Back when we were kids, Halloween meant pirates and ninjas, spooky ghosts and superheroes and, for some reason, pretty pretty princesses, and other family-friendly spooky delights. As we got older, Halloween began to mean serial killers and blood-spattered zombies, twisted surgeons, and escaped mental patients.
Halloween's a great time for scary stuff, and with that in mind, we bring you the best classic horror games that are worth revisiting this spooky season.
Games That Will Creep You Out
The Last of Us is hard to play. Not because of the truly horrifying varieties of zombies trying to claw out your face, nor for its gruesomely graphic depictions of said face crawling that happens when the zombies invariably get you. The Last of Us is hard to play because it's everything about a zombie game done so very, very right.
The entire game plays like a movie - the best kind of serious, character-driven drama that unfolds during the end of world, about normal people just trying to stay alive in a crumbling society desperately clawing at each other for survival. From its very first moments, The Last of Us thrusts you headlong into this world and all its terrifying, miserable feelings; the first character we meet and control is not some grizzled war veteran who spends his weekend stocking his underground bunker, who's armed to the teeth and chompin' at the bit of his cigar to headshot some zombies. No, the first character we get to be is a pajama-wearing middle-schooler, Sarah, who is startled awake in the middle of the night by the sounds of explosions echoing across the suburbs.
Here is the game, literally thrusting this girl's fate in your hands. As Sarah, you climb out of bed and wander the dark, eerily quiet landscape of your home in search of your dad. All along the way, you are peppered with news reports from the TV in the living room, and tidbits of Sarah's own insights, that something is terribly, terribly wrong in the world beyond the walls of her idyllic suburban home.
Long before I encountered my first zombie, my fingers were already tense from grappling with the emotional weight of the first few minutes in this world. I don't want to let go. And the rest of the game is like that!
Shortly after the tutorial, the focus shifts to Joel, Sarah's dad, and his struggles to survive in a ruined world dominated not just by the cordyceps-infected, but by merciless raiders, deranged cannibals, and the remnants of the US Army struggling to impose its special brand of law and order through whatever means necessary. Along the way, you'll meet Ellie, and everything changes. Video gaming changes.
The drama, the storytelling, and the heartstrings-tugging character developments just don't stop. To this day, The Last of Us remains an outstanding title: compelling characters, an emotional story told visually, dramatically, and exceedingly memorably. (They really should make a movie out of this. Get on it, internet.)
If you haven't tried it, The Last of Us is one title that's not to be missed. The trouble is, it's a Playstation exclusive: originally released for the PS3, there's now a Remastered edition out now for the PS4.
2. Until Dawn
When we first heard of Until Dawn, it was teased as an interactive horror movie, and it does not disappoint. With photo realistic, motion captured movie quality graphics, Until Dawn is as amazing to play as it is to watch. But exceedingly high-quality visuals aren't the only reasons this title made it on our list; it's also an excellent horror movie.
Expertly written, the plot starts out containing all the elements of a great thriller: a group of attractive but clueless 20-somethings out partying, a large creepy cabin in the middle of a snow-covered wilderness, a visceral but brief shot of a mysterious masked individual wielding a machete (who always somehow manages to stay just out of sight). Powerful, succinct character building.
There's the shy, nerdy girl who's got a crush on the hunky chisel-jawed quarterback; the rich movie star's kid with a troubled past; the class clown who jokes to hide his insecurities; and the "good girl" who always looks out for her friends (and you know she's probably going to wind up being the main character because she's played and voice acted by Hayden Panettiere). The tragic outcome of a stupid, childish prank that goes horribly wrong. And all that within the Tutorial chapter!
It all seems fairly straightforward until it isn't.
Until Dawn is a cinematic movie told through intense character-driven scenes, with superb motion captured acting. Every now and then, you'll be presented with choices, a QTE, or a "hold your controller very still" skill challenge that determines a particular character's actions. And you'd best be certain that every decision and outcome carries with it great weight: inevitably, your actions will determine which character lives to see the end credit scrolling by, and which...doesn't.
Until Dawn is exclusive to the Playstation 4. Don't you hate when they do that?
You are Miles Upshur, a freelance investigative journalist, and you've just received the anonymous tip of your career. Without a second thought, you board the next flight to Colorado and make your way to a private psychiatric hospital situated in the rugged, remote mountains. You prepare to infiltrate the facility with your trusty camcorder in hopes of capturing hard video evidence of the unusual and inhumane experiments being performed on the patients there. Hard evidence that could bring the facility's owners, the unscrupulous Murkoff Corporation, to its knees.
Of course, not everything is as it seems, and Miles soon stumbles upon the butchered remains of the hospital's staff and finds himself on the run from the hospital's dangerously unstable inmates. Having escaped the confines of their padded cells and roaming free across the asylum's grounds, the patients are among some of the scariest and most disturbing characters to haunt the genre. Among them are a delusional priest prone to fits of self-immolation; a pair of brutish twins with a penchant for wandering around in the nude and eating people alive; a former Murkoff executive who delights in performing amputations personally and without anesthesia; and the Walrider – the game's iconic, mysterious murder spree monster, who Miles quickly comes to realize is more than human.
Outlast is classic survival horror written for a grown-up audience and capitalizes on the feeling of terror and helplessness. Unlike the protagonists of other survival horror games we can easily name, Miles isn't a trained special agent of an international zombie-killing organization; he's never even covered wars, you know. To emphasize this, the game never gives you a weapon; the only things Miles has to help him escape the asylum are his wits and his camcorder. No shotguns, no rocket launchers, no eleventh-hour city-obliterating air strikes...not even a crowbar.
