‘Nintendo’ backdrop displaying a sense of positivity and upbeat emotions. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon provides a bleak, foreboding theme, complimenting sound effects, and comes complete with an orchestral soundtrack that fits the mood perfectly.The enemies in this game are far from frightening. Luigi is harassed by a team of ghosts that clearly have a mean streak, but graphically, would be hard pressed to scare anyone. But that’s not what provides an element of fright. Throughout the entire game, Luigi is on edge; visually and emotionally. As you play the game, the mannerisms and body language that Luigi endures gives players that uneasy feeling of empathy for the ‘ghost buster’ and that transfers into your hands as you slowly move around Gloomy Manor.
Make no mistake: while any game featuring members of Mushroom Kingdom don’t tend to be overly creepy, this game provides plenty of moments where you’re likely to jump or enter scenarios where something bigger seems to loom…but not quite sure when and how. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was one of the first games I ever played on my 3DS, and while it’s certainly not going to provide the uneasiness of a Silent Hill or Resident Evil, there are plenty of moments throughout the game where coming out from underneath the blanket or turning the lights on might not be a bad idea.
Spin Dash of Nerd Rage Renegade | Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PS4)
If anyone is looking for a newer game that will have their hearts racing and asking: is it safe? Try Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. This is a return to form for the series after recent games relied more on action than the puzzle solving survival genre the series intended.
Set in Louisiana, the player takes control of Ethan, whose wife has been missing for three years. You receive a message from her telling you to come rescue her and like a good video game protagonist (not calling the cops, bringing a posse, or even taking weapons), going alone to backwoods location to find her.
What I loved about this game was the different feelings I had while playing. At times I felt I was actually in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, especially in the scene with the family around the table with the rotting food was exactly like Sunday dinner at Leatherface’s house and the way the old frail grandma looking character would just appear in her wheel chair around a corner in the basement or enter a bedroom really gave me the creeps. Why is this woman everywhere, yet there is no way she could get to those places? Add in a creepy child and RE7 hits every major horror trope.
The puzzle solving of the original RE games is back and will have players running from one location to the next while avoiding old Jack with his ax or those creepy ooze creatures that come out of the wall at every turn. You will constantly be turning the camera looking behind you or waiting at a door before entering so you are sure nothing will jump out. There is even a SAW style puzzle that would make John Kramer smile. With creepy images and character models, equally terrifying locations, and the true feeling of not having enough ammo or making it out alive, this is truly a current horror masterpiece.