We love Halloween. From the general sense of dread to the costumes and the fun of horror games and entertainment, we’re big fans of the spooky season. So with Halloween fast approaching, we at the Goonhammer offices figured we’d take a few minutes to talk about some of our favorite horror games, regardless of format.
Michael “Mugginns” O
As a superfan of the Romero zombie series, I watched the CMON Kickstarter for Night of the Living Dead Zombicide with huge interest. I had bought and played Zombicide 1st Edition when it came out but got swamped with all the extras and exclusives and eventually sold mine. NotLDZ works great for an easy pick-up-and-play board game with family / friends who may not usually do board games. It’s not too simplified, but doesn’t have some of the Noise mechanics etc that make main Zombicide games a little more dense.
I played with my kids who are six and nine and they loved boarding up the house, protecting each other from the zombies, and gathering up all the weapons etc. I’m a huge fan of this and I think it definitely carries the theme of the movie well. It also doesn’t require any extra purchases or exclusives, it’s standalone.
Midnight Party (designed by Wolfgang Kramer) has gone through more title incarnations than a focused, non-terminal, repeating phantasm (or a class-five full-roaming vapor): Ghost Party, Hugo, and most recently Escape from the Hidden Castle (which, quite frankly, buries the lede). Thankfully the core gameplay remains the same: a fast and fun roll-and-move game of tag. And the goal isn’t to bust ghosts, but to avoid a largely benevolent one named Hugo.
In all versions the board depicts an overhead view of the castle in three “rings.” The outer ring is a series of 12 accessible rooms, the middle ring is a series of gallery (aka hallway) spaces, and the center is the cellar and stairs leading up to the gallery spaces. Players start in hallway spaces with their player pawns, one per space. Hugo starts in the cellar. Each turn players roll the die and move one of their pawns the corresponding number of spaces clockwise around the hallway. If you roll Ghostface (on the die), Hugo moves three spaces.
Cellar Hugo bars players from entering rooms. Once he fully ascends to Hallway Hugo status, players can enter rooms by exact count on die rolls, and eject anyone in the room to the immediate hallway space, where they are open season for Hugo.
Hallway Hugo banishes any player pieces he lands on or passed down to the cellar, which nets players penalty points. Rooms are a pawn’s only safe haven from Hugo and cellar banishment. Players in the cellar can reenter the hallway fray and the game continues until a player hits 46 penalty points – which can happen quickly with larger player counts and possible Hugo rolls every turn gobbling up hallway spaces. And because Hugo’s movement value increases every time he makes a lap around the hallway.
While the game is aimed for younger audiences there’s enough chaotic fast fun for grown-ups. This haunted castle is not filled with the screams of the damned, but with the moans and groans of players at the table as their best laid plans vaporize with a bad-luck Hugo hallway encounter. And the game is also available to play digitally via Board Game Arena, making for one of the better fillers and party game-style games for up to eight players.
I also like the game because it retains an innocent benevolence – Goosebumps-styled horror where no one perishes. Hugo’s as friendly as Casper. Players aren’t fleeing the supernatural out of survival but a sense of play: according to the rules you have been invited to Hugo’s birthday for a castle-wide game of hide and seek, his favorite game. Midnight Party’s rule book opens with “You are invited to a spooky celebration.” And the G-rated fun and haphazard mayhem of rolling dice and hoping against hope that you won’t get tagged by Hugo is exactly that: a thematic celebration. Playing Midnight Party is like a memory of that homemade ghost costume you made from a bedsheet, and it feels like the good-natured Halloween party with friends that it depicts.
Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
I don’t play as many horror games these days as I used to – I tend to watch them played by others more now – but the 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 was as close to a perfect update of an all-time favorite for me as it comes. Sure, the game drags a bit once you leave the police station but those opening hours navigating zombie-infested halls and dodging Mr. X are an absolute treat and were worth sitting down and playing for myself. Resident Evil 2 is still my favorite game in the series – I’m not nearly as big a fan of the action-focused twist later games took – and this remake of it is everything I wanted.
For those of you who want to play the other side of the equation, I’d also second Jon Bernhardt’s recommendation on Carrion, a Metroidvania-style game where you basically get to play as The Thing. It’s gross as hell and it rules.
Marc “Ilor” Renouf
It’s a modified take on a venerable classic, but Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is one of my favorite horror games. I love co-op board games in general, and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu neatly combines the creeping dread that the Pandemic system uses for escalating the tension with a couple of nice thematic touches that really clinch the horror feel of the Cthulhu mythos. Chief among these is the effect of your character’s Sanity as a limited currency. Like, yes, you can probably defeat that Shoggoth that a bunch of cultists just summoned – but it’s going to cost you something. This is an aspect of the game that’s not present in the base Pandemic game (where your character is unalterable), and the fact that your archetype’s bonus ability changes once you’ve completely lost your marbles is a fantastic touch. And every so often it’s actually in your best interest to become a nutter.
