The Return of VGBlogger’s Halloween Indie Game Spooktacular

Happy_Halloween

Happy Halloween and welcome to our second annual Indie Game Spooktacular, a gathering of some of our favorite games of terror. So if you’re searching for a good video game scare tonight, hopefully we can help point you in the right direction. And if nothing here pops out at you, be sure to check out our Halloween game guide from last year for even more spooky-game recommendations. Most if not all of these games are discounted as part of the Steam Halloween sale through the weekend, so now’s as good a time as any to stock up on the latest and greatest in video game horror.

The Park:
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Horror games typically take place in settings like foggy forests, haunted schools, dilapidated asylums, and abandoned factories, but man, I’m not sure if there’s a spookier locale than an amusement park. Think about. Amusement parks are places of childhood joy and recreation, but when viewed through a dark lens suddenly the charming music, smiley clowns, cute mascots, and fun rides turn super-creepy. That super-creepy carnival-from-hell vibe is exactly what fuels the chills in The Park, an Unreal Engine 4 psychological thriller set in the universe of Funcom’s The Secret World MMORPG (which admittedly I’ve never played). The Park is a work of interactive short fiction that starts out simply enough, with you assuming first-person control of a mother chasing after her young son who has run off to find his lost teddy bear in Atlantic Island Park. Through well-acted narration and effective use of audiovisual cues, like hallucinations, edge-of-screen vibrations, and sound distortions, it doesn’t take long to realize that the mental state of the protagonist has gone off the tracks and there is a whole lot more to this tale lurking beneath the surface. You can left-click to interact with certain objects and right-click to call out to your son as a tension-building navigation mechanic, but that’s where the interactions end as there aren’t puzzles or anything like that to impede the narrative pacing. This is a short exploratory adventure along the same lines as titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home (what the kids these days call the “walking simulator”), taking no more than two hours if you visit all of the attractions and find/read all of the collectible notes fleshing out the park’s dark history. It may be short and lacking in replay, but thanks to rich atmosphere and compelling character development The Park is a single-sitting narrative rollercoaster worth taking for a ride.

Masochisia:
Masochisia

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: this game is seriously fucked up. Masochisia is a horror game in the truest sense. It doesn’t deal in cheap jump scares or creepy monsters, but rather issues of child/domestic abuse and mental illness, all wrapped around events that are inspired by the true story of an American serial killer. Now those are what I call real horrors. The game itself is what I would describe as a pseudo visual novel in the format of a point-and-click adventure. Exploration occurs by scrolling each 2D scene left or right and clicking arrow indicators to change areas. There is some light puzzle-solving to be found, but the core of the game revolves around engaging in conversation and making dialogue choices to progress the story. If you are at all squeamish or have battled your own demons of anxiety or mental illness, this game may be very hard to take. Hell, my stomach turned during the kill scenes, and they don’t even show anything; the screen goes completely black and you just hear what’s happening behind a veil of darkness. Even though I couldn’t see anything, these moments made me turn away and attempt to un-hear the grisly sounds of gore and murder. Dealing in meaningful, mature subject matter instead of the usual horror tropes, Masochisia is the type of game that really sticks in your head. And the mind fuck only continues when you’re away from the game as you may just find period text notes from a “friend” waiting on your desktop after quitting out. Now that’s freaky.

Malebolgia:
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By now you’ve probably heard the buzz about this game being a sort of indie Dark Souls, and that description is pretty accurate. Malebolgia has all the requisite characteristics of a Souls experience–the cryptic storytelling, the challenging difficulty (yes, you will die a lot!), the boss battles (yes, even ones where you have to contend with multiple targets at the same damn time!), the read-and-react style of combat based around pattern recognition and evasion, and the terrorizing enemy ambushes (statues unexpectedly coming to life and that type of thing). Except the difference here is the replacement of fantasy role-playing elements for more of a gothic-horror flavor, as well as a greater emphasis on exploration over action. You won’t be advancing character stats or finding new weapons and armor, just absorbing the distinct cel-shaded visuals which create an atmosphere that sparsely detailed yet dark and thick and tense. It’s a bit clunky in terms of animation and control response, but the methodical pacing, demonic enemies, challenging combat encounters, and labyrinthine haunted palace from hell setting really sets this game apart from all the other horror games.

