Stories Untold

Why aren't there more anthologies in games? When I watch an episode of Black Mirror, or HBO's Room 104, or a classic installment of The Twilight Zone, it's like opening a present. You might get a brilliant, unsettling parable that stays with you for years, or you could get a tedious saga about robot bees that kill arseholes on Twitter. I'd love more of the unexpected in games, and that's what Stories Untold did for me this year. Each episode, framed as part of a TV anthology within the game, showed me something I didn't see coming. 

I knew what episode one was about before going into the game. In The House Abandon, you play a text adventure inside the game where you explore a house. It soon becomes clear your actions in the text adventure affect the environment around your character in the game, and every flicker of the desk lamp shits you up. Then the next episode is completely different. And so's the next one, which makes you move around the environment for the first time, at a moment where you want to do anything but leave the spot you're sitting in. 

Stories Untold makes you perform repetitive tasks, tuning a radio frequency, or working out which text commands will help you progress. There's a bit of trial-and-error and a lot of double-checking. The whole time, you're waiting for something awful to happen, until the tension becomes a bit much. 

You're also left to ponder what connects its settings beyond front-and-centre use of '80s technology: the house with the computer, the lab, the arctic station, and the strange happenings that occur across each one. There are clues throughout, and you'll likely guess some part of the conclusion you're drifting towards, but the journey is unsettling and exciting.

I won't say any more than that about each episode. Like I said, you're opening a present each time—and the surprise should be preserved. Stories Untold comes from indie developer No Code, featuring Alien Isolation's lead UI artist Jon McKellan, and anyone who's played both games will see some of the same strengths carry over. The way antiquated technology can be used to evoke a particular feeling comes to mind, as does the use of sound design.

I hope it inspires other developers to create anthology series. As the format's popularity is spiking again in TV, Stories Untold shows how much potential there is in changing game styles between episodes while retaining a consistent atmosphere. What if the next BioShock was five different episodes set before the fall of Rapture, maybe made by different developers each time? Could BioWare make a Mass Effect that shows multiple playable characters affected by the same event? Even Battlefield 1's War Stories show that big publishers are willing to think about the potential of the format. 

Stories Untold is the game I've recommended the most to relatively new PC players this year, and I can't wait to see what No Code does next. If you're thinking of picking it up for the holidays, it normally costs a mere $10/£7, and you'll find it for even less during the Steam sale. It's so worth it.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

Spoooooky

Let us podcast, lest we forget. The squad of the Electronic Wireless Show chat about some of the most overlooked and underappreciated games of this year. Katharine thinks head-in-a-sack trip to the underworld Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice might qualify, while Adam praises the unsettling tales of Stories Untold. Brendan just wants more people to slap in skinny-person biffing game Absolver. But we’ve also been playing some other good ‘uns, including the magical realist family chronicle What Remains of Edith Finch and naval tactical battler Mare Nostrvm. (more…)

The Walking Dead

Every few years, someone claims that adventure games are dead. But adventure games never died: they just changed. "I think what they really mean is the death of point-and-click adventure games," says Ron Gilbert, creator of Monkey Island and, more recently, Thimbleweed Park. "Games like Gone Home, Firewatch, and everything Telltale makes are adventure games, and they can sell millions of copies. But if we limit the description to point-and-click games, I don't know that I fully disagree. These games are a niche market now, but if you make them cheaply and efficiently, they can still do well. Dave Gilbert [no relation] has carved out a nice fanbase."

"What's interesting is that those articles usually come out after a high-profile adventure game is released that's less than stellar," says Dave Gilbert, founder of point-and-click revivalist Wadjet Eye. "Suddenly a game speaks for all adventure games, and the whole genre is dead. This is a narrative that only seems to apply to adventure games. Roguelikes 'died' then came back. So did the platformer and the RTS. But people love talking about how adventure games died, or are dying. Even developers themselves! But I've been making them for 11 years and they continue to sell and support my family, so it's hard to take that kind of thing seriously."

