October might have a monopoly on Halloween, but any time of the year is a good time to be scared. Fear is a primal part of the human condition, and video games are one of the most immersive ways to experience it.
Whether you're in the mood to jump out of your seat, experience pervasive dread about the dark side of human nature, or simply explore a good old-fashioned haunted house, there's probably a video game to suit your needs.
If you're looking for a classic haunted house story, "Alone in the Dark" has all the fundamentals. When Jeremy Hartwood, a renowned artist, commits suicide in his Louisiana mansion, it's up to a private investigator and his niece to piece together why. As it turns out, the house is plagued by ghosts, zombies, giant rats and other things that go bump in the night. Although the game is somewhat primitive by today's standards, it was one of the first horror games to embrace 3D graphics.
One of the great-granddaddies of the horror genre, "Doom" is a classic first-person shooter that still mostly holds up today. You play as a space marine, sent to perform guard duty on Mars. When the compound's teleportation experiments go awry, it's up to you to stem the flow of demons with guns, chainsaws and whatever else can make them bleed. The game is violent and gory almost to the point of self-parody, but the frightening creatures would pave the way for the modern action/horror genre.
"Resident Evil" wasn't the first survival-horror game, but it launched the genre into the mainstream. Although the game looked like a third-person action title and the protagonists wielded guns, a run-and-gun strategy that would work in other games was sure to get you killed instead. "Resident Evil" focused on conserving ammo, solving devious puzzles and exploring frightening environments. The game may not be as scary today as when it first launched, but zombies and slow-paced dread never go out of style.
Horror and Japanese role-playing games seldom go together. After all, it's hard to generate feelings of suspense or dread with calm, turn-based battles and characters who grow extremely powerful. "Koudelka" tried, and while the result is not perfect, it's one of the more unusual and intriguing role-playing games on the original PlayStation. A medium named Koudelka Iasant enters a remote Welsh abbey on Halloween, in the year 1898, and what ensues is a classic tale of gothic horror about demons, curses and Catholic guilt.
"System Shock 2" wears a lot of hats — first-person shooter, role-playing game, survival-horror — and wears them well. The protagonist must match wits with SHODAN, an evil AI who has commandeered a starship. To succeed, he will have to fight his way past infected crewmembers, hack into secrets best left forgotten, and deal with betrayal and murder that seem to follow in his wake. Although you can improve your skills, the game's tough enemies and limited resources keep the adventure tense and unforgiving.
The original "Silent Hill" was creepy, but ultimately let down by the original PlayStation's fairly limited processing power. "Silent Hill 2" was everything the first game wanted to be: eerie, foreboding and absolutely nerve-wracking. James Sunderland sets off to the perpetually foggy city of Silent Hill upon receiving a letter from his wife — who, coincidentally, has been dead for years. What ensues is a journey into the psyche of a profoundly disturbed individual as the town makes his worst fears become reality.
"Eternal Darkness" cast the player as Alexandra Roivas, who discovers a grisly book that lets her experience horrors that happened in ancient Rome, medieval France and Renaissance Italy, among other historical periods. An in-game sanity meter would often play cruel tricks, such as pretending to crash the game or erase save files.