Halloween is upon us and things are getting spooky.
Ushering 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, there are hundreds of scary video games. My Steam discovery queue has been filled with hardly anything else for the past couple of weeks – but they’re advertising to the wrong person. While my other-half 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 however, I do enjoy a spooky storyline. I mentioned in a post last October about my natural attraction to a certain genre that I read a lot of Stephen King books as a child, and this probably has something to do with why I’m now frequently drawn towards supernatural or science-fiction narratives. I like the feeling of being scared and the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.
While the adventure genre doesn’t tend to contain as many jump-scares or chase scene as ‘true’ horror, I’ve always found point-and-clicks to generally be skilled at nailing the atmosphere. They take a slower pace due to their puzzle-solving mechanics and this allows more time for an unsettling feeling to build. Inspired by a recent conversation with friends in Twitch chat about what we’re going to be playing for Halloween, here are thirteen potential options for adventure fans.
For a good storyline in a title which can be finished under an hour, try Answer Knot by Naraven Games. The plot is told through everyday items found around the environment along with answerphone messages from the protagonist’s wife, ad it’s quickly clear 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 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.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
The Gabriel Knight series by Sierra Online is one of the reasons why I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans. It immerses players in a sinister and atmospheric world filled with voodoo, dark rituals and chilling legends, with a protagonist who can only be referred to as a ‘loveable sleezebag’. Each of the three instalments is very different in its visual style and gameplay feel. My recommendation would be to go for the original first game rather than 2014’s 20th Anniversary Edition so you can play it in all its pixelated glory.
Harvester by DigiFX Interactive has to be one of the worst point-and-clicks I’ve ever played for so many reasons. It throws too 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 joke. Saying that though, it’s an 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 Sanitarium’s atmosphere is very unsettling and I remember feeling constantly on edge while playing DreamForge Intertainment’s release. As if putting players into the bandages of a protagonist who wakes up in a derelict asylum wasn’t enough, the Innocent Abandoned scene with its ruined playground full of disfigured characters who keep talking about ‘Mother’ is downright creepy. The backwards clock and haunting music just add to the sense of unease which makes you want to get out of there as soon as possible.
I first played Shivers by Sierra Online when it was released in 1995. Picking it up again a few years ago reminded me of just how much it frightened me back then, and I felt that familiar fear sink its teeth in even though the cartoon spirits are laughable now. A lot of this feeling is caused by 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. I’ve promised myself that I’ll finish it again one day.
Time for some space science-fiction. How would you feel if you had to perform spine surgery on yourself while still awake, to remove a chip wrapped around your spin? Utterly petrified, that’s how. There’s a scene in The Brotherhood’s STASIS which had be squirming in my seat because it’s so uncomfortable to watch. It’s gory but not overly gratuitous, and well-handled in terms of both timing and storyline, but it’s some pretty messed-up stuff which will stick with you for a while. I’m looking forward to checking out the sequel soon.
While playing text adventures as a kid, there was always a feeling that you’d start seeing elements of the game in the real world if you looked up from the screen. Stories Untold successfully manages to recreate this vibe. It’s extremely hard to resist the urge to look over your shoulder as you play the first episode, The House Abandon, or to not expect your phone to ring when it 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. The personal stories of Wormwood Studios’ team have seeped into the storyline and create a desolate atmosphere full of despair. It might not be a traditional horror but it somehow leaves you feeling very on edge.
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 unspeakable terrors should really have put me off, but I guess the pull of a scary storyline was too much. I remember playing it on my parents’ PC in the evenings after school while they were in the next room, the lights and television sound giving me the courage to continue. If you’re brave enough, you could always check out the new virtual reality (VR) version.
The Darkside Detective
As expressed by The Shameful Narcissist during a conversation in the comments on a post last October: ‘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. Some of the music was a little 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 series gives of 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’, but 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 by Fireproof Games is 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 feels as though there’s something watching you from the shadows. The visuals are realistic yet somehow dreamlike, which makes the games feel as though they take place in rooms straight from your darkest imaginations.
How will I be celebrating Halloween this evening after that round-up? I’m afraid to say that it won’t actually be with a point-and-click! I’ll be continuing The Witches Festival event in The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) this week and trying to gather as many event tickets as possible. This has become something of a tradition now with Ellen from Strength in Sarcasm and friend-of-the-blog Phil, and every October we group up to run around in skeleton costumes and take down a giant crow.
What will you be up to tonight? And what are your gaming recommendations for Halloween?