On Horror Games: The Complete Series
With my five-part article series about horror games (and why you should play them) happily concluded, I thought it would be best to do a round-up post of all the installments for easy access. Here's a list of all five articles.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed cowering in a damp little cavern behind some rotting barrels in Penumbra, desperately trying to will the prowling zombie dog away but not entirely sure if it has already moved on. It's a special kind of enjoyment, as you can probably see.
As a special bonus, here's a list of horror games that I heartily recommend based on my own experience with them:
- The Lurking Horror - Text adventure. Lovecraftian horror. Byzantine world design by today's standards, but the atmosphere is well done. You can play it online here.
- Legacy: Realm of Terror - First person RPG. Lovecraftian horror. Haunted house exploration. Not smooth first person, but "block by block" like how Eye of the Beholder played. I'm not sure where you can get a copy nowadays, but it's worth a look.
- Alone in the Dark - Third person action-adventure. Lovecraftian horror. Haunted house exploration. Fight zombies with shotguns, swords, and your hands and feet (and die trying). Unparalleled Lovecraftian horror atmosphere. Available on GoG.
- Gabriel Knight series - Third person adventure. Historical mystery mixed with scary beasts and cults of myth and legend. Astoundingly good writing. Clever puzzles with the occasional dud. Just plain awesome all around. Available on GoG (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3).
- Penumbra series - First person adventure/survival horror. Lovecraftian horror. Physics puzzles. Plays with some diabolically fun ideas, like how you can't directly look at monsters while hiding to avoid the risk of a sudden panic attack. Great writing, especially in the second game, Black Plague. Available on Steam.
- System Shock - First person action/survival horror. Cyberpunk-themed horror in space. Clunky controls by today's standards, but worth playing for the excellent gameplay and atmosphere. Unfortunately, System Shock and its sequel aren't that easy to buy today. I'm hoping for a GoG release in the near future.
- System Shock 2 - First person action/RPG/survival horror. More cyberpunk-themed horror in space. Adds RPG-like stats and different character classes to play as. Modern control scheme, which makes it easier to get into. Scarier than the first one. Again, hoping for a GoG release soon.
- Thief series - First person stealth. Thief is not a horror game outright, but it does feature some very creepy and unsettling environments. Your character is also relatively weak in combat and needs to hide to survive. This vulnerability greatly adds to the fear factor. Available on Steam and GoG (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3).
- The Dark Eye - First person adventure. This game is based on Edgar Allan Poe's stories, and doesn't feature puzzles in the traditional sense. It's more like an interactive storybook with really disturbing visuals, with the added twist that you get to play both the victim and the murderer in each story. I haven't done any research yet on where you can get this today, but it's well worth a try if you could find a copy.
- Sanitarium - Third person adventure. Good puzzle design and unrelentingly surreal atmosphere that skips back and forth between the asylum you reside in, and fantastic other words which may or may not be real. This game has a good ending that really stuck with me. Available on GoG.
- Realms of the Haunting - First person action/adventure. Haunted house exploration, but also so much more. Decently-acted FMV cutscenes that used to scare me, but now are simply "not so cheesy". Imaginative environments, memorable characters, a handful of legitimately stressful moments. Available on GoG.
- Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness - Third person adventure/RPG. Looks and plays like a classic point-and-click adventure game, but there's combat and many actions are stat-driven. Equal parts Lovecraftian horror and gothic Transylvanian atmosphere, complete with sinister gypsies. This game is actually fourth in a series of five, and if you're going to play it, you might as well play them all; they're all good. This is the only one with a horror theme, however. Available on GoG.
- Dead Space series - Third person action/survival horror. Battle mutated zombies in space with an arsenal of futuristic construction tools. Scary and memorable moments in areas with no atmosphere -- sound is extremely muffled and the only clear sound is your own ragged breathing. Dead Space 2 is more action than horror compared to the first, but they are both worth playing as horror games. (Part 1 | Part 2)
- Clive Barker's Undying - First person action. Yet another haunted house foray, although this one also brings you to strange other lands on occasion. Intense action with terrifyingly well-designed monsters and villains. Some really nasty surprises via the "Scry" power, which opens your vision to things beyond regular eyesight. I thought this was on GoG, but apparently it's not. I'm hoping it will be soon.
- Nocturne - Third person action/survival horror. Enjoyable dead-serious b-movie atmosphere. Great lighting effects. Some really unique ideas, like undead mobsters in prohibition-era Chicago. Just great monster-hunting fun with an enigmatic but likable protagonist. This game isn't on GoG either!
- F.E.A.R. - First person action. Plays like a manic mix of The Matrix and Ring. Your time is split between headshotting intelligent AI troops and drop-kicking them in slow motion, and walking through scary corridors while a disturbing Sadako-esque little girl does brutally violent things to some hapless soldiers. Great action with an intriguing story. Available on Steam.
- Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines - First person RPG. The easiest way to describe this would be to call it Deus Ex for the undead. The game is set in present day Los Angeles, where you play a neophyte vampire from one of seven vampire clans, each with different traits and vampiric powers. Many quests are designed so you can solve them in a multitude of ways depending on your skillset. Empowering in that you're playing one of the monsters this time around, but also manages to remain scary all throughout. Available on Steam.
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth - First person action. Lovecraftian horror. Investigate the sleepy New England town of Innsmouth, and try your best to stay sane amidst all the horrors and atrocities going on. Fairly long with varied environments. Has one of the best playable chase sequences ever. Available on Steam.
- Scratches - First person adventure. Plays like Myst, but with inventory puzzles instead of knobs and levers to mess around with. You wouldn't think a slow-paced slide show-type adventure would be able to scare you, but you'd be wrong. The night I finished Scratches, I slept with the lights still on. Available on Steam and GoG.
- Spec Ops: The Line - Third person action. I'm serious! This title is here because of the sheer disturbing mindfuckery it manages to pull off. In the latter part of the game, you start seeing strange things and events that may or may not be a consequence of your earlier actions. Very linear, but features at least five endings, all of which are very different but also very fitting in their own way. Available on Steam.
Well. That took longer than expected. I'll feature some of these games in future horror-related articles if I become so inclined. In the meantime, feel free to chat me up about any of these games I mentioned!