When October’s howling winds have blown away September’s sunshine, then folk long for horror. Nowadays we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to both games and films, with an indie resurgence across the board. But if you’re not a hardcore fan, or you don’t own a PC, it’s easy to miss the best of the bunch.
So to put the shock in your Shocktober, here’s eight horror titles for your ghoulish delight. And because we believe in giving you the biggest bump in the night for your buck, there’s a film to watch alongside each. If you love the game, you might like the movie and vice versa. Otherwise put them back to back for an unforgettable evening of terror.
Tormentum: Dark Sorrow
Available on: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Play: Point and click adventures might seem passé, but Tormentum gives the genre a shot of fresh blood. Captors have taken the hooded protagonist who awaits torture for crimes unknown. You’ll need to escape the awful tower and survive the nightmare lands beyond to discover what brought you there in the first place.
What sets Tormentum apart is the astonishing visual design. Each scene has a hand-drawn look and is full of unpleasant detail. The artist took clear inspiration from the work of H. R Giger, the Swiss surrealist who worked on and influenced a slew of famous horror media.
Watch: Giger’s best known work is, of course, the Alien films. But he wasn’t the only artist whose ideas inform Tormentum. It’s a Polish game and draws on the work of Polish painter . His art, in turn, influenced the bizarre hypnotic horror film Parasomnia.
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Play: Everyone knows that the worst things happen to groups of isolated teenagers. So Night School studio made these kids as isolated as possible, stranded on a deserted island. At least it seems deserted, until the teens’ portable radio beings to speak in unearthly voices.
What follows is gentle by horror standards. It’s more focussed on dialogue, character and light problem-solving. But when the radio crackles with messages from the beyond, the sound design can creep out the most hardened hearts. And when the voices speak, you can be sure nasty surprises are about to follow.
Watch: The game developers stated they took some inspiration from 80’s classic Poltergeist. There a TV, rather than a radio, is the source of ghostly whispers. If you’ve seen that, more recent monster movie Super 8 isn’t as scary but chimes better with Oxenfree’s teen vibe.
Available on: PC, PS4
Play: Anyone familiar with horror games will know of Frictional games and their litany of grim output. SOMA’s sci-fi setting isn’t the most obvious source for similar scares. As a case in point, your tormentors are clunky robot sentinels instead of the botched biological horrors of previous games.
But while SOMA still has plenty of tension and jumpy moments, it’s playing a longer game. Progressing through its story raises more and more uncomfortable questions about identity and consciousness. The fear it generates doesn’t spike and dissipate quickly, but squats at the back of your mind for days after playing.
Watch: SOMA’s brand of cognitive discomfort doesn’t translate well to the visual spectacle of most horror films. Instead one has to turn to slower psychological fare. The most unsettling is probably 2009’s Moon with its stark monochrome cinematography and bleak plot twists.
Layers of Fear
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Play: Most horror titles make you want to run away from horrible things lurking in the dark. In Layers of Fear you’ll gradually discover that you are the horrible thing, and by the time you realise that means there is no running away it’s too late. You’re already sliding toward a likely bleak conclusion.
You’re cast as a painter, returning to your old house after an unspecified tragedy in the hope of rediscovering your artistic mojo. What you’ll discover instead are tons of jump scares, a few puzzles and a whole lot of skeletons in your cupboard. By the time you’re done you’ll no longer trust your senses, or be entirely sure of who you are.
Watch: Most horror fans will know the Italian Giallo films such as famed supernatural slasher Suspiria. A lesser known movie in this group is The House With Laughing Windows. It tells the story of an artist restoring a grisly painting of a martyrdom, but discovering much more to the picture than meets the eye.
Forgotten Memories: Alternate Realities
Available on: iOS
Play: The high point of horror gaming is generally agreed to be the Japanese survival horror franchises of the 90’s. Forgotten Memories feels like an attempt to recapture those glory days, paying direct homage to Silent Hill with its abandoned hospital setting, replete with creepy mannequins.
It’s got the same tank controls and intermittent save systems as its inspirations. This, in turn, increases both the difficulty and the fear factor. It also serves as a reminder of how atmospheric and unsettling this style of game can be. The plot is unusual and well engineered to provide jumpy moments.
Watch: We all know the rule that video game films are terrible. Yet this seems an opportune moment to recall that the Silent Hill movie is the exception which proves it. Audiences found it hard to follow, but that’s not a problem if you know the games. You can concentrate on its masterfully creepy setting and characters instead.
The School: White Day
Available on: iOS, Android
Play: Rather than a pastiche of classic Asian horror, why not a remastered version of the real thing? The School is a port of 2001 Korean game A Labyrinth Named School, which became a cult hit in the west.
All the crazy stuff you might expect is right here. A bizarre plot about a haunted school which you uncover while exploring late at night. Survival elements where you run and hide from a psychopathic janitor. And in contrast to the nightmare settings of most scary games, the everyday nature of The School helps highlight the horrors inside it.
Watch: What better to go with a cult Korean game than a cult Korean film like Death Bell? Both feature children trapped in a haunted school, but the film goes more for gore over atmosphere and jump scares.
Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture
Available on: PC, PS4
Play: So-called walking simulators are not a fertile place for horror. And this isn’t strictly a horror game. But the opening hour, where you wander through an empty village following a trail of bloodied tissues is undeniably eerie. As is the moment you realise the communications you’re hearing might not be as reliable, or as safe, as you believed.
Later revelations prove more personal than panicking. Yet there’s still a certain level of existential dread in the sense of being alone in an uncaring cosmos. Lovecraft might have been proud. Thankfully, developers The Chinese Room chose to do without the hackneyed monsters and the racism.
Watch: There are lots of horror films that play upon the fear of loneliness but most move toward some inevitable monster trope. Repulsion, by contrast, offers a more psychological and artistic vision but still builds toward brutal shocks.
Available on: PS4
Play: Ever wanted to see what happens when you cram all the horror tropes into one story? This is the game for you. Teenagers trapped in remote location make out and play pranks on one another. Meanwhile they are slowly stalked and slaughtered by unknown things lurking outside. Cheesy enough for you?
What makes Until Dawn worthwhile is that it knows full well how parodic its content is, and plays on those tropes to entertain. That makes it a gory feast of fun for any horror aficionado. Plus, it’s heavily branching story points offer impressive replay value as your early choices keep coming back to haunt you.
Watch: Has to be self-referential meta-horror Cabin in the Woods, since the two complement so perfectly. From the isolated teen protagonists to the subversive use of slasher cliches, it’s a match made in hell.