The other thing I like about it is that it’s noticeably more difficult (or perhaps noticeably less forgiving) than the base Pandemic experience. Whereas in the original game our regular group has a win rate of maybe 2-in-3, in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu it’s closer to 1-in-3. You really have to work together if you’re going to come out victorious. If you’ve ever played some of the Pandemic expansions, the Cthulhu variant feels a lot like the “Virulent Strain” version in its degree of difficulty. It may seem strange to recommend a game that we lose more often that we win, but it feels like every game is right at that razor’s edge of “I think we can pull this off!” which is exactly the experience I want from a game, win or lose.
So if you like co-op board games and Mythos hijinks, definitely give this one a try!
I didn’t get into horror in general until I was far older, spending my first decade years on this rock pretty much scared of everything and anything (thanks Autism, overly-enthusiastic neighbours on Halloween, a far too early viewing of Killer Klowns!), so when I finally developed a taste for the genre a large part of it was going back and rediscovering what I’d been missing all that time.
Silent Hill 2 was one of the first I stumbled into during this blind era of exploration and absolutely clicked me on to its brand of moody psychological atmospheric terror immediately. Unfortunately I didn’t own a PS2 at the time, I was a Nintendo dork firmly at this point, so each session with the game was done at sleepovers at the friend who owned it who didn’t much care for the game for it being too slow and a bunch of 2000’s pejoratives I hope to god he’s grown out of.
I honestly can’t really figure what to say about the game that hasn’t been beaten into the ground by every reviewer since its release, the game is a masterpiece. A tale of trauma and guilt so multifaceted that people are still vigorously examining and debating its meaning right down to the smallest scraps of dialogue and incidental detail. It’s one of those games where its many flaws (awful controls, tedious puzzles, the trainwreck that was the HD re-release) are utterly drowned by the raw experience.
Talking about this game to those who haven’t played it is a nightmare for fear of ruining the aforementioned experience with over-hype, but at this point the game’s legacy speaks for itself. The iconic Pyramid Head has transcended it’s brief but important appearances in SH2 to become a mascot for the series, for better or worse (Probably my favourite Dead By Daylight killer however, pew pew barbed wire lasers) and the game’s influence can be felt in many modern Survival Horror developers (again, for better or worse, god The Medium sucked). Just go play it, or find a commentary-less Longplay and settle in for a hell of a time.
Drew “PantsOptional” Tatro
I have a complicated relationship history with ghosts. When I was a young boy I loved all those dumb books listing the most haunted places in the world; I think I checked out World of the Unknown: Ghosts for about a month straight from the school library. More specifically, like so many my age I absolutely loved Ghostbusters even though I was way too young for it. Unfortunately, I also had a hyperactive imagination that led to at least two instances of “ghost sightings” (probably half-awake nightmares) and that imagination problem sometimes even persists today if I consume too creepy of media too late at night. Reading all of Junji Ito’s works in a week damn near killed me.
What I’m saying here is that Phasmophobia is basically made for me; this game is the closest I’ve come to peeing myself without copious application of Malört. This Windows-only game was a surprise hit of 2020 mostly thanks to its immense popularity on Twitch and spent weeks at the top of the Steam sales charts as a result. Technically there’s a bit of a story about being the scouting party for an exorcism team, but really it’s more or less a game of Clue built around a sim of one of those ghost hunters shows. Your team buys a bunch of ghost detection gear and ventures into a location to try to find clues as to what type of ghost is haunting the place. In the meantime, the spirit grows restless and scares the bejesus out of you by whispering in your ear, turning out the lights, or manifesting briefly and gruesomely until it eventually locks you in and starts hunting you with murderous intent (usually while one teammate hides in the van like a Coward). The truly innovative thing about the game is that the ghost is always listening to you, and it both reacts to you and adjusts its behavior based on the things that you say.
Phasmophobia is still in early access and up until recently was a single-person endeavor, so you can expect some glitches and bugs from time to time but it’s also constantly keeping it fresh by adding new content like different types of ghosts, clues, and locations. Get your friends together, goof around trying to get a ghost to show itself, and then scream-cry when it finally does.
After 300 hours of gameplay, I still love Dead by Daylight. It’s an excellent asymmetrical 4-versus-1 competitive game. When you first start playing it you will have the most terrifying 10 hours of horror gameplay in your life. I guarantee it. As one of four survivors you are nearly powerless against the player assigned to the Killer role. You can’t hurt them, they walk faster than you run and their sole objective is to see you dead before the game ends.
It’s pretty rare for a game to pit you against a human opponent whom you cannot kill or defeat, as usually it’s a fair fight in competitive multiplayer games. However, there’s nothing more genuinely terrifying than being chased by someone faster than you who isn’t limited to set patrol routes or has an easily exploited AI (well, I can’t speak for everyone who plays this game, I suppose…).
