Horror games have had something of a resurgence over the past few years. Outlast arguably kicked off a revival of the weaponless survival subgenre made famous by Clock Tower, to name one prominent example, while our dearly departed P.T. arguably inspired developers everywhere to make an earnest return to psychological fear. There’s so much out there to play and experience, there’s no way to have played them all.
While they’re not all winners, the industry hasn’t seen this many new entries into the genre since the golden age of survival horror. But for every prominently placed Alien Isolation or Until Dawn, there are a number of titles from horror game’s rich past that you probably haven’t played. And though you can — and should — enjoy scary games all year, October is the perfect time to dive into something horrifyingly new. (With the lights off, obviously.)
If you’ve ever thought weaponless survival horror was missing a furry friend — or you thought Leon’s wolf pal should’ve stuck around after occupying El Gigante’s attention in Resident Evil 4 — Haunting Ground is your game. Ostensibly a spiritual successor to Clock Tower (with a White Shepherd), it places you in the boots of Fiona, a young girl trapped in a strange European castle populated by, you guessed it, unkillable enemies attempting to murder her.
Much like the would-be survivors of Scissorman, Fiona is able to run, evade or hide from her pursuers, at least up to a point. But the main draw is undeniably Fiona’s relationship with Huey, Fiona’s canine companion who will attack enemies, investigate areas, and sniff out items needed to progress on command. However, if you’re interested in picking up this relatively rare PS2 game — which has never seen an easy digital release of any kind — be ready to spend upwards of $100 on eBay. Still, if this 2005 hidden gem is your kind of thing, its definitely special.
If you’re into horror games, Swery65’s weird, funny and even surprisingly emotional Deadly Premonition is one you may have already heard about. Whether you’ve played it is perhaps another matter, but you should, even if its Dreamcast-esque graphics and gameplay, not to mention its niche reputation as a Japanese Twin Peaks analogue, has kept its appeal fairly niche.
The plot will sound familiar for Lynch fans: An eccentric FBI agent is dispatched to a small town in the Pacific Northwest to investigate the grisly murder of a young girl. There are myriad similarities, both in agent Francis York Morgan (please, just call him York) and the cast of weirdos who reside in this seemingly normal town, but after about five or six hours of what feels like a spooky, comedic homage to Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition veers off in a wildly different, and often horrifying, direction all its own.
In a post-RE4 world, the gameplay may seem at times incredibly rough around the edges — particularly in the hilariously low-grade driving segments throughout the game’s open world — don’t let it scare you away. The sophistication and depth of the writing all but guarantees that you’ll grow to care about the cast over the course of the 20-some hours it takes to finish the game, and the script itself is one you’ll not easily forget. A true diamond in the rough.
Shadows of the Damned
Shadows of the Damned is included on here as a kind of caveat. Like Deadly Premonition, it’s not the easiest game to play, although Shinji Mikami and Grasshopper clearly worked quite hard to bring some level of cohesion to what was in reality a very troubled project for Suda51 and his team, and they did a fine job. Violent and gory as hell, absolutely, but you’ll be too busy giggling most of the time at the unbridled idiocy of meathead demon hunter Garcia Hotspur and his slightly stiffer-upper lip sidekick Johnson to ever get scared, especially with the endless avalanche of dick jokes the game has on hand.
This is horror at it’s absolute most puerile, run through the filter of weird that’s become Grasshopper’s trademark. But for all of its squishy RE4-style gunplay, a design choice EA insisted on, it’s the endlessly entertaining script that will keep you coming back for more. (One brilliant recurring joke, and an example of Shadows off-kilter humor, is that not-too-bright Garcia has trouble reading the Grimm-style picture books found throughout the game. It never gets old.)
Throw in what is easily Akira Yamaoka’s best soundtrack outside of his Silent Hill ouvre and you’ve got a game that, while not quite great, is somehow more than the sum of its parts.
Cursed Mountain deserves a lot of credit. First off, it’s a real survival horror game for the Wii. Secondly, it borrows from spiritual ideas found in Buddhism and Tibetan folklore. The 1980s-set story follows Eric Simmons, a climber who must ascend the titular cursed mountain — a peak in the Himalayas steeped in legend, and the site of Eric’s brother’s disappearance.
Eric soon discovers the abandoned villages on the mountain have been overrun with vengeful spirits; in order to quell them he learns to use the “Third Eye,” a mystical concept found in various Eastern religions that essentially functions as a gateway to higher consciousness, allowing him to see and purify ghosts wandering the spirit realm, adding an interesting cultural wrinkle to the survival horror design.
The other great — and highly underrated — aspect of Cursed Mountain is its sheer atmosphere. Few games in the genre take the opportunity to revel in oppressive silence, or have such a dreamlike, ethereal presence, to the point where it almost feels hard to find to physically nail it down in your mind. Even the Wii controls are surprisingly good. If you’re looking for an eerie, Eastern ghost story that isn’t strictly in the style of Fatal Frame, this is worth tracking down.
The last of the late master Kenji Eno’s bizarre ‘90s-era titles, D2 is one that you shouldn’t know too much about before playing it. True to Eno’s form, it’s an abstract genre mashup design, even for the innovation-pushing Dreamcast. Trapped in the Canadian wilderness, you explore the world in typical third-person survival horror fashion, only with RPG random battles where you must kill enemies in first person. There are also survival elements in that the heroine Laura must kill animals for food, as well as the ability to take pictures at any time, which seems like something straight out of Shenmue.
It’s also probably about as close as games have gotten to including tentacle porn in a game localized for Western audiences, which, given the inclusion of rampaging, almost Carpenter-esque aliens, is already pretty disturbed. Eno was one of kind, and D2 is absolute proof he is gone too soon.
Rule of Rose
Rule of Rose isn’t a game with an easy-to-explain plot. Essentially, it follows a young woman who’s been abandoned at a weird orphanage that is in thrall of a group of young girls who have dubbed themselves the Order of the Red Crayon — a body that you must appease in any number of bizarre and horrific ways, like a psychotic group of orphan children doing Lord of the Flies. (Surprise, there’s a dog pal that helps you out here as well.)
If you like the kind of psychological horror that comes from disturbed minds toying with others, you’ll be into this, though it’s another one you shouldn’t read too much about beforehand. As one of the last games of survival horror’s era — released at the end of the PS2’s lifecycle in 2006 — it had also an extremely limited release and is easily the rarest title on this list; copies online can fetch upwards of $300, so consider this a real commitment.
Photos via Capcom, Rising Star Games, EA, Grasshopper Manufacture, Deep Silver, Atlus