On Gamecube it stood out like some dark hooded menacing creature amid the rainbows. The evil twin to Mario. Beautiful, twisted and glorious.
It’s nearly Halloween again! That time of year when we can throw sweets at little kids, look outside at half five and say, “Look how dark it is, it’s only half five!”, like we’ve never seen this phenomenon before and, in our case, this year like the one before, gather as a family to play some appropriately themed board and video games whilst gorging on an inappropriate amount of sugar filled goodness.
But, what exactly should be at the forefront of your gaming on Halloween night? Which games have the requisite amount of pre-loaded goosebumps and spine shivering delights with which to spook and scare?
Let’s investigate. Let’s draw the curtains and light the candles, because here’s some games to make this Halloween, a night to remember.
Mysterium fits the Halloween bill like Freddy Krueger’s knife-lined glove fits his murderous hand. What could be more in tune with an evening devoted to ghosts and monsters than a game where one player actually plays a ghost, and the remainder are an assembled assortment of quirky mediums?
In Mysterium we have all the ingredients for some real spooky fun, a lovely level of mystery, and a simplicity that makes it accessible to all.
The aforementioned ghost player has been murdered. Not the best start to the haunted holiday. However, all is not yet lost. Via visions depicted upon beautifully intricate and detailed cards the deceased must guide the psychic mediums to the villain who ended their days, the location of the dastardly deed, and, the weapon that dealt the final blow. The ghost cannot speak during the game, but can communicate yes and no answers via knocks on the table, perfectly in tune with the séance theme. Throw in a little atmospheric background music (I use some crackly vinyl recordings from the 1920’s and a little stormy weather), add suitably gloomy lighting and some keen players, and you have the makings of a genuine Halloween gem.
- Grabbed by the Ghoulies
For myself, what we have in Grabbed by the Ghoulies isn’t just a brilliantly fun, good looking, and wonderfully funny journey through a haunted house and all its colourfully spooky inhabitants, it’s also one of the most criminally undervalued games of its time.
It seemed at the time nothing RARE could do was ever going to be good enough to justify the money spent by Microsoft to welcome them to the Xbox fold. And so, when they delivered a game that simply oozed charm and was infinitely more fun than the reviews would have you believe, many let it pass by unnoticed and unloved.
The game is an absolute joy to play. In the shoes of our hero, Cooper, we get to journey from room to room inside a gloriously detailed old mansion in search of our kidnapped love, Amber. Every step is riddled with classic horror movie fare such as vampires, mummies, imps, skeletons and the dastardly Baron von Ghoul himself.
The game is tricky enough to challenge adults, whilst having enough of a forgiving nature that youngsters will find joy here as well. It truly is a perfect slice of action for this Halloween night, and one that, if you can find it, should be making a regular annual appearance under the Halloween moon.
- Costume Quest
Cute, fun and doused in the spirit of the season, Costume Quest, is the Halloween game for those who are terrified of real horror titles. Me included.
The story of a group of kids trick or treating their way around a town that has been overrun by real monsters is a real pleasure to both play, and look at. It’s simple, but mixes a nice brew of exploration and turn based combat (during which the kids become the real incarnation of the costumes they wear) that does a great job of holding the interest and delivering a genuine, sort of cosy, Halloween experience. Rather than a genuine horror title, Costume Quest is more Scooby Doo, it offers charm over terror and is all the better for it.
Perhaps this is one for the more scared among us, but it simply oozes Halloween spirit and is a game truly in tune with this spookiest time of year.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill
A particular family favourite in our house is Betrayal at House on the Hill. A beautifully claustrophobic journey through a haunted house, during which the players work together to uncover its secrets…until one of the party becomes the traitor and wreaks havoc as the game transforms into a battle to the death, pitting former allies against one another.
The game board is made up of a group of tiles that are uncovered to reveal rooms as players enter, and the whole experience takes place over three dread soaked floors (four if you happen to have the Widow’s Walk expansion).
