Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deep (& Not So Deep) Fear: A Few (Mild to Mean) Scary Games For Halloween

Soooo, let's just say you've no huge Halloween party plans other than camping out indoors with that bowl of candy that's supposed to be for kids popping up at your front door. Or you just so happen to have a Halloween party plan that happens to involve scary games played and displayed for your guests to experience. Well, fear not dear reader - whatever you've got in mind, here are a few suggestions and selections from 2010's lineup of mild to mightily scary games, some of which will have you and a few friends parked under the couch. While most of this list is geared toward ESRB T or M-rated games, you'll also find a few more family friendly scares here for a few different systems.

Starting off with games for the kids (or the young at heartless):

Costume Quest (PSN/XBLA, out NOW) - Tim Schafer and Double Fine Studios' latest gem (published by THQ) isn't exactly a kid's game per se, but the whimsical art style, hilarious dialog and smart, snappy turn-based combat system make this an excellent "entry level" RPG that parents and kids can share together. The adults will chuckle at the stuff the kids won't get and the kids will groove on the graphics and overall goofiness of the game. Can YOU save the little town of Auburn Pines before it's overtaken by aliens and monsters on Halloween? Actually, CQ is really all about the CANDY, but heck, let's not spoil your appetite for the game. It's really too bad this isn't a BOXED retail release as I'd LOVE to see some sort of limited edition with figures of both male and female versions of the lead characters plus one or two of their Halloween avatars.

Scooby-Doo & The Spooky Swamp (Ps2, Wii, DS) - While some of you out there might think that STILL playing games on a PS2 is a bit scary, WBIE is simply looking out for those young gamers who don't give a bat poop about console wars with a fun game the entire family will dig (I am such a pun-monster, aren't I?). The game even has a special Halloween Cheat Code (9991 DoubleDamage) as well as a few Wacky Cheat Codes (2654 BigHead, 3293 ChipmunkTalk, 1954 SlowMo) for those who want to add a little more fun to the gang's latest adventure.

Plants vs. Zombies (PC/Mac/PSN/Xbox Live Arcade) - Goofy, only a wee bit gory (the game is rated E 10+) and very addictive "Tower Defense"-style strategy game pits the undead against an assortment of potted plant life with surprisingly strategic results. Although the name suggests that poor flowers and shrubbery stand not a chance against the shambling undead, the game actually works perfectly in making you cheer on a cartoon Cabbage-pult as it pelts a pack of goggle-eyed cartoon zombies. The collection of mini-games are also addictive and funny as well, so this might be the only zombie game you'll let the young ones get their paws on.

And now, for the ladies in the house (or heck, any mystery fans out there who like a good tale told well):

Women's Murder Club 4: Little Black Lies (PC) - No, this game series isn't about a bunch of women who want to bump off their spouses! Based on the ridiculously popular James Patterson book series, this is a mystery game where a small group of women get together to solve murders (everyone needs a hobby, huh?). This time out, the trio investigate a 3-year old murder after a reporter investigating the case gets bumped off herself. Little Black Lies mixes in point and click adventuring with the hugely popular hidden item genre plus a deftly crafted story that manages to yank you in right from the start. If you're curious and want to give the game a shot, you can sign up for our totally no-strings contest and WIN a download code for the game!

A Little Bit Scarier, Now...

Dracula: the Official Stoker Family Version (iPad) - While it's not a game, the amount of wickedly inventive interactive elements in this new ebook make it a must for Dracula fans as well as anyone with an iPad looking for one nicely spooky app to show off to their friends. Developer PadWorx is even giving away an iPad loaded with a copy of the game, but you need to act fast if you want to enter!

LIMBO (Xbox Live Arcade, out NOW) - Not for the kids or anyone easily rattled, this stark side-scrolling gen mixes some great physics-based platforming, brain-busting puzzles and quite a few sudden and startling death sequences. Sure the game is presented in a stylish black and gray tone so you're not seeing bright red blood splat when your character buys it. But the fact that he's a little kid trapped in a bizarre world with giant, deadly spiders, deathtraps galore and pinpoint or else jumps might make this Teen-rated game a bit too much for the young ones to stomach. Hell, if spiders, the dark, eerie glowing eyes and soundtrack that make your skin crawl freak you out, well, this game might not be for YOU either. Then again, not playing it is almost a crime.

