I’m a self-proclaimed fraidy-cat, many times over. I lament it often when I want to play games like Until Dawn, Layers of Fear, and Amnesia. I chalk up my deeply divisive relationship with horror to an early fright, when I decided to watch my dad play The 7th Guest.
That nasty fright wasn’t enough to keep me away from horror stories — my favourite authors as a child were Stephen King and Christopher Pike, after all. I would sleep with the horror novels under my bed so I wouldn’t see them staring at me in the dark. I’m paranoid. And easily startled.
If you are like me — a horror aficionado with the heart of a lamb — then you’ll likely share my paradoxical affinity for the genre. I’ve got five games to make you feel a little better about your tender, if violent, heart.
Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is still one of my favourite horror games. In my teen years, it was the only horror game I could play sitting in a room by myself. Its successor, Silent Hill 3, is a mechanically better game (with the super awesome Heather!), but it scared the bejeebus out of me. So, it doesn’t get to make the cut.
Silent Hill 2 is old enough that the graphics won’t make you pee your pants when you run into Pyramid Head or a scary nurse. (Or, rather, you’ll pee yourself less.) The story is just what I wanted it to be — surprising, well-paced, and bizarre — without slapping me in the face with jump scares.
If you’ve never played a Silent Hill game, start with 2. It will undoubtedly scare you. It may even give you nightmares. But it will absolutely be worth it.
There is no substitute for the delicious eustress that this game presents for both the game master and the players. Dread is a roleplaying game that has an unusual mechanic for determining the game’s successes (and inevitable failures) — Jenga.
You read that correctly, Looters: instead of dice, there is a Jenga tower. Dread rewards skill and methodical patience to execute a plan, rather than chance. The players take their collective fate quite literally into their own hands. Shaky hands lead to dead players. And though the game is stressful, the frights are only as intense as the game master crafts.
Pick a kind game master or suffer at his/her hands. (Candice would murder us all.)
Don’t kid yourself, Looters — this is most certainly a horror game and it is damn scary. The deeper you get into the game, the more terrifying (and effed up) the story becomes. But, unlike games like Layers of Fear & SOMA, Until Dawn isn’t trying to make you jump out of your skin, for the most part.
It’s beckoning you to tell a story with the characters within the given setting. A true “butterfly effect” game, Until Dawn lets you make your own mind up about how the scenes play out. Think “I Know What You Did Last Summer” atmosphere — creepy and unnerving but not scare the daylights outta you insane.
… I would suggest my fellow fraidycats opt out of playing in full-dark at 2am. Unless you enjoy the pursuant nightmares. You do you, omae.
American McGee’s Alice
The first time I played this game, I was a wee nerdlet. American McGee’s Alice had a 2000 release, after all. With Trent Reznor (yes, of the Nine Inch Nails persuasion) helming the soundtrack, Alice was a spectular (if not overly buggy) experience to behold. The platform mechanics were infuriating, but the story and art direction were well worth the aggravation.
Everything about Alice was creepy as hell; her backstory transformed from a pampered girl in the English countryside to a deeply disturbed young lady, whose version of Wonderland would bring even the sanest of us to our knees. The graphics were absolutely gorgeous for their time; they’ve held up relatively well over the years.
American McGee’s Alice will give you the creeps and outright disturb you without relying on the traditional horror game jump scares. There are surprises, of course, but you’ve gotta work for ’em.
For those unfamiliar with White Wolf’s Vampire universe, this game probably passed you by when it originally came out in 2004. It was a bit of a sleeper hit, even though the studio that created it actually went under. (Boo.) So, the mod community has taken it upon itself to fix the bugs and improve the game over the years.
Vampire: Bloodlines was — and still is — an exceptional story. Being able to roleplay as any Camarilla (Camarilla refers to the mainstream clans that yield to Masquerade and the vampire government) clan was ever so much fun. My favourite clan is the Malkavian, the insane vampires who speak in riddles, rhymes, and madness. I nicknamed my baby vamp Bloody Mary during my first playthrough.
Each clan specializes in a different skill-set. The Malkavians and Nosferatu (super ugmo vamps that would automatically trip the Masquerade if they were seen by humans) are great at blending into the shadows. Tremere are mages. Toreadors are highly charismatic and would rather spend their time enjoying the simple pleasures of life than worrying about politics. Now, theVentrue? They’re amazing at politics. Brujah are the punks and, you guessed it, bruisers. Gangrel are more animalistic than any of the other clans (not including the unplayable Sabbat clans), so they keep to themselves and run with wolves.
All that to say that the story changes and evolves to incorporate your skills and inherited clan marks. If you’re terrible with people — like Malkavians — then you won’t be able to talk your way into (and out of) situations. You’re stuck sneaking around. Or fighting. But remember, if you fight and drain your victims, you risk breaking Masquerade tradition and losing humanity.
The story is rich, multifaceted, and challenging. The atmosphere is unsettling, though it rarely veers directly into traditional horror tropes. Instead, it focuses on the humanity within the vampire clans and how you, as a freshly made vampire, can change everything from the inside out.
Bonus: Dead by Daylight
I’ve written extensively about my love of Dead by Daylight. This game will make you jump, shriek, swear, and curse your friendsas you try to escape a vicious serial killer… or hunt down your friends as one, instead. Asymmetrical multiplayer is a tricky beast to wrangle and Dead by Daylight does it very, very well. Montreal-based Behaviour Interactive created an experience that will leave you breathless from the thrill, without making you want to run screaming from the room.
Being a fraidy-cat when playing horror games is really difficult. Our stalwart horror friends are often amused at our jumps and terror. But now? Now, you have a list of horror games to refer to that are a bit lighter… because nightmares are bad.
(Original Post: The Daily Crate)