Since Halloween falls on a Monday this year (stupid rotation of the Earth on its axis), most people are filling their weekend with ghoulish festivities to make up for having to work on this most fun of holidays(suck it, Arbor Day). Allow me to offer a list of games to add to your revelry; some titles that will be sure to frighten even the most hardened of hearts. Some of these games may be hard to find, but trust me, they are worth every minute (and dollar) spent searching for them. To spice things up, let’s also add some film pairings to go with each game, shall we?
Condemned: Criminal Origins (Film pairing: Seven)
So many games rely on a supernatural element, or a science fiction theme to provide adequate atmosphere to the setting, but Condemned decided to forgo this route for just good ol’ fashioned psychopaths. In Condemned, you control Ethan Thomas, a Serial Crime Unit investigator (think CSI, but much darker), who has been framed for the murder of two police officers. While on the run, Ethan is informed that the man who framed him is trying to murder other serial killers. This man, known as Serial Killer X, is hunting the serial killers that Ethan had previously investigated, and is now ending each killer’s life with the same methods previously used by these fiends.
As you control Ethan and try to avoid being brought in by the law, you encounter the darker side of the very city your character strives to protect. The enemies in this game are not demons, aliens, or horrible abominations of nightmares. They are extremely violent and desperate human beings, influenced by the world around them and forced to do anything to survive. The combat in the game is solid(and quite visceral), and allows for a variety of melee-based attacks that are actually plausible for an average person to use. Without giving too much away, the story has several moments intended to frighten and shock the player, including an entire level based around department store manicans (shudder).
A great early entry into the Xbox 360’s library, Condemned can still be found in most used game stores for about ten dollars. I would highly recommend this game if you are tired of supernatural or out-of-this world type games. But totally avoid the sequel, it jumps headfirst into the realm of rediculous demon-world bullcrap with our hero being able to defend himself with a magic sonic-yelling attack. Yeah, in the sequel, you scream at demons to protect yourself. Fantastic.
Fatal Frame 2 (Film pairing: A Tale of Two Sisters)
If you prefer being scared by ghosts of the Japanese variety, then the Fatal Frame universe is perfect for you! Unlike Condemned, I would say to play the second in this series before (or instead of) the first game. In Fatal Frame 2, twin sisters Mio and Mayu are visiting a wooded glen where they used to play as children when Mayu happens to notice a red butterfly, and follows it into the woods. Mio realizes that her sister has wandered off, and calls out to her, following her twin deeper and deeper into the mist-shrouded forest. Mio finally catches up to Mayu, and the sisters find themselves in an ancient village, which seems to be long deserted.
As with most Japanese horror stories, the village is far from abandoned, as the cursed spirits of the villagers still roam the streets, attacking the twin girls. As you play through the game, it is revealed that the village was the site of an annual ritual in which twin siblings were used to seal a pit from which the souls of the damned would escape. One twin would be expected to strangle the other at the pit, in order to appease the ritual and protect the village for another year. The last set of twins refused the ritual, and thus the village was cursed, and now the ghosts of the villagers expect Mio and Mayu to serve as the new pair of twins for the sacrifice.
The player controls Mio, who is constantly trying to find her lost sister, and survive this terrifying experience. Along the way, Mio discovers the Camera Obscura, a camera that has the ability to fend off angry spirits by taking pictures of them. By making this item Mio’s only line of defense, the player is forced to view each of the ghosts as they lunge towards our hero. Even more scary is that the closer and more clear a subject is in each photo, the more damage is done to the spirit. So by allowing a ghost to glide right up against Mio, their spectral cries ringing in her ears, the player can defeat the spirit much more quickly.
With wonderfully imagined areas of play, a great soundtrack, and a haunting story with several endings, Fatal Frame 2 is a perfect choice for anyone eager for the thrills of Japanese horror.
Silent Hill 2 (Film pairing: The Shining)
I have yet to play a game with such a deep and interesting story as Silent Hill 2. I may even go so far as to say that the story in Silent Hill 2 is the best writing in any video game ever. If you have not played this game (or had it spoiled for you by some jerk), then do yourself a favor: buy it/borrow it/download it right now. And make sure that you do not look up any of the plot on Wikipedia or other such sites. The less you know going into this game, the better (and more chilling) the experience will be.
Silent Hill 2 abandons the protagonist of the first game and replaces him with James Sunderland. James receives a letter from his wife, letting him know that she has returned to the sleepy town of Silent Hill, where they once shared so many happy memories on vacation, and she is waiting there for him. The catch is that our hero’s wife is dead, and has been for months. Confused by the letter, but desperate to see his wife once more, James travels to Silent Hill in order to search for her. Once he arrives in Silent Hill, James meets a young woman who reminds him of his deceased wife, who asks if she may join him in his search, as she feels scared to travel the abandoned town on her own. After a short time searching, an emergency siren goes off in the town, and that is when things go horribly wrong.
The town of Silent Hill mutates before the player’s very eyes. Where roads and a sleepy Northwestern town once stood, rusted metal grates and a town shrouded in inky darkness now stand. In the streets, James is attacked by twisted versions of people: armless bipedal terrors wrapped in a layer of muscous covered skin now attack our hero. Faceless nurses with bizzare scars assault James with scalpels. Worst of all, while James is hiding from these creatures, he hears it: the dragging sound of metal-on-metal. The sound of something heavy and old being pulled along with terrifying strength. A giant humanoid creature who shambles along with a huge metal sword pauses and looks at our hero. There are no eyes to avoid, as the creature’s head is encased in a huge rusted metal pyramid. Pyramid Head has arrived, and he is eager for blood.
While the game suffers from some combat and control issues, Silent Hill 2 remains the strongest entry in the series, as well as one of the best survival horror games to date. The tragic story of James Sunderland as he journeys through the decieving streets of Silent Hill searching for his wife is a great scare for any time of year, but Halloween seems to deserve all the horror, doesn’t it?