M-Rated Games
(Lock Up the Little Ones!)

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (PS3, Xbox 360) - Rockstar gives you both barrels with this awesome expansion pack (and soon to be released retail standalone disc) that's chock full of zombies, undead animals and even four Apocalyptic horses to catch and ride. The expansion remakes its open world into a darker, far more dangerous place and yes, the visuals and sound are fantastic here. Things bounce nicely between black humor and sheer terror during the 6-8 or so hour single player campaign and there are even a few cool modes for the multiplayer fiends out there. At ten bucks (or 800 Microsoft Points), this just might be the best DLC of 2010...

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3, Xbox 360,) - Mercury Steam and Kojima Productions take the long-running franchise into an all-new 3D outing with a new Belmont (Gabriel), fantastic visuals and of course, loads of monsters to whip, slice and otherwise dispatch. The game wraps together action, platforming, RPG and adventure elements near seamlessly while catering to players of all skill levels with helpful hints and bonus missions that let you replay stages for some cool rewards. While not "scary" in that playing halfway behind the couch sense, the mature storyline and plenty of blood insure this one isn't for the kiddy set. THis one's a keeper thanks to the length and variety of stages and creatures to take down as well as the mix of classic and current gameplay mechanics.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (PSN, Xbox Live Arcade) - For those of you who either want MORE Castlevania or crave a super 2D fix, this brutally unforgiving download-only instant classic allows up to six players to join in for online play and blaze through a ton of wickedly diverse stages using classic characters from the series. The solid HD visuals and excellent animation hook you in, and the massive stages make for some excellent platforming and combat action. Expect plenty of familar enemies, huge TOUGH bosses and loads of fun as the game packs in a hefty bit of treasure-hunting and RPG elements that make it extremely addictive. One caveat: playing this game on a TV under 27" can be a bit eye-straining (well, if you're a creaky old geezer like me, that is).

Left 4 Dead 2: The Sacrifice (Xbox 360, PC) - Some mighty tasty DLC has made Valve's zombie-packed kill-fest a game that's never left my play stack. Pick this one up at retail or over Steam, then enhance the experience with the newest content pack that features MORE Versus mode updates and as usual, some of the most fun (and scary as hell) mutiplayer modes out there today. Now, if only Valve would bring this franchise over to the PS3 (much to the screams and wails of 360 fanboys), even MORE gamers out there would be happier campers. Well, camping isn't actually a great strategy for Left 4 Dead, but you know what I mean!

SAW II (PS3/Xbox 360) - This gory mash-up (ha ha) of adventure and action game elements isn definitely not for the faint of heart or easily disturbed, but then again, we're talking about a game based on a film franchise that's not exactly kittens and rose petals, folks. As the son of Detective Tapp, you need to survive all-new environments filled to the brim with Jigsaw's traps and plenty of enemy AI that wants you dead as you try to escape. Improvements over the original (larger maps, less frustrating combat) keep things flowing, but don't expect a total cakewalk, as the games newly devised traps can catch you off-guard if you're careless...

Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360) - Sure, it came out way back in March, but Ignition's 360-exclusive was one of the most inventive horror games to date thanks to a ton of offbeat humor, open-world gameplay and some truly creepy creature encounters (among other things). As a VERY off-kilter FBI agent (you've got an imaginary friend who pops up for conversation) out to solve a series of grisly murders, the game throws David Lynch-derived strangeness your way and lets you deal with much of it in any way you wish. Trying to accurately describe the experience of a budget game with high-concept style is next to impossible - trust me, you just NEED to sit down and spend about 30 or so hours playing this one...

