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Back on the 2nd of October in 2012, YouTube channel “TheSw1tcher”, now better known as former gaming group “Super Best Friends Play”, began a journey. With the upload of a 22-minute video of the channel’s creators, Matt and Pat, playing 2009’s Ju-On: The Grudge game for the Nintendo Wii, (a game which is both clunky and charming in equal measure), they began a 7 year-long series known as the “S**tstorm of Scariness”. Within it, every single October they would upload a video of them playing a different horror game, every single day for the entire month, as an elongated celebration of Halloween.
I consider myself to be a bit of a horror connoisseur. I love just about all things horror-related and have a deep appreciation for a number of great masterworks in the horror game subgenre, yet I also adore games that are so poorly made that they are enjoyable for entirely different reasons. Thus: I loved the Super Best Friends channel, as their light-hearted former friendship, their tastes being so similar to my own, and their vast appreciation of horror games, made for some deeply enjoyable content. Getting tucked into bed with the lights off —in order to feel both terrified and entertained by each and every horror game they played— became a very entertaining tradition for me from the age of 14 going on 15 when the series began, to the age of 21 when their series ended, as the channel came to a close.
Thankfully, in the lead-up to that final October series in 2018, I was inspired. I’d really enjoyed watching Matt, Pat, and their other friends, Woolie and Liam, playing such a wide variety of horror games, but the completionist part of me was a little conflicted… I wanted to have the entertainment go on forever by seeing full playthroughs of all these spooky spectacles, but of course, the Best Friends all had lives to live and other content to create, and I certainly wasn’t about to become one of those annoying fans that make unwarranted demands of their favorite content creators. So, day by day, I formed an idea of my own…
The Ominous October Spookathon. A month-long event, every October, personal to me. A month where I would create a small bingo card of a collection of horror games I was interested in, and then marathon as many of them as I could, from start to finish, before the month’s end. It was a colossal task; Far easier than the varied content creation that Matt and Pat had been undergoing each October, but far more in-depth and focused than anything else I had attempted within my gaming life. I hastily set to work, taking note of a number of horror games that I owned but had yet to complete, and after much deliberation: I narrowed my list down to a small selection of 12 games, which I hastily downloaded. Afterward, I began creating a small and basic bingo card, as seen above, in order to keep track of my progress. Then, I patiently awaited my starting date of October 1st, 2018…
And that was that: The Ominous October Spookathon was born. A tradition that has continued to this very day, growing bigger and bigger each October, which will hopefully last for the rest of my life… As it is October now, I’ll likely be in the midst of playing through a horror game at this very moment, whilst you’re reading these words. Suffice to say that I am nothing if not dedicated to my horrifying and hilarious annual event.
Now, as Halloween fast approaches and the Ominous October season is upon us, I feel that there would be no better time to take you all on a journey, into the origins of my marathon of madness. I would love nothing more than to talk about each and every one of the vast number of horror games I’ve completed throughout it, both by reviewing their quality in short but sweet miniature reviews, and by describing some of my own experiences with them, so that you, dear reader, may sit back and enjoy.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Row 3, Column 4 Time Played: 7 hours, 13 minutes
Where better to start than with the first game I ever played in my eerie event? When the first day of my marathon finally arrived I was unexpectedly bedridden with the flu, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I lay in bed, weighed down by more blankets & quilts than I could count, with the lights turned out and my controller gripped tightly in my hands. Gearbox’s 2013 catastrophe, Aliens: Colonial Marines, is widely renowned as an atrocious mess of a game; One that is plagued by an endless supply of bugs, performance issues, clunky controls and plot holes, with a hearty helping of bad writing and story-telling to top it all off. Thus: I can only blame the cough medicine that I was taking, for making me delirious enough to enjoy this train wreck as much as I did…
Don’t get me wrong: The game is legitimately terrible. Yet, due to its simple gameplay loop and the hilarity of its fundamentally broken nature, it ends up being a perfect, “so bad it’s good”, type of game. There’s nothing quite like turning the difficulty down to the easiest option and mashing your way through a clunky first-person shooter across a handful of lengthy sessions, laughing at every little broken detail as you go. I’ll be the first to admit that I probably enjoy bad older games far more than I probably should, but I’d also like to defend myself somewhat by stating that a bad game is far more entertaining a few years after release, once it’s significantly cheaper to purchase, and once you know exactly what it is that you’re getting yourself into.