"When people declare things dead in the moment, the odds of them turning out to be wrong are usually close to 100%, so it's easy to brush this kind of thing off," says Sam Barlow, creator of experimental mystery game Her Story. "I think part of it comes from a certain self-consciousness and a certain desire for the medium to hurry up and grow up. Adventure games often feel like an awkward middle ground between the proper narrative games we aspire to and our cruder earlier attempts."

Barlow explains that one of the adventure genre's greatest struggles is the idea of the player controlling the story's protagonist. "They become stuck in the weeds of the plot," he says. "I kinda like the fact that a lot of modern games have reduced the emphasis on the specifics of the actions, and focused more on dialogue and higher-level character choice. I'm interested in finding ways for players to be a part of the experience of a story without having to throw them into the busywork of 'being' a character."

Francisco Gonzalez, founder of indie adventure studio Grundislav, thinks that adventure game designers often stubbornly cling to older design tropes. Mazes, illogical puzzles, excessive in-jokes and too much fourth wall-breaking are just a few of the elements that bother him. "If your game absolutely needs a maze, keep it brief," he says. "Add some sort of puzzle element that allows you to navigate it without having to map it yourself."

"So many point-and-click games these days seem to have random puzzles that don't help move the narrative forward," says Ron Gilbert. "A good adventure game should also be about exploring a world, and in many games you're just teleporting from location to location. Firewatch and Gone Home are about exploring a space, and more point-and-click games need to do a better job of this. Build me a world I want to live in."

He continues, "I don't know that I've played a point-and-click adventure made in the last few years that thoroughly engaged me. I'm a point-and-click snob. I think two things that have hurt the genre are illogical puzzles and puzzles that don't intertwine with the narrative. I still see these issues today. However games like Firewatch get around this by not having deep puzzles. Most adventure games are all about story. In a lot of ways they've thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and that is depressing."

Olivia White of Owl Cave Games thinks too many adventure games still fall into the archaic traps of horrible logic and self-referential humour. "All the people working in the field today who do excellent work are the ones who are actively slicing away the old, rubbish parts of the genre and improving the good parts with surgical focus," she says. "Not all adventure games use moon logic, but plenty of designers are still stuck in the past."

"This is actually one of the freer genres to work within," says Sam Barlow. "There are enough limitations that it kind of encourages people to play around the edges, and I think that's important. The adventure game fan is often of a certain type, and there's been a lot of intense, fairly academic discussion and analysis of the genre. It has a lot of fans and creators who are passionate about keeping things moving forward."

No limit

I ask Ron Gilbert if the seemingly limited framework of the adventure genre naturally limits innovation. "For pure point-and-click games, it does," he says. "But people, including me, have a very rigid definition of a point-and-click game and resist change. After building Thimbleweed Park, I do think there's a stigma attached to the genre. People are often predisposed to think they won't like them, and that these games are full of illogical puzzles and bad narrative. As a creator you have a huge hump to overcome. We felt that every day making Thimbleweed."

"There have been a lot of really innovative things done in adventure games recently," says Francisco Gonzalez. "I think the main problem is that if an adventure game tries to innovate too much, then people no longer consider it an adventure game. There's a notion that you need absurd inventory puzzles to be part of the genre, but I consider games like The Cave, which has platforming elements, and the heavily story-led Oxenfree to be great examples of modern adventures."

"What adventure games do well is tell more intimate, more focused stories," says Dave Gilbert. "You wouldn't make an adventure game about a soldier fighting in a warzone. Nor would you make a beat-'em-up about a detective trying to solve a case. So can adventure games limit you? Sure. But for telling the stories I want to tell, the sky's the limit."

So what does the future hold for adventure games? "We're going to see a lot more games that shed the point-and-click mould," says Olivia White. "I think we'll see a bunch of developers adopting the Telltale style, but I'd like to see more games doing interesting things with interactive narrative like Stories Untold and Edith Finch."

"I think things are going to continue as they have for the past 20 years," says Francisco Gonzalez. "There'll always be a market for adventure games, and new generations of gamers will get into the genre through modern narrative games or the classics. But I hope adventure games will continue to evolve and not be afraid to go beyond the traditional genre trappings, embracing the move away from illogical, archaic design."