Stairs:
Stairs

This one’s a first-person horror exploration game that feels like it’s trying to carve out its own identity somewhere between Outlast and Amnesia. It doesn’t quite achieve the instant-classic status of those games, and it is a little rough around the edges, but it’s definitely an engaging experience with some creepy moments and eerie atmospheric touches that will give you goose pimples and make your hair stand on end. It’s also one of those games with a deeper message where everything is not as it seems on the surface–I didn’t even catch the full scope of the story until reading a synopsis from the developer on the Steam community boards! Playing as a journalist investigating a series of missing persons cases, you explore dimly-lit locales while using a camera to photograph crime scene clues, collecting journal notes to gather background information, and running from danger. There is no combat in the game, but there are things that will kill you if you linger or attract attention. The camera also becomes a nifty puzzle-solving device of sorts, used as a night vision source for pitch black environs, to reveal hidden messages and otherwise invisible doorways and switches, and for some clever picture teleportation puzzles towards the end. The game doesn’t attempt many in your face freak-outs but does a good job of using mind games to keep you on edge not knowing what to expect around the corner, so that when the few jump scares do occur they really deliver. The game sure made me jump a couple times. Once I flinched so hard that I flopped my mouse in the air and lost all sense of direction on where I was going!

The Charnel House Trilogy:
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The Charnel House Trilogy is a bite-sized retro horror story that unfolds over three acts like a moody stage play adapted into a really great low-fi point-and-click adventure that you’ll surely dig if you’ve played and enjoyed The Last Door or Wadjet Eye games like The Blackwell saga. The music, sound effects, and pixel art create a level of atmospheric depth and immersion that defies the old-school design, and the story shines through thanks to solid writing and voice acting performances. Some dopey adventure-game logic aside–why am I using a dog figurine to jimmy open a stuck cabinet?–the only downside here is the fact that the game is more of a prologue teaser for a fully fleshed out Charnel House adventure planned for next year, so it ends too soon and leaves you craving for more. That you’ll want more is a very good thing though.

The Coma: Cutting Class:
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Set in a Korean high school immediately following the suicide of a student on campus, you play as a young student who falls asleep during exams only to wake up alone at night, the school abandoned and completely pitch black. Stalked by a box cutter-wielding teacher gone mad and possessed students now twisted into death-seeking terrors, you must roam the dark hallways while scavenging for supplies to keep health and stamina up (inventory management becomes more and more important as you go) and collecting notes in an effort to piece together the mystery of this schoolhouse nightmare. The game isn’t exactly scary, but rather more of a suspenseful cat-and-mouse style of stealth horror experience in which combat isn’t an option. Instead, you need to listen out for footsteps and other noises signaling danger so you know when to shut your flashlight off and turn the other direction. Should you be spotted, your only recourse is to run away and find a cabinet or bathroom stall to hide in until the coast is clear. Interestingly, the school is set up almost like a Metroidvania, a sprawling map you’ll trek back and forth across as you find keys to access locked doors and ways to get around blocked hallways. It’s good to keep a mental note of rooms with hiding places and blank blackboards (these are the save points) as you never know when danger will strike. The Coma’s unique Korean manga-style take on survival-horror is not to be missed.

Crypt of the NecroDancer:
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Rocking a brilliant “why didn’t someone think of this before?” gameplay hook, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a rogue-like with an absolutely genius beat-matching twist. At a glance it appears to be like any other rogue-like dungeon crawl: you guide your hero one grid square at a time deeper and deeper into a dark dungeon and slay all manner of beasties (bats, skeletons, zombies, slimes, and dragons, oh my!) while looting treasure and equipping new gear to (hopefully) make survival easier. Of course there’s permadeath, plus a persistent unlock system that allows you to use currency to buy permanent upgrades as well as more powerful weapons and armor to appear in treasure chests on future runs. Treasure does not carry over between runs, though, so whatever’s left in your loot stash goes in the trash once you return to the dungeon of dancing and death. Yes, I said dancing. You see, moving through the dungeon is all based on rhythmically timed key presses to the music (the game’s or your own MP3s), a coin multiplier building as you boogie across the dungeon dance floor without missing a beat. Enemy movement and attack patterns are also synched to the music, so in addition to pitch-perfect timing you have to carefully study patterns so you can avoid damage and know precisely when to bust a groove on an approaching enemy. Which is a whole lot easier said than done (though there is a timer bar and beating heart indicator to help cue you in). I haven’t made it deeper than three floors (the maps aren’t even that big either)–and yet I just keep coming back for more. This game won’t terrorize you with blood and guts and jump-out scares, but its hardcore difficulty and propensity for dishing out rapid-fire doom is sure to frighten away all but the bravest of players.

