Halloween is upon us, and things are getting spooky.
Observed to usher in the darkest half of the year, celebrants believe the barriers between the physical and spirit worlds break down and are at their thinnest tonight. It’s said that this allows for more interaction between humans and the denizens of the otherworld so you may feel a ghostly presence.
It certainly allows for more attention to be given to the horror genre. Everywhere you look online, everyone seems to be playing scary video games. My Steam discovery queue has been filled with nothing else for the past couple of weeks – but they’re advertising to the wrong person. While Pete can play them in the dark and not even flinch, you’ll find me next to him hiding behind a cushion.
As contradictive as it sounds, I do enjoy a spooky storyline though. I mentioned in a post last month about my natural attraction to a certain genre that I read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz books as a child, and this probably has something to do with why I now gravitate towards supernatural or science-fiction narratives. I like the feeling of being scared and the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.
I also like the adventure genre. While this type of game doesn’t tend to contain as many jump-scares or chase scenes as ‘true’ horror, I’ve always found them to be more skilled at nailing the atmosphere. They take a slower pace due to their puzzle-solving mechanics and this allows more time for an unsettling air to build. Inspired by a recent conversation about such releases with The Shameful Narcissist from The Shameful Narcissist Speaks, here are a few Halloween options for adventure fans.
Adventure games take a slower pace due to their puzzle-solving mechanic and this allows more time for an unsettling air to build.
For a good storyline in a title which can be finished in under an hour, try Answer Knot by Naraven Games. The plot is told through everyday items left around the environment along with answerphone messages from the protagonist’s wife, and it’s clear very quickly that something strange is happening outside. There are also a whole bunch of references to other video games which are fun to find, including a diary entry about a visit to Shambala where the temples have been blown up by a ‘bizarre treasure hunter’.
It’s worth ignoring the 2017 reboot with mixed reviews and instead opting for the 2003 Black Mirror original. Future Games’ release is everything you’d hope for from a point-and-click for Halloween. The pace can be a little slow at times and you’ll find yourself revisiting locations, so you’ll need a measure of patience to reach the end. But it’s worth playing for its story about a strange tragedy which has decimated a family since the Middle Ages, and a fight to escape a fate which won’t stop until it has claimed every member.
Harvester by DigiFX Interactive has to be one of the worst point-and-clicks I’ve ever played for an awful lot of reasons. It throws so many taboo subjects at you in such a short space of time that it comes across like a confused mess, and most of the scenes are so ridiculously over-the-top that it’s hard not to see the game as a bit of a joke. Saying that though, it’s a very interesting mark in the history of the adventure genre and therefore deserves to be played if you’re a fan. Just don’t go into it expecting an enjoyable experience, more a memorable one.
Not exactly a horror, but Santarium’s atmosphere is very unsettling and I remember feeling constantly on edge while playing DreamForge Intertainment’s release. As if putting the players into the bandages of a man who wakes up in a derelict asylum wasn’t creepy enough, the Innocent Abandoned scene with its ruined playground full of horribly disfigured characters who keep talking about ‘Mother’ is unnerving. The backwards clock and haunting music just add to the sense that everything is ‘off’ and you need to get out of there as soon as possible.
I first played Shivers by Sierra Online back when it was released in 1995. Picking it up again a couple of years ago reminded me of just how much it frightened me then, and I felt that familiar fear sink its teeth in even though the cartoon spirits are laughable now. A lot of this feeling was to do with the soundtrack. Many studies have documented the ability of songs to recall previous events and emotions, and hearing The Theatre and The Secret Hall returned me to being a scared teenager. One day I’ll finish it again.
Time for some space science-fiction now. How would you feel if you had to perform dangerous surgery on yourself while still awake, to remove a chip that’s wrapped around your spine? Utterly petrified, that’s how. There’s a particular scene in The Brotherhood’s STASIS which had me squirming in my seat because it’s so uncomfortable to watch. It’s gory but not overly gratuitous – well handled in terms of both timing and storyline – but it’s some pretty messed-up stuff that will stick with you for a while.
While playing text adventures as a kid, there was always a feeling that you’d start to see elements of the game in the real world if you looked up from the screen. This is the vibe that Stories Untold successfully manages to recreate. It’s extremely hard to resist the urge to look over your shoulder as you play The House Abandon first episode or to not expect your phone to ring when the handset does in-game. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the experience for future players, except that No Code have crafted some very clever moments here.
In a Steam news hub post, the developer wrote: “Strangeland began as a way for me to process the sadness I felt about [a personal situation]. What it means to watch the slow-motion destruction of someone you love, thinking you can save her, but not being able to.” That last line sums up the entire feeling of this game for me. Wormwood Studios’ teams’ personal stories have seeped into the storyline and created a desolate atmosphere full of despair. It might not be traditional horror but it somehow leaves you feeling very on edge.
The Darkside Detective
As expressed by The Shameful Narcissist during a conversation in the comments on a post last month: “I’m a gigantic wuss puss and cannot play horror games or anything where you get chased. The Darkside Detective is a nice compromise, but I still wouldn’t play it at night lol. Some of the music was a little bit creepy but it also has this tongue-in-cheek humour that I really liked.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Spooky Doorway’s first release in the series gives off a great vibe somewhere between Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
I wouldn’t necessarily call The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow by Cloak and Dagger Games scary but it’s one of the most atmospheric point-and-clicks I’ve played in a long time. The last scene really highlights a sense of ‘something coming’ and while you’ll pick up on this, it’s invisible to the protagonist and she’ll keep pushing forward. You can’t do anything to change her mind or get her to deviate from the path laid out in front of her, regardless of how bad an idea it obviously is. It creates a wonderful sense of despair and helplessness for both her and the player.
The Room series
The Room by Fireproof Games is surely one of the best puzzle series ever made. It’s amazing how much atmosphere is packed into each instalment, particularly so when you consider the games were originally made for mobile. Although the sharp piano notes in the background and dust motes in the air speak of loneliness, it always as though there’s something watching you from the shadows. The visuals are realistic yet somehow hazy, which makes the games feel as though they’re set in rooms straight out of your darkest imaginations.
The 7th Guest
It seems strange now that The 7th Guest by Trilobyte was a game I bought when it was released in 1993. Its promise of a long-abandoned mansion filled with ‘eerie lights and the terrible sing-song rhymes of children’ should really have put me off, but I guess the pull of a scary storyline was too much. I remember playing it on the PC in my parents’ conservatory during the evenings after school while they were in the next room, the lights and sound from the television there making me feel brave enough to continue with the puzzles and full-motion video (FMV) ghosts.
I intend to return to Shivers one day. Pete would enjoy the puzzles, and I’ve been promising Darkshoxx for ages now that we’ll play it during a stream.
After that round-up, how will I be celebrating Halloween this evening? Well, I’m afraid to disappoint everyone and say I won’t be playing any horror games. I’m currently working my way through Lucy Dreaming, a retro-style point-and-click full of colour and humour so it’s the opposite of anything scary. I do intend to return to Shivers one day soon though. I think Pete would enjoy the puzzles, and I’ve been promising Darkshoxx for ages now that we’ll play it during a Later Levels stream.
What will you be up to tonight? And what are your gaming recommendations for Halloween?