For those who may not know, Aliens: Colonial Marines is set merely 17 weeks after the film ‘Aliens’ and attempts to carry that same action-horror dynamic as you step into the boots of Xenomorph killing machine Corporal Christopher T. Winter… Chris and Co fly on over to the Sulaco spaceship, (the main setting for the film Aliens), and take part in the mass slaughter of quite literally hundreds of Xenomorphs, just before accidentally destroying both the Sulaco itself and their own spaceship… Oops! What follows is roughly 5 to 6 hours of wandering about the nearby LV-426 moon as you kill Xenos with ridiculous levels of ease right up until the moment a cutscene begins, wherein your squad mysteriously becomes incompetent as they’re picked off one by one.
Oh and, Hicks is in it! Remember Corporal Dwayne Hicks? From Aliens? I couldn’t tell you how, but he’s on this moon with you for some reason! Maybe he entered cryosleep, woke up from cryosleep, took part in Aliens: Colonial Marines, then went back into cryosleep so the story wouldn’t be broken and he could still have his brief cameo in Alien 3… Honestly, I think it would’ve been better for him if he had just stayed asleep and sat this travesty of a game out. It’s a bit hard to take him seriously when, during the moment his initial exposition and lore discussion comes to a close, his character model gradually gets lower and lower, clipping through the floor until he’s no longer visible. But then again: The game is so remarkably broken that I can’t think of a more fitting thing he could have done, to be honest!
Escape Dead Island
Row 1, Column 2 Time Played: 9 hours, 40 minutes
Just about everybody remembers Dead Island, but very few people seem to remember the tortuous extended universe that it fostered. There was Dead Island: Riptide, a direct sequel to the first game which was released only a year and a half later to mixed reviews, mostly due to asset reuse and the fact it didn’t fix any of the original game’s problems. Then there was Dead Island: Epidemic, a 4v4 MOBA that launched its open beta in December of 2014, only to be canceled less than a year later in October of 2015, without ever actually releasing. There was also a one-issue comic released by Marvel, a novel adaptation of the first game, and a film tie-in that was announced in September of 2011, which allegedly began filming in 2015, yet hasn’t been spoken about in any official capacity since. Oh, and there was a microtransaction heavy tower defense game called Dead Island: Survivors, too, which was released on iOS and Android in 2018 but was shut down in 2020.
Yet Escape Dead Island still managed to be the most forgettable game in the series by far. It’s a third-person survival horror stealth-action mystery sequel that’s filled to the brim with clunky melee combat, awkward and unoptimized stealth sections, and a handful of sanity effects to keep things varied. The game sees Cliff Calo, son of a wealthy media magnate, visiting an island called Narapela along with his two best friends. They’re here to investigate why the neighboring island of Banoi has been cut off by way of a government blockade, but going to any island in a franchise called “Dead Island” never struck me as a particularly smart idea. None of the characters are particularly likable, nor are any members of the game’s supporting cast, besides perhaps the ever-mysterious Xian Mei, a returning character from the original Dead Island and its Riptide spin-off.
Thankfully, immersive story-telling does manage to rear its head from time to time despite these characters, which may just be the biggest highlight of the entire game. This tale walks a thin line between a focus on the outbreak’s military origins and the mental well-being of the perplexed and overwhelmed survivors. It doesn’t always tell the story well, nor is it told with any particular emotional depth, but investigating the Geopharm conglomerate and documenting the group’s attempts at survival, all whilst battling some heavily scripted but unexpected sanity effects, proves to be a far more compelling narrative than you’d expect from such a poorly reviewed game.
Gameplay lets the experience down, however, and that’s what defined my time with the game most. I can still vividly envision the objective “Investigate the crashed airplane” being repeatedly plastered across the top of my screen, as I died over and over again to a collection of zombies before I’d even been given the tutorial on how to dodge attacks. The melee combat has some nice animations but that doesn’t mean it works well, and the stealth system can be obscene at times, relying entirely on a generic crouching animation, with no cover system or hiding spots to speak of. When it’s the only thing between you and death, a functional stealth mechanic is essential, but you’d be hard set to find a good example of it anywhere near this game, nor in its franchise on the whole. It simply wasn’t built with this type of gameplay in mind.
