Since this is "Games You Should Know About...," I guess I won't talk about some of the more obvious choices. Everyone should know about the Silent Hill games, so I'm not going to mention them. Though I did enjoy Shattered Memories, for those of you who refuse to play a SH game not made by Team Silent. The same goes for the Left 4 Dead games. Sure, they're great, but most of us have already played them. Besides, you're alone... all alone. Not even your online buddies are here to save you, which kind of puts a damper on a team game like L4D. Let's talk about some games most of you haven't played (at least, in a while).
First off, let's do an honorable mention. There's a new Pinball FX 2 table that came out recently called Paranormal. The story of this pinball table is that a paranormal investigator is... well, investigating all these strange phenomena. Missions include defeating the Jersey Devil, finding the Lock Ness Monster, tracking down UFOs, etc. This may sound like it's inspired by The X Files, but it seems to take more of a cue from the 1974 TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker (which, in turn, was one of the inspirations for The X Files). It's a fun table, even outside of Halloween, but you should really check it out right now because it's absolutely free for a limited time. That's right, you have until this Wednesday, November 2, to download this table for free. Add in the fact that the Pinball FX 2 application is free and you have a very good reason to pick both up (if you haven't, already).
So let's start with something fairly recent. Remedy Entertainment, the guys who made the first two Max Payne games, teamed up with Microsoft to create a riveting psychological thriller of a game, Alan Wake. You play as the eponymous Wake, a successful writer who has hit a pretty bad slump. Your wife takes you to the quiet town of Bright Falls, nestled in the wilderness of Washington state for some rest and relaxation. Of course, things aren't always what they seem and you find yourself running for your life in the dark woods that surround Bright Falls like an encroaching horde. It's up to you to save your wife, uncover the dark secret of this town, and make it out alive. While it's been a long while since I've played Max Payne, Alan Wake's gameplay feels similar to the PS2 crime thriller. As a third person action game, you will have lots of guns and ammo to take out your enemies, but it's light that is your most important weapon. Without it, the enemy is invincible.
This will become all too familiar sight, as you will need to
constantly dodge enemies to survive.
The game was inspired by many different sources, including the works of Stephen King, John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, and TV shows like Twin Peaks and Lost. The game is done in an episodic format to make it feel like a TV show (a show like this would probably be on Showtime). There are only six episodes, so it's not very long, but there are two DLC packages that extend that.
Gameplay is good, the story is riveting, and the music is well done, including some songs by Finnish rock group Poets of the Fall (who also made a song for Max Payne 2). I wouldn't say that the game is scary, but there were some stressful moments while fighting and dodging up to seven enemies at once. It's good if you're looking for more of a thriller with a good story and good characters.
Speaking of Twin Peaks, our next game was heavily, I mean heavily, inspired by the TV show. At first glance, Deadly Premonition, seems like some kind of joke, with its inferior graphics and control. But quite a few people have realized that there is a lot to enjoy in this game. Imagine if Silent Hill, Shenmue, and Grand Theft Auto had an unholy baby. You play as Francis York Morgan, a quirky FBI agent who feels himself coming close to solving a string of serial murders when he investigates the violent death of Anna Graham in the quiet town of Greenvale, nestled in the wilderness of Washington state (notice a pattern, here?) There's plenty to do in this game, whether it's tracking down the elusive killer, or the cornucopia of side missions scattered all over the town.
One thing I will mention that ties Alan Wake and this game together with Twin Peaks is the presence of a kooky lady in the town that cradles an unlikely object in their arms who may know more than people think. In Twin Peaks, it was the Log Lady; in Alan Wake, it was the Lamp Lady; and in Deadly Premonition, it was the Pot Lady. Seriously, there's this woman who walks about town with a casserole pot in her hands and she keeps complaining that her pot is getting too cold (despite the fact that she insists on taking it with her everywhere she goes). There's side missions where you pick her up off of the street and drive as fast as you can to her house before her pot gets cold (no foolin', this is an actual side quest). This game is full of strange, quirky humor like this, which is a big reason why it's so much fun. Also, a lot of the characters are so great that you get to feel very familiar with them. You see them on a daily basis, make chit-chat with them, and gain information and insight from them. Eventually, you feel like your part of the town (of course, the town goes to hell toward the end of the game.
