Ah, Halloween, a holiday that has become a uniquely American interpretation of ancient harvest festival traditions. It’s a time of year that promotes drunk costumed debauchery amongst adults and door to door solicitation for unhealthy snacks from our children. Truly it is a magical time of the year.
People celebrate this day in various ways. I am of the opinion that as long as you are trying to at least superficially embrace the macabre, or at least the spooky, you are doing it right. As gamers, holidays and annual events often mean that our choice of games will lean towards the thematically appropriate. Today Wolfman_J and I will be looking at some of our personal favorite games to play on ‘ol Hallow’s Eve. Please note that many, many, people make lists of the “best” scary games. That’s not what this is. This is merely a list of games that we think you might enjoy; it is a personal list that is in no way meant to be definitive. We’re going to try to separate them into game types, and although is a short list, I hope I this will help some of you decide on what to play when Monday rolls around.
Ghost N Goblins (various) – the Ghosts N Goblins series is an oft overlooked Capcom classic. It’s one of the premiere horror experiences from the 8 and 16 bit glory days of the platforming genre, and it has everything you would want in Halloween experience: ghoulish enemies, graveyard locals, appropriately atmospheric music, and a battle with the forces of hell themselves. The scariest thing about these games, though, just might be their difficulty.
Limbo – PlayDead Studio’s 2010 hit is about as grim and disturbing as a 2D platform/puzzle game can possibly be. Set in a beautiful, eerie black and white fog, it pits a lone child against an array of horrific, grotesque traps.
Castlevania (various) – whether you’re playing the action-heavy older platformers or the Metroidvanias after Symphony of the Night, Castlevania is a must-have for Halloween. With vampires, Death, skeletons, witches, and every classic movie monster in tow, the repeat visits to Dracula’s twisting castle are about as close to a spooky treat as you’re likely to find.
Demon’s Crest – the final game in the Gargoyle’s Quest series, this spinoff of the aforementioned Ghosts N’ Goblins series stands very well on its own merits. While its parent series is a pure platformer, this game mixes in various RPG elements which allow you to upgrade Firebrand (the game’s gargoyle hero) as you explore his demon filled world.
Luigi’s Mansion – as lighthearted as something like Amnesia is relentlessly dark, Luigi’s Mansion is Nintendo’s stab at survival horror. And it’s wonderfully fun, with a spooky manor and a gaggle of zany ghosts. Dark Moon, its 2013 sequel, expands on the concept with a set of mansions, each one weirder than the last.
Costume Quest – a role playing video game about kids on Halloween dressing up and trick or treating – only to have to save their siblings kidnapped by not so scary monsters. It is appropriate for gamers of all ages, and it has the sort of endearing charm and whimsy that make it attractive to them as well.
House of the Dead: Overkill – Look, zombies are old hat. And so’s House of the Dead, the absurdly silly arcade shooter series most known for comically terrible acting and a wretched Uwe Boll film adaptation. But Overkill, drawing from the late 2000s rise of grindhouse film nostalgia, takes that camp and runs with it. It’s an almost bottomless well of clichés of a frenetic Seventies horror/action/blaxploitation/car movies, with a funky score, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Typing of the Dead – And while we’re on the subject of SEGA’s zombie series… please grab this Dreamcast classic if you can. It’s House of the Dead, but with your light guns having been replaced with a keyboard. You have to type random words to survive…finally, a zombie game that teaches valuable life skills.
Bayonetta – No, beating up people with gun-dancing set to a J-Pop remix of “Fly Me to the Moon” isn’t scary. While we’re on the subject, neither are motorcycle chases, murderous pole dancing, rocket launcher boots possessed by the spirit of Col. Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, or really anything from PlatinumGames’ most iconic series. But it does have crazy monsters, elaborate costumes – it even has a mechanic where you eat treats! It’s the part of Halloween where you party.
Zombies Ate my Neighbors – if, fun, irreverent games are your thing, then this 16-bit classic might be right up your alley. An isometric run-and-gun shooter, the fast gameplay finds you taking on not only zombies, but all sorts of supernatural baddies such as vampires, werewolfs, and huge demonic babies. The game never takes itself too seriously, but it’s that silliness that makes it such a classic.
Maniac Mansion – a creepy mansion, an unhinged scientist, and… a couple of sentient but rather chill human sized tentacles. This point and click adventure game is an extremely off kilter experience, but it was also an amazingly solid game that told a fun albeit silly narrative. While it may not stand up quite as well to the test of time as it’s sequel (Day of the Tentacle), it still a game that is well worth your time.
