This is Part 2 of a 2-part feature. Part 1 can be found here.
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge (2004 – PS2 / Xbox)
Okay, bear with me on this one.
So it’s not strictly a horror game, but The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge is a fun, gothic action game that really captures the visual style and spirit of the animated film to which it acts as a sequel. It’s an excellent licensed game, which is a rarity (I’m looking at you, Fight Club, Superman 64, and numerous others), and a must-buy for fans of the movie.
With combat-orientated gameplay similar to hack-and-slash Devil May Cry, Oogie’s Revenge – also developed by Capcom – casts the player as Jack Skellington as he fights his way through familiar locations such as Halloween Town and Christmas Town in a bid to once again stop the plans of the evil Oogie Boogie.
Although combat against your ghoulish enemies is fairly straightforward, your performance in individual chapters is graded, adding replay value, and combat is occasionally broken up by quick-time event sections which, although basic, are made much more entertaining by the excellent songs that play over them. This is another nice nod to the film, well-known for its Danny Elfman soundtrack. Also in terms of the audio, a number of actors from the original movie reprise their roles, including Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride!) as Jack Skellington, and this add further authenticity to the experience.
Although it’s certainly existing fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas who will get the most out of Oogie’s Revenge, the game is still an entertaining and spookily enchanting title suitable for both children and adults alike, and ideal for any All Hallows’ Eve.
8. Project Zero 3: The Tormented (2005 – PS2)
To me, this is the word that best sums up the prevalent feeling you get when playing a game in the Project Zero (a.k.a. Fatal Frame, a.k.a. Zero) series. While these games contain their fair share of jump-scares and other brief, sinister moments, it’s that pervading, oppressive sense of dread that hangs over the entirety of a Project Zero game that really keeps you on the edge of your seat as a player.
Project Zero 3: The Tormented is the third game in the long-running horror series (not including a 2004 Japan-only spin-off title), with the original game and then Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly coming before it, all three games being set in Japan and revolving around dark tales of ritual sacrifice and distinctly non-friendly ghosts.
The series’ central gameplay mechanic involves the way in which the player combats enemies via the use of a camera, which means you have to face your fears and look each horrific, murderous spirit right in its dead face if you want to banish it, as it’s the photographing of ghosts that damages them. It’s a clever, innovative feature that furthers increases tension and immersion.
The Project Zero games are very similar to each other on many levels – gameplay, story, design – and this certainly includes the third game. However, The Tormented doesn’t need to break the mould when the established formula is such a successful one. Instead, it focuses on delivering more of the same bleak, dark horror found in the previous two games while simultaneously refining certain elements and adding a few new features such as multiple playable characters with unique skills, and the splitting of gameplay between the real world and a nightmare realm, the latter spilling over into the former in a number of chilling ways as the game progresses.
The Project Zero games are some of the most effective horror games I’ve ever played, and they’re particularly recommended to any fans of Japanese horror, as the games have a very authentic Japanese feel to them in terms of visual design, story, and general atmosphere. If overarching story and chronology are important factors to you then start with the original Project Zero, but if you only want the best single experience then go for The Tormented.
Bonus points if you say “Say cheese” in an action-hero-style voice just before you take your last picture of the final boss.
9. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (2010 – PS3 / Xbox 360)
Some things just go together, don’t they. Meat and cheese. Monkeys and tiny motorcycles. Alcohol and a regrettable text message to an ex-lover.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, Rockstar’s spinoff of its Old West epic, features its own fitting pairing in the form of cowboys and zombies, and the result is an entertaining and sizable horror-themed expansion that introduces enough changes to the original game to make it feel fresh (unlike the zombies themselves) without straying too far from the excellent fundamental gameplay.
With Rockstar’s traditional black humour more evident than ever, Undead Nightmare once again stars former outlaw John Marston – one of my favourite video game protagonists of all time, and brilliantly voiced by Rob Wiethoff – as he tries to cure his wife and son who have fallen victim to the undead plague sweeping the land.