The beauty of this game is that you slowly transition from the exquisite experience of helpless terror through to understanding more and more of the mechanics and engaging with how the perks change both your gameplay and that of your opponent(s). So much of the higher levels of play is founded on making decisions based on the limited information you have regarding the game state (depending on which perks you might have) and your assumptions regarding what information other players (not just the Killer but fellow Survivors) have or don’t have. Having four perk slots to combine effects tickles my wargamer ‘ruthless optimisation’ urges, as well as appreciating the opportunity to goof off with ‘meme-builds’.
For those of you hungry for a little power-fantasy/professional griefing, the Killer role is also very rewarding. There’s nothing more satisfying than out-playing a cheeky survivor who made the wrong assumptions about your perk setup and overextending, before you drink in their misery when you corner them and go in for that final brutal swing of your rusty chainsaw…
Arkham Horror is a co-op board game about failing to defeat one of the great old ones as they arise. It features a board where you wander from point to point, gathering equipment and spells, fighting monsters, and trying to figure out and battle whichever one of the great old ones is arising.
It is pretty successful, as witnessed by the large number of expansions on offer. You can include Innsmouth and battle deep ones, or go toe to toe with the Dunwich Horror.
Rob “Vre’kais” Chilton
So I’m not sure this was meant to be a “horror game” but it’s a game that scared the shit out of me: Small Soldiers on the Playstation One. For some reasons unknown to 8 year-old me this game uses the backstory of the characters from the film, and isn’t really a tie-in with the film at all. It’s the story of the toy range within the film presented as if it was real. They’re not even toys. I wasn’t prepared for this. Combined with almost no explanation on what I was meant to be doing that I could understand at the time, and just enough memory for all the expansive levels to fade out to black. Then to cap off this nightmare fuel experience is the sound track. Which sounds like it would accompany being poked into a volcano as a sacrifice just as well as it did this game. Trying to distinguish the sounds of enemy attack from just the background music really added to the experience.
Darkest Dungeon is only aesthetically a horror game; it borrows from the traditions of Lovecraft and his later imitators (quite broadly at times; the leper king Baldwin IV of Jerusalem is in the game as a class, and that Leper is one of the games more memorable bits of visual flair) but there are very few jump scares or existential bits of dread in the game itself, and when they do appear, they’re very campy. The narrator (“The Ancestor”) voiced by Wayne June is probably the single most recognizable aspect of the game, and that character is simply a bombastic old man dead by suicide issuing grand pronouncements. No, rather than the formal accoutrements of the genre as it appears in novels, television, and film, Darkest Dungeon is defined by the tension and increasing anxieties of resource scarcity and diminishing returns. It is a game featuring an absolutely punishing RNG backbone and a plethora of trap options (that very same Leper is one of the worst character classes in the game in high level play, despite how cool he is in the art and the concept) that will grind you down and destroy you if you don’t engage on it at a level higher than the one implied by “campy Lovecraft chill vibes.” It is absolutely worth the engagement if you can put up with the game’s nonsense, however — just be forewarned: the nonsense is constant. The sequel is out in Early Access, and we’ll likely be taking a look at it over the coming weeks.
Dead Space, if you’re a fan of horror video games this franchise should not be unfamiliar to you, however if you’ve come by the genre more recently then this really is a must play. While not as celebrated as more venerable series like Resident Evil or Silent Hill this is still the torch bearer that all future sci-fi horror should be held to. Best defined as a combination of all the best parts of The Thing, Event Horizon, and Resident Evil 4 the original Dead Space hit the internet hype train strong in 2008 with this fantastic mood setting trailer showcasing clips of frantic violence interspersed with a chilling rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Needless to say the game itself did not disappoint as you take control of Isaac Clarke as he navigates his way through the horrors that have overtaken the mining ship the USG Ishimura. The titular monstrosities of the series are the Necromorphs, truly grotesque takes on the zombie trope, humans that have been mutated and recombined into numerous different fashions by a mysterious alien artifact known as The Marker for reasons that are spelled out slowly over the course of the series.
Unfortunately for the franchise it fell victim to its own success, going from incredibly popular upon release in 2008, spawning movies, comics, side games, and two direct sequels to be utterly abandoned by the end of 2013. And with this point it is worth bringing up that the story of Dead Space The Series highlights the most horrifying monster of all! Surprise its Capitalism! That being said, it still has one of the most unique stories of any horror game, and while the third installment failed to live up to the standard set by Dead Space 1 and 2, it is worth playing from start to finish. If you like Warhammer 40K for its bleak and grimdark setting then Dead Space should be right up your alley. Do it before EA releases the reboot!
Have any questions or comments? Want to share your own favorite horror game? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at email@example.com.