Dementium II (Nintendo DS) - While there have been a few decent scary games for the DS, Austin, Texas-based developer Renegade Kid has done two of the best to date. This sequel to the original Dementium adds more locations, creepier monsters and a really unsettling vibe that lasts throughout the entire game. As a first-person shooter, the controls are excellently implemented and smooth, but as a horror game, it's just about off the charts in terms of scaring the daylights out of you. Play this one in a dark room with a pair of headphones and make sure there's no one else around, as you'll either wet yourself if you get a tap on the shoulder or you'll freak them out when you let out that occasional scream. Hell, even the cover art is enough to give anyone the creeps!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC, Mac, Linux!) - Sweden's Frictional Games has had me looking over my shoulder and under the bed ever since it's baby-steps into horror gaming with Fiend a few years back. After that, their three Penumbra games had me too frozen with fear in each installment (which led to more than a few demises during trickier sections). Now, Amnesia looks to be not only their most polished work to date, but one of the more frightening pure horror-based games this year. Keep the kid far away from this latest disturbing adventure/survival horror hybrid where your character wakes up in a bizarre, dark place with no idea of who he is or how he got there. The main focus is on getting the hell out and trying to stay alive and based on the demo, don't expect any guns or tight top-wearing sidekick to save your butt. An unsettling and freakish time awaits you, only twenty bucks and a download away...

Classic PC download site
GOG.com is an must for those who crave great games from the past (horror and otherwise) as well as niche to top-drawer releases no longer in production. The site has a fantastic deal on FIVE scary PC game classics from Activision. Click HERE for details and get set to relive (or survive, if it's your first time) some truly creepy adventure or action-based experiences...

Demon's Souls (PS3) - Last year's excellent, frighteningly challenging and still excellent game of the year contender is now available in a cheaper Greatest Hits format, and if you have yet to play this, you're in for a real treat. From Software has cooked up a dark delight that will brutalize you until you learn that it's all about patience and practice rather than pure hacking and slashing. The payoff for you learning the ropes is a masterpiece that's gone on to be one of the more talked about (and consistently highly rated) console RPG's in recent memory.

Look Over Your Shoulder (A Few Upcoming Horror-Themed Games)...

Splatterhouse (PS3/Xbox 360) - Sure, it's not coming out for another month (November 23), but it's impossible to think of Halloween without the granddaddy of all horror action games (sorry Castlevania, I love you dearly... but I have to give it up for Rick and his terror mask). Namco Bandai's upcoming reboot of the seminal scary side-scroller pushes game gore to (and over) the edge while delivering what's looking to be a killer beat 'em up experience. Absolutely not for the kids, but hardcore fans of the franchise probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Dead Space Ignition/Dead Space 2 (PS3/Xbox 360) - Visceral Games' sequel to the 2009 horror hit is coming along really nicely and yet, the developer keeps adding more cool stuff to the Dead Space universe to keep fans going until the game's 2011 release. Ignition, a comic-styled interactive prequel that's FREE for those who pre-order the game packs in mini-game challenges within its gory cinematic pages. Meanwhile, Dead Space 2 is on the way to the PS3, 360 and PC but only PS3 owners get the chance to grab a Limited Edition of the game that packs in a great Move-enabled version of Dead Space: Extraction, the former Wii exclusive that was a hell of a ride for a rail shooter.

F3AR (F.E.A.R. 3) - March 22, 2011 is the due date for Alma's revenge (nothing like a psychotic pregnant kinda psychic killer with a grudge as your lead villain). That cranky cannibal Paxton Fettle is back, but this time he's your ghostly co-op companion in this action-packed, supremely bloody FPS that's looking like a real winner based on movies and screen shots alone. We'll need to get some actual hands on time with the game to let you know if it plays as good as it looks and if the scares are better than in the previous games. WBIE is certainly pumping up excitement for the game with a number of pre-order bonuses for those that like their games a little bit more "special."

As for other future fright games such as Silent Hill 8, Shadows of the Damned
, Project Dark and others? Wellll, we'll absolutely be keeping an eye peeled (eww) on those and more as they get further into development. For now, go track down one or more of the games above, curl up on the couch with that black cat and enjoy the ride!

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