Numerous other characters from Red Dead Redemption make appearances, and the expansion also offers some new online multiplayer modes and features. As well as the game’s hordes of zombies, of which there are several types, there are also undead versions of dangerous wildlife such as bears and cougars, along with mythical beasts such as the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. New threats means some fun new weapons, however, such as holy water and the explosive Blunderbuss.
Oh, and if you’re one of those people who scoured the hills and woods of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in search of Bigfoot? You might want to check out Undead Nightmare. Just saying.
10. Silent Hill 2 (2001 – PS2 / Xbox / PC)
I know I said in my introduction to Part 1 that I’d be leaving some excellent, high-profile horror games off this list, and that remains true.
The thing is, Silent Hill 2 is high-profile, but it isn’t excellent. It’s a masterpiece.
Not only does it remain the pinnacle of a series made up of nearly a dozen games to date, but beyond that, Silent Hill 2 is one of the greatest horror games ever made.
The game stars James Sunderland, a man who arrives in the town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife, Mary – a wife who died three years ago. This intriguing set-up is just the beginning of a story that takes numerous twists and turns as James searches the fog-shrouded streets of Silent Hill for the truth about his wife. James occasionally encounters other troubled souls trapped in the town for one reason or another, as well as a range of twisted monsters including the brilliantly designed Pyramid Head, who has become an iconic figure of the Silent Hill series.
The original Silent Hill may have offered a psychological-horror alternative to the popular and more action-orientated Resident Evil series, but it was Silent Hill 2 that really pushed the envelope in terms of intelligent and deep psychological horror dripping with symbolism and adult subject matter, with a huge amount going on beneath the game’s surface. Twelve years on, the narrative still packs a hell of a punch very rarely matched by other horror games.
Supplied in almost every title by acclaimed composer Akira Yamaoka, the audio has always been a very important aspect of the Silent Hill series, and the soundtrack to Silent Hill 2 is particularly excellent. Being generally more melodic than the first game’s harsh, industrial sounds that were at times the aural equivalent of being violated by a drunk Transformer, the sequel’s soundtrack perfectly suits the type of story and atmosphere that the game presents, things further enhanced by graphics that have stood the test of time extremely well.
I could go on and on about Silent Hill 2, but what it boils down to is that if you’re a fan of horror games and you haven’t played it then you have a Pyramid Head-shaped hole in your life. Go fill it.
11. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009 – Wii / PS2 / PSP)
At first I was reluctant to include two Silent Hill titles in this list, but given that one of my intentions with it is to try to draw attention to some horror games that are often unfairly overlooked, hidden gem Silent Hill: Shattered Memories certainly deserves its place here.
Shattered Memories is a remake – a fact that doesn’t bode well, I know, but it gets better – of the original Silent Hill, but only really in terms of the basic story set-up of protagonist Harry Mason searching the town of Silent Hill for his missing daughter. Beyond that, this remake determinedly carves out its own identity to such a degree that the two games end up being hugely different experiences.
For starters, there is no combat in Shattered Memories. At all. Combat has never been the strongest point of any Silent Hill game, and so for Shattered Memories the brave decision was made to ditch it entirely and replace it with chase sequences where survival is reliant upon evasion and escape rather than confrontation.
The rest of the time, the game places its focus on what Silent Hill games are more renowned for: story, atmosphere, and psychological horror. As well as excelling in these three areas, Shattered Memories also contains a brilliantly innovative feature in the form of psychotherapy sessions that regularly break up the rest of the game. Carried out in first-person rather than third-person, in these sessions you’re a patient who must answer a therapist’s questions and complete various psychological tests.
As well as acting as a framing device strongly tied into the narrative, especially as the story nears its stunning conclusion, these therapy sessions also affect gameplay, as the answers you give in them lead to changes occurring in the game world and also influence which of the several different endings you will receive. Upon completion, the game also creates a psychological profile of you as a person based on your numerous in-game choices and answers, which might tell you more about your own state of mind than your collection of human skin suits ever could.
Ignore the fact that it’s a remake, that the Silent Hill series as a whole isn’t what it once was, and anything else that might put you off playing Shattered Memories, especially if story and atmosphere are important factors for you when it comes to horror games – Shattered Memories is a very memorable experience and a highly recommended one.
