You got October plans? No? I ain’t judging. Feel free to paint your face pumpkin colors and gorge yourself on candy corn now to November – but, how’s about taking a nip-deep dive into the glorious, gory grave of macabre gaming while yer at it?
Therapy, escapism, sinister fun – yep to all. Here’s eight horror games to pump up your anxiety and rush you fulla relief. On whose authority? ME! Full truth, I’m a book nerd who hasn’t played games in decades, but I was reintroduced to their raditude earlier this year. Seeing as I only know a few badass games personally, I roped in the recs of lifelong gamer, graphic designer, and former DGO Extra Life columnist Brett Massé.
Brett pick: “Observer”“Observer” is a first-person, shooter style, psychological-horror game, but you don’t really do any shooting. It’s cyberpunk noir and its aesthetic explores that “Blade Runner” style. Everything is ’80s, to a certain extent, but also weirdly advanced. You have cybernetic implants and play the role of a grizzled old detective named Daniel, voiced by Rutger Hauer, who can hack into people’s brains.
You are in a run down city, very thick, very overpopulated, displaying layer upon layer of the dark side of consumption and technology advancement. Throughout the game, you’re investigating the disappearance and possible murder of your son.
You’re trapped in an area and the people you find in this apartment block, the basements, and the tattoo parlors, they’re all a part of a really messed up situation. Maybe it’s about drugs. Maybe it’s about illegal cybernetic enhancements – but all of them are overdosing or dead. You experience snapshots of people’s memories and walk through their experiences. None of it is good. All of it is horrifying. You’re in a hardened reality and sometimes your vision gets a little pixelated. The ground changes. When you move your head maybe the landscape changes. It is dream world except it is more nightmare world.
Patty pick: “My Father’s Long, Long Legs” “My Father’s Long, Long Legs” is a ... you guessed it, TEXT ADVENTURE! Briefly, a text adventure may incorporate sound, sometimes has (background) imagery, but heavily relies on text – yes, reading text – to move you through the video game. I told y’all, I’m a bookworm slowly getting back into video games. If you know any nerdos like me who think they “aren’t good at video games,” shove this one at them as a starting point.
You know that Tom Waits song where he’s mumbling, “What’s he building in there? What the hell is he building in there?” Well, instead of your weirdo neighbor being menacing, it’s your DAD. Like dad, why have you spent YEARS DIGGING A HOLE IN THE BASEMENT? Also, Dad, why do we have a DIRT BASEMENT?
This game ain’t fancy. It’s a black and gray background with white text. You click on bold words to move the story forward and should have the sound up because sound effects do come into play. It’ll only take you about 30 minutes of game play to complete what starts off as a calm, secretive story that gets more and more suburban surreal.
Brett’s pick: “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”“Amnesia” is probably the scariest game I’ve ever seen. It’s a really good balance between jump scare and psychological horror. The atmosphere that they create is so heavy.
You play a character named Daniel who wakes in a castle with amnesia. You don’t know who you are, but you come across a note you wrote to yourself saying you have amnesia on-purpose, by your own hand. Your mission from yourself is to find and kill an old man in the basement of the castle.
As you go through the castle, you come across crumpled notes and diary entries that you yourself have written. You slowly find out why you want to kill Alexander. All along the way – as you pass cages full of people being tortured to death, possessed minions, a bunch of creepy situations - you are being hunted. You don’t know by what – except that it is called a shadow, a living nightmare.
You don’t have a health bar, you have a sanity meter. It’s not even like you get hit. When you witness disturbing shit, your sanity meter goes down. You have to do actions to cope.
Patty’s pick: “Sara is Missing”“Sara is Missing” was a viral sensation. When it was released, POW, 2 million downloads. Why so popular? Maybe because it’s short, only 20-30 minutes. Maybe because it’s experimental, using found footage, text messages, and unusual game play techniques. The game takes place on what looks like an iPhone with a 14 percent battery life, a heckton of corrupted files, and a hair-raising Siri-type app named IRIS. You find this phone only to realize that its previous owner has disappeared and you might be able to piece together what happened to her before the phone dies.
