Modern Halloween isn’t really all that scary–unless, of course, you’re deathly afraid of cats in fishnet stockings or nurses with bare midriffs. Luckily, gaming can more than sate our appetite for horror. When you’re done scamming candy off your neighbors or dropping Jaegerbombs with a hairy man dressed as Tinkerbell, fire up one of these five games and get yourself into the holiday spirit.
This ARMA 2 mod drops players onto a post-Soviet island infested with flesh-eating zombies. Resources are extremely limited; players begin with a simple supply kit and must scavenge the weapons, armor, food, water, and medicine they’ll need to survive. Hiding is often a better option than fighting, and players need to carefully plan how and when to enter zombie-infested areas. This tense situation is made even worse by an unexpected variable: other players. Despite the threat of being torn apart by a horde of marauding zombies, the truly scary part of this game–as is so often the case in quality horror–is good old humanity. Other players can–and will–kill you and take your supplies. Temporary team ups against attacking zombies can quickly turn into double-crosses and shots in the back. The constant fear of what your fellow humans might do to you despite your best efforts against the zombies and the elements is what really drives this game. After all, wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to team up against the zombie infestation? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do and the honorable way to play? DayZ arguably explores the dark side of human nature more effectively than any other title in the medium.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Often touted as one of the main reasons to own a Nintendo GameCube, this Lovecraftian romp stars Alexandra Roivas, a woman who uncovers a flesh-bound tome while investigating the murder of her grandfather. Other chapters of the horrible book, scattered throughout the mansion, put the player in control of past individuals who’ve encountered the game’s main antagonist, the Liche, or who’ve had dealings with his demonic master. Spooky, right? Add in the game’s signature mechanic, the sanity meter, and it gets a lot creepier. As the meter fills, the gameplay experience changes significantly; at first, it’s just a few odd sounds and movements, but it quickly spirals into bleeding rooms, jaunts across the ceiling, and attempts to flat out fuck with the player that include hordes of monsters that aren’t really there, inverted volume meters, and fake error screens. This game doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it leaps through it with the ferocity of one of those dogs from Resident Evil and craps all over the pieces.
Speaking of characters of questionably sanity, Isaac Clarke’s initial foray into the world of Necromorphs and strategic dismemberment is one of the most frightening games of this waning generation. The Ishimura feels more like a tomb than a marvel of humanity’s technological prowess and it’s chock full of all manner of grotesque beasties intent on ripping the protagonist to shreds–unless Isaac can do the same to his enemies first with his mostly-improvised array of weaponry. The lack of a HUD removes any extraneous elements and let’s the user focus on the action. In space, no one can here you scream–but your neighbors will probably hear you if you get too involved in this one.
Silent Hill 2
Pyramid Head might be the most well-remembered component of this game, but there’s so much more going on here. The desperate tension of finding one’s way across the fog-shrouded landscape. The crackle of static over protagonist James Sunderland’s radio as he nears a monster. The twisted, broken monstrosities that look just human enough to inspire utter disgust. The revelations about the other people who’ve come to Silent Hill that lead to obvious questions about James. This is a deep story about love, betrayal, and the mindsets of people who do horrible things. Pure nightmare material.
Slender: The Eight Pages
Anything based on a Something Awful creation has got to be scary as shit, right? Originally doctored into photographs of children in an (extremely successful) attempt to create an Intranet legend, the game’s titular character is a tall, lean man in a black suit who just happens to have a blank face. No big deal, right? Wrong. As players stumble through the woods in search of eight missing pages with nothing but a trusty flashlight, this faceless son of a bitch follows right along. He can’t be fought–he can’t even be looked at for very long. The player’s only hope is to find the subtitular eight pages before the static overwhelms the screen and the Slender Man makes his move. It’s simple, it’s atmospheric, and it will make you scream like a little girl if you play it alone in a dark room–as we once discussed on the podcast.
What did we miss? Got a favorite scary game to recommend to the masses via comment? Go for it.
Anthony Salvatore, Mike Egan, John Koziol, and Kyle McManus also contributed to this article. If they trick-or-treat at your house, don’t you dare give them any fucking pencils.