"We're seeing more games with lighter mechanics and a greater emphasis on story and character," says Sam Barlow. "I think that's something that helps the genre, because it brings in audiences who are hungry for what makes adventure games tick, and also draws in new creators who are ready to mix things up. My vision of the future is one where the adventure game creators step into the world of streaming TV, where they figure out how to use performance and video as a way of telling stories."

"More people are making adventure games than ever," says Dave Gilbert. "So we'll continue to see a lot of new and interesting games coming out."

"If only I knew," says Ron Gilbert. 

Left 4 Dead 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

To compile a list of the 25 best horror games on PC is to look into the void for so long that the void not only starts to look back, but shakes you by the hand and takes you out for coffee. It is to fight with monsters until you become a monster and then go on a European railtrip with the other monsters, and really bond over cocktails in Saint-Tropez.

It is also a great way to explore the wide range of possible experiences within horror fiction. Here, there is something for everyone, even the squeamish and the easily-startled. Yes, there are jumpscares, but there are also slow-burn psychological dramas and tongue-in-cheek splatterfests. There are uncanny things and real terrors, but there are smiles and smirks among the shocks.

(more…)

Stories Untold

It's Halloween, so you're more likely to be looking for something scary to play than at any other time of year (it's also possible you're just finishing Wolfenstein 2, which is fine too). While you can find our long list of the best horror games elsewhere, in this feature we wanted to focus exclusively on some of our favourite indie horror titles, where the subject matter tends to be more specific than you'd get in a blockbuster game. Hopefully you'll find something in these picks that you haven't played before. 

Lone Survivor

This neat Silent Hill-infused sidescrolling adventure sees you trying to escape a disease-ridden city, and what transpires is shaped by how you play—how many pills you take, how much you've slept and so on. It has flashes of Lynchian surrealism, and its grimy corridors are chilly spaces to explore. The director's cut, available on Steam, features new areas and two new endings, among other extras. Since developer Jasper Byrne is also a musician (his work is featured in both Hotline Miami games), the soundtrack is fantastic, and again feels like it takes some influence from Konami's seminal horror series. I'm not sure what happened to Byrne's non-horror follow-up, New Game Plus, but it sure looked cool.—Samuel Roberts

Detention

Inspired by Chinese mythology and Taiwanese culture, this atmospheric, subtly creepy game is part point-and-click adventure, part survival horror. Set in the 1960s, two students are trapped in a school haunted by bizarre creatures and must find a way out. The hand-painted art is stunning, and the tone and puzzles are reminiscent of the original Silent Hill. An overlooked game and one of the best modern horrors on PC.—Andy Kelly

Anatomy

I don’t want to say too much about Anatomy other than you explore a house looking for VHS tapes. Things change. Considerably. This isn’t your typical haunted house story either. If Resident Evil 7 is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre then Anatomy is Kill List or Jacob’s Ladder or Under the Skin. It’s a short, slow game that refuses to use closets for monsters, positing the house itself, the medium, the geometry as what you should actually be afraid of. —James Davenport

Stories Untold

This horror anthology features four connected stories of spooky happenings. Episode one, which you can play for free on Steam, sees you exploring an abandoned house in an ancient text adventure within the game, while sat at a desk. The environment around you starts to change in accordance with your actions in the game, and it becomes scary as hell. And that's just one episode—the others are based around a very different idea, each of which involve deliberately repetitive interactions and escalating spookiness.—Samuel Roberts

Bonbon

This tiny, unsettling slice of horror marries toddler-in-the-eighties-in-the-UK nostalgia with that sense of mundane things becoming scary when you view them through the perspective of a child. The best thing about Bonbon is how it meanders back and forth across the distinction between reality and imagination in order to create its scares. The actual interactions can be clunky but there's an ambiguity built into the experience which elevates the result. 

