With the Halloween season comes the desire to play “scary” games (for some of us). Twitch will be replete (and has been all month) with streamers playing through the popular horror titles. While some games have become mainstays of numerous scariest game lists, my goal is focus on games that span the old to new spectrum, and hopefully point out some new games that don’t often enter the “scariest” game discussion.
#1: Mainstay Atmospheric Horror You Must Play: Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Although it may have become the quintessential must-play horror game, Amensia set the standard for what atmospheric horror games should be all about. Building off the Penumbra series, Frictional Games hit a sweet spot with graphical quality, story, and scare. Amnesia is a first-person horror puzzle-solving game, where the protagonist wakes up in a large mansion and must piece everything back together. The key mechanic is that you are completely defenseless. That’s right, no weapons, no fighting – only running into small dark spaces in order to avoid the monsters that lurk in the Gothic mansion you must navigate. Oh, and by the way, the longer you stay in the dark, the worse your “sanity” gets.
In addition to being defenseless, Amnesia further increases the tension by forcing you to manage the little supply of oil and torchlight you can find. If you spend too long in the dark, “things” start to happen and your sanity slowly slips. Making sure to light the way to and from locations while solving the puzzles of the mansion is critical.
Amnesia did a lot of things right, and likewise found a strong following on YouTube where player’s reactions to horrors such as the Kaenk, made for safe viewing for those unwilling to delve deep into the game. If you haven’t tried Amnesia yet, definitely do so while alone, in the dark, and with headphones. It really will get to you.
Similar games to try: Penumbra series, Amnesia: Machine For Pigs, Alien: Isolation
#2: Cheap, Quick Scares You Make Your Friends Play: Five Nights At Freddy’s
Another perennial YouTube favorite, Five Nights At Freddy’s bases its horror on pure jump scares. The basic premise of the game is that you are a new night time security guard at a pizza restaurant in the vein of Chuck E Cheese. You sit in the “command center” with the only goal of surviving each successive night. What could be in a pizza place that is so scary? Animatronics. The robotic life-like animals at this particular establishment are alive, and come to life at night to “have fun.”
To deal with the marauding monsters, you must open and close the doors to your command center. This can only be done for a limited amount of time, given the power supply available. This means you have to manage the power resource with precision, often leaving the doors wide open when you know a monster is close. There is no movement at all, only opening/closing the doors while also monitoring the security cameras. One second you’ll be checking the cam and notice that Freddy has left the stage. You check the cam for the hallway and see him running down toward your location. It’s careful planning and timing to make sure you get the door closed in time for his arrival — or else you will be jumping out of your seat (this will actually happen). Also of note, the creator has said he plans on a new entry into the series that may be an RPG. Should be interesting.
Similar games to try: This series has become an annual tradition (with low prices to boot) and so you should move to the sequels to get your fill.
#3. Old School Atmospheric Scare: System Shock 2
System Shock 2 is not a traditional horror game. However, it has become an iconic game and not just because it was the launching pad for the Bioshock series. System Shock 2 was an all-around great game and, while dated, merits a playthrough for the more atmospheric horror fans.
System Shock is a first-person scifi experience where you must fight all manner of enemies on a spaceship, before fighting foes much bigger than yourself. This is the game that set the standard for creating tension with the need to scavenge for ammo and weapons to defend yourself. While Bioshock remains one of my all time favorite games, I have to respect System Shock for laying the groundwork.
While the game is now quite old (released in 1999), it has been made available on Steam. Most importantly, this has allowed for mods to help upscale the graphics and smooth out some of the UI. I strongly recommend finding mods to both update the graphics and also help modify the controls. These are available on the workshop, and really help make the game playable for the modern gamer.
Similar games to try: Bioshock series
#4. Underrated (With Most Unique Scare) Horror Game: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness gets lost in the shuffle (but not for The3rdPlayer!) when discussing horror games. I chalk this up to its release on the Gamecube, combined with the lack of commercial success after its release. However, it has slowly become a bit of a cult classic, with some of the most unique techniques to cause scares in any game.
The game revolves around third-person exploration and action combat done spanning multiple time periods. Playable characters span the time from the Roman era to (then – 2002) present day. The main character is in a hub world, and the player goes through each time period as a chapter, slowly accumulating different magical essence that can be used to fight and solve puzzles.
The truly unique, and terrifying, aspect of the game are the sanity effects. Similar to Amnesia, the player must manage their sanity as given in an on-screen meter. Reduction in sanity has many effects, such as hearing strange noises, seeing additional monsters that aren’t actually there, and increasingly distorted camera angles. Perhaps most frightening are the actual physical and technical changes the sanity makes in real life. These are the truly unsettling effects and are a big spoiler if you plan to play (so stop here if you do!). While I don’t know why this has not been repeated by subsequent games, the game actually produces fake error messages, turns your tv on and off, and fakes a console shutdown. It even has a fake blue screen of death. If the player doesn’t undertake to correct the (fake) error, the game goes right back to playing. I always found this aspect fascinating, albeit a bit risky if players actually reset the console.
Similar games to try: Silent Hill
#5. Small Demo Turned Legend: P.T.
One day, PS4 owners were silently given what turned out to be the greatest demo of all time – PT. P.T. stands for “playable teaser” and ultimately that is sadly all we’ll ever get. A creation of Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro, the game was a reboot of Silent Hill to be named Silent Hills (very creative), but was discontinued after Konami completed decimated its video game activities in favor of mobile and pachinko. However, if you are one of the lucky few who downloaded the game for free (its no longer available on the PS store), then you are in for a treat.
Another first person game, PT has you navigating a narrow hallway in a house over and over. However, each successive time gets stranger and stranger, and different triggering events are still being found this year. It’s hard to describe more without spoiling it, but there is no real “gameplay” as you walk through the hallway repeatedly. Suffice to say, it becomes extremely unsettling.
Similar games to try: Hopefully a spiritual successor wherever Kojima lands.