As the playing area grows during exploration, the game unfolds until towards the finale it covers a substantial portion of the table and looks quite superb. It includes great little miniatures depicting the characters, and as with most themed board games, a little atmospheric background music works wonders.
One thing Betrayal does magically is deliver some storytelling with the dice rolling and card flipping action. As the final showdown begins its terrifying journey the game shifts brilliantly from a creepy, creaky floorboard walk through a haunted mansion, to a high paced fight to the death under whichever storyline the previous play has led to. A genuine Halloween treat…with a few neat tricks up its sleeve.
- Project Zero
Now honestly, I hate this game. And I love it. In fact, I do really hate it, but I also really love it! If only I possessed the nerve to actually get through it.
If ever there was a game I would pick for a genuinely scary Halloween experience of the hide behind the sofa and whole body tension variety, then Project Zero would be that game. It has that wonderful Japanese horror creepiness that never fails to chill in abundance, and at no point does the game allow the player to breathe easy.
I’ve never played a game that made opening a door the incredibly tense experience Project Zero does. I honestly have to half look away from the screen for the fear of what lies beyond. It is littered with truly horrible ghosts and apparitions, blood chilling cries and goose bump inducing shocks. I can guarantee I won’t be playing this one any time soon, let alone on the spookiest night of the year, but it remains the scariest, eeriest game I’ve ever, almost, enjoyed.
- Dead of Winter
Zombies! Because no list these days is complete without some mention of the undead hordes that shuffle through the post-apocalyptic landscape. Where once little kids dressed in eye hole cut sheets and screamed boo on Halloween night, they now paint decay upon their faces and demand braaaiinnns. I love it, and my own favourite gaming take on the genre is without any doubt, Dead of Winter.
Dead of Winter is the thinking players zombie game. The early seasons of Walking Dead brought to life at the table. A true survival horror treat, where if the undead don’t get you there’s a good chance starvation will, or the cold, or perhaps it’ll be the traitor in the midst…if there even is a traitor, but suspicion is heavy in the air regardless.
Players are part of a colony of survivors, they start the game with two such survivors under their control. Each of these quirky characters has their own little personality, their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own objectives within the overarching goal of the main game itself. What Dead of Winter does so well is allow for stories to unfold within the zombie slaying, supply foraging action that takes place each turn. It also does a brilliant job of arousing suspicions within the group via the possibility that one player is a traitor harbouring goals that will enable their own survival at the expense of the group. It creates a fantastic air of tension, but plays like an absolute dream.
As a horror game it is brilliantly balanced between great threat, great reward and great challenge, and in terms of a game for the 31st of October, then it’s one of the best!
- Eternal Darkness
One of the most surprising moments of my Gamecube playing days was when I began my journey through, Eternal Darkness. For a console that was generally quite upbeat, colourful and utterly charming in its game output, Eternal Darkness was a highly unexpected journey off the beaten Nintendo track. To suddenly find myself in a sprawling nightmare of jump scares, grown up horror and a soundtrack that still haunts me to this day, was jaw dropping.
Eternal Darkness is a trip through time where the player does a little Quantum Leaping into the boots of various historic folk just as they are descending into sanity reducing darkness and terror. It’s a brilliantly realised take on the horror genre that works like a dream, or a nightmare to be more apt. On Gamecube it stood out like some dark hooded menacing creature amid the rainbows. The evil twin to Mario. Beautiful, twisted and glorious.
Sanity plays a huge role in the action, and as it decreases, so too does our protagonist’s take on reality, and when this happens the horror ramps up to occasionally unbearable levels. This is another game I found hard to play alone, hard to play in the dark, and hard to play whilst looking at the screen with the volume up. But, it has stuck with me all these years later as a real outstanding addition to the horror camp, and if you can get hold of a Gamecube and Eternal Darkness tonight, then you’ll have a Halloween to remember. Even if you’ll want to forget it as you drift off to sleep later that night.