I should confess that I can only just about handle Bonbon because horror really isn't my genre and I had to ask a horror-aficionado friend to reassure me that there wasn't much left when I was tempted to quit out. I also managed to attract attention in the office after a particular jump scare got me really badly. But overall I'd say this is an interesting horror game which I, a terrified person, managed to play and get something out of. Maybe don't make me sleep with the lights off for a week, though.—Pip Warr

SCP-087 (Stairwell)

The SCP stories are the product of a bunch of strangers on the internet trying to freak each other out. They are often disturbing, and frequently work ordinary objects or locations into nightmarish horror scenarios. Stairwell is one. You simply walk down a dark staircase for a random number of floors as weird stuff happens. It’s so simple but very effective—a perfect example of an indie horror game that focuses on one idea and nails it. The SCP Foundation is worth a visit if you want some odd horror fiction.—Tom Senior

IMSCARED

IMSCARED is a low-fi first-person horror game that describes itself describes itself as a "metahorror" experience. Its creator warns that the game "will try to deceive you as many times as it can". To say much more would spoil things, but expect the trickery to extend beyond the confines of the game. Keep an eye out for any stray files on your desktop screen, and don't say I didn't warn you.—Tom Senior

Duskers

Equal parts real time strategy, survival game, roguelike, and horror, Duskers puts you in remote control of a handful of drones as you explore a series of procedurally generated derelict spaceships. Scavenge for fuel, scrap metal, and upgrades, and try to remain calm as unseen alien entities skulk around the spooky-as-hell ships, chewing through doors and slipping through air vents in an attempt to destroy your plucky drones. With low-fi visuals and excellent sound design, Duskers overflows with tension, atmosphere, and lots of delicious oh-shit moments.—Chris Livingston

The Last Stand 2

The Last Stand 2 is a Flash game about clicking on zombies till they die. In a certain frame of mind I will tell you it is the perfect zombie game. 

The first Last Stand was a straightforward thing about standing behind barricades as the undead approached from screen left and learning when to switch to the chainsaw as they neared. Survive until dawn, and it ended. The sequel adds something to do in daylight hours: searching for survivors who will join you at the barricade, as well as more weapons and traps. (Watching a bear trap snag the legs of one of those fast zombies so you can lazily headshot them is a good time.) Any spare hours can be spent repairing the barricade.

But the real reason to search is to find supplies so you can travel to the next town. In 40 days the entire country's going to be quarantined and if you don't make it out by then, you never will. It's as simple, low-budget, and effective as the best movies about the living dead. Maybe it is the perfect zombie game. —Jody Macgregor

Inside

My favourite horror films are those that continue to defy neat explanation even as the credits roll. I'm thinking of weirdo cult stuff like Possession from the '80s, and more recently Enemy, by Denis Villeneuve, the Blade Runner sequel dude. Why mention movies? Because very few games pull off the same feat of managing to be both unsettling and satisfying, but Inside does. The spiritual sequel to Limbo leans on similarly gorgeous but bleak art and animation, but has a story that's far more interesting than its predecessor. 

Not that I'm sure I can explain it. Roughly: you're a boy on the run in some sort of dystopic otherworld, navigating puzzles, platforms, and inventively nightmarish insta-deaths. The greatest/nastiest of which has to be the underwater section. Just say to any other Inside player "How about that swimming witch?" and savour their reaction.

And then the game morphs, quite literally, into something else entirely. It's a huge, again also literally, spoiler that we've talked about at length elsewhere on the site, and which developer Playdead gave a great talk about making at GDC last year. I think I've also read them say that the game is fundamentally about totalitarianism, but all I can say for sure is that the implications of its final reel have lingered with me long after I left that moonlight dappled beach. —Tim Clark

Stories Untold - jon

That's right! Out now, and at a massively discounted price for day one!

We highly recommend a dedicated graphics card set up to play on high quality settings, and for the best experience. This is not your average text adventure, so a decent machine is required!

Enjoy!
Stories Untold - Valve
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Stories Untold - jon
Hello lovely people!

The latest version of Stories Untold has now gone live! Sorry it took a while, but the few bugs we've fixed where very hard for us to reproduce (in one case, seemingly impossible) but we believe this build should address the majority of crashes that people were having on Episode 3 and 4. There's a joke in there...

If you find any issues, please drop us a line at hello@nocodestudio.com - also be sure to let us know if it does indeed work for you now when it used to crash, to put our little minds at ease.

Enjoy!
Sep 1, 2017
Dead Space

So you're looking to spook yourself with the best horror games you can play on PC. Whether you're into jump scares, interactive fiction, thematically interesting stories or just large men running after you with a chainsaw, we've included a wide variety of games that'll hopefully freak you the hell out. Enjoy.

