Take your pants off before playing, otherwise they’ll be scared off…
I remember the first time I played Resident Evil on the original Playstation. It was 1996, I was 12 years old and I was scared even looking at the cover art. I had the OG version before Sony switched to the standard CD jewel cases. Just look at this disturbing bastard:
At the time, my 12-year-old self didn’t think games could look any better than Resident Evil. Sure the “tank” controls, as they’ve come to known, were confusing but as soon as I learned the directional rules of the game’s fixed camera, it wasn’t as bad as everyone claimed. Sure, it was a beautiful game, but I would soon find out gamers were on an exponential series of graphical upgrades.
But the visuals weren’t what made RE so special for its time. The “survival horror” genre (ugh, “genre”) wasn’t a thing until this clunker of a scarefest shuffled onto the scene. The game excelled in many areas: sound (or lack thereof), disturbing camera angles that built tension and atmosphere, limited inventory and ammo, truly disturbing creature designs and brutal, unforgiving difficulty. What truly stood out, though, was when I’d play with the shades closed, the lights off and the sound turned all the way up. I remember feeling a genuine sense of dread wash over me when I’d play this way. And with that a tradition was born.
Around Halloween most people stock up on their scary movie intake. Me? I play scary games, duh. Like you didn’t see that one coming. So I’ve compiled a list of games you should play this “Hallow-day Season” (not proud of myself for that one) if you’re looking to give yourself even more reason to move through a dark room with a little more pep in your step. These are in no particular order:
This is a different kind of scary. Playing Thumper fills me with more dread than fright. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Even if you’re not playing in VR (if you can I highly, HIGHLY recommend it), the relentlessly grievous soundtrack, nightmarish visuals and disturbing difficulty make you wish your play session would be over soon. Again, not a bad thing. Later levels have 30+ sub-stages with increasing difficulty and no pause in between the action. The gameplay is simple enough to pick up and play, but hardcore gamers will love levels 4-9. If you can’t play this with a headset, crank up the volume, turn off the lights and sit as close to the screen as you can — because you’ll be physically exhausted from the tension this game builds via its various parts of awesomeness.
Not a newer release, or even a widely known release — but this game is a mindfuck. It’s made by Frictional Games, creators of other “pants filling” adventure Amnesia: Dark Descent. What Amnesia was to H.P. Lovecraft, Soma is to Philip K. Dick. The game deals with the nature of reality and consciousness. It starts with the “you wake up in a room” scenario and then it’s up to you to piece together where you are, why you’re there and what lies ahead. And what lies ahead isn’t pleasant. Are you a human? Are you a robot? Have these robots I’ve been encountering and sometimes murdering real people? If I kill a robot with consciousness, does that make me a murderer? Soma (kind of) answers some of these questions, but poses even bigger ones. Definitely a game to play alone, with headphones and no light.
3. SILENT HILL (Original if you can)
It blows my mind that there hasn’t been a remake of the original Silent Hill on Playstation. When I think about this, I always come back to the way of thinking that this is a good thing. What made the original so terrifying was the complete lack of any anti-aliasing, the pixelated nature of the graphics and the fog. Everyone associates the fog with Silent Hill, but it was initially put in because of the limitations of the Playstation. Silent Hill ditched the fixed camera angles of Resident Evil and went beyond jump scares into cerebral terror. Babies with knives, skinless beasts, flying terrors and a radio that rings when a terrifying enemy lurks nearby all await you. I remember this game making me nauseous — not because of the pretty terrible camera — but because you just wanted to be done playing. Which is what made it impossible to put down.
4. RESIDENT EVIL HD REMASTER
This one is free for Playstation Plus members for the month of October. Download it. While the bells and whistles of the remaster all but erase the gritty feel of the original, the difficulty and redesigned item layout make this a familiar trip with a new spin. Sure the far-superior game Resident Evil 4 was just released on current gen consoles, but the first RE is the most terrifying. Back before zombies were referred to as “walkers,” the shuffling hungry gait of the RE zombie is still panic-inducing. You can have a whole hallway of distance between you and a slow-moving zombie, but they always soak up a few hits and get just a little too close for comfort. Adding to the tension, many times the zombies fall, seemingly dead, only to grab your leg and gnaw on it for a hot sec before you stomp them to death with the business end of your combat boots. This game is the closest to a true Romero film as you’re going to get.
5. UNTIL DAWN
I had to include this one because it’s one of the very few games on this list that is better played with other people. The first time I survived through this branching storyline game was with my (now ex) girlfriend. I would take the controller for the more frightening bits (being chased by a madman, walking through a creepy part of the woods, fighting off a murderer) and she would navigate the frigid surroundings and make dialogue choices. This is the perfect game for couples because even if the other person isn’t a gamer, the controls are simple, the characters are likable (in their stereotypical way) and the story unfolds at a good pace. I think the total first playthrough time for us was maybe 6-7 hours. We spread that out over a couple weekends and it still stands as one of my most memorable gaming experiences in adulthood.
BONUS SCARY GAMING EXPERIENCES
- I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s disgusting. That’s the best way to describe it. It’s not a game, either, it’s a 5 minute experience, but it makes me super excited to get my hands on RE:7 in VR.
HERE THEY LIE
- It’s not a great game and the player movement at the speed I like to call “octogenarian,” but I don’t think I’ve ever said “oh Jesus Christ, what now?” playing a game as much as I did playing Here They Lie.
- Diablo isn’t a very scary game, but it’s got a nice cartoony, Halloweenish feel to it. The music, monsters, caverns and bosses come from the horror fantasy realm. If you don’t want to be terrified, but want the mood of Halloween, plunk some time into this gem.
- If you want goofy zombie bullshit and some disturbing and comic characters Dead Rising and Dead Rising: Off the Record are great. I didn’t include the series up above because it’s not really a scary game, but it’s zombies and gore and a hell of a lot of fun. I also have love for Dead Rising 2 and 3, but Frank West is king of zombie-slaying.
- I know I’m not alone in my love for this series. It’s a shame we never got the other planned sequels. There’s a chance they might still come out since 1&2 have been remastered for current gen consoles, but it’s probably not likely. Regardless, these are in the same Halloween-centric category. Undead enemies and skeletons, the four horsemen of the apocalypse…it’s got all that and excellent combat and art direction to boot.