Like movies, video games come in a number of genres and styles. Because of the immersive nature of video games, they tend to do better in certain storytelling arenas.
Adventure series like “Uncharted,” for instance, can make you feel like you’re in the middle of a Indiana Jones movie. Role-playing games can immerse you in sci-fi or fantasy worlds, and hardcore simulations like the SimCity franchise drop you into the exotic realm of the municipal bureaucrat. OK, that’s not a great example.
But the one genre where video games really excel is horror. A well-designed horror game can produce a genuinely visceral reaction, churning your gut, quickening your pulse and flooding your endocrine system rather nicely.
In the spirit of Halloween gaming, here are some of the scariest video games ever made, all of which can still be tracked down for play on PC or console.
‘Silent Hill 2’
I’ve played a lot of scary games, but nothing has freaked me out like “Silent Hill 2” (PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360), the second installment of the legendary horror franchise. You play as James Sunderland, an Everyman searching for his missing wife in a spooky small town that has the nasty tendency to toggle into a hellish parallel universe. The designers move the emphasis away from combat and toward psychological horror, with eerie visuals, subtle sound design and some real nightmare monsters.
The original “Silent Hill 2” was released for PlayStation 2 in 2001. A high-definition update was later issued for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which also bundles in the very good “Silent Hill 3.” If you want to explore further, a total of 9 standalone titles have been issued over the years, with another due next year for PS4. (Look online for the playable trailer “Silent Hills PT” for a terrifying preview.)
‘Call of Cthulhu’
Fans of the horror writer H.P Lovecraft may want to track down the underrated 2005 game “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” (PC, Xbox). Like the earlier “Silent Hill” games, “Dark Corners” is more about mood and environment than fighting, although the game does employ a pretty good first-person-shooter (FPS) combat system.
Players assume the role of a 1920s detective dispatched to the infamous seaport of Innsmouth, where depraved cultists summon ancient Elder Gods from the watery deep. The game’s minimal interface encourages immersion – witness enough reality-bending horror and your sanity rating depletes, triggering hallucinations and messing with your controller sensitivity.
For a more action-packed horror experience, you can choose from a wide array of zombie games – the “Resident Evil” and “Left 4 Dead” series are perennial favorites. But for my Halloween money, “Dead Space” (PC, PS3, X360) has always been the scariest of the zombie-fighting games.
The Dead Space universe combines elements of far-future science fiction with the survival horror genre, imagining a future in which an alien technology reanimates dead tissue into beings called Necromorphs. These are space zombies, essentially, and they come in a wide variety of lethal weirdness.
‘Alien Isolation’ and ‘The Evil Within’
Those in the market for new scary games – for PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One – will want to consider the excellent “Alien: Isolation,” which recalls the slower, creepier horror of the original “Alien” film from director Ridley Scott. Also keep an eye peeled (heh) for “The Evil Within” – a highly-anticipated survival horror game set in a haunted hospital. (Look for the full review in this space next week.)
Some other titles and series in the scary game canon to consider: “Alone in the Dark,” “Amnesia,” “Condemned,” “F.E.A.R.” and “Penumbra.”