As Halloween approaches, the focus this week is on one game release: Alan Wake 2. The follow-up to Remedy Entertainment’s popular action-adventure game offers a terrifying next-generation horror experience as the main character finds himself trapped in a terrifying alternate dimension connected to Bright Falls, Washington – the small town he vanished from 13 years ago.
The initial game drew significant influence from Stephen King, with its protagonist, a troubled horror writer, representing the renowned author and the psychologically scarred protagonists of his popular novels, particularly The Shining and The Dark Half. However, Alan Wake also falls into a tradition of deeply disturbed horror game heroes who frequently embody the very creatures they seek to defeat.
The primary example is James Sunderland, the ordinary protagonist of Silent Hill 2, who journeys to the titular town upon receiving a letter from his deceased wife requesting his presence. In his search through the misty roads and deserted structures for his spouse (similar to Alan Wake’s quest in the first game), he encounters bizarrely sexualized creatures such as zombie nurses, mannequins, and Pyramid Head, a towering figure clad in leather with a pyramid-shaped head. The entire game serves as a metaphor for Sunderland’s suppressed guilt and psychological turmoil, with the player experiencing his mental breakdown on his behalf.
The Resident Evil franchise features a multitude of troubled heroes embarking on seemingly impossible missions to rescue their loved ones. In Resident Evil 7, Ethan Winters receives a message from his long-lost wife, leading him to a mysterious plantation. Meanwhile, in the remake of Resident Evil 4, seasoned soldier Leon Kennedy struggles with PTSD and sleeplessness as he searches for the president’s daughter in a creepy rural village.
The main character in Monolith’s 2005 action-horror game FEAR experiences debilitating hallucinations while exploring an abandoned facility for psychic research with his unit. In the 1998 point-and-click adventure game Sanitarium, a man regains consciousness after a car accident only to discover that he is trapped in a gothic asylum controlled by an extraterrestrial force called Mother. In parts of the game, players take on the role of the protagonist’s deceased sister, Sarah. It can be seen as a Freudian nightmare in a literal sense. This same premise is revisited in the highly acclaimed 2010 game Amnesia: Dark Descent, where a Victorian gentleman wakes up in a castle with no memory – for a very good reason.
These games challenge the typical portrayal of a video game hero – a strong, skilled, confident warrior with clear goals and a recognizable enemy. In Alan Wake, the enemies are shadows and the story unfolds through pages of a book he has no recollection of writing; in Silent Hill, there is always uncertainty surrounding whether the horrors are actual or perceived. Thus, the top horror games also delve into our connection with characters on the screen – the way we both observe and become them in a uncertain partnership where boundaries constantly blur and reshape in unpredictable ways.
Even though Stephen King is often credited as the main inspiration for the Alan Wake games, series writer Sam Lake also drew influence from David Lynch. The original game had similarities to Twin Peaks in its setting and characters, but it also shared Lynch’s overarching concept of reality, fantasy, and horror coexisting without logical explanation. In Alan Wake 2, players take on the role of FBI agent Saga Anderson in the “real” world, investigating ritualistic murders in Bright Falls. Lake and narrative designer Molly Maloney highlight the strong connection between detective and horror fiction through the interplay of Saga’s adventure and Alan’s. They also mention David Fincher’s film Seven as a significant influence, exploring similar themes of heroism and horror in a corrupt society.
The top scary video games revolve, to some extent, around the world of gaming itself. They delve into the dynamics between the player, the controller, and the screen – a peculiar relationship no matter the game being played. Even innocent titles like Super Mario, Pokémon, or Animal Crossing have eerie moments due to the immersive nature of gaming which can create unsettling images, scenarios, and fears with seemingly harmless content. A prime example of this is Gone Home, an acclaimed indie game following a young woman’s return to her family’s house. Initially, it deliberately appears to be a survival horror adventure, but as the game progresses, we come to realize it’s actually a story about relationships. This is a clever and well-executed concept.
I encourage you to play a horror game during the fall season and contemplate on what makes it frightening, the techniques it utilizes, and why they are effective. Horror games have a lot to teach us, and that is the truly terrifying aspect of them.
What to play
Sticking with the horror genre, I previously overlooked World of Horror during its early access stage, but now that the final game has been released, I am fully immersed in it. Developed by Panstasz from Poland, it is a customizable role-playing game where players explore Lovecraftian creatures in a small Japanese town. Each playthrough offers a unique selection of quests. The black and white art style is well-defined and eerie, clearly drawing inspiration from horror manga writer Junji Ito. Overall, it is a uniquely charming approach to classic horror elements.
This game can be played on a variety of platforms, including PC, PS4/5, and Switch.
Playtime: 4-30 hours
What to read
There is a significant competition happening for the top spot in autumn video game sales, and it appears that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has surpassed Super Mario Bros Wonder in physical sales in the UK. However, it seems that the new web-slinging adventure from Sony is not performing as well as God of War Ragnarök did. Nevertheless, it has already become the fourth-highest selling physical release of the year behind Zelda, EA Sports FC 24, and Hogwarts Legacy. In the meantime, Sonic Superstars debuted at No. 4 on the chart – a result of directly competing with a Super Mario game where the main character can transform into an elephant.
Regarding Super Mario Bros Wonder, I found Digital Foundry’s technical analysis of the game to be insightful. They examined how effectively it uses the aging Switch hardware and effectively explains its accomplishments in an understandable manner.
The BBC has published an article discussing a new program in Liverpool City that promotes game development. The northwest region has a strong history in creating games, with notable studios like Psygnosis and Bizarre Creations making significant contributions. The purpose of this initiative, led by the Liverpool City Region careers hub, is to establish connections between aspiring young developers and the gaming industry.
I am intrigued by the increasing collaboration between video games and upscale fashion companies. A recent example is the Elden Ring collection by luxury streetwear brand ARK/8, featuring a £1,400 faux-fur coat. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an effort to recreate the Prisoner’s iron mask, which I believe would have been a hit on the runways of Paris and Milan.
What to click
Reworded: Review of Super Mario Bros Wonder – a multiplayer game with exciting moments of joy across all levels.
Review of “Finity” – Creative tile-based puzzle allows for strategic movement.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 review – a big, wholehearted fantasy full of conflict and emotion
Stuart Gallop on Twitter/X inquired about this one.
“When will the next Xbox X exclusive release after Starfield? Is there something that could entice buyers to purchase an Xbox? I’m having trouble coming up with any ideas!”
After acquiring Activision Blizzard, Microsoft now boasts a total of nearly 40 studios under the Xbox umbrella. This should have made the question easier to answer, but it proved to be more challenging than expected. The first titles that came to mind were the upcoming Fable reboot and Forza Horizon 6 from Playground Games, as well as Rare’s highly anticipated game, Everwild. However, these games are still a few years away from release. In 2024, there will be several Xbox console exclusives hitting the market, such as Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Avowed, Dungeons of Hinterberg, South of Midnight, Towerborne, and Clockwork Revolution. While all of these games looked promising during their reveal at the Xbox showcase, it’s unclear if any of them will truly be game-changing in terms of hardware. So unless Microsoft surprises us with something incredible next year, my prediction is that the next Forza Horizon will be the standout title in 2024. However, it’s possible that this game may not be released until 2025.
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