The Red Solstice:
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If Left 4 Dead ever switched to a sci-fi setting and took on an isometric perspective, it might play a little something like The Red Solstice, a game of top-down cooperative tactics that plays kind of like an RTS mixed with a squad shooter. Co-op is the focus, and there seems to be a strong community of dedicated players. But as I’m not much of a multiplayer guy I’ve mainly been playing the solo campaign–and it’s fantastic! I love games with a “real-time with pause” mechanic, and this game has something similar. Like an RTS, the squad moves and fires in unison from real-time commands, but at any time you can slow down time to issue individual commands to your four-person squad as they fight for survival on a Mars colony that has become overrun with–get this!–zombies and other alien creatures. Although not nearly as horrifying, the setting and atmosphere is somewhat reminiscent of the Dead Space games. Here, though, the tension derives primarily from the constant threat of enemies streaming at your team from all sides and finding the right balance of moving slowly to cover your ass yet quickly enough to reach the next objective without running out of ammo and supplies, knowing that one wrong misstep will get your crew outnumbered and overmatched. Class-based elements like leveling up, attribute and ability upgrades, and customizable weapon loadouts also add some role-playing depth. Cooperative team tactics is where it’s at, but even if you go at it alone The Red Solstice is a definite buy.

I Shall Remain:
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Putting a zombie apocalypse twist on an alternate history post-World War II story, I Shall Remain is an action-RPG that’s jam-packed with deep stat and ability progression, character dialogue and questing, an extensive roster of weapons and abilities that evolve based on your style of play (use melee weapons, your skill in melee and related attributes increase), and strategic elements of survival, like scavenging for supplies, limited ammo, fatigue management, weapon degradation and repair. Timed quick-event quests and the persistent monitoring of the incurable infection your character has been inflicted with also add to the sense of despair and urgency, especially if you begin to run low on serum to fight back the infection. Although it does take the top-down hack-n-slash approach, I Shall Remain is far from a Diablo clone, featuring combat that is slower and satisfying and not nearly as mouse click-intensive as the genre tends to be. Hacking, slashing, and shooting through hordes of zombies with ragdoll physics never gets old, and the gritty, hopeless atmosphere, set off by a beautifully depressing soundtrack, is effective at pulling you into the mentality of a zombie apocalypse survivor.

Spirits of Xanadu:
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Spirits of Xanadu, a minimalistic first-person shooter with non-linear exploration and light puzzle-solving, takes place aboard the titular Xanadu, a research ship far out in space where you have been sent to make contact with the nonresponsive crew and ready the ship for a return journey back to Earth. Upon your arrival, you find the ship active but shrouded in total darkness, the crew missing save for security robots that are now hostile. Blood trails, hallucinations, and increasingly disturbing audio logs make it clear that something has gone very wrong, an oppressive feeling of isolation amplifying the tension. In between blasting droids and gathering narrative clues, you can enjoy some dumb fun by interacting with pretty much everything in the environment. You can eat snacks, smoke cigarettes, play with toasters, shoot hoops, flip toilet lids, and take a shower. This interaction also extends to some fun achievements and a lot of hidden areas and Easter eggs, which, when combined with three different ending outcomes to the story and multiple difficulty options, makes for a short but replayably sweet space adventure. Spirits of Xanadu is one of my favorite sleeper indie games of the entire year. I love games that throw you alone into a world with little in the way of explanation or exposition and allow you to figure out where to go, what to do, and just what the hell’s going on at your own pace. And that’s exactly the type of experience this game offers.

Guns, Gore & Cannoli:
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Combining over-the-top action and violence, Italian mobster stereotypes, and the go-to zombie outbreak motif, Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a fun little slice of side-scrolling running and gunning that you’ll get a kick out of if you’re into the Contras and Metal Slugs of the world. As I’m sure you can tell by the title alone, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, throwing comically bad Italian accents, appealing comic-style art, and blood-gushing zombies at you by the droves, including football player zombies and zombie leprechauns that float upside down tethered to balloons and pester you with toxic gas projectiles. Solid fun in solo play, the game reaches peak mayhem if you’re able to gather a group of friends to join in on some local co-op (no online play unfortunately).

Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum:
Abandoned

Just because it’s October 31st doesn’t mean you want to be scared into soiling your underpants or grossed out by obscene levels of gore. For a more casual experience still within the realm of the Halloween spirit, look no further than Abandoned, a spooky hidden object adventure set within the walls of an abandoned asylum. Nightmarish premonitions of running for your life and falling to your death inside the house of the clinically insane lead you to investigate the Chestnut Lodge Asylum’s mysterious history of disappearing patients. Playable at a relaxed pace or in expert mode without the aid of hints, Abandoned is able to find a good balance between casual object hunting, item-based puzzle-solving, and point-and-click adventuring. For seasoned adventure gamers, expert mode puts up a respectable challenge. I’ve played more than my fair share of hidden object games and point-and-click adventures over the years, and a few of the puzzles had me stumped pretty good. The game also lasts a good five to six hours, with a bunch of optional “changing object” collectibles extending the hidden object hunt into the exploration gameplay and adding extra replay incentive.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!