Like many people, every year at Halloween, I like to get into the spirit by spending the month watching horror themed shows and films, reading horror books, and, most importantly, playing horror games. Combing through dozens of “best of” lists across the web and cross referencing each, over time, I’ve been able to amass an internal inventory cataloging every game that ever scared a person, and at least tried to play through it. As a passion project, it has been exhausting but worth it: there are enough forgotten treasures and hidden indie gems to keep a horror fan busy for ages.
But what scares the scaremakers? That was my big question going into Halloween this year. I already know what all my fellow critics and fans find scary, but what about the people who scared me? Curious (and determined to find even more new horror games to play), I reached out to the developers of some of my favorite indie horror titles, and asked them what their favorite is and what they would suggest for Halloween. The answers range from the predictable to the obscure, the surprising to the must-include. And even better, each response serves as a double recommendation—the designers, writers and authors listed here have created some of the finest examples of the genre. Here’s what you should be playing (and reading and watching) this Halloween.
Airdorf, developer of Faith and the upcoming Faith 2
“2014’s playable teaser (or P.T.) for the ill-fated Silent Hills is a must-play and is my all-time favorite horror game. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s take on supernatural horror (my favorite kind) is unrivaled in its dread-inducing intensity. If you’re unable to find a PS4 with P.T. installed, my next recommendation is a tie between Resident Evil HD Remaster (2015) and Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (2003). Both are master classes in horror game design.”
I consider Inscape’s The Dark Eye the all-time best horror game, though it remains criminally underrated. Unsettling, dark and bizarre, it’s not only a brilliant adaptation of classic Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, but also a masterful example of interactive storytelling that was well ahead of its time. Did I mention the nerve-wracking narration by William S. Burroughs? However, my personal favorite spot is reserved for Dark Seed, hands down a guilty pleasure—poorly executed but boasting a marvelous atmosphere and artwork that remains unique to this day. I believe that’s a key requirement of the horror genre: to achieve a strong atmosphere hinting at unseen terrors and conjuring a sense of dread. The constant feeling that something is about to happen.”
“Kholat is very creepy. Set in the snowy Ural Mountains, it explores the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident. There’s a palpable sense of dread throughout. Cool sound design too. Detention was also good freaky fun, lovely looking and really exploited the point and click interaction for scares.”
Kevin Snow, narrative designer on The Silence Under Your Bed, localization editor on Pathologic 2
“As a narrative designer who works closely with interactive fiction, a game I come back to is Lights Out, Please (2014). It’s an anthology that retells ghost stories and urban legends from a lens that values marginalized experience. Something I appreciate is how it uses minimal CSS customization, instead focusing on fundamental hypertext techniques to communicate dread: pacing, structure, emphasis. And there’s a story about someone getting trapped in a basement Cask of Amontillado-style, which always kicks ass.”
PuppetCombo, developer of Night of the Nun, Babysitter Bloodbath and The Powerdrill Massacre
“As you may infer from many of my aesthetic choices, I believe that there has never been a purer place for horror gaming than the fifth generation of gaming consoles. There was a true visual deconstruction, at the time, to find the best elements to both represent the growth in potential for 3D design as well as keeping the uneasy fear of the unknown and uncanny, and from that uncertainty a true attack on human understanding was an easy direction to go, but I feel there was a greater strength in games not trying to be subversive, but ones that truly wanted to represent their world.
You had things like Resident Evil and Galerians putting a big focus on visual fidelity and realism, but I feel no horror game mastered that quite as well as the unsung hero of the era: K2’s Countdown Vampires. Beyond drawing inspirations from several of the same places I have, over the years, best represented in the protagonist, a hardened homicide detective, it truly showed off the capabilities of the hardware and art-styles at the time, letting the action direct the aesthetics.
