Haunted Games

Collected game reviews of the creepy, the forgotten, and the unsettlingly cute.

Dead Idle Games, 2021

This isometric point-and-click portmanteau horror game is the reason the initial run of these reviews was a full day late, because I was compelled to finish the entire thing. This was an excellent decision on my part. You'll get a couple of hours' gameplay out of it, if you set about things in a leisurely fashion.

Set in the late 1920s, If On a Winter's Night, Four Travelers is one of the most elegant works of horror fiction I've encountered in the medium, touching on both the existential and the personal. If you enjoy questioning the relationship between reality and perception, you'll have fun thinking this this one through after completion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a game that's titled after a postmodernist novel (If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino) there's a literary feel here, but this is no book masquerading as a game.

You might be forgiven for assuming that after the first, very short, act, The Silent Room, in which we see the tragic unwinding of an illicit love affair between two men, as this part of the game is rather puzzle-light.

However, Act 2, The Slow Vanishing of Lady Winterborne, sees some inventive puzzle design kick in. There's no serious moon logic, but you'll have to follow the internal consistency of a person experiencing grief and drug/withdrawal induced delusions – patterns and sequenced order are important to her. This serious subject matter that is handled well here as we follow Lady Winterbourne as she struggles with memory, loss and an unquiet mind in the wake of tragedy.

Act 3, The Nameless Ritual, is a my personal highlight of this outstanding game, concerning a doctor who seeks solace in occult ritual. With strong themes of self-annihilation, redemption and once again that fuzzy middle ground between what reality might be and what we understand it has, this one really speaks to me. The puzzles in this act also fit the sense of ritual.

The fourth act presents a resolution to the anthology's wrapping device. It's short and ends in a sufficiently satisfying manner, although it leans into somewhat conventional mythology after the third act's esotericism.

We don't often see the portmanteau structure used in the games – I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream and, in a more serialised manner, Lamplight City, are the only adventuring gaming examples that immediately spring to mind, although I'm sure there are others. It's something I'd like to see more of, as the self-contained tales here never overstayed their welcome and provide the means to explore a range of engaging themes and puzzles.

The native Linux version of the game worked well on Pop!_OS 22.04. If you're playing on a higher resolution display, there are a couple of points where small objects can be hard to find amid the pixel art – hardly a surprise given the AGS engine's 320x200 resolution. These are rare, but I nonetheless wonder if I should have played this one on the Steam Deck. The game will run in ScummVM's AGS interpreter, which allows you to resize the window, if you'd prefer your pixel art a little more petite.

The art is, incidentally, excquisite, with particularly notable use of colour to reflect the characters' emotional landscapes.

I've seen some forum complaints about this, so will also note that AGS games are by nature pretty old-school in certain conventions – there are no auto-saves: invoke the menu and hit save before you quit.

If On a Winter's Night, Four Travelers carries content warnings for “thematic elements such as racism, homophobia, mental illness, murder and suicide.” Its art book adds warnings about “pixel-graphic depictions of corpses, horror themes and war.” See my next toot for an extra CW about a couple of extra personal triggers that I encountered, which constitute light spoilers.

There are no jump scares, but there is some pixelart gore and a general tone of sombre tragedy.

If On a Winter's Night is a fascinating jewel of a game, and well worth your time.

Get it on itchio (pay what you want, $1 or more for OST and art book): https://laurahunt.itch.io/if-on-a-winters-night-four-travelers

Get it on Steam (free): https://store.steampowered.com/app/1603980/If_On_A_Winters_Night_Four_Travelers/

Steam supporter pack DLC with OST and art book 3,29€ : https://store.steampowered.com/app/1628970/If_On_A_Winters_Night_Four_Travelers__Supporter_Pack/

Additional Content Warnings for If On a Winter's Night Four Travelers (light spoilers)

I'd also add the following content warnings:

  • opiate drug use (oral, active depictions of consumption)
  • death of a family member (husband)
  • death of an animal (pet, cat)

Although it has a metaphorical role and has left me with some really interesting questions about Act 2, I am really, really over the use of animal death as an emotional lever in fiction. I adore this game nonetheless.


