Five TERRIFYING Games For Under $15!
Looking for some "cheap thrills"? Terry curates some of his recent horror game picks with the most bang for your buck!
Halloween is my favorite time of the year. It’s the beginning of soup season, all of the stores have spooky decorations for sale, and there’s free candy! Horror movie marathons are on tv and songs like “Monster Mash” are dusted off. That’s not the only media horror fans get to enjoy though - there are plenty of horror video games to be enjoyed as well. The horror genre is one of the most inclusive categories available. There is something for everyone from horror RPGs to horror shooters. You can put “horror” in front of anything and there is an example out there. I wanted to showcase this diversity with a list of games that you can get without busting the bank. There are always October horror sales and bundles available on Steam so this is the perfect time to stock up and expand your library.
"This game deals with a lot of difficlut subjects regarding mental health that were very progressive for its time."
Developer: DotEmu, DreamForge Intertainment
Publisher: DotEmu, ASC Games, XS Games, Egmont Group
Platforms: Windows, Android, iOS
Length: 9 hours
Sanitarium is a psychological horror point-and-click adventure game that I played a lot as a kid. It is the reason I put together this list as I just wanted an excuse to play through it again. I still have a physical copy of my original game that came on three CDs. Like Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, and The Sims, it is one of the few games that I vividly remember being a huge influence on the types of games I liked to play on the PC.
In Sanitarium you play as the protagonist Max. He wakes up in an asylum with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Throughout the game, you must play through a multitude of diverse settings as you unravel who you are and how you got to these worlds. I could go into more detail about the different levels, but honestly, they would make no sense outside of the context of the game. You are constantly battling your mental illness and the line between what is real and what is not is hard to decipher. Your memories slowly come back to you through cutscenes, and the worlds you explore shed light on reality. The metaphors revealed in the worlds you travel through piece together the narrative through allegory and help bind together the complex series of events that led you to your current condition. As you gather more insight into what happened, you discover that there is a deeper conspiracy and maybe you aren’t as crazy as you once thought.
Gameplay consists mostly of walking around and interacting with characters and objects in your delusions. You must solve simple puzzles that unlock progression in the game. The worlds you explore are dark and often very disturbing. The interactions you have with the NPCs are an unsettling glimpse into Max’s psyche. This game deals with a lot of difficult subjects surrounding mental health that were very progressive for its time.
"Be prepared for a jump scare as the screen flashes and you are enveloped by the Ink Demon."
Boris and the Dark Survival
Developer: Joey Drew Studios, Kindly Beast
Publisher: Joey Drew Studios, Kindly Beast
Release: February 10, 2020
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Length: 3 hours
In this game, you play as Boris the Wolf in the Bendy and the Ink Machine world. Your goal is to collect six pieces of supplies in each level while avoiding the roaming Ink Demon. Once you collect all six pieces of supplies, the Ink Demon will chase you relentlessly. Each level is randomly generated and they become increasingly larger every round. There are lockers you must search in every level, and they can unlock new music or reveal a new scrap piece. To finish the game, you must collect seven of these scrap pieces. There is no HUD to navigate by and you must memorize each maze-like level. There are closets called Miracle Stations to hide in to avoid being captured by the Ink Demon and bacon soup stations to replenish your stamina. You can only outrun the Ink Demon while sprinting, so remembering where the Miracle Stations and bacon soup stations are is vital to your survival.
The visuals are unique to the Bendy style and consist of monochromatic shades of tan. They are reminiscent of early 1930-40s cartoons such as Steamboat Willie. The camera perspective is 3rd person isometric. The audio is atmospheric and adds to the sense of horror in this game. There are creaks of floorboards and drips of water that keep you on edge as you are constantly listening out for the approach of the Ink Demon. Once the Ink Demon spots you, the music becomes intense as he chases you down. If you are caught by the Ink Demon, be prepared for a jump scare as the screen flashes and you are enveloped by the Ink Demon similar to how you are caught in Five Nights at Freddy.
Boris and the Dark Survival acts as a stand-alone prequel to Bendy and the Ink Machine. If you like this game, I highly recommend checking out Bendy and the Ink Machine. The mechanics of the games are quite different, however. Bendy is more of a puzzle adventure in a first-person perspective, but the visual theme and audio style are similar.
"The first time I encountered a jumping spider, I nearly jumped out of my seat."
Kill It With Fire
Developer: Casey Donnellan Games LLC
Platforms: Windows, Switch, PS4, XBOne, Android
Length: 4 hours
Don’t let the simple cartoonish graphics of this game fool you. If you have any hint of arachnophobia, this game is a horror masterpiece for you! You start simply enough with a clipboard showing a single objective: “Kill a spider”. You proceed to explore a room where you rip every book off the shelf, open every drawer, and destroy every object in the room in your search for spiders. Upon finding my first spider I didn’t know what to do so I just clicked and you use the provided clipboard to smash the spider into a gooey splat. As you complete the objectives, more objectives are provided on your clipboard to progress the level. As the name suggests, the clipboard is not your only weapon. Your first unlocked weapon is a can of WD-40 and a lighter. You can start burning down everything in sight from there.
Each level is a different environment. You’ll explore a house, gas station, garage, farmer’s market, and even a secret government lab. Along the way, you will unlock more destructive weapons like guns, C4, and even a rocket launcher. The environments are destructible and you’ll need to upend every square inch in your quest to eradicate the arachnid apocalypse. There are light puzzle-solving elements you will need to figure out to complete all of the objectives.
There are many different types of spiders you will have to contend with throughout the game. Some of these include normal spiders, jumping spiders, exploding spiders, web spiders, and zombie spiders. The first time I encountered a jumping spider, I nearly jumped out of my seat. Also, the queen spider will release a slew of baby spiders after killing them resulting in a mad dash to kill them all.
