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National Spooky Month is coming to an end, but there's still time to celebrate with a few games that will send shivers down your spine.
Here's the thing: Not everyone enjoys being scared. Some of us just want to enjoy some spooky vibes to remind ourselves that the woods really do get that dark or that the sea really is that deep, without anyone having to complete murder puzzles or be hunted down by unspeakable things.
This list features seven stellar games that are jam packed with spooky vibes, but that aren't about leaving us with intense nightmare fuel. If you're still seeking some Halloween-time entertainment, start here.
Of all the games on this list, SOMA is the closest to being actually scary. This title comes from Frictional Games, the studio that developed most of the Amnesia series. There are some similarities here—on the standard settings, there are scary creatures that can hunt you down if you aren't good enough at sneaking.
But seeing that the game wasn't necessarily about that particular variety of scare, Frictional thankfully saw fit to add a Safe Mode to the game. The creepy monsters are still there, but they won't attack you and interrupt the flow of the game.
SOMA opens with you, the main character, going into a clinic for a scan of your brain. When you wake up, you're in an unsettling biomechanical place that screams H.R. Giger. How you got there is just the surface-level question SOMA wants you to think about. As you progress through the story, though, the scares aren't designed to make you jump so much as making you think about an upsetting and unsettling concept for too long.
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, SOMA deals with ideas of posthumanism, digital immortality, and other questions that will make you ask what makes us human and what does it mean to be conscious.
The year 1998 was a killer one for video games, and among the classics released that year was LucasArts' Grim Fandango. Led by game designer Tim Schafer (Psychonauts, Full Throttle), this game isn't really scary at any point. In fact, it was one of the funniest games in its day and most of the jokes still hold up. Rather, this is a PC adventure game that deals exclusively with death.
Grim Fandango is set in a version of the afterlife combining inspirations from Aztec culture, Mexican Dia De Los Muertos art, Art Deco, and noir influences. Protagonist Manny Calavera is a grim reaper—he guides people through to the great beyond, setting them up with travel packages befitting of the life they left behind.
Some of the gameplay doesn't hold up as well as it used to, but a 2015 remaster (available on PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4, iOS, and Android) took great strides to bring Grim Fandango into the modern day. If you need to hop online to look up hints, though, don't worry—these old LucasArts games are notoriously esoteric with their puzzles.
With Alan Wake 2 dropping just a few days ago, there's never been a better time to check out the original cult favorite. Writer Alan Wake takes a vacation to the fictional Pacific Northwestern town of Bright Falls, but finds himself trapped in a story of his own making. His wife is missing. and the townspeople are being taken over by a “Dark Presence.”
More than anything, Alan Wake is reminiscent of those old Stephen King TV miniseries, right down to the pseudo-episodic pacing. This is a single game, but it's split up into "episodes" that start with a recap sequence of what's happened, narrated by Wake himself, and they end on cliffhangers accompanied by extremely good selections of dark rock music from the likes of Roy Orbison, Poe, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Alan Wake is most definitely a 2010 game, with third-person gun action and two different kinds of collectibles, but the story is the star here. The combat is good enough to hold up through the game, and it only improved in developer Remedy's follow-up, the time-loopy Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Between the original and remastered editions, Alan Wake is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox 360/One/Series X and S, and Switch.
You’re probably looking at that name and wondering what Pony Island is doing on this list. Pony Island, like its follow-up, Inscryption, is a metafictional game that gradually pulls you into its mystery as you continue to play. This game isn't just a goofy but crude arcade game; there's evil written into the very code, and it begins to mess with your head.
It's a simple, short, and inexpensive game that you can complete in a single spooky sitting—around two and a half hours. It's the perfect precursor to the aforementioned Inscryption, created by the same designer, Daniel Mullins.
Of course, we can't mention Inscryption and then not talk about it. Mullins' latest game was a game-of-the-year contender for just about anyone that played it. After booting up a rare copy of a video game, you're dropped into a dingy shed, forced to play a card game with a creepy old man. You can roam around his shed between rounds, but you always have to play again.
As the story progresses, however, clues hint to something much larger going on. Like Pony Island, there's a metanarrative here that works to pull you into the fiction and makes all of the story beats that much more spooky.
Did you ever get lost as a kid—in the grocery store, the mall, or something like that? Everything is huge, and all of the adults are strangers. That's the vibe of Little Nightmares. It's set in a world that is deeply hostile to children; everywhere you go, the adults grab at you and sometimes even chase you.
The tension stays high in this puzzle platformer right up to the final moment. The art is the real standout here; the world is well realized, with lush and grimy characters and environments that feel intimidatingly large at every turn. You're supposed to be a nine-year-old kid, but this world is wrong-sized for any child to exist in it—even in rooms that look like they were designed with children in mind. It creates an unsettling feeling that never lets up.
The simple, crisp art of Dredge hides a dark secret. Described as a fishing adventure, you end up on shore in a small town and take over a small fishing boat to make a living. As you fish, you'll find increasingly strange sea life—and you'll notice that the weirder it is, the more excited your customers are to pay for it. Dredge works as a casual little indie game, but you can find the spooky stuff around every corner if you keep looking.