I’m a big fan of games trying something different, something unique, and horror RPG, Dread, does exactly that. And, it does it in such a ridiculously cool way I just had to share it with you.
As you may or may not know, most tabletop RPG games use a lot of dice rolling to resolve situations. Fights, leaps, daring deeds, confrontation, interrogation, and everything in-between are at the mercy of the tumbling dice. But, with Dread, things are a little different. As the horror tales spun by Dread unfold, all moments that in normal circumstances would be resolved by dice, are now determined by the pull of a block, or two, from a teetering tower of Jenga.
You know Jenga, the game where players remove wooden blocks from an increasingly unsteady tower? Well, in Dread, the outcome of every action the player makes is determined in the same way. A successful pull equals a successful action, however, should the tower fall, the player meets their maker in whatever horribly imaginative way the storyteller sees fit. As a mechanic to add delicious levels of tension to a halloween’s night gaming, the tower of dread is wonderfully devilish.
I’m convinced that Dread will become my go to Halloween game over the coming years. It is so versatile, and so completely soaked in everything that makes horror games such fun that I can’t think of game that better fits the purpose of the evening. It strips back the RPG genre to its basics, makes play accessible to all, and then throws in a complete new way of approaching things that actually makes those genuine moments of tension and terror, that can sometimes be diluted by the roll of dice, really reverberate around the table and through the players themselves. A true Halloween treat.
- Resident Evil
See the lack of commitment there in terms of me naming a specific iteration of the survival horror classic?
I did this for two reasons. The first game in the series, and the latest. For myself these two are the cream of the zombie splattered crop. The original is perhaps a little long in the rotted tooth, but it was a pioneer in the survival horror genre, paving the way for everything that followed, and scaring us kids half to death in the process. The combination of jump scares, new (at the time) graphical prowess, corny voice acting, and great storytelling, delivered an experience that will rarely be bettered. It is of course a game of its time, but even nostalgia aside, there is a perfect undercurrent of menace that remains with Resident Evil’s debut outing, and this alone means that those zombie dogs of myth and legend should be crashing through your own homes windows come the witching hour!
Now to the latest game, Resident Evil: Biohazard. A new path for the old franchise, and a much needed one. This is Resident Evil returning to former glories and then making things even more twisted and unsettling than they had ever been before. I was fortunate enough to play this in VR some months ago and I can say with absolute certainty, it is an experience I will never forget. To find myself within the walls of the dirt and grime of the ramshackle home, to be at the dinner table with characters that would make lunch with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre crew seem positively delightful, and to stumble through the darkness constantly unsure at what lay around the next corner was terrifying. Never had a game felt so real, and it left me scared, scarred and screaming. I loved it!
Resident Evil at Halloween can take you down a path of retro jumps with which to quicken the heart, or, it can take you into hell where it threatens to stop it altogether. You’re choice.
- Mansions of Madness
Finally we come to a board game that can hold you for the entirety of Halloween night all on its own. A marathon descent into mystery, insanity, and dark creatures awaits every player entering the gothic walls of Mansions of Madness.
This Cthulu inspired masterpiece is akin to Betrayal at House on the Hill comes of age. Play delivers fantastic storytelling alongside traditional board game tropes of dice rolling and tile exploration, and then ramps up the atmosphere with a brilliant app that takes care of delicate details, well placed music and occasional voice acting. As a balance between the traditional and the modern in board gaming, Mansions of Madness has it perfectly weighted.
The game is grand and gothic, placing players into the role of investigators trying to uncover truths and unravel mysteries against the backdrop of an ever-increasing threat from the dark things that inhabit these gloomy rooms and corridors, and their own diminishing sanity.
Mansions of Madness is big and daunting from the outside, and it will take you into its grasp for a good few hours, but for those donning the investigator shoes, the journey is a truly thrilling and fulfilling horror masterclass.