Make Games Scare Again: ghosts of games past

In October, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone’s “best horror games of all time” list. So that’s not this. Instead, this week we’re running a list of recommendations for recent horror games we really like and think you should play, but might have skipped or even not thought of them as horror. If you can come up with a snappy way to stick that at the top of a list, let us know. In the meantime, we’ll roll out two a day. Today we recommend a couple of games for how they put us in mind of older games.

After the jump, ghosts of games past

Tom Chick: Soma
About 20 years ago I played a game called Archimedean Dynasty. It was a sort of Wing Commander clone, but underwater. You start out in a pokey little submarine shooting other pokey little submarines. Pew pew pew. It proceeds this way for a few missions. Pew pew pew. The Abyss meets Star Wars. Underwater pew pew pew. But then something happens during one of the missions. Your pokey little submarine loses power and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. As you’re looking into the murky depths in front of you, a vast alien submarine hurtles out of the dark and shoots past you, as big as a whale, as fast as a shark. It was one of my earliest “holy shit” moments in a videogame and it can’t possibly be as good as I remember it. Which is why I’ll never replay Archimedean Dynasty.

Soma reminds me of that moment for its understanding how eerie it is as the bottom of the ocean.

The weakest parts of Soma are the parts where it tries to be a conventional horror game. These are thankfully rare. But for the most part Soma stands out among horror games for being about eschatology (don’t feel bad if you have to look that word up; I had to spend several years of college learning it). You can read the full review here. Soma is available on Steam here.

Chris Hornbostel: Goetia
The central premise of Goetia (which rhymes with poinsettia) feels like a photo negative of an adventure game I loved, 2013’s wonderful Gone Home (Tom’s review is here). In that latter game, you play a character who returns to an unfamiliar home filled with items she recognizes, using them to piece together a lost year. In Goetia, it is the home that is completely familiar to the lost and confused protagonist, but the items inside are not. Instead of a piecing a single year together, it’s a mystery of 40 lost years that your ghostly character is trying to come to grips with.

Goetia is a standard point and click adventure game that has a couple of things going for it. The artwork is beautifully detailed, brooding and delightfully atmospheric, so while there are few outright scares to be found it does set the right aesthetic tone for the season. I also appreciated the cleverness of most of the puzzles. A few of these are fairly difficult, but it’s an earned difficulty that feels honest. You wont be making any disguises with cat hair and pancake syrup. There are no pixel hunts, either. Holding down the CTRL key reveals all interactive areas in each room. Goetia wants you to have the clues you’ll need close at hand.

This is a first time effort from Sushee, a French studio, and some of the inexperience shows. For instance, there needs to be a genre moratorium on the surname Blackwood. Giving characters first names that sound like they were lifted from Twilight fanfic doesn’t help. (Please no more Gabriels, Eliases, and Abigails horror game writers. I’m begging here). While the story is interesting, it lacks the urgency and concise plotting that worked so well for Gone Home. Despite those reservations, Goetia is a strong, seasonally chilling old school adventure game that will please fans of the genre.

Goetia is available on Steam here.

Tomorrow: Hey, that’s not horror!
So what’s the deal with these lists?