The game has a loose story built into it as you progress. I don’t want to spoil anything in this review, but let's say it devolves into an interesting conspiracy arch. The end of the game results in the complete eradication of the spiders in what can be considered a bit of overkill. There is a community puzzle that can be worked on that involves some cryptic investigation and there is a dedicated Discord server of fans working on it. In a recent patch, the puzzle can be solved on your own.
Even if you are not afraid of the creepy-crawly arachnids, I highly recommend checking out this game for the humor and entertainment provided by turning the levels inside out in your quest for destruction.
"There is a constant droning noise throughout the game that creates a sense of unease and dread."
Developer: Daniel Mullins Games
Publisher: Daniel Mullins Games
Release: January 4, 2016
Platforms: Windows, Linus, Mac
Length: 4 hours
Pony Island is not about ponies! You are inexplicably cast in a computer owned by the devil. Your goal is to escape the Matrix-like program by manipulating the files and exploring the computer looking for your freedom. The core of the game has you exploring the operating system, running executable files, and chatting with an unseen entity through a messaging app. Pony Island is full of 4th wall breaking dialogue and self-aware gameplay. Similar games include Undertale, The Stanley Parable, and Doki Doki Literature Club. You never know if this game is about the included Pony Island game, the game Pony Island as a whole, or if the developer is just messing with you in a truly meta way.
Much of the game has you playing a game within the game. You play a version of Pony Island that is very simple at its core. You control a pony that has to jump over a series of gates and use your beam to defeat enemies. In the “true” version of the game, you are a pretty pony that uses your breath to blow away happy butterflies, but in the glitched-out version, you are using a death beam to obliterate demon skulls as you progress toward the end goal. There are also a series of puzzles that you have to complete that use coding logic to progress a program sequence to an end. Once you complete these puzzles, you can delve deeper into the game code to progress the story. As mentioned before, there is a lot of self-aware, 4th wall breaking sequences that have you outwitting the malicious antagonist owning the computer. You have to outsmart and trick your way into breaking free from the clutches of the programming.
The graphics are crude, glitchy, and harken back to the early days of simple computer games. The audio in the game is not much better. This is where the game shines as a horror game. There is a constant droning noise throughout the game that creates a sense of unease and dread. I can only describe it as the deafening sound of silence. The visual and audio cues used in the game are extremely disjointed and jumpy. I was playing on the PC with a mouse and keyboard, but I had the strangest feeling of haptic feedback when I scrolled the mouse over something I wasn’t supposed to. The game’s audio glitched out and had a visceral feeling that made me jump every time. It was akin to the sensation you get when you answer a question wrong in a game show and the buzzer goes off.
There are multiple endings to the game that lend a bit of replayability. You can ask a series of questions throughout your playthrough that answer who you are and why you are there, but it takes a couple of playthroughs to get the full picture. There is also a true ending you get if you collect all of the tickets scattered throughout the game. Even completing the game with the standard ending I was filled with a collection of existential questions that made me feel uneasy at best. Pony Island is probably nothing like you have ever played before and it may not seem like a typical horror game, but I guarantee you will finish this game with a sense of unease and anxiety classic to the traditional horror games.
"It will challenge your ability to work together under pressure and show who has your back when things get terrifying."
Developer: Kinetic Games
Publisher: Kinetic Games, PixiMob
Release: September 18, 2020
Platforms: Windows, Android
Length: 16 hours (main story) 100+ hours (extras)
Phasmophobia is a great game to play with friends. It is a cooperative paranormal investigation game. Your task is to explore a location with a multitude of gadgets at your disposal. Once you have gathered enough information, you need to determine what type of haunting you are dealing with. These could range from Banshees and demons to more exotic ghosts like Yokai and Jinn. Each ghost type has unique characteristics and abilities. You need to consult your journal to determine which one is active. The evidence you collect is vital in determining the ghost type. Besides the behavior, each ghost can only be detected by certain equipment. A Phantom will leave fingerprints and cold spots, but can not be picked up with EMF. A Mare will have orbs and freezing temperatures, but will not leave fingerprints. You can check off the evidence in your journal to narrow down the ghost-type possibilities, though you’ll need to get a few readings before you can be sure which ghost you are dealing with.
The ghosts aren’t always happy to have you snooping around their building and disturbing their peace. Some will manifest right in front of you which results in some dramatic jump scares. After a certain period of time, the ghosts will have had enough of you and will actively hunt you. You will immediately know when you are being hunted because the audio will change and visual distortions will happen. You must run and hide until the hunt is over. If they catch you, that’s not necessarily the end of your ghost hunting career. You become a ghost and can wander around the house seeing things the remaining ghost hunters can’t see.
Communication is necessary in Phasmophobia. It is best played with a group of people who all have headsets or mics. You can interact with the ghosts by asking questions or calling out to them. There is a large list of commands the ghosts recognize. Beware though, not all ghosts like to be called out to. Besides the instruments you carry with you, there is a command base vehicle that provides a lot of information to the players such as sanity levels, ghost activity, and camera feeds. It is often helpful to have one person stay back and relay all of this information to those in the building.
Phasmophobia is a great game to pick up and play for a community game night or if you are brave enough, a chilling solo adventure. It will challenge your ability to work together under pressure and show who has your back when things get terrifying.
All of the games listed above can be found for a modest price, but there are countless more to explore. The horror genre is also full of many free-to-play games. Some of these games are pretty rough, but you would be surprised at some of the unique and wonderful games that are available if you look hard enough. No matter what type of game you enjoy, this Halloween season, try out a spookier version and see what you can find. You just may want to play with the lights on this time.