Thematically the game is a beast all its own, taking an even stronger reprimand against corporate greed and expansionism than its peers, and using the vampires and miasmic disease that causes them as living metaphors for the very avarice that turns humans into monsters. The use of the casino opening as the setting was a remarkably apt metaphor, giving the perfect place for such an infection to begin; where else do you truly see the breakdown of your average human into the same type of monster that we all claim to hate then in the desperation of gambling? Every aspect of the game is inspired, head to toe. Let’s Plays really can’t do a game like this justice.”
Jon Martin, co-developer of Concluse
“My favorite horror video game is Silent Hill 2. I’ve always admired how well the Silent Hill team was able to tell the story in such a cinematic way. From the music, to voice-acting, to the texture-work, the cutscenes, the Francis-Bacon inspired visuals, the writing, it all manages to come together into an impressive piece of entertainment.
For Halloween, I’d recommend Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Welcome to the Game II, and HellNight (PS1).”
Jessica Harvey, co-developer of Paratopic
“[For me], Halloween this year is gonna be be spent in the mood drenched victorian gothic weird of Sunless Sea and the trash anxiety of 0_abyssalSomewhere. Both absolutely delicious mood pieces—the latter comfortably bitesize and the former liable to keep me charting the undersea long into the early hours.”
Synodai, developer of _transfer
“My favorite horror game, and definitely one of my favorite games of all time is a slightly shallow pull—Silent Hill 2 recontextualized everything that I thought I knew about games up until that point. It was instrumental in my understanding that games are artifacts built by people and that I could make things that use everything from the way level geometry is organized to the specific tone of the characters to unnerve and terrify as well. For Halloween, I can’t recommend the indie game Paratopic enough; it has a thick brooding atmosphere, liberal use of low fi analog visual touches, and is super comfortable enveloping you in stillness and quiet leaving you with a lingering dread that you can’t quite shake.”
ForgetAmnesia, co-developer of Paratopic
“You can’t deliver a punchline without a great setup, and you can’t tell a good horror story without first setting up terror. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has some of the best terror I’ve ever seen in a game. Entering the mysterious town of Innsmouth and being watched by the townsfolk seems boring at first, but that quiet mundanity and slow build makes it the most important horror game ever developed.”
T Allen Studios, co-developer of Concluse
“I honestly didn’t play many horror games prior to working on Concluse, some of the ones I did included Slender: The Eight Pages and the old SCP Containment Breach. I remember playing either of those with friends in a pitch dark room past midnight when I was younger and being terrified. Some other games that pop out however are those from PuppetCombo, which I’ve not played but they look fantastic.”
SpaceZeta Games, developer of From Next Door
“When it comes to horror you can’t go wrong with the classics, with Silent Hill and Fatal Frame being two of my favorite series of all time. These games are not just interested in jumpscaring you to death for the sake of scares, but rather they pull you in using an amazing blend of story, atmosphere, gameplay, all sorts of scary shenanigans and even old timey graphics that actually make the horror a lot more, well, horrifying. There’s a reason why they’re classics!
And if we’re talking horror in general, I actually finally got to watch The Thing, the horror classic from 1982, and again—there’s a reason why it’s a classic. Also, I can’t help but keep recommending Junji Ito’s works for anyone who hasn’t read them. An anime came out recently based on some of his short stories, but personally I didn’t like it very much—it just couldn’t quite capture the feeling of the original stories so definitely make sure to read the manga first.”
Catt Manning, author of Invasion
“There are some great interactive fiction horror pieces out there. Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs is a classic of unsettling psychological horror Twines, both for the story it tells and its slow unraveling of that narrative. One of the newer horror interactives I’ve played was Priscilla Snow’s “the relief of impact”, a multimedia experience about sleep paralysis that left me reluctant to go to bed. For non-browser based literary horror, I’ve got to mention Shirley Jackson—the master of unspooling that uncomfortable dread in the pit of a reader’s stomach.”
98Demake, developer of OK/NORMAL and SEPTEMBER 1999
“It’s technically not a horror game, but for good Halloween spooks, I’d have to say MediEvil. It has everything you’d want in a game on Halloween: Gargoyles, scary skeletons and graveyards! It’s also pretty spooky, while not being a horror game.”
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.