12. Siren: Blood Curse (2008 – PS3)
As with the Project Zero series, the Siren series is a strongly Japanese take on the horror genre and one that has worked to great effect across three games, with Siren: Blood Curse being the most recent.
Despite there only being three games in the series to date, Siren: Blood Curse is a PlayStation 3 remake of the original PlayStation 2 title Siren (Forbidden Siren in PAL regions), although it also includes features from the PS2 sequel, which made several improvements upon its notoriously punishing predecessor. As such, Blood Curse can be seen as an attempted distillation of the best elements of the first two games, with obviously enhanced visuals to go along with it.
Set in the remote Japanese village of Hanuda, Blood Curse stars a cast of characters who become wrapped up in the supernatural events occurring in the village, events which have led to nearly all of the inhabitants transforming into homicidal undead beings named shibito. The story also deals with themes such as religion, destiny, and even time travel, although it’s more death and despair than DeLoreans.
Blood Curse replaces most of the Japanese characters of the original game with Americans, a move which may seem like an uninspired attempt to reach a wider western audience, although thankfully this doesn’t have any negative impact on the game’s story or atmosphere, which remain sinister and bleak throughout.
In terms of gameplay, Blood Curse is a stealth-focused horror title, an approach enhanced by the series’ acclaimed “sight jacking” feature, which allows you to look through the eyes of nearby enemies in order to deduce their location and movement patterns so as to better avoid them. Looking through the eyes of an armed shibito as they move around, giggling or shrieking or muttering in a sinister manner can be an unnerving experience, the feature having lost none of its impact across three games.
For years now, alongside the rise of dumbed-down, action-heavy gaming, many gamers and video game journalists have flatly declared the horror genre dead on current-generation consoles – a lazy generalisation. Siren: Blood Curse is one of the titles that proves such a stance wrong, being a great and overlooked horror game that deserves wider recognition than it currently receives.
13. The Thing (2002 – PS2 / Xbox / PC)
“You gotta be fucking kidding!”
Ah, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic The Thing. So quotable. Such amazing practical special effects. So many brilliant moments. Kurt Russell’s excellent beard.
Following up one of the greatest horror films of all time – and in a different medium, no less – is no easy task, but it’s to the credit of now-defunct developer Computer Artworks that they managed to create a sequel (also titled The Thing) which is very respectful of the cinematic source material while also being an impressive video game in its own right.
Taking place soon after the movie, the video game is also set in the frozen wastes of Antarctica and casts the player as Blake, a U.S. soldier sent to investigate the research station where the events of the movie took place. Inevitably, it turns out that the extraterrestrial horror unleashed upon the station is far from over.
Carpenter’s movie is a perfect blend of two types of horror: a tense, psychological, very human type; and a bloody, visceral, more monstrous type. This combination also extends to the video game sequel, which ups the action level considerably while never losing sight of the movie’s psychological aspects, as seen by the game’s interesting trust/fear system.
This system involves the various non-playable comrades you encounter throughout the game, each of whom reacts to his surroundings and your actions. For example, pointing your gun at a fellow soldier or taking his ammunition will cause him to trust you less, making him harder to command. Also, NPCs can become increasingly scared, and unless you calm them down, their fear can eventually lead to them attacking you or even committing suicide.
Another interesting NPC-related feature is the fact that some of your apparently human colleagues are actually infected and turn into murderous “things” themselves, but you won’t realise someone is infected until the moment they begin to transform. This is another great idea inspired by the original film and one that adds further tension to the game as you wonder if the man next to you is really human.
As with The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge, The Thing is a high-quality licensed game that clearly holds a huge amount of respect for the source material while simultaneously offering an excellent video game experience. So if you’re looking for an impressive horror game and you’re a fan of Carpenter’s movie (and if you like horror, you should be), then pick up a copy of The Thing as soon as you can. Accept no imitations.
Alex De-Gruchy is a writer and editor of both fiction and non-fiction, his work covering mediums such as comic books, prose, and video games. His upcoming projects include a graphic novel from Markosia Enterprises, a comic series from Monkeybrain, and the video game Crystal Arena. Look on his works, ye Mighty, and despair! @AlexDeGruchy