Halloween: Genuinely Creepy Games

There are lots of horror games out there, but horror doesn’t necessarily equate to scary or creepy; werewolves and vampires are too well-known to provide much if any lingering shock, and zombies, though they can be scary, aren’t scary because of what they are, but rather how they got that way, and how other characters react to them. Take Resident Evil’s zombies as an example; the dead walk, which would be a bit of a shock if you didn’t look at the cover of the game, but it doesn’t last. That the dead can actually move surprisingly fast, or are difficult to re-kill, or ambush you… that’s definitely a shock, but again it doesn’t last long after combat, aside from making you a little more paranoid about ambushes in future, which is something, at least. Why the dead walk is a lot scarier to think about, in this case, than that they’re walking towards you.
I suspect vampires and werewolves would be more frightening if humans showed a paranoid ‘it could be any of us’ reaction to them that lasted longer than however long it takes for the resident vampire/werewolf hunter to turn up. Oblivion almost makes it with one of its sidequests, but there’s hardly enough bloodshed, even if you’re ‘wrong’.

There aren’t many games out there that achieve genuine creepiness. Even less that I’ve played, as a lot of them don’t fall into genres I play often. I have, however, played a couple, and they’ve all stuck in my mind for various reasons. Naturally, to spoil these is to ruin these, so you’ll just have to take my descriptions and my word for it, and check them out yourself.

Knytt Stories, by nifflas (An Underwater Adventure, by nifflas)
An Underwater Adventure is one of nifflas’ official expansions, part of the A Strange Dream pack of levels. They’re all very well made, as you could expect from the person who created Knytt Stories, along with Knytt and Within a Deep Forest.
An Underwater Adventure is a distinctly different telling of how the world was saved from Dr. Cliche’s plan to freeze it solid, though anyone who played Within a Deep Forest beforehand will keep spotting tiny things reminding them of the original tale.
Best Played:
After playing A Strange Dream for practice. Within a Deep Forest isn’t necessary, but it can’t hurt, as that’s also a good game.

The John DeFoe series, by Yahtzee
The John DeFoe quartet, also known as the Ch’zo Mythos series of adventure games – I think that one sounds better – is comprised of 5 Days a Stranger, 7 Days a Skeptic, Trilby’s Notes, the three countdown text adventures (available on the 6 Days a Sacrifice page), and 6 Days a Sacrifice, in that order. It’s the only entry on this list that obviously set out to sit firmly in the horror genre from the very beginning. In my opinion, the best games are Trilby’s Notes and 6 Days a Sacrifice, but the first two games are still perfectly creepy by themselves.
Best Played:
Late at night, when you’re the only person around.

Yume Nikki
This one’s difficult to describe. Imagine you can almost dream lucidly; you remember everything about your dreams, and though you don’t have control over the dream itself, you feel as if you’re entirely awake, within that dream. Wouldn’t that be rather strange? Dreams and nightmares are half-digested fragments of reality and imagination, and we dream or nightmare every single night, rarely remembering it all once we’ve woken up.
Yume Nikki is another person’s dream; someone unfamiliar, whom we know next to nothing about.
Best Played:
In small doses… and, sadly, with Japanese language support. You need that as a minimum to get the thing running.

In general, AI are creepy, no matter where they appear, whether they’re on your side or not. ADA, SHODAN, GlaDOS, Durandal, Tycho, Leela, HK-47, C-3PO, Kryten… even if by some fluke they’re going right, there’s usually something unsettling about them; they’re far more intelligent than the meat talking to them, and the only thing keeping them from going insane is their programming. Far be it for a human to look at themselves in the same terms and notice they’re not too far different. Known AI, like robots, if they look or act human in any way, tend to fall within the uncanny valley.
That’s prejudice, for the most part, but insane AI is still creepier than sane AI, assuming the sane AI isn’t out to kill you anyway.
Best Played:
With cake, taking the time to really listen to everything GlaDOS says.

When people abruptly go missing… it’s right to worry about them, about whether they’re okay or not.
Best Played:
All in one sitting; go ahead, it’s short. Not as short as my description, but… anything else I could say would spoil it.

Immortal Defense
This game is absolutely amazing. It’s from the same people behind Missing, above; put very simply, it’s a ‘tower defense’-style game with a wonderful plot to it. You’re given reasons for what you do, above and beyond your points total.
Best Played:
Mission by mission… by mission… by mission… there are a lot of missions.

All the games on this list have something in common; whilst some of them may provide short shocks, they all left me with an unsettling feeling, and things to think about, that lasted long after I quit the game for the night. Much better than that pure adrenaline fight-or-flight reflex.