When Halloween rolls around every year, we start thinking about scares. Scary movies, scary books, and scary games. The latter are an excellent way to have fun while freaking out at the same time.
Brace yourselves, fraidy cats! We've got six games for Xbox One and Windows PC that will bring you fun and frights on Halloween and beyond. Three are family-friendly and three for grownups, so everybody will find something to enjoy in our Six Spooky Games roundup.
Spooky fun for everyone
Costume Quest 2
If any game perfectly captures the spirit of Halloween, it's one of the very few that actually takes place during that holiday: Costume Quest 2 from DoubleFine and Midnight City. Although Costume Quest 2 is the only sequel that DoubleFine has ever made, you needn't have played the first game to enjoy it – I started fresh with part 2 and never felt lost.
Costume Quest 2 is a role-playing game in which a group of kids is tasked with saving Halloween from destruction. An evil dentist has harnessed the power of time travel and created a future in which children can no longer have candy. Our young heroes must team up with their adult selves to travel across the eras in order to stop his evil plans – plus do a little Trick or Treating while they're at it!
The game plays like classic Final Fantasies – the kids will travel across various locations completing quests, talking to everyone they meet, and collecting lots of candy (which acts as currency). Along the way they will assemble, collect, and equip a variety of costumes. These aren't just for looks; they also provide special abilities. For instance, the Pterodactyl costume's wings can blow away piles of leaves in order to open up new paths.
The turn-based battles take after the Mario & Luigi RPG series. When one of your character's turns comes up, you don't just choose to attack. You also need to time your button press in order to deal the most damage. If you time a second press correctly, you'll squeeze in another hit and pull off a combo. The more precise the button presses, the stronger the attack. Blocking works the same way. These timing elements ensure the battles stay fun throughout instead of getting stale.
With plenty of humor and wit, a story that keeps you on your toes, and a festive Halloween theme, Costume Quest 2 is a great RPG for all ages. Check out Gamasutra's recent post-mortem to learn how DoubleFine pulled the game off against all odds.
Golden Ruby Games and Ripstone's Extreme Exorcism takes place in a haunted house. But don't let the title fool you, you won't be exorcizing any demons here. Instead, you'll team up with a friend or two and battle against hordes of tiny, cute ghosts.
Extreme Exorcism is an action-platforming game featuring a variety of single-screen levels, much like Towerfall. Up to four local players can team up and visit the haunted house's 42 levels, fighting dozens of ghosts per room.
The gameplay twist here is that each time you kill a ghost, a new ghost spawns during the next round that mimics your exact movements of the previous round. Instead of AI, you're essentially battling yourself. As the rounds increase, all the ghosts from earlier rounds will stack up, creating huge hordes to battle. It gets hectic with four players!
Although it lacks proton packs, Extreme Exorcism still offers a vast arsenal of ghost-busting weapons. You'll unlock and wield pistols, swords, rocket launchers, shurikens, and even a gun that fires huge Banzai Bill-style bullets (which can be jumped on). These weapons spawn randomly in each stage, so you never know what arsenal you'll have at your disposal.
Extreme Exorcism can be a bit repetitive as a single-player game – an actual story and more variety would've helped. Other nitpicks include the game not taking up the full 16:9 resolution of the screen (why?!) and the lack of a "Retry" option on the Game Over screen.
Despite a few rough edges, Extreme Exorcism offers plenty of cooperative and competitive local multiplayer fun. Be sure to consult our comprehensive Achievement Guide to get the ghost out of Extreme Exorcism!
Originally created for the short-lived Ouya console by Nightlife Interactive, Abstraction Games eventually brought this one to Xbox One a few months back.
Whispering Willows is a ghost-themed adventure game that plays like a platformer (but without the jumping). The game begins when protagonist Elena Elkhorn sets out on a mission to rescue her missing father. He had been spending time at the Willows Mansion, the former home of their town's founder and the site of numerous murders.
Upon reaching the mansion, Elena falls into its underground catacombs and discovers a magic amulet. The necklace gives her the power to project her spirit form outside of her body, where it can speak with ghosts and interact with various objects. She'll use these powers to solve puzzles and unlock the mansion's many secrets.
You'll need to remember that looks aren't everything when playing Whispering Willows. The in-game art doesn't look too bad, except that the sprites are woefully under-animated. The intro and ending cinematics feature some of the worst art I've seen in a console game. Whoever drew them should find a new line of work.
Still, I really liked Whispering Willows because of its intriguing story. By finding notes and letters and talking to the many ghosts in and around Willow Mansion, Elena will discover the shocking history of her town and its founder. The plot deals with early American settler's relations with Native Americans, a subject we seldom see in games.
Another plus: easy Achievements! Whispering Willows is a relatively short game, lasting 4-6 hours in length. Approximately six Achievements are missable if the player reaches a new chapter without interacting with certain items. Just look up those few Achievements for safety and you can play through the game with no other guidance. It's a breezy good time.