Friday the 13th: The Game
Row 1, Column 1 Time Played: 52 minutes
It’s pretty hard to say anything substantial about a game you’ve played for less than an hour… But let’s try! Despite being announced first, Friday the 13th: The Game released eleven months after Dead by Daylight, (its direct competitor), to a fairly tepid response even amongst hardcore fans. Much like Dead by Daylight, it’s an asymmetrical multiplayer horror game wherein one player must take on the role of the infamous Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movie franchise. Meanwhile, the other players step into the shoes of various survivors, all of whom are trying to escape from Jason’s domain in one way or another.
Whilst the game offered a serviceable amount of content across its five movie-inspired maps, fourteen playable counselors, and nine different variations of Jason to play; The developers over at IllFonic couldn’t keep up with the demand for additional content. This was primarily due to severe licensing issues with Victor Miller, the co-creator of the Friday the 13th series. Ultimately this issue would go on to be the death of the game, with its servers being shut down in November of 2020, but the game is still available to play via peer-to-peer matchmaking or through the single-player missions released on its one year anniversary.
“Singleplayer?” I hear your question; Why yes indeed, the game’s singleplayer mode was exactly why I added it to my Spookathon list! It may be basic, but the mode functions as a simple objective-based gore-fest in which you play as Jason and must kill as many camp counselors as possible before they can escape, primarily through the use of stealth. Each mission is laid out like a challenge map with distinct objectives: “Smash Adam’s head with the hood of the car”, “Roast Chad in the fireplace”, or “Electrocute Mitch to death on the generator”, for example. Think of it a bit like the Batman: Arkham challenge maps, or a Hitman game without an overarching plotline, and you’ll know pretty much exactly how it plays out.
So what’s the issue? Why did I only play the game for 52 minutes? Well, unfortunately, these challenges require you to complete a certain number of objectives in order to unlock the missions that follow them. I’ve never been particularly good at this sort of game, especially when it comes to setting up each encounter in advance and waiting for NPCs to fall into my traps… I simply don’t have the patience for it, so I was a bit dismayed when I found out that I hadn’t completed enough objectives and couldn’t progress any further… I also wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about going back to prior missions a multitude of times in order to fumble my way through more of these objectives, so I simply called it a day.
I certainly can’t deny that it’s a fun game and I’d actually hazard a guess that it’s quite consistently great as you progress further on, yet it certainly isn’t a game for me personally. Unfortunately, I also don’t feel particularly confident in recommending it in its current state, given the loss of dedicated servers and the large number of issues that the community is currently facing in regards to unfair and broken modded lobbies. If you really like challenge maps and have the motivation to keep repeating them to progress, then it may well be worth looking into, otherwise: You may share my sentiments, in which case it’s best to stay away.
Row 3, Column 1 Time Played: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Helltown is a delightfully devilish experience that visually harkens back to the good old days of the PlayStation 1, complete with pixelated character models, light VHS filtering, and a large number of textures that become warped as they approach the edge of your screen. As someone who grew up with an original PlayStation and first discovered horror through experiencing games like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Nightmare Creatures, and Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, I adore this nostalgic subgenre of horror that ‘PS1 tribute games’ so heavily comprise of.
Honestly, Helltown is just a single drop of water in an ocean of creativity when it comes to PS1 tribute horror, but it’s certainly effective enough to deserve recognition. It’s a simple concept, really: During the late 1950s you set to work as the new postman of a miniature religious community known as Little Vale, but things soon go awry. Unsettling events start to occur throughout your peaceful settlement, gradually bubbling up with deeply demonic undertones. For the most part, it plays out like a traditional walking simulator with a handful of simple puzzles and tense chase sequences, but thanks to the slow burn nature of the initial set-up, Helltown is consistently effective throughout its roughly 90 minute run time.
Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough content in the game for me to talk about any of my experiences without completely spoiling the story. At the end of the day though, it only costs £5.79 (or $7.99) to pick it up and experience it for yourself, with sales for the game occurring on a semi-regular basis, making that already low price even cheaper. If you’re a fan of PS1 aesthetics and demonic horror then you’ll already know whether it’s worth the price for you, but personally, I’d say that any decent horror game that’s at least the length of an entire movie, (and costs half the price of a modern cinema ticket), seems like a fairly good deal to me.
Lakeview Cabin Collection
Row 3, Column 3 Time Played: 4 hours, 17 minutes
Within the same vein of tribute-style horror, let’s talk about the Lakeview Cabin Collection, a wonderful side-scrolling homage to many horror movies from the 70s & 80s, namely: Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Alien. It’s a surprisingly complicated game despite what its simplistic pixelated graphics may suggest, as each level functions as a large-scale puzzle to be solved through the use of several playable characters.
