With Halloween quickly approaching, the only game release worth mentioning this week is Alan Wake 2. The follow-up to Remedy Entertainment’s beloved action-adventure game guarantees a terrifying next-generation horror adventure, with the protagonist Alan Wake trapped in a twisted alternate reality connected to the small town of Bright Falls, Washington where he vanished 13 years prior.
The initial game drew inspiration from the works of Stephen King, using its protagonist, a troubled horror writer, as a representation of the author and the psychologically damaged protagonists in his popular novels, such as The Shining and The Dark Half. However, Alan Wake also fits into a longstanding tradition of disturbing horror game heroes who often become the very creatures they aim to defeat.
The prime example is undoubtedly James Sunderland, the average protagonist of Silent Hill 2, who journeys to the titular town after receiving a letter from his deceased wife beckoning him to come. As he searches the misty streets and deserted buildings for his beloved (similar to Alan Wake’s search for his missing wife in the first game), he encounters bizarrely sexualized creatures such as undead nurses, humanoid mannequins, and Pyramid Head, a massive figure clad in leather with a head shaped like a pyramid. 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 cast of troubled protagonists embarking on seemingly impossible missions to rescue their loved ones. In Resident Evil 7, Ethan Winters is lured to a plantation by a message from his long-lost wife. Meanwhile, in the remake of Resident Evil 4, former special ops soldier Leon Kennedy struggles with PTSD and insomnia as he sets out to find the president’s daughter, who has been kidnapped and taken to a creepy rural village.
The main character in Monolith’s 2005 action-horror game FEAR experiences debilitating delusions while exploring an abandoned facility for psychic research with his team. In the 1998 point-and-click adventure Sanitarium, a man awakens after a car accident to discover he is trapped in a gothic asylum controlled by an extraterrestrial being called Mother – part of the game involves playing as the man’s deceased sister, Sarah. This can be seen as a Freudian nightmare. This theme is revisited in the highly acclaimed 2010 game Amnesia: Dark Descent, where a Victorian man wakes up in a castle with no memory – only to realize there is a valid explanation for his amnesia.
These games challenge the typical image of a video game hero – one who is skilled, strong, confident, and has a clear enemy. In Alan Wake, the enemies are actual shadows and the story unfolds through the pages of a book he doesn’t recall writing. In the Silent Hill series, there is always doubt about the reality of the terrors faced. This also leads to an exploration of our connection with the characters on screen – how we both watch and become them, in a complex partnership where boundaries constantly shift and transform.
While Stephen King is often credited as the main inspiration for the Alan Wake games, series writer Sam Lake also draws inspiration from David Lynch. The original title, with its eerie town and strange characters, had similarities to Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Both works also explore the idea of reality, fantasy, and horror coexisting without clear logic. In Alan Wake 2, players take on the role of Saga Anderson, an FBI agent investigating ritualistic murders in the “real” world of Bright Falls. Lake and narrative designer Molly Maloney see this interplay between Saga’s adventure and Alan’s as a strong connection between detective and horror fiction. They also draw influence from David Fincher’s Seven, which delves into questions about heroes and horror in a morally corrupt society.
The top scary games are, in part, focused on video games themselves. They explore the dynamic between the player, the controller, and the screen – an unusual relationship regardless of the game being played. Even in seemingly harmless games like Super Mario, Pokémon, or Animal Crossing, there are eerie moments due to the immersive nature of gaming, which can create strange images, situations, and fears with seemingly innocent material. Gone Home, a popular indie game about a young woman going back to her childhood home, is a prime example of this. It cleverly presents itself as a survival horror game for the first hour before revealing itself to be a story about relationships. This is a captivating and well-crafted concept.
Be sure to play a horror game this fall and analyze why it is scary, the techniques it employs, and their effectiveness. The true terror of horror games lies in the lessons they reveal.
What to play
I missed out on World of Horror during its early access phase, but now that the final version has been released, I am fully immersed in it. This game, developed by Panstasz from Poland, is a modular RPG where players must uncover Lovecraftian creatures in a small Japanese village. Each playthrough has a randomized selection of quests to complete. The art style is black and white, with clean and eerie lines, and the themes draw inspiration from Junji Ito, a horror manga writer. It’s a unique and captivating twist on old-school horror.
This is accessible on: Personal computer, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch.
Playtime: 4-30 hours
What to read
There is currently a fierce competition for the top spot in autumn video game sales, and it seems that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 has surpassed Super Mario Bros Wonder in physical sales in the UK. However, the new web-slinging game from Sony is not doing as well as God of War Ragnarök, although it has already become the fourth highest-selling physical retail release of the year, following Zelda, EA Sports FC 24, and Hogwarts Legacy. In addition, Sonic Superstars debuted at No 4 on the chart – a challenging feat when competing directly against a Super Mario game where the main character can turn into an elephant.
Regarding Super Mario Bros Wonder, I enjoyed reading Digital Foundry’s technical analysis of the game. The review examines how effectively it utilizes the aging Switch hardware and explains its accomplishments in an easily understandable manner.
A new program in Liverpool City aims to promote game development in the area. This region has a strong history in game creation, with notable studios like Psygnosis and Bizarre Creations. The goal of this initiative, led by the Liverpool City Region careers hub, is to connect aspiring young developers with the industry.
I am captivated by the increasing collaboration between video games and top fashion labels. A recent instance is the release of a new Elden Ring collection by luxury streetwear brand ARK/8, featuring a faux-fur coat priced at £1,400. Unfortunately, it appears that no effort has been made 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
Review of Super Mario Bros Wonder – a multiplayer game with levels that offers moments of joy and chaos.
Review of Finity – Creative Tile Puzzle Allows Ample Room for Strategy
Review of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – a grand, heartfelt fantasy brimming with clashes and sentiment.
I received this question from Stuart Gallop on Twitter/X:
“When can we expect the next exclusive release for Xbox X after Starfield? Is there anything that could entice people to purchase an Xbox? I’m struggling to come up with any ideas!”
Microsoft now has almost 40 studios under its Xbox label due to the completion of the Activision Blizzard deal, so this should have been a simpler question to answer. The first games that came to mind were the Fable remake and Forza Horizon 6 from Playground Games, as well as Rare’s upcoming adventure, Everwild. However, these titles are not expected to be released for a few more years. There are a number of exclusive games for Xbox set to launch in 2024, such as Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Avowed, Dungeons of Hinterberg, South of Midnight, Towerborne, and Clockwork Revolution. While these games looked promising during the Xbox showcase, it is uncertain if any of them will be game-changers on their own. Unless Microsoft has a major surprise in store for next year, I would have to say that the next Forza Horizon game is the most likely to make a significant impact, although it may not be released until 2025.
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