But hey, at least his camcorder's capable of night vision. That's something, right?
Fans of frequent jumpscares and intense psychological thrillers alike should be sure to give Outlast a try.
The premise of Dead by Daylight is simple. Four players are survivors; one is a deranged, supernaturally empowered murder death killer out to murder death kill them all. It's an elegant premise, and one that works wonderfully for the 4 versus 1 multiplayer horror game.
Survivors are civilians - normal people plucked from their normal people lives to inhabit the various haunted Killing Grounds that form the game's setting. Each Survivor has their own unique talents: Claudette's medical knowledge allows her to better apply first aid to her allies; adrenaline junkie Meg Thomas sprints faster than other Survivors; Nea Karlssen's years growing up on the streets has taught her to be quieter and sneakier than anyone; and so on.
Not unexpectedly, the roster of Killers is where Dead by Daylight truly shines, as each is clearly modeled after the most iconic psychopaths in the horror genre. You've got the Hillbilly, outcast for his grotesque disfigurements. He was raised from behind a bricked-in room and fed through a hole in the wall until he was old enough to escape, grab hold of a chainsaw, and use it to brutally dismember his parents along with all the livestock on their farm. There's the Trapper, who has a penchant for snaring live prey in his bear trap and then butchering them while they're still alive. How about the Wraith, who moves invisibly until he's just about to club a victim to death with his favorite weapon: a human skull, still attached to the spine. Yikes! And, most recently added, the teleporting Nurse hunts her prey by her exceptionally creepy ability to sense their breathing, their heartbeats, and their bloody attempts to heal each other.
As Survivors, your goal is to locate and power up a number of generators in each level, which will then open an escape hatch out of whatever nightmare level they'd found themselves in. The Killers, on the other hand, are tasked with hunting down, incapacitating, and then dragging each Survivor to one of several grisly torture implements scattered throughout the level, where they must summarily impale their lucky Survivor and let them bleed dry. Doing so sacrifices the Survivors' souls to an otherworldly Entity overseeing the matches, who then promptly resurrects the Survivors so they may be killed again and again. A match ends in victory if the Survivors manage to unlock the hatch, find it and escape, or if the Killers succeed in sacrificing Survivors a certain number of times.
It's one thing to be hunted by a deranged Killer, it's another entirely different experience to know that the person behind the Killer is an intelligent (and demented) human being out to crucify you.
This game is available on Steam.
The game that made 'jumpscares' a household term, Five Nights at Freddy's ascribes to the minimalist school of game design – meaning, in non-fancy terms, it's surprising how much suspense and terror it heaps on each gameplay without actually letting you do very much.
In the original Five Nights at Freddy's, you are running the night shift as a security guard of a kid's themed pizza parlor. The pizza parlor's main attraction is its animatronic entertainers: large, anthropomorphized animals who, through the magic of robotics, come alive and sing, dance, and serve cake to whiny brats all day. For reasons mostly left unexplained, and probably for the better, these automatons seem to have a violent streak, with one reportedly chewing open the head of a child in a terrifying event known as the “Bite of '87”.
Since then, the restaurant has come under new management, who promises that the animatronics don't come alive until dark. Lucky you!
The gameplay of Five Nights at Freddy's takes place entirely in your security office, and has you flicking back and forth between surveillance camera feeds to check on the various rooms in the theme restaurant. Pay attention – did something just move? Wait, what happened to Foxy? It was just there just a second ago, parked and definitely inert-looking next to the other creepy hibernating robots...
To make matters worse, sometimes camera feeds short out, and you're treated only to an eerie audio feed – did that sound like something moving around toward you? And did something just breathe?
And just when you thought it couldn't get any more terrifying, the gauge on your remaining battery power reads in the red... everything uses power in your office, from activating the security cameras to locking your doors. The goal of each night is to survive until sunrise, and it's harder than it sounds.
The other titles in the series mostly build on this simple, but heart attack-inducing formula, adding only minor variations like a change in venue, extra cameras to monitor, a weird music box you need to remotely wind up, even scarier animatronics, and so on. But for me, Five Nights at Freddy's 4 is by far the standout sequel in the series.
In Five Nights at Freddy's 4, you play a small child, and the animatronics have invaded your home. Not that anyone would believe you. You're a bit more mobile than in previous titles, but your movements are limited to hiding in your closet, leaning out to shine a light down the dark hallways running parallel to your room, or shining the light on your bed, where creepy laughing nightmare things have a habit of congregating around your adorable Freddy Fazbear toy. In no time, you'll be scrambling from one door to the other, to the closet, back to the door to check for breathing...is there breathing? What about the bed, what about under the bed?
Mommy, I don't wanna play anymore.
This game is available on Steam. Watch this video compilation of trailers and teasers from all 4 of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games!
The best horror games bring not just the scares, but something else to the gory party, be it memorable gameplay or a great atmosphere or powerful storytelling. We've put together this list of the Best Classic Horror Games to highlight not just the jumpscariest horror games of all time, but the ones that have left the most enduring mark (and psychological scars) on our collective imaginations.
And that's the kind of scary worth remembering this Halloween.
If horror's not really your thing (it's okay, we don't judge), we've put together a list of awesome indie games that you should check out.