If you’re tired of trudging every year to see “Saw Umpteen,” there’s a good chance you can find a scary video game that’ll satisfy the same craving, and for longer. While horror has always been something of a niche genre, we’re far enough into the newest generation of consoles that you should be able to find something you like. (Note: All the titles I’m about to discuss are rated M.)
I’ve only recently begun investing long stretches of time in “Dead Space,” Electronic Arts’ zombies-in-space creepfest that came out Oct. 14. But I’ve already had my first “Dead Space” nightmare.
While a little light on the psychological end of things, “Dead Space” nails the audio, lighting and suspense. Necromorphs, the game’s superfast, ultra-agile, shape-changing zombies, pop up at the most inopportune, unexpected times. Weaponry on the game’s deserted mining spaceship is scarce, so you have to make every shot count, steadily plugging away at advancing necromorphs with the hopes of dispatching their razor-sharp flailing hands before they can tear into you.
The story’s good, too. The premise of “Dead Space” ” in which humans unearth a homicidal alien life form that slaughters people by the hundreds, enlisting their corpses in a hideously misshapen army ” isn’t that different from the first “Halo,” minus the war against the alien Covenant theocracy. Yet thanks to a killer soundtrack, great script, relatively meek engineer protagonist and liberal amounts of gore, it’s frightning in ways Microsoft’s space marine trilogy doesn’t even attempt.
“Dead Space” is available for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It costs $50 on PC and $60 on consoles. With Valve’s survivalist zombie shoot-’em-up “Left 4 Dead” not due until mid-November, it’s easily your best bet if you’re trying to set the mood for Halloween.
If you’re looking for something a little more psychologically disturbing, Konami’s “Silent Hill: Homecoming” may fit the bill. This title about a soldier returning home to find everything’s not quite right doesn’t have the rave reviews and crazy violence of “Dead Space,” but its predecessors, specifically “Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams,” feature some of the most disturbing plots and images I’ve seen in games. “Homecoming,” which still has received generally positive press, is available on the PC ($50) or PS3 and 360 ($60). If you’ve got a 360, “Silent Hill 2,” originally released for Xbox and PS2, will play on your machine. You should be able to find it for $15 or cheaper at used game stores.
“BioShock,” which came out last week on PS3 (rated M, $60), isn’t generally categorized solely as a horror title, but with deranged, mutated freaks roaming levels set in a medical ward, deserted farmers market and laboratory, it’s got plenty of creep factor. If you haven’t gotten around to playing it on the 360, it’s down to $40 now.
“Condemned: Criminal Origins,” still my pick for the best Xbox 360 launch title, can be had for $20 or lower. You play as an FBI agent, framed for murder, whose trying to track down the real killer. Meanwhile, something is turning homeless people and drug addicts into homicidal maniacs. Maybe the two are related? “Condemned 2: Bloodshot” is also available, on the PS3 and 360, for $40.
If all this sounds just a bit too troubling, but you still want to get in the mood by severing some limbs off of zombies, pick up “Dead Rising,” a 360 game that should only set you back about $20. The game is near and dear to me because it starts a journalist who parachutes into a zombie-infested town to figure out what the heck is going on. The open-world game is set nearly entirely within a shopping mall, and while you unravel the mystery, there are plenty of outfits to don, weapons to wield and survivors to help.
“Dead Rising” took a lot of lumps from gamers and critics for its unforgiving save system that allows each player only one save slot. If you find you’ve messed up, you can’t necessarily go back to before you messed up. This punishing mechanic is meant to encourage players to replay the title. (When you start over, you keep all your stats and photos.) It’s pretty much impossible to save everyone because the game runs on a clock, so you find yourself making tough choices about who gets to live and who has to die this time out.
If all you’ve got to game on is a Wii, there’s not much out there for you in the way of horror. Capcom’s remake of its classic “Resident Evil 4” is about the only truly scary game on the console. Your Wii, however, will play GameCube games, so you do have an opportunity to play some of that console’s scarier titles. First, though, you need a GameCube controller ($10 to $15) and memory card (ditto). I suggest the whole “Resident Evil” series and “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.” Some of these titles have gotten a little hard to find and may be priced accordingly.
Still playing on a PS2 or Xbox? Delve into the “Fatal Frame” and “Silent Hill” series. If you’ve got both consoles, used titles tend to run a bit cheaper on the Xbox, although “Silent Hill 3” and “Fatal Frame 3” are PS2 only and the first “Silent Hill” dates back to the PS1 and may not look so hot these days.