Combat in Deadly Premonition may remind
some people of Resident Evil 4.
While Alan Wake wasn't very scary, Deadly Premonition has more of a creepy vibe to it. It's not as disturbing as the Silent Hill games, but I do get an uneasy feeling shooting these bizarre monsters that walk toward you backwards with their upper bodies bent backwards toward you while they try to force their hands down your throat. It's definitely an odd game, but it's one worth playing. This is, without a doubt, the biggest cult classic on the XBOX 360.
Now, if you were to ask me what the scariest game I ever played was, I would only have two words for you: Fatal Frame. While I'm not an easy guy to scare, I have been known to feel the chill of terror while playing a video game. No other game has scared the crap out of me quite like Fatal Frame on the PS2 (or XBOX, if you're so inclined). While three of the games have been released in the US, I'm primarily talking about the first one, for that's the one I played.
Part of the reason this game is so scary is because you are completely alone in an old, haunted mansion in Japan. In a lot of other survival horror games, you get a break from the terror when you meet up with other innocent people (of course, Silent Hill has you meeting with some pretty fucked up individuals). In the first Fatal Frame, you don't run into other people. It's just you and a house full of tormented ghosts. Your only defense is a mystical camera that drains the spirit energy of the ghosts until they dissipate into oblivion.
Unfortunately, you have to switch to the camera aim mode, which makes you move extremely slow while trying to keep the ghosts in your viewfinder. This means that you are unable to dodge the ghosts as they lunge at you, howling and tormenting you (especially the blind ghost - you would think that having no eyes would make it hard for her to attack you - you'd be wrong). Let's just say you may never be able to turn off the lights ever again.
Gah! Take the picture, quickly! Do it! NOW!!!
If you're not interested in scaring yourself so bad, you need adult diapers, with the Fatal Frame games, you may be more inclined in something more old school. No retro game is perfect for Halloween than one from the Castlevania series. Of course there's plenty to choose from, but my favorites would probably be Super Castlevania IV for the SNES, Castlevania Bloodlines for the Genesis, or Symphony of the Night for the PS1 (which is also available for download on XBOX 360). If you have a Nintendo Wii, you can pick up Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth, which is a remade version of the first Castlevania game for the Game Boy. I didn't really have anything else to say about Castlevania, I just like playing those games around Halloween. Just thought I'd mention it.
But, seriously, if you're looking for a more humorous game for Halloween, there's only one group you can call: Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters: The Video Game was released two years ago, but it's great fun for all Ghostbusters fans (and, let's be honest, who doesn't want to bust some ghosts?). The game stars the iconic cast of the movies (sans Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis) in a new adventure during the early nineties and was written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. You play as the new rookie of the team and prototype tester of all the new toys as you help the other Ghostbusters defeat Gozer once and for all. Great third person action and a lot of classic Ghostbusters humor make this a game worth playing (don't even bother with Sanctum of Slime, it sucks).
Finally, for those who miss those good old days where we dressed up in shoddy costumes, walked through neighborhoods for candy, and spent the next week on a non-stop sugar high, there's Costume Quest, an RPG where you play a kid who must try to save your sibling while going through your neighborhood, the mall, a country town, and the underworld trying to save Halloween from a group of goblins and a disgruntled witch. While the game is not very long, it will only take you a handful of hours to beat the game, Double Fine (creators of awesome games like Psychonauts and Brütal Legend) made a game that completely captures the spirit of Halloween for children. It's a testament to childhood imagination and a love letter to Halloween that every kid-at-heart should play. And when you're done with the game, you can pick up the DLC which makes the logical jump to the next big holiday after Halloween (no, not Thanksgiving - who would make a video game about Thanksgiving?). By the way, do goblins really celebrate Christmas?
Okay, so those are my favorite games to play for Halloween. Of course, by the time I finished writing this, Halloween is almost over - go figure. Well, there's nothing that says you have to wait for Halloween to play these games. Don't tell me you don't play horror games on All Saints Day. What the hell is wrong with you?
Until next time, Happy Halloween for the next 38 minutes.