Halloween Horror: Free Games from Asylum Jam and More
HorrorScope is a recurring feature exploring the horror genre in gaming and drawing attention to its elements, its tropes, and its lesser-known but still scary titles.
Okay, so technically, Halloween is over.
But this is HorrorScope, and we don’t care what the calendar says. Plus, Halloween fell on a Thursday this year, which means it’s not over until Monday for most of us — I’ll certainly be drinking spiced apple cider and rum through the emergency induction port in my Slender Man mask this weekend.
So let’s dispense with the pleasantries. You know why you’re here: It’s Halloween(ish), and you want scary games to play. If you’ve a regular reader of this column, you surely have a few options at your disposal (and there’s great Halloween sales on Steam and GoG.com that are full to bursting with spooky titles worth your attention). But if none of those grab you, we’ve run down a few (free) indie horror titles that are sure to give you some uneasy feelings in the screen-illuminated darkness this evening.
Tons of Titles from Asylum Jam
For a start, there’s a veritable treasure trove of free, largely experimental horror titles available as part of Asylum Jam, a horror game jam that took place earlier this month. Asylum Jam looked to challenge developers to create horror games that specifically did not stigmatize mental health issues — which means no insane asylum or hospital settings, no mental patients as raving killers, no medical experiments. The jam lasted only 48 hours, so many of the titles are proofs of concept and few are complete. Several are pretty unsettling, though.
There are literally tons of games to pick through, ranging from 3-D experiences in Unity like Checkpoint-Z and Camp Days, to top-down maze runners such as Beneath. I only got through the first few pages — it’d be easy to spend most of the weekend just trying out these titles.
Re-enter The Last Door
We told you about browser-based adventure title The Last Door, currently in development in episodes by The Game Kitchen, back in August. Since then, Chapter 3 of the game was released, and it’s pay-what-you-want (just like the earlier chapters, but the first is free), which means it’s definitely time to revisit the game. The opening of The Last Door is a suicide, and things only get creepier from there — and not in a hyper-gory way, because the game uses extremely low-fidelity, pixelated graphics to render out its 2-D world.
Adventure games and side-scrollers have more obstacles to surmount in scaring players than, say, first-person titles, but The Last Door does atmosphere with the best of them, and includes its fair share of well-executed jumps to go with a slowly unfolding, mysterious story.
I played developer Mike Inel’s short horror title Which months ago in preparation for an undetermined entry into this series, and though I haven’t found occasion to write about it until now, its unsettling presentation and conclusion have stuck with me ever since. Taking place in a small house, the goal is a simple one: find the right key to open the door to the exit. But keys and locked doors aren’t all that’s in the house.
To say more than that would spoil Which, especially its more interesting surprises. Equally off-putting is its presentation, which is a combination of almost static-like negative, low light and tight spaces. It’s an oppressive, gray graphical style that only amplifies the foreboding the entire game puts out, like walking around a dark room armed only with a black light.
Keep the Lights on in Kraven Manor
For the second episode of our Phil and Phil vs. Horror video maybe-series, a Let’s Play-style romp through horror games bereft with much screaming, we took on Kraven Manor. After taking the suggestion from Twitter (check out fellow games writer Carli Velocci’s great list of horror titles for Halloween at Paste — she was definitely right about this one), we delved in having no idea what to expect, and found a fairly great-looking first-person horror experience akin to titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and SCP Containment Breach.
The cool mechanic of Kraven Manor is that the mansion in which it takes place is mutable. You can rearrange the rooms by locating model versions of them and attaching them to a larger model in the building’s main hall. Drop the library on the left side of main hall and you can enter its lower floor; drop it on the right side to access its upper floor, and so on. It’s not a very difficult puzzle mechanic to grasp, but it does give a strange sense of weirdness to the already weird mansion, and that’s played up by great atmosphere and a pursuing villain that’s a phenomenal combination of creepiness and jump-scare production.
This list should keep you busy for at least a few hours into the post-Halloween weekend, but we’re always on the lookout for more great horror titles, free or otherwise. Drop your favorites in the comments and spread the shrieks.