Listen. We’ve all seen these lists of horror games to play around Halloween, and also I don’t need to be told for the whatever-th year in a row that I should play Silent Hill 2 again. I know I should play Silent Hill 2 again! I should always be playing it, it’s very good! But I need something fresh on my spooky palette, and maybe you do too! So let’s take a look at a few games that perhaps you haven’t heard of, but are sure to give you a good spoop.
Originally released in 1992, Dark Seed is from an era of point and click adventures that absolutely hate your guts and want you to fail in everything you do. What. You didn’t think of making a secret route to your balcony by tying a rope to it right at the start of the game, like a normal person? Sorry buddy, it’s 6 hours in and you’ve lost with no way of fixing it because you don’t exit your house via balcony rope, thus setting up a second, secret entrance point like a sensible human being.
But, looking past it being incredibly trial and error based, it actually offers some pretty good horror elements. This is hugely helped along by the game being based on artwork by H. R. Giger, though it was tricky getting him on board, with him being pretty averse to the limited graphics option. Thankfully, they made it work, and the game was granted an amazingly unique style because of it.
You play as the most boring-ass white-bread kind of dude imaginable who wakes up one day with a nasty headache. Over the course of a couple of days (which are tracked in real-time through the game, leading to more ‘you didn’t do this earlier? Too bad, you lose’ elements), you’re drawn into an alternate world and tasked with destroying an Ancient Race that planted a weird horrific embryo thing in your brain.
While Sluggish Morss is an ever-expanding series, the first two are what I’ll focus on. Mostly because they’re both available to download for free (first one here, the second one here). They’re both heavily narrative-driven exploration games that are drenched in surrealism and opt to instead unsettle players and keep them in a near-constant state of not really understanding what’s going on. And the game doesn’t really care that you don’t get it.
The best way I can describe things to you is that it’s a sci-fi type situation, in the distant future when mankind has travelled to space and encountered aliens who are far superior. There’s just a lot going on, and it’s very difficult to describe due to the aforementioned surrealism as well as being heavily reliant on its visuals and atmosphere.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Perfect for the visual novel fan who also happens to love all kinds of philosophy, physics, alternate universe, conspiracy theories, and a bunch of other cool stuff. And puzzles! Originally released for Nintendo DS in 2009, the game has since been ported to PC with full voice acting and also including the sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward.
But the original is an amazing game which puts players in the shoes of college student Junpei, who has been kidnapped along with eight other people, thrown onto a cruise ship that’s had its doors and windows locked as well as devilish puzzles installed. From here, they’re told that they’re participating in the Nonary Game, with the goal of escaping before the ship sinks.
The game has standard visual novel segments, which allow the player to explore and examine their environment, and ‘escape’ segments, which run like escape rooms. There’s a goal that needs to be achieved to leave the room, and there are all kinds of little puzzles involved. It’s incredibly well thought out both in terms of gameplay and plot, and one of the most unsettling moments I can ever recall playing a game came when I played this, was when I had thought that I had finished it, only to discover… Well, I didn’t. The less you know going in, the better.
Listen. If you give me a chance to talk about Deadly Premonition, I will talk about Deadly Premonition. I could, and most likely will do an entire Obscure Pixels on this game one day. It’s honestly not a very good game to play, it sucks and I hate actually playing it, but it does so many interesting things. Also, it’s as close as you’re going to get to a Twin Peaks video game.
Players take the role of Agent York, an FBI agent who’s been sent to the sleepy town of Greenvale to investigate a murder. Things don’t even start off normal as you’re treated to an entire monologue, played completely seriously, about Tom and Jerry having a sadomasochistic relationship. Also, he has a split personality named Zach he talks to sometimes.
It just gets weirder from here.
Players are tasked with investigating the murders, as well as helping the townspeople with various things in an open world style game where every character has their own routine from day to day and chapter to chapter. There’s a surprising amount of thought and detail put in, and despite it being clunky, goofy, and downright weird, there are some genuine moments that give players a startle or are downright unsettling and weird, but like, in a spooky way.
Created as a sort of spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series, as well as having touches of Resident Evil influence, Haunting Ground is a survival-horror game that has the main character, Fiona, being stalked by a range of sometimes wacky and all the time terrifying characters who want her for various reasons. These reasons range from ‘giant who thinks she’s a cute doll’ through to ‘she has a magic womb that a clone of her dad wants to use to give birth to himself’. It’s one of those kinds of games.
And, while Fiona is mostly helpless, with very few ways to actually fight back against attackers, she does have her companion and good doggo, a white German Shepherd named Hewie. Hewie uses adaptive AI that makes him more helpful the better he’s treated, able to sniff out items or attack enemies. Conversely, players treating him badly may even be attacked by Hewie. But why would you ever treat such a good dog badly?
The game is mostly running around as Fiona, solving puzzles and finding a way to access new areas, all the while keeping track of her stamina and where the stalker is at any given moment, using any available hiding spaces to throw them off.