#IndieGames #LinuxGaming #NativeLinux #HorrorGames #PointAndClick #AdventureGames #Horror #CosmicHorror #ExistentialHorror #GameJamGames #FreeGames

Maldo19, 2020

Set in post-revolutionary Chile of 1992, Ignacio “Maldo19” Maldonato's The Horror of Salazar House (formerly known as The Enigma of Salazar House) is a visually distinctive adventure game that tips its hat to the classics of Italian horror cinema, something of a recurring theme in games published under Puppet Combo's Torture Star label.

Taking the role of journalist Elisa Muñoz, you're dispatched to investigate the deserted house of author Jaime Salazar, whose entire household disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1986, the house left untouched ever since. As you wander its corridors, you'll find yourself at the centre of a cursed ritual, which you can end... or complete.

The graphics in the first person viewing window are inspired, the creator says, by the Virtual Boy. Their atmospheric use of solid block colour leans into that, but there's also something of 80s first person graphic adventures like Shadowkeep in there.

Gameplay revolves around exploring the map, locating a series of ritual sacrifices and learning how to safely negate then, all while avoiding the monsters that wander the corridors of the Salazar house.

The monsters are lovingly created, with rotoscoped animation for you to enjoy as they beset you. The house is dripping with atmosphere and personality, and it's worth the 3,29€ entry fee for this alone, but I'm also having fun working out the solution to each victim.

Although the graphics are simplistic, there is real horror, a couple of jump scares, and some dark themes here. The game carries content warnings for: “A hanged depiction, a face without skin, and the use of medical drugs and overdose.”

It works very nicely on Steam Deck using touchscreen, touch pads, and controls. Native Linux and Windows builds are available. Helpfully, the deck appears to default to native Linux runtime.

Buy it on itchio: https://torturestar.itch.io/salazar-house (steam key included, better profit share, you should get this one)

Buy it on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1405440/The_Horror_Of_Salazar_House/


#IndieGames #LinuxGaming #NativeLinux #SteamDeck #HorrorGames #SurvivalHorror #RetroAesthetic #AdventureGames #PointAndClick

TeamV, 2022

Spookity Hollow is a Halloween spin-off of Play With Gilbert, a kid-friendly exploration/collect'em-up game in which you control a kitten.

This is more of the same, but with a new environment to investigate: the autumn-touched valley of Spookity Hollow, replete with jack'o'lanterns and costumes to collect, as well as kitten and bird friends to meet. I'm still looking for the ghosts!

Title image for Spookity Hollow - there are pumpkins along with Gilbert, a white cat in a black witches' hat.

It's aimed at ages four and up, so there are approximately zero scares here, but plenty of locations tucked away amid autumn landscapes, from a mansion atop a hill, to a little tomb???, to what's hidden beneath the lake.

Configurable day/night cycles and seasons add some variety (fireflies come out at night!), there's local multiplayer, and you can, of course, name and customise your cat.

Sure, the landscape and plants could be more varied, and the architecture could be spookier (and more furnished).

But look, you either want the very chill, nonviolent Halloween kitten game for very small children or not here.

This may really be one for existing fans of the main Play With Gilbert game, which has more depth and its own seasonal Halloween event, but I'm happy to have all these games in my library for Smol Owlbear, and it's fun to dip into them even as an alleged adult.

I've seen Spookity Hollow discounted to 3.29€ on Steam – it's also available on itchio – and you'll be supporting a solo indie dev who makes cute things.

Plays nicely on Pop!_OS Linux via SteamPlay Proton.

Buy on itchio: https://joure.itch.io/spookity-hollow Buy on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1739150/Spookity_Hollow/


#HalloweenGames #KidFriendly #SpookityHollow #IndieGames #LinuxGaming #CollectEmUp #Cute #NonViolentGames

Rovio, 2005-2006

Before the rise and fall of Angry Birds, Rovio produced a number of Java phone games, of which the shining jewel (or most tenebrous void?) was undoubtedly the Darkest Fear series.