Like our lists of best strategy games or best FPS games, we tried to focus on a variety of horror experiences that still hold up well today, though we've expanded the remit slightly to include a few retro curios as well. 

Resident Evil 7

What starts as a bold, scary reboot certainly gets closer to the more recent action-oriented entries in its later chapters, but exploring the Baker family's grimy plantation in Resident Evil 7 is a grisly treat. The detail of this setting is amazing, and in the first half of the game, there's such a sense of the unknown that you're cautiously poking around every corner and treating bullets like they're gold. Resi 7's videotapes, which have you play out-of-context asides shedding more light on the Baker family and the story, offer the game's best and most experimental moments. 

Resi 7 is close to the original intent of Resi, but we kept the HD version of the original on this list too because they're both fantastic in their own way.

Inside

An unrelentingly bleak platformer that puts you through a gauntlet of hellish imagery: creepy mermaids, security robots, people hunting you down, nasty weather and more that we won't spoil here. Its vision of a cruel dystopian world that's out to kill you at all times is extraordinary, even if the moment-to-moment platforming is pretty familiar and can be frustrating. You're mainly playing it to experience the setting, really.

See also Little Nightmares, a similar type of horror platformer that isn't as scary but is arguably just as inventive. 

Stories Untold

In this anthology game, you operate a computer within the game: first playing an old horror text adventure game set in a spooky house, and later performing similar interactions in other locations, including a lab and a station in freezing conditions. How these episodes link together is the game's overarching mystery, but it's the way the surrounding environment changes with the story beats that'll shit you up here. Stories Untold is co-developed by Alien: Isolation UI mastermind Jon McKellan, and a lot of that DNA is present here. Plus, it'll only take you a few hours to beat, and it's a very reasonable $10 on Steam.

Outlast 2

As a trial-and-error stealth game, Outlast 2 might not be for everyone, but thematically it's among the more interesting games on this list. Playing as a journalist searching for a missing woman in Arizona, your wife is then kidnapped early on by a deranged cult, the origins of which are told through snippets of letters during the game. You navigate dark environments using the night vision mode of your camera, and it's just scary as heck, with a whole village wanting you dead and some of the most gruelling imagery ever put into a game. 

System Shock 2

Before BioShock was BioShock, it was System Shock: an altogether freakier combination of RPG and FPS, and one that in its second (and best) iteration told the story of a rogue AI on a haunted spaceship—that rogue AI being the incomparably uppercase SHODAN. The murderous artificial consciousness paved the way for GlaDOS of course, but its the combination of meaningful character advancement, rewarding exploration, horrifying enemies and (at the time) the novel use of audio diaries that make System Shock 2 such a memorable horror game. It was essentially Deus Ex on a spaceship—if you've ever played Deus Ex, or been on a spaceship, you can imagine how delectable that sounds.

IMSCARED

Don't be put off by IMSCARED's rather tedious "A Pixelated Nightmare" tagline—it is easily one of the most unsettling games available today. But it's also a tough one to pitch, because much of its terror lies in the surprises that shouldn't be ruined by a meagre 150 word-long recommendation. Know that it borrows from 90's horror games via its aesthetic and fourth wall-breaking, file-bothering makeup; and that it consistently strives to surprise and keep players guessing. Understand that it'll play with your emotions, and drop you into a confused and confusing world while incessantly goading you till its final breath. Don't expect jump scares, but do expect to be scared enough to jump from your chair. The 2012 GameJolt version of IMSCARED is free, while the full, extended version is cheap as chips over on Steam. If you think we're at all grandstanding here, please be our guest and give it a try. We'll be hiding behind the couch. 

Thumper

A rhythm action nightmare in which you play a silver beetle speeding down a track into the mouth of a huge demented boss head. Death comes quickly. Miss a couple of turns and you're dashed into a million glittering pieces against the courses metal banks. Miss a beat in the gaze of the ring-shaped guard robots and they'll hurtle towards you, lasers blazing. All the while the ambient soundtrack pulses uneasily and the the rhythms become faster, and more erratic. The effect is one of tense, compressed dread. Probably best to play it in short bursts only. 