Dead Rising – Most people would look at a monstrous zombie plague as a sign to run for the hills. But journalist Frank West is no mere mortal; he takes his sweet time turning a shopping mall into a Chopping Mall. A silly twist on sandbox games where the “sandbox” is an enclosed space with a limited amount of time and hordes of enemies, Dead Rising took a vaguely tech demo concept and turned it into a barrel of bludgeon-based laughs.
Classic Survival Horror
Silent Hill – Pretty much all modern horror games find their roots in either Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Silent Hill differentiates itself with its more super natural enemies, an “everyman” approach to its protagonists, and an undercurrent of tragedy (helped by the work of composer Akira Yamaoka). The games are primarily set in the eponymous fictitious American town, which undergoes monstrous transformations as it almost calls out for victims to plague. Silent Hill 2, which introduced “Pyramid Head” and has a tragic story woven into its gameplay, is the standout here.
Resident Evil – though it’s more known now for its still holiday-appropriate bad acting and goofy dialogue, the first Resident Evil remains an incredibly important and influential horror game. And the GameCube “REMake,” now available on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One in a “Remastered” edition, is about as perfect a remake can be, with terrifyingly brilliant gameplay set in the most iconic haunted house in gaming. Just make sure you get the zombies in the head…
Pac-Man – A sole survivor trapped in a hellish labyrinth, chased by undead monstrosities at every turn, forced to survive on whatever meager food stuffs he stumbles across in the dark corners of his prison. Sounds like a horror game to me.
ZombiU – was a refreshing experience when it was first released. While zombie games are a dime-a-dozen in the modern gaming landscape, the zombies themselves are too often used as cannon fodder for the nigh invulnerable protagonists. This greatly diminishes their scare potential. ZombiU got things right by making the player character extremely vulnerable. If you want a real scare this Halloween pick this game up.
Eternal Darkness – a haunted house, ancient cults, and a tome of unspeakable horror? Yep, this is all Lovecraft, at least in all but name. With a story that has you investigate two thousand years of psychological torment by devious beasts from beyond the furthest stars, a series of environments that you revisit through the ages, and a “sanity meter” that drives you into bizarre hallucinations, it’s wonderful – if chilling – fun.
Alone in the Dark (Classic) – if you are a fan of the horror genre this is a game (and series) that is well worth looking into, doubly so if you are a fan of H.P Lovercraft. The original Alone in the Dark not only laid down groundwork for modern survival horror games, but it was also one of the first games to use polygonal character models. This is video game history, folks.
BioShock – Ken Levine’s spiritual sequel to System Shock 2 isn’t quite as terrifying as its predecessor, but this tale of an undersea metropolis and its tragic, authoritarian leader still spooks. It’s haunted by ghosts both figurative and literal, with gorgeous art design and supremely creepy level design.
Resident Evil 4 – while we’ve talked about this game at length, it cannot be overstated how perfectly it hits that Halloween sweet spot of genuine terror and goofy fun. Whatever, just play it if you haven’t.
Killer7 – While it’s almost impossible to find now, Suda 51’s electrifying, cel-shaded nightmare is as bizarre and captivating as it was in 2005. With its electrifying score, scary enemies, and themes of using identities like costumes, it’s well within the spirit of the season.
Dead Space – The original Dead Space is a much more action-oriented survival horror game, and it rides the grand tradition of Sci-Fi horror protagonists stuck on isolated space station fighting for their lives against twisted sub-human abominations.
Bloodborne – most horror-minded games fall into one position or another in a sort of dichotomy: there are the slightly campy, classic-minded games about vampires and haunted houses, and there are more horrifying, Lovecraft-inspired games about losing your sanity. What makes From Software’s Dark Souls spinoff so fun, then, is that it gets to have its blood-drenched cake and impale it, too. Trapped in a quasi-Victorian city lost in the mountains, you get forced into the role of a hunter, killing werewolves and witches until you realize a cosmic, Eldritch horror lurking under the surface. It’s barely a shooter, but it deserves its place here for hitting both kinds of stories.
Left for Dead series – Nothing brings people closer together than a good old fashioned zombie apocalypse, and while the Left for Dead games aren’t particularly scary, they do represent a certain brand of gore and grime that make it perfect for this list. It’s also one of the most fun co-op shooting experiences out there, and surviving hordes of the undead is so much more fun with a friend.