- Whispering Willows – Xbox One – 2.3 GB – $9.99 – Xbox Link
- Whispering Willows – Windows, Mac, and Linux – $9.99 – Steam Link
Only the stout of heart need apply
Layers of Fear
This first-person horror game from polish developer Bloober Team is big on atmosphere, with the actual scares relatively far apart compared to Outlast and Slender: The Arrival. But it certainly does get creepier and creepier as the story progresses…
The game starts out with a narration from the protagonist, a once famous painter. Things have gone wrong in his life, but it will be a while before we discover the nature of those problems. The answers lie within the painter's large and run-down home.
Layers of Fear plays simply enough. You just walk around the house looking for clues. Many objects can be picked up and analyzed from any angle, although you'll take far fewer items along for use in future puzzles. A variety of documents like newspaper clippings and letters provide some insight into the events leading up to the game.
Exploring a house wouldn't be too scary on its own, but eventually things start to go awry. The painter will enter a room only to find that the door leads somewhere entirely different on his way out. Things change, melt, and even explode as you look at them… And something smashes away at the door. And throughout much of the experience, we're left to wonder whether these things are really happening or simply the result of madness.
As part of the Xbox One Preview Program (and Steam Early Access), Layers of Fear is not fully complete yet. The graphics are beautifully detailed, but the frame rate is well below standards on Xbox One. You get used to it, but people who require games to run at 60 FPS will want to avoid this one.
Also, the script was clearly not written by a native English speaker, which hampers immersion at times (as does the weak voice acting). Hopefully Bloober Team can improve on these flaws by the time the game fully launches.
Grab Layers of Fear if you enjoy a moody adventure game and can overlook a shoddy framerate.
Outlast is a first-person survival horror game from Red Barrels. Players take on the role of a journalist who has been sent to investigate a psychiatric hospital. You start outside the eerie place (not unlike The Evil Within) and must find your way inside.
Upon entering the asylum, our hero quickly discovers evidence of wrongdoings. The staff are no where to be found, and blood and trash litter the hallways. An entire SWAT team has already entered this place and disappeared. What happened to everyone?
Eventually you'll discover that someone has performed horrible experiments on the crazies interred within the asylum. You have no weapons with which to battle the mutated unfortunates, so you'll have to use stealth to avoid them. Perhaps they're not all violent, though.
Our hero doesn't pack a weapon, but he does at least carry a video camera. He can activate its night vision to see in the dark, finding paths to safety. But the night vision eats through batteries, so you'll need to use it sparingly.
Outlast impresses not only with its strong setting, but also fantastic graphics and disturbing creature designs. This is easily the most technically proficient of our "Spooky Six." If I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was a $60 retail game and not a downloadable indie title.
If you're looking for a brutal and sometimes gory horror title, better make Outlast your first pick instead of your last.
Slender: The Arrival
Urban horror legend Slender Man was created by a forum poster in 2009, according to Wikipedia. A blurry, faceless man added to old photographs, the character soon caught the imagination of online horror fans of all ages. You'll want to keep the kids away from Slendy's official game Slender: The Arrival, though, as it's the scariest game I've ever played. It comes from Blue Isle Studios and Midnight City.
The Arrival begins as initial protagonist Laura visits her friend's remote home. The missing girl Kate had been complaining of a mysterious man following her around. Unfortunately, her home has been wrecked and she's nowhere to be found.
Over the course of the game, players will take control of Laura, Kate, and a few other souls unlucky enough to run across the Slender Man. Few (if any) of them will escape from the terrifying being and his followers.
The Arrival takes place from a first-person perspective, with the player supposedly looking through a video camera the entire time. The lack of any other armament is part of what makes this game so terrifying. All you can do is run and hope Slender and Co don't randomly catch up with you, sending you back to the start of the level. You can only run a short distance before getting tired, at which point you're a sitting duck. No weapons, no defense - you're screwed.
Slender: The Arrival is a low budget game, so it's not the prettiest Xbox One title on the block. But the low-fi visuals don't get in the way of the horror. The actual thing(s) chasing you look plenty creepy, and they don't just want to kill you. The sound also drives home the horror; it puts me on edge the whole time I play.
As you progress through the game, bits of the story start to become clear. You'll find out what happens to the people who Slender catches - those poor souls. Few games capture the feel of a found footage horror movie so well. Slender: The Arrival is not a perfect game, but it's perfectly creepy and you won't find many other games like it on consoles.
Don't miss our full Slender: The Arrival review!
State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition
Did I leave out your favorite Xbox One/PC horror game? Or do you need some zombies in your spooky celebration? Here are the remaining horror and/or zombie-themed games available for Xbox One (and Windows). Most are really good, but I didn't want the list to run as long as a Stephen King novel!
- Alien: Isolation
- Dead Rising 3
- Dying Light
- The Evil Within
- Goat Simulator: Mmore Goatz Edition
- How to Survive: Storm Warning Edition
- Resident Evil
- Resident Evil Revelations 2
- State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition
- The Walking Dead (Seasons 1 and 2)
- Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition
Which of our Six Spooky Games have you played, and did they chill or thrill you as expected?
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