I love this time of year. We get to play dress up for an entire month and it isn’t weird, the leaves have started to change color, it’s getting cold (unless you’re like me and live in California where it’s still 80 degrees out), and the pumpkin-scented candles are aplenty. But as much as I love this season, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the thing I do not love is being scared. You will not catch me watching horror movies or reading ghost stories with the lights off (or really ever). And you certainly won’t catch me playing horror games, at least not voluntarily. That being said, I have a lot of friends who love their scary games, and who love forcing me to play them even more. So yes, I unfortunately do have a handful of recommendations for games to play this season if you’re the type of person who loves to never sleep again. From more traditional spectral haunts to sci-fi horror fests guaranteed to make you jump out of your skin, read on for a list of some real frights that you can buckle down with this spooky season!
The Mortuary Assistant
Let’s kick it off with the most obvious choice. Darkstone Digital’s terrifying horror sim The Mortuary Assistant came onto the scene in Fall of 2022 after scaring the bejesus out of gamers with its playable demo a few months earlier. You take on the role of Rebecca Owens, a recovering heroin addict who has just graduated from mortuary school and takes a job at a mortuary owned by one of her former teachers, Raymond Delver. Unfortunately, the mortuary happens to be under siege by demonic forces that latch onto Rebecca, and she is forced to uncover the identity of these entities during a night shift while embalming the dead.
You spend a shift going down your checklist to complete three embalmings, all the while being increasingly haunted and terrorized by demons, mimics, and horrific hallucinations. The goal is to identify the name of the demon terrorizing you, which of the three bodies it has bound itself to, and then burning it in the crematory. All before the demon can take possession of you and wreak havoc on the world. So, no pressure. As a former mortician myself, I was certainly curious about the game and if the in-game embalming mechanics would be accurate. Surprisingly, yeah, a lot of it (though not all) is pretty accurate.
What makes the game so terrifying is not even the jumpscare components. It’s the mimic that will appear just from the corner of your eye, or the figure standing in the window, or the dark hallway that flickers on and off. Horror doesn’t have to jump out at you with screams and violent images. It’s the quiet horror, the certainty that you are being watched, that makes this game so terrifying to play. So if solving some creepy puzzles while under the looming pressure of imminent demonic possessions sounds up your alley, definitely give this game a try.
If being jumped by a massive, nightmare-fueled alien zombie in a spaceship is your thing, then boy are you going to love Dead Space. Originally developed by EA, Dead Space launched a trilogy that set a standard for sci-fi horror in the late aughts and early 2010s, and the recent release of the original game’s remake has brought the franchise back to the forefront of gamers’ attention.
In the early 26th century, humans have expanded into the far reaches of space, mining the resources from barren planets to sustain themselves. Isaac Clarke, an engineer and miner by trade, finds himself about the USG Ishimura, a large mining ship that has gone radio silent following an illegal mining operation. Aboard the ship, Isaac is horrified to discover the monstrous and deformed necromorphs, a genetically mutated life form that kills and takes over their victims. Which, of course, means terrifying humanoid alien zombies that seek to eviscerate you at every turn.
This is definitely more of a jumpscare kind of game. Necromorphs give me the chills, and there’s the fact that literally nowhere is safe from them. You could be walking down a hallway, and suddenly you’re jumped by 5 of them from around a corner or from a ceiling vent you didn’t even know was there (I now have trust issues with every vent in my apartment). Sci-fi horror is often overlooked during spooky season, so if jumpscare monster horror is your thing, then so is Dead Space.
If you want to do scares with the whole family, then Black Flag Studios’ Fear Therapy is a great place to start. There isn’t really a central plot to this game; you and up to 3 other friends are dropped into a haunted house with, of course, no lights whatsoever, and you must acquire a number of spiritual objects and conduct a ritual to cleanse the home before you run out of time. As you search the house, you will be randomly accosted by various spectral forces, including a demon nun, a zombie bride, and a demon dude with a freaky-looking tongue, to name a few.
The jumpscares in this game seem sporadic and can happen at random, so if you’re easily jumpscared (like myself) then this game may be the source of a lot of anxiety. But it’s a fun experience if you’re playing with a group of friends who know what they’re doing, and can lead the way while you cower in a corner after your battery has run out. All-in-all, it’s definitely worth checking out if you can get a group together. Just maybe keep the lights on.
Arguably one of the greatest narrative games to come out of the 2000s, 2K’s Bioshock launched a franchise that shook the industry and forced players to reckon with some really big concepts. And some really terrifying monsters that we’re still thinking about nearly 20 years later.
You take on the role of Jack, the lone survivor of a plane crash into the middle of the ocean, and following these events discover the underwater city of Rapture. Founded by business mogul Adam Ryan, Rapture was branded as a utopia to which all were welcome, as an alternative to the restrictive and oppressive lives on land. Of course, exploring Rapture reveals that that promised utopia is nothing more than a guise for more sinister motives, and Jack must fight through waves of mutated humans called splicers, and the enslaved Little Sisters to uncover the truth of what fuels Rapture.
There is obviously plenty of traditional horror in this game, with the horrific enemies you face and the dark, foreboding setting that is Rapture. But the true horror of the game comes with its shocking twist that forces a level of introspection that we would never normally consider, and the consequences of our choices. Even on the 10th playthrough, Bioshock continues to live up to its heritage, and it’s always great to see new players step into the world of Rapture and discover the true depths of the depravity of Man.
The Last of Us
There are no shortages of zombie video games out there. If you’re looking for a classic zombie shooter, keep going, because you shan’t find it here. Because while you will find monsters, those are not the ones that you need to fear; it’s the people, both the ones you fight and the ones you embody as the player.
The story takes place in an alternate timeline where a mutated strain of the cordyceps fungus begins infecting humans, causing them to turn into mindless, flesh-eating monsters. Civilization is wiped out and our story begins 20 years after the outbreak, where we step into the shoes of a smuggler named Joel, who still hasn’t recovered from the shocking and sudden death of his daughter at the onset of the outbreak. He is tasked with escorting a 14-year-old potty-mouthed girl named Ellie across the country to be examined, since it is revealed that she is immune to the cordyceps infection.
The Last of Us is one of my favorite games, and arguably one of the greatest games ever made. While it does embody many of the traditional aspects of the horror genre with the nightmare-fueled clickers in all their forms, it’s the humans, the non-infected perfectly healthy humans, that instill the greatest fear. The game is a lens into the devolution of morality, and how far humans are willing to go to survive. And what makes the game truly horrifying is knowing that the most evil things that happen, are things that could easily happen today if we aren’t careful. That’s certainly a good enough reason to sleep with the light on these days.