While most of us are likely well beyond the age of dressing up and trick-or-treating on Halloween, it’s always great to get in the festive spirit with tons of candy, scary movies, pumpkin beer and, of course, video games.
The games don’t have to be terrifying, mind you, just central to the ideas surrounding our modern take on Halloween. Scaring might be a bonus for you, that’s cool.
Frights? Sure. Violence? Of course. But there’s also turn-based RPG action to be found in this pile, albeit probably not the kind you think of.
These are our favorite games to fire up in honor of Halloween.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Some games are a bit like haunted houses. Some are full of jump scares, some play on your deepest fears, and others seem just a bit too empty, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Like some of our favorite horror protagonists, the main character of Amnesia is never hovering far from the deep canyon of insanity. As the title suggests, all he knows is that something is wrong, and the breadcrumb trail of clues and no way to escape leave him with no option other than to pursue his lost memories.
He wanders the sprawling castle, armed with only his name, a constantly-fading lantern, and a tenuous grip on his faculties. The game is spent running and unlike other horror games, the enemy is the last thing you want to see.
Few other games manage to keep the tension so high with so little at their disposal. The first person perspective and the simulated actions–you open the door by pulling back and sideways on your mouse, rather than simply clicking on it–ensure that running isn’t simply a matter of pressing a button until the music stops.
Amnesia isn’t a long game, but the level of tension stays so high throughout that many people can’t bear to finish it. More than any game before it, that feeling of running from something you don’t want to look back at seems very real every moment of the game.
In Atlus’ Catherine, every night is the worst night of your life. Climbing tirelessly up a collapsing tower while a giant vision of your girlfriend chases you and tries to eat you with her butt. No, that is no lie. The poor sap protagonist in this game finds himself on the verge of being swallowed alive by the woman he loves because of his failure to commit to her.
To make matters worse, he’s stuck in his boxers and it forced to wear an emasculating sheep costume. How embarrassing!
So just remember, all you Dads who are walking your kids around the neighborhood in a silly costume. Or all you trying to enjoy a nice quiet night but can’t because you wife made you pass out candy.
You’re a committed loving family man on a nice Halloween with your kids. Be grateful, because you might otherwise be suffering insomnia while desperately escaping the bowels of your jilted lover in an itchy wool pelt.
Costume Quest, ever since its initial release in 2010, has been my go-to Halloween game on a yearly basis. October always opens with my annual trek through this tiny little effort.
Developed by Double Fine, Costume Quest is the story of a brother (or sister) and his friends as they collect costumes, solve puzzles, go trick-or-treating and engage in turn-based combat against monsters.
Whatever costume you’re wearing when a battle initiates is the form of hero you turn into for the duration of the fight. Trick-or-treating as a robot? Good, you’ll be a giant mech in battle. Each costume possesses different attacks and unique specials.
It’s an easy little effort, but this Halloween game is my favorite for the holiday. Childlike wonder, a short quest, a cheap investment and pure gaming bliss.
I’ll admit, the endless, oppressive dread of Silent Hill 2 kind of broke me for a lot of horror games to follow. Even one of my all time favorites, Dead Space, only gave me a couple jumps (despite the fact that I find every horror movie absolutely terrifying).
Dead Space combines the intriguing elements of Aliens, The Thing, and other sci-fi horror movies, putting engineer Isaac Clarke on the aging U.S.G. Ishimura as he tries to get the massive mining ship back online and find his girlfriend.
Rather than take away our weapons as so many horror games do, or cripple the combat with bizarre camera angles, Dead Space is based around the mechanic of strategic dismemberment. The mining-inspired weapons give Isaac a number of creative ways to dispatch the onslaught and he feels more like a relative of Aliens’ Ellen Ripley than a space marine or a helpless runner. It manages to be scary and fun at the same time, rather than sacrificing one for the other like so many horror games have done.
If Silent Hill 2 was a psychological haunted house, Dead Space is one in the more traditional sense. Monsters grab at you from everywhere, constantly making you wonder where the next one is going to jump out. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the best rides out there, though.
Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
We’ll get this out of the way. Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly is the scariest video game ever made, and I say that with the utmost confidence. Don’t believe me?
