Halloween is the best day of the year. Sure, you may not get any presents, and no one's gonna sing you your very own song and make you blow out a bunch of candles, but equal parts trick and treat make for one hell of a good time.
Everyone celebrates differently, too. Some go out and lose their minds, some marathon scary movies and eat candy until their eyes and teeth fall out, but allow me to humbly recommend some TV game fodder for relentlessly frightful quality time with a controller in your hand.
In no particular order, here are a handful of spooky games from all generations that, in my mind, perfectly encapsulate the season. While this is by no means a definitive list, I promise not to take the easy way out and just recommend "the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series." You may have to dust off some older consoles if you plan on tackling the full list, but I don't think you've got the guts to play 'em all!
Or do you?
Resident Evil (Gamecube, 2003)
No, the series hasn't been about survival horror for quite some time. This GameCube remake of the original Resident Evil, however, is polished perfection. It's equal parts scary and gorgeous, but is far from a simple update of the PlayStation title with better graphics. The REmake also featured new areas, with brand new horrors to be discovered. There's a cabin scene in particular that had me on edge, and it really reinforces the goldmine Capcom busted open when the series debuted in 1996.
Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2, 2001)
Silent Hill is a great series, one that most will agree peaked with Silent Hill 2. Konami fully realized horror gaming's potential when it released the sequel in 2001, marking the introduction of the notorious Pyramid Head into the psychological scarefest. Who could possibly forget something as emotionally traumatizing as this?
Pyramid Head has become somewhat of a series mainstay since SH2, but without the context of James Sunderland's story and psyche, his presence is cheapened. This remains the best Silent Hill game.
Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16, 1990)
Namco's Splatterhouse may have originated in Japanese arcades in 1988, but I'll always remember the TurboGrafx-16 port as one of the grodiest console experiences of all time. It's not the most elegant of games, but there's something viscerally satisfying about it nonetheless. Did I mention it's absurdly grody? Here, allow the Famicom box art for the more lighthearted Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (1989) to cleanse your palate.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot (Xbox 360/PS3, 2008)
In my opinion, Sega's Condemned series is still criminally overlooked. The second entry, Bloodshot, contains one of the most legitimately terrifying sequences I've ever experienced, and I think the statute of spoiler limitations has long since expired on it. Thus, I have two words for you: RABID BEAR.
As much as I wanted to embed a YouTube video of the infamous bear chase sequence, they're all pretty poorly captured or consist of someone's whiny voiceover. Condemned 2 can be picked up on the cheap now, though, so I highly recommend you run out and give it a shot if you haven't already. Excellent game.
Clock Tower (Super Famicom, 1995)
Pretty much all you need to know about the first entry in Human Entertainment's Clock Tower series can be discovered by watching Shinya Arino play it on Retro Game Master (AKA Game Center CX). For a Super Nintendo title it's pretty intimidating, both in terms of visuals and audio. There have been numerous followups to the original, but something about those 16-bit graphics is especially foreboding. The point-and-click adventure's many "Dead Ends" speak for themselves.
Friday the 13th (NES, 1989)
Say what you will about the power of frights on older consoles, but Friday the 13th delivered at the time. It was one thing to roam the woods in the sidescrolling sections—not too stressful or scary—but once you entered a building and switched to first-person, knowing Jason could pop up at any time… forget about it.
Sweet Home (Famicom, 1989)
It's a shame we never got to experience Sweet Home in North America. In an atypical creative move Capcom created an RPG, complete with random, turn-based battles, and still managed to serve it up as chief inspiration for Resident Evil. There's a ROM hack out there with English subtitles if you're feeling particularly bold… but be warned, gruesome death sequences like the following await!
Sweet Home also defies the rule that all licensed movie adaptations are terrible.
Dead Space (Xbox 360/PS3/PC, 2008)
Dead Space 2 is great, but as is the case with many sequels, it's more action and less palm-sweating terror. When ammo is plentiful, anxiety tends to fly right out the window. See also: Dino Crisis 2 (which I love dearly, but is far from scary).
The first Dead Space is genuinely frightening from beginning to end… but mostly in the beginning, when those mangled monsters are completely foreign and you still haven't mastered slicing off limbs accurately. Like most horror set in space, Dead Space commands the crushing power of claustrophobic, tight corridors and many unexpected jump scares. Also, pulsating, putrid beasts like this Leviathan boss:
Siren: Blood Curse (PlayStation 3, 2008)
Blood Curse reimagined the original Siren survival horror game when it was released as downloadable chapters in the PlayStation Store in 2008. Intersecting stories involving different playable characters combine with the unique "sightjack" system to make for a stealthy and spooky horror experience like no other.
Beyond the Forbidden Forest (Commodore 64, 1985)
I don't know why, but pretty much everything about Paul Norman's sequel to Forbidden Forest scares the pants off of me. Oh wait, I totally know why! That bassy C64 music, those horrifying creatures and, lest we forget, the myriad ways to DIE. Yes, it's totally the sound that makes this nightmare material:
There are, of course, many, many more great horror games out there—from Fatal Frame to Left 4 Dead and beyond—and gamers will always crave frights from their franchises. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!