It’s that time of year again: The time in which many of us give our hearts a workout and intentionally stress ourselves out in the name of Halloween. While some have a tradition of watching through as many classic horror movies as they can each October, I also like to make time for some scary games. I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorites below. Some are more recent than others, but I think they’ll all stand the test of time as classics, if they aren’t considered classic already.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Gamecube)
Back in 2002, horror games still got by with a lot of the same techniques that had served games and movies well from time immemorial. Jump scares and gore led the way as tropes that horror creators relied upon. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, released in June of 2002 for the Nintendo Gamecube, took a different tack. Its scares came about as your character’s sanity meter depleted. Whenever you’re spotted by one of the game’s Lovecraftian monstrosities, your sanity meter drops. Once it gets too low, the game starts messing not just with your character, but with you, the player. Breaking the fourth wall is a common tactic in video games nowadays, but at the time, it wasn’t seen much. The game used techniques such as making it seem like your TV was freaking out, or suggesting your game file had been deleted, to further unsettle you. By reaching out of the screen and messing with you, in the real world, Eternal Darkness proved it was a game worthy of discussion even more than 15 years later.
Silent Hill (PlayStation 1)
Resident Evil created the modern survival horror genre (Alone in the Dark fans are probably foaming at the mouths at that statement), but Silent Hill perfected it. Whereas games like Resident Evil relied on the previously mentioned gore and jump scares to create a tense atmosphere, Silent Hill used incredible sound design and an ever-growing sense of dread to keep you unsettled throughout the whole experience. Awaking from an accident, Harry Mason discovers his daughter Cheryl is missing somewhere in the town of Silent Hill. Exploring the abandoned town, he soon discovers something is very wrong in this piece of small-town America. Every so often, the world transforms into a nightmarish version of itself, walls replaced with rusty barbed wire fences and an impenetrably thick darkness covering everything. Equipped with a flashlight and a radio (that gives off a static warning whenever nasties get close), Harry must plumb the depths of this cursed town to save his little girl. Special mention goes to Akira Yamaoka, the composer and sound designer for the Silent Hill series, for using a crazy combination of rock and industrial sounds to create an atmosphere rife with tension.
P.T. (PlayStation 4)
If you don’t already have a copy of P.T. installed on your PlayStation 4, I’m sorry to tell you, you’re out of luck if you ever wanted to own it. P.T. was released for free on the PlayStation store as a demo for an upcoming game from visionary game director Hideo Kojima and film director Guillermo del Toro. The intention was that it would be part of the Silent Hill franchise, a sort of reboot, though P.T. itself was a completely standalone experience, designed to show off more of the mood the team was hoping to accomplish with the new game rather than any vertical slice of the game itself. Unfortunately, after the game was cancelled by Konami, the P.T. demo was removed from the PlayStation store, and it can’t be downloaded at all. In it, your character moves through an ever-repeating series of hallways, with each iteration of the hall getting increasingly creepier. All along, you’re haunted by a terrifying, eyeless ghost woman who could appear at any time. By the time you reach the end of this short but incredibly effective horror experience, you’ll mourn the fact that we’ll never get the full game in its style we were promised.
Mad Father (Steam)
This game came out of nowhere for me this year, and I find it hard to believe that such a small, simple-looking game could be so effectively scary and engrossing. Made in they style of 16-bit role-playing games, Mad Father tells the story of a little girl named Aya who lives with her father in a giant mansion, and who one night awakes to find ghoulish ghosts have invaded with murderous intentions. Aya’s journey of discovery, as she learns the truth about her father (it’s not really a spoiler to say that these ghosts have very good reason to want her dad dead), is compelling, and you can’t help but feel for her. Filled with relatively simple puzzles and some solid scares, Mad Father will keep your attention up until its shocking ending.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PlayStation 4/VR, Xbox One, PC)
I can’t say enough good about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. I played through the entire game on PlayStation VR, and it was a truly transformative experience for me. It took me a few weeks to even get up the nerve to play it, but when I did, I was hooked. You are Ethan, who gets a letter from his wife Mia who has been missing for three years. Travelling to Louisiana to find her, he gets caught up in a nightmare in the Baker family mansion. You play entirely in a first-person perspective, which is new for the mainline Resident Evil series, and it makes the horror and gore much more visceral. The storyline is interesting, and the characters, even the over-the-top villains, receive a lot more development than a lot of characters in this genre. If you can, play RE7 in VR. It makes a strong argument for VR as a platform. But if you can’t, play it anyway you can.