These puzzles function as Lakeview Cabin Collection’s core gameplay, yet also as its biggest issue, due to how excessively complicated they can be at times. The gameplay is simple enough, having you explore a number of environments looking for various interactive items in order to ensure the survival of your protagonists, but the way items interact with one another isn’t always clear; Much like the concept of how to progress, given that the game features no tutorials whatsoever. Examples of the obtuse puzzle-solving include, (but are not limited to);
-Physically lifting one of my playable characters up by using another, in order to throw them across a gap they otherwise couldn’t jump across. -Placing a rake on the ground at the exact point between a totem pole and a wood chipper in order to ensure that a villain would trip into the aforementioned wood chipper from the correct angle. -Getting one character to raise a crate by way of a lever and simply not being able to play as that character anymore, right up until the correct killer happened to pass under the crate five minutes later, in order to drop it on top of them at the right moment.
And all of that? That’s just about a third of what is needed to beat the first level! Lakeview Cabin Collection is a genuinely fun game thanks to its captivating style and the extent of its interactivity, but the often incomprehensible puzzle solutions can be so specific at times that they become easy to miss and annoying to deduce. I’d certainly still recommend the game, but only on the grounds that you’re willing to load up a walkthrough, or are prepared to repeat various actions over and over again when the going gets tough, in order to see what changes will occur. What was Far Cry 3’s definition of insanity again?
The Coma: Recut
Row 1, Column 3 Time Played: 3 hours, 24 minutes
Another side-scrolling puzzle game in the form of The Coma: Recut, a remastered edition of Devespresso Games’ The Coma: Cutting Class, from 2015. For the most part, it’s a fairly traditional adventure/exploration game that sees you wandering through an abandoned school in search of a way out; Collecting keys and keycards amongst other typical puzzle items. The twist here is that, despite being a 2D adventure game, it also features some of the standard ‘hide and seek’ gameplay that is traditionally only found in first-person horror games.
I’ve always loved hide and seek horror, as the idea of a threat to which you are completely defenseless, (one which you must run and hide from), is always very intense to endure. Thankfully, I can confirm that the concept is very well executed in The Coma; I don’t think I’ll ever forget sprinting away from the crazed ax-wielding teacher into another room, only to crouch in the background, hold my breath, and hope for safety as she continued her deranged hunt. It’s rather scary to experience, and that’s kind of the point!
Come to think of it: I can’t think of many Korean horror games that I wouldn’t recommend. If you’re a fan of horror but primarily stick to traditional American games then I’d whole-heartedly suggest checking out some games from other cultures, like this one. Horror tends to become much scarier when you’re experiencing mythology that you are not familiar with and The Coma: Recut is a great example of that, thanks to its beautifully illustrated school environments and its unique culture-inspired twist to the standard psychotic killer story.
Row 2, Column 3 Time Played: 7 hours, 49 minutes
Finally, we come to the end of the Ominous October Spookathon with White Night, an absolutely gorgeous yet minimalistic period piece, which uses monochromatic black and white lighting to create a relatively unparalleled atmosphere. I actually played this one alongside The Coma: Recut thanks to its lengthier playtime, but it never outstayed its welcome and I’m glad it lasted a little longer as it gave me the opportunity to really bask in the game’s narrative.
Exploring the infamous Vesper Mansion following a serious car crash, your protagonist must avoid the dark at all costs else he is discovered by the spirits that lurk within. It’s a fairly simple set-up, but effective nevertheless, as you gradually uncover more and more exposition to this 1930s film noir extravaganza. Puzzles may be a little unclear at times, just as exploration can feel a little overwhelming, (primarily due to the mansion’s sprawling layout), but the story here is expertly handled and will keep you at the edge of your seat from start to finish.
I don’t necessarily think that I could name anyone particular experience from my time with White Night that stands out, given how consistently good it was. The most I could voice is that some scenes are elevated above the others thanks to some wonderful and captivating songs within the game’s deeply atmospheric soundtrack. A good note to end the first annual Ominous October Spookathon on, I feel.
Seven horror games, seven marathons, and seven miniature reviews across thirty-one days. Yet this was only the beginning: The first year, and the first year alone. I certainly hope you enjoyed reading my brief thoughts, feelings, and experiences, but that you look forward to more, as the Ominous October Spookathon did continue, so we have two additional years of spookiness to catch up on this October, and a fourth one in the works at this very moment… May you have a delightfully horror-stricken month.