It’s Halloween, the scariest night of the year. Turn off all the lights in our house, grab your favorite set of headphones and play this game for an hour or so without feeling the chills run down your spine. It’s nearly impossible.
Better yet, wire this game up to an HDTV right next to your front door, and play it with a wireless DualShock 3 from around a corner. Trick-or-treaters will be horrified by a bodiless entity playing this horrible, horrible video game.
Best of all, it’s on sale this week through the PlayStation Network for a mere $2. It will be the cheapest Halloween decoration you buy all year, even cheaper than the candy. And it is guaranteed to get a few chills out of someone.
How about Hotline Miami? While not a really scary game or one based on Halloween, per say, this psychotic, gory, twitch-based brawler is a perfect romp for this spooky day.
Hey, you even wear masks in Hotline Miami. Halloween and masks go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or jam, whatever.
Strap in for some awesome music, trippy moments, tons of killing and all sorts of pixelated gore. Hotline Miami is a fantastic game, and Halloween might as well be an excuse to play it.
Organ Trail: Director’s Cut
No, not Oregon Trail… Organ Trail. As in, internal organs.
Organ Trail: Director’s Cut is a spoof of the classic, educational title based on forging rivers, hunting oxen and always choosing the banker. Except, this time you’re running across the country as you escape zombies and pilot a station wagon.
It’s a cheap little game with purposively dated graphics and an awesome soundtrack. Perfect for Halloween, Organ Trail will make you laugh, stress and remember the glory days of playing games on truly floppy, floppy discs.
Silent Hill 2
Back in the day, the Silent Hill series was royalty in the world of horror games. It was the spookiest house on the block.
Silent Hill 2, in particular, is still one of the best-executed horror games out there. Silent Hill 2 came out in Fall 2001, one of the first great horror games of its generation. You step into the shoes of widower James Sunderland, attracted to Silent Hill by a letter from the wife he lost five years ago.
Silent Hill 2 introduced Pyramid Head, a fan-given name that only sounds stupid until you meet the blood-spattered executioner, wearing what can only be described as a red, metal pyramid over his head. Pyramid Head was more a force of nature than an enemy. Unkillable, unconcerned with running, and always in the right place.
Aside from one of the most memorable villains in gaming, Silent Hill 2 combined an atmosphere that still looks good even 12 years later with a truly great soundtrack by composer Akira Yamoka. The story still stands as one of the best written stories in video games, bringing together a cast of deeply troubled people, one of the most unreliable narrators ever, and grotesque monsters that both terrified us and helped tell an intriguing story of love, death, sex and repression.
And what better haunted house to spend Halloween in than the one filled with writhing sacks of flesh and pitch black holes to jump down?
I was never into horror movies as a kid growing up in the 1980s, but even I had a casual understanding of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees. Every kid wanted to be one of them for Halloween because they were the scariest icons at the time.
Of course, video games didn’t exactly go very far in giving these two an opportunity to shine, but Namco certainly did. Splatterhouse was video game violence before people knew video games could have violence.
You play a Rick, a man who sells his soul to a Jason Vorhees mask for superpowers and huge muscles. He storms a house of horrors full of every demon known to man with not but his bare knuckles for weapons. Luckily, random death-tools scatter the floor to change up his tactics. Why storm the house at all?
For the power of love. Rick sells his soul to a Halloween mask to save the woman he adores. Oh, the romantic power of Halloween. Just don’t go punching monsters in the face when you think your Jason mask gives you superpowers. Those are innocent kids, not fiends from hell trying to steal your woman.
The Walking Dead
Of course The Walking Dead was going to make this list! It’s at the end because of, well, the alphabet, but you better believe we had this one picked from the get-go.
A tale of zombies, struggle, survival and conflict with humans, The Walking Dead will challenge you on all fronts. It’s a pitch-perfect recreation of the graphic novel’s universe, and Telltale Games created a winning effort with this season.
While not exactly scary or frightening, this is a game about zombies. The connection to Halloween is obvious, of course.
This is probably one of my personal favorite efforts on this list, and if you haven’t played it yet, tonight’s as good a time to start as any.