Happy Halloween! This is what you’ll be hearing non stop next week, hopefully to your delight. Sadly, with current global circumstances making it difficult if not impossible to celebrate our usual way, our plans need restrictions. However, the availability of streaming services and a massive games library gives us plenty of options. The number of horror games that exist is absolutely wild, and more are being released even this month. The question remains though: Are they good Halloween games? Let’s consider what defines the season and if there are titles that share the same things.
Note: This piece focuses the modern traditions and aspects of the holiday.
What Makes the Perfect Halloween Game?
Like many holidays, Halloween provides a great reason for friends and family to get together. People of all different ages, looks, and backgrounds getting together to celebrate the spooky spectacle soon became a given.
In games, I think this would translate to having a huge cast of colorful characters. While many titles do have quite the varied cast, they don’t usually fall into the horror genre. Blame may go to the film industry for continuously pushing the same group of helpless humans into dangerous situations: The shy one, the confident jerk, and the paranoid nerd, to name a few.
Trick or Treat
Perhaps Halloween’s signature move, the act of going to random homes and demanding candy continues to thrive. While this is an activity that most people tend to outgrow, they’ve created a lot of memorable moments. Something about the overwhelming uncertainty of going to a stranger’s house and not knowing what was waiting on the other side of the door is kind of terrifying.
This highlights a concept that would make for a solid horror game: Uncertainty. If players don’t know what to expect hiding in the shadows, then the mind will conjure all a manner of scary scenarios. When it comes to causing terror and generating tension, sometimes less is more.
Whenever you need an excuse to wear extravagant costumes or outfits then you can look to Halloween. There are only so many events where you can see a Werewolf playing charades with the Little Mermaid. Just peek into any costume party and you’re likely to get several game ideas.
In terms of mainstream titles, it’s getting rarer to see any release that even half as colorful as the average Halloween party.
Here’s the main course of the Halloween meal, an element that arguably defines it the most. Very few holidays celebrate horror, and there are even less that try to put a fun spin on it. While personally I’m not a huge fan of the genre, I do find scary things interesting and worth exploring. There’s also plenty of creativity and complexity to be found in horror stories.
While what scares someone is very subjective, yet many big horror games feel tragically formulaic. If games aren’t relying on jump-scares to startle then they’re spending too much time shining a huge spotlight on a gruesome monster than loses its effect after a couple of solos. Lastly, games that are thematically spooky are rarely scary, but can still be fun such as the classic Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.
What About Actual Halloween Games?
Despite what’s written in this piece, there is no shortage of games based on Halloween. Sometimes the game is wholly about the event, and other times it simply takes place around the date. An example would be the Costume Quest series, containing two installments created by Double Fine. The series follows two siblings who dress up, go out for trick-or-treating, and wind up in a supernatural situation that they must diffuse.
It’s a charming adventure that hits a lot of notes on this list, and it’s quite literally about Halloween, but I’m hesitant to call it perfect for the holiday. The first issue is that it’s a single-player game, and while those can be fun in a group, the slow pacing and lack of activity holds it back. It’s also a turn-based RPG, which really isn’t good for building tension that really allows you to get familiar with your foes.
There are horror games and there are Halloween games, but there’s room for effective crossover between the two. Halloween is a holiday and one of the yearly reasons to get people together to celebrate. You can embrace the fun or the fear, but a good Halloween game should balance both while being enjoyable alone or in groups. However, this day only comes once a year, so it’s worth it to take time choosing who to see, which film to watch, or what game to play. All in all, I’d say it’s better to be scared together than alone.
Will Quick is a freelance media wizard living in Spain. When he's not gaming or writing, he's doodling comics or whatever else pops in his head.