This is a foreboding, fast game that feels kinda campy when you start, but ends up building some pretty darn high tension. And, dude, I wanna freakin’ find Sara. I mean, she studies folklore. We would totally be friends. Can you actually find Sara? Is she even alive? Do I have to be worried about the one crass friend of hers?
Pro tip: Play it on your phone instead of on PC to achieve Peak Dread.
Brett’s pick: “The Witch’s House”“The Witch’s House” is a Japanese indie game made with an RPG maker. It has 16-bit graphics, but it is legitimately scary. One of the scariest games I’ve ever played. It’s the way that story subverts your expectations based on its looks.
You play a little girl, Viola, who has fallen asleep and woken up in the forest. Her path home is blocked by a rose garden. The only place she can go is into this house – a witch’s house. You go into the house. Nothing special. You find a note and it says, “Come to my room.” After you read the note, the door locks behind you. You go to the next room, and the map completely changes into the whole first floor of the witch’s house. You have to go through solving traumatizing puzzles and piecing together horrifying diary entries, which you find out are about the witch.
The witch had a tragic, sad childhood that led her to making a pact with the Devil as a small girl. You piece together these brutal stories while experiencing creepy design choices with a lot of jump scares along the way. It’s funny that these things can be scary – blocky, pixelated graphics – but it is the beat, the rhythm, the atmosphere that really gets you in “The Witch’s House.”
Patty’s pick: “Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion”Don’t let the fact that “Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion” starts out SO FREAKING CUTE make you think it’s gonna be a kawaii joy ride. Also, this game was originally named “Spooky’s House of Jump Scares.” Whatever Lag wants to call it, there’s 1,000 rooms to walk through. Didn’t get scared by the cardboard specter that popped out? Well . . . wait till around room 200. Shit. Gets. Wild. Maybe those health and stamina bars aren’t useless.
Rooms only take a few seconds to get through and there ain’t any way to really get lost in the game. There’s elevators that take you from floor to floor, and just keep moving, my friend. Spooky will lull you into AWWW SO PRECIOUS and then whammy you into EW, WHAT DID I JUST SEE?
Spooky, you nasty.
Brett’s pick: “Metro 2033”Stepping away from traditional horror, there’s a game called “Metro 2033.” It’s post-nuke war, mutated monsters, and spooky artifacts that grant you powers. It’s loosely based around the nuclear wastelands of decimated societies.
It’s both gross-out and eerie. The tumultuous events, the radiation, and the wars happened ages ago. You are sifting through unsettling artifacts, survivors, and the societies that have developed across a poisonous land. You’re just trying to survive, and it’s really fun, but there are creepy moments of out-of-nowhere monsters who will tear you to pieces.
It’s a toe-dip into dystopian horror.
Patty’s pick: “Stories Untold” Dudes, I am so into TEXT ADVENTURES! “Stories Untold” is totally screaming the “Stranger Things,” retro-grit-chic style and I am effing here for it. Technically, this is a four-story, episodic adventure game that features text adventure, puzzle-solving, and first-person exploration. Also, the first game in the series is a remastered version of “The House of Abandon” – which means cat nads to new gamer me, but might mean something to folks in the know.
There’s an ’80s synth-wave soundtrack and it pops from psychological horror to mystery to sci-fi. I’m an idiot at puzzle solving, but even I was able to follow the instructions here – though the second and third installments kind of kicked my ass. A lot. “Stories Untold” is a must if you want a mega-text game that brings high tension to your tapping.
Brett’s It’s Not a Real Game and Never Will Be Pick: “Silent Hills” a.k.a. “P.T.”There was going to be a series of “Silent Hill” games that were going to be, in-part, produced by [film director] Guillermo del Toro. They released a free-to-play, virtual reality demo called “P.T.” (playable teaser), with the game to be called “Silent Hills.”
You go through a hallway in a house. It is first-person, feels endless, and you are defenseless. You play a loop going through a house’s hallway and maybe two other rooms. Every time you start back at the beginning, there’s different supernatural or disturbing occurrences. The way it is lit is scary. The encounters are scary.
It was complex and held a lot of promise. Back room politics of some sort stopped it. The whole thing got canceled – but that demo is one of the scarier video game sequences I’ve ever played.