Silent Hill 2

We can all agree that Silent Hill 2 is the best in the series, and although Konami have never made much of an effort with the PC versions, if you factor in mods and texture/resolution tweaks this is probably the best way to play it these days—even if prices for the (extremely rare) retail copies can be pretty extortionate. It was the first game to really push the idea of horror narratives as subjective, fluid and untrustworthy things, with a story that invites interpretation and a semi-sentient city that warps and shifts itself to fit the damaged psyches of its inhabitants. The confusing cult nonsense of the first and third games was pushed to the backburner for the more personal story of a psychologically damaged widower battling his way through a foggy purgatory populated by zombie-things, dog-things, and whatever the hell Pyramid Head was.

Sylvio

Whereas the likes of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame rely on radios to alert players to otherworldly adversaries, Sylvio uses sound, EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and audio manipulation as its central ideas. Not only that, the game builds its entire gorgeously creepy world around this principle theme as players strive to uncover its backstories, bizarre plot twists, and insights into its unsettling unknown—all of which is backed up by some stellar voice acting. Generic first-person horror this ain't, and while it does occasionally force tedious combat set pieces upon players, it thrives in its quirky, idiosyncratic moments that are filled with atmosphere and character and dread. Sylvio is a thinking game and is unique within the horror genre. 

Anchorhead

Horror games owe a significant debt to one Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and not just because he's long dead and his work is out of copyright. Plenty of games have included references to his unique brand of cosmic horror, but Anchorhead is more inspired than most, drawing from several of his novels and stories to tell the tale of the a married couple who have inherited an old mansion in a creepy New England town. The sedate exploration of the game's opening segments eventually give way to tense, turn-limited puzzles as you struggle to stop an ancient, possibly world-ending ritual from being completed. No pressure then. It's free, and you can play it in your browser.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

The Dark Descent casts you as Daniel, an amnesiac who wakes up in a mostly deserted castle that must be explored in search of escape. Frictional draw on all of their experience creating atmospheric, exploratory horror in the Penumbra series to fill Amnesia's fortress with an oppressive and lingering sense of foreboding. Expect distant echoing noises, strange rumbles behind the walls, and to start seeing half-formed dark figures in the ambiguous candlelight. There's a monster, too, stalking you through the corridors. The perennial rule of horror creatures—that they're less scary once you've seen and understood them—certainly applies here, but Dark Descent is still a must-play horror game.

Dark Souls

You won't find scripted jump scares here. Dark Souls is a lonely, gruelling struggle through a world on the verge of being extinguished. Lordran is a sad and horrifying place to be. You catch glimpses of the gods' old glory, but mostly you're confronting the aftermath of their terrible mistakes, whether it's the nightmare of the Bed of Chaos or the gross parasite eggs of Demon Ruins. The PC port is poor, but most of its visual shortcomings have been solved by the modding community. Start with the DS Fix and pick and choose from the Dark Souls Nexus to get the game into shape.

Dead Space

Dead Space's lanky alien monsters are noteworthy not just for their ability to fit into tiny closets and jump out at passing protagonists, but for the satisfying fragility of their narrow, bony limbs. Dead Space's high concept, back in the first game, was that you're a simple engineer tending to a broken ship, rather than a meaty space marine with miniguns coming out of his chest. Better still, the cutting and cleaving tools your engineer is so practiced with ended up being more rewarding than the traditional machine guns and shotguns of your typical FPS. Worryingly, foes react differently when you snip off certain limbs—a headshot may only make them madder. Oh, there's a batty plot about an alien obelisk that sends people insane, a space cult, and other nonsense. Don't worry about that too much, the room-to-room stalking is super-tense in spite of the flimsy story. Dead Space classic piece of linear horror design that still holds up.