Hybrid survival horror puzzle adventure games with a genuinely haunting atmosphere, the Darkest Fear games all use a top-down isometric perspective as you navigate the map and static or lightly animated photobashed cutscenes.

The primary puzzle mechanic ties in with narrative themes of (literal) darkness and light as you use illumination puzzles to safely traverse each area, save other inhabitants from a mysterious virus, and confront what nightmarish monstrosities may lie waiting in the dark.

There's also a bit of light sokobanning as you punt crates and rocks around to clear paths, and a handful of action sequences. Although some of these involve more dodging than you might necessarily like, they're rare and the games' difficulty curve is generally pretty casual.

The first game begins at a hospital that has been plunged into an eerie darkness. Thomas Warden is summoned to Grim Oak hospital by his wife, a doctor there. He finds the place shadow-haunted, deserted by its staff and, soon, haunted by hideous monsters. At a couple of key points, your choices and the equipment you carry make a difference to how the plot unfolds and who you can save.

Set five years after the first game, Darkest Fear 2: Grim Oak gives you more monsters to evade and more light sources to take advantage of. There's greater emphasis on object puzzles, giving a light adventure game vibe to the proceedings. You finally get to leave the hospital and explore the town of Grim Oak. Graphics are more varied and the world is relatively open, giving you some choice in the order that you explore in.

The final instalment, Darkest Fear: Nightmare, introduces a second playable character who must cling to the darkness for safety as fervently Warden must keep to the light. You can switch between them to tackle puzzles suited to their unique skill-sets, and, as the overarching series narrative concludes, a total of 15 different endings can be achieved. This third entry in the series uses some particularly nice lighting effects and has generally more polished graphics.

Although the first installment was available on iOS for a while, the J2ME editions can safely be regarded as definitive. You can and should treat these as successive chapters of the same game.

Although they deal with horrific themes and bear a Mature rating, the stylised graphics leave most of the unpleasantness to your imagination.

The entire series combines a sometimes janky, yet atmospheric, plot with gratifying puzzles, solid level design, and excellent use of their target devices' limited graphical capabilities. They play nicely on modern Android devices thanks to J2ME Loader.

You can still watch the 2006 trailer for Darkest Fear 3 on the official Angry Birds channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_9G2Z86XtM

Download Darkest Fear – https://phoneky.com/games/?id=j4j48955

Download Darkest Fear 2: Grim Oak – https://phoneky.com/games/?id=j4j50535

Download Darkest Fear 3: Nightmare – https://phoneky.com/games/?id=j4j38391

Play on Android/derivatives with J2ME Loader via F-Droid (https://f-droid.org/en/packages/ru.playsoftware.j2meloader/) or Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ru.playsoftware.j2meloader&gl=US).


#Horror #DarkestFear #Rovio #J2ME #JavaMobileGames #SurivivalHorror #Puzzle #RetroGaming #Isometric

Hidden Fields, 2021

One of my favourite games of 2021, Mundaun's hand-drawn textures and folk horror atmosphere are impeccable.

Set mostly in the 20th century, in the (real) Alpine village of Mundaun in Switzerland, the game is voiced entirely in the Romanche language, with full subtitles in numerous others.

It's the culmination of six years' work, largely by one person, Michel Ziegler.

As much adventure game as survival horror, combat – always best avoided through stealth and cunning – at first feels terrifyingly clumsy. But as you settle into the gameplay and bolster protagonist Curdin's will, challenging foes head-on becomes viable, if always a source of potential terror.

Even if you don't take to combat, these encounters don't dominate the game, and you'll spend a wealth of time exploring hidden trails, meeting vividly depicted characters, piecing together the past, making strong black coffee, and developing a genuine affection for a vintage agricultural vehicle.