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Poor Pripyat just can't catch a break. In real life it's been abandoned since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In Stalker, it also suffers the indignity of corrupted anomalies and invisible monsters. The entire series has focused on a harsh and desperate struggle for survival. You may be seeking valuable anomalies and treasure, but first you'll need to secure the basics: food, bandages, and weapons. Occasionally you'll enjoy the companionship of fellow travellers around a campfire, but for the most part your exploration of the open world will feel oppressive and lonely. Call of Pripyat is the best and most technically competent game in the series, but the original Shadow of Chernobyl is also worth a look. Don't miss the Stalker: Lost Alpha—Director's Cut, either. 

The Walking Dead

Is anyone still scared of zombies? Sure, they're creepy—there's something intrinsically unsettling about a vacant sack of human flesh—but when is the last time you felt visceral, gut-wrenching fear in the presence of the horde? Blood, guts, and realistic subsurface glistening just don't do it any more. Telltale's The Walking Dead forgoes the anatomy lesson for something more harrowing. The eponymous dead are extras in a bleak human drama, a handy plot device to prompt the fall of society and watch what happens when people break. Those people, all well-written and interesting characters, make for a more immediate, more believable horror story. The Walking Dead could be real, a plausible portrayal of a world going to hell, and that is scary indeed.

Harvester

Phantasmagoria is the most infamous horror adventure of the interactive movie age, but that's only because almost nobody played the infinitely gorier, endlessly more disturbing Harvester. You wake up with amnesia in a messed up 50s town, where mothers pop their babies' eyeballs, the paperboy packs a gun, the local teachers deals discipline with a baseball bat at Gein Memorial High School, and nobody bats an eye at the wasp woman down the street. All you know is that unless you join the mysterious Lodge in the middle of town, you're not going to last the week—one that ends in an involuntary blood drive where the nurse uses a scythe. Then things get really weird. It's a tough game to find legitimately, but check out our feature on it for more.

Pathologic

Pathologic is ugly and broken. It will sit on your hard-drive like a gangrenous limb, in need of amputation. If this sounds like a criticism, it isn't. Beyond the dirty, putrefied atmosphere, Pathologic is also weird and theatrical, frequently breaking the fourth wall and questioning your role as the player. You choose one of three characters, each with their own mysterious past. Afterwards, masked figures explain the rules of the game: that you have twelve days to cure the town of its disease, and that time will progress regardless of your actions. As it slips by, you'll have to pick your goals wisely, gathering resources and helping characters in the hope of slowing the inexorable decay. Whatever your choice, the town continues to rot, and the game builds towards its horrific conclusion.

It's being remade and expanded, in Pathologic 2, but you can also grab the HD edition of the original on Steam. 

Condemned: Criminal Origins

The Silent Hill series does creepy mannequins well, but nowhere near as well as Condemned: Criminal Origins. The premise is quite simple: there's a serial killer on the loose, you're a crime scene investigator, and people expect you to catch him. What's less straightforward is how quickly agent Ethan Thomas takes to cold-blooded murder—even considering the entire populace of Metro City appears to have it in for him. Nonetheless, while Condemned: Criminal Origins offers frontman Thomas a range of firearms, he seems happy enough to do his crowd controlling by way of melee weaponry, each of which has its own distinct feel in close-quarters combat. With that, Condemned rarely pulls any punches—it knows what it is and is happy doing so from start to finish. It's now somehow ten years old, but it holds up well today. 

The Evil Within

Reasons to be interested in this survival horror can be boiled down to just two words: Shinji Mikami, the designer responsible for Resident Evil (the good ones), God Hand and Vanquish, the latter of which have criminally never punched and rocket-boosted their way to PC. The Evil Within is his grand return to horror. Expect to spend a fair bit of time hiding from chainsaw-wielding psychopaths, shooting and burning lumbering zombie-likes and laying traps. And a follow-up is on the way, with multiple routes through levels and a story that's a little Silent Hill 2-esque. 

Soma

Frictional Games has already appeared in this roundup, and that's because time and time again they've proven that they know horror—first in the Penumbra games, and then again in Amnesia. Soma is their latest first-person scare-'em-up, full of creepy experiments, creepier blinking computer-things, and exchanges that question the nature of humanity and consciousness. There are disturbing monsters too, though you can switch those off with a Steam Workshop mod if you want to. 

Metro 2033

Similar to Stalker featured earlier in this list, Metro 2033 visits a post-apocalyptic, nuclear war-ravaged world that's filled with mutated abominations—the vast majority of which seek to harm you. Here, the year is 2033, 20 years after Russia fell victim to nuclear war. Moscow's surface is now too dangerous to explore, therefore much of the game takes place within its interweaving subway system and a hostile group named the Dark Ones stalks the player and their pals. Admittedly, Metro 2033, like Stalker, leans towards the action genre however while much of its scare factor is tied to running out of supplies and/or ammo, there's something truly unsettling about its post-nuclear war premise—that perhaps because this sort of scenario could happen, it becomes scarier? Maybe it's simply the fact the Dark Ones are bloody terrifying.

Slender

The slim, suited menace known as Slenderman started life as a forum meme, and has quickly grown into a horror series. His schtick is simple, but terrifying enough. If you look directly at him, he devours you, but when you look away he can move position instantly in an attempt to trick your gaze. You have to collect eight notes from a dark forest as the demon hunts you. The free downloadable version, The Eight Pages, has inspired a wealth of YouTube Let's Play videos, because it turns out it's almost as fun to watch Slender's potent psychological terror inflicted on others as it is to endure it yourself. Its popularity encouraged Blue Isle studios and Parsec productions to create a prettier version called Slender: The Arrival, which is available for $10 on Steam, and has bonus Oculus Rift support for VR terror.

Alien: Isolation

The best Alien game ever, by a long way, Isolation stars the smartest, scariest enemy in any game. The Xenomorph's killer instinct is matched only by its curiosity. It learns more about the Sevastopol's nooks and crannies as it hunts you over the course of 12 hours, ripping doors off closets and peering under tables in search of prey. The motion tracker can help you to avoid its grasp, but it can sense the sound, and even the gentle green light of its screen, making every glance a risk. When the game forces you into the vents and you can hear the creature in there with you, Isolation becomes one of the scariest games ever made.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos should be a ripe playground for gaming scares. It rarely works out like that; the fiction often put to use in ways that fail to convey the sheer magnitude of its ancient and maddening horror. Despite the bugs and the clunkiness, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a first-person survival horror that both stays true to its source, and provides a multitude of ideas through its many and varied levels. You'll go from escaping an assassination, to being hunted by cultists, to fighting off Shoggoths and Deep Ones.

FEAR

FEAR is a better shooter than a horror game, but is worthy of note for referencing Asian cinema with its creepy villain, Alma, a little girl who can rip people apart with her thoughts. FEAR also exploited the first person perspective to create jump-scares, using ladders and narrow corridors to funnel the player's view through a rollercoaster of linear frights. You catch glimpses of Alma in the corner of a room as lightbulbs shatter, you'll suddenly see her feet at the top of a ladder as you descend, and there's a gratuitous corridor of blood, because The Shining deserves a nod every now and then. First person horror techniques have been honed into a more concentrated horror experience by games like Outlast, but FEAR does let you pin clone soldiers to walls with a stake gun, and kick them in the face in slow motion as they scream “FUUUUUUU” in a low-pitched, slurry expression of terror. The psychological horror themes persisted in FEAR's sequels—FEAR 2: Project Origin and FEAR 3.

Resident Evil HD Remaster

The tank controls and pre-baked backgrounds hint at Resi's age, but it's a survival horror classic nonetheless, and received a handsome HD upgrade in early 2015. The famous Resi mansion drips with atmosphere, and hides some top-drawer jump scares—when crows come crashing through a window, it makes every future trip down that corridor especially tough. The giant spiders are hideous and the relentless threat of the mansion's zombie population grinds down your spirit and your health bar. Soon you're a limping picture of pain and regret, searching for the octagonal object you need to go in the octagonal slot. What a nightmare.

Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

2017 has already been an extraordinary year for PC games, from both big-name AAA successes to no-name surprise indie smashes. Keeping up with so much that’s worth playing is a tough job, but we’ve got your back. Here is a collection of the games that have rocked the RPS Treehouse so far this year.

We’ve all picked our favourites, and present them here in alphabetical order so as not to start any fights. You’re bound to have a game you’d have wanted to see on the list, so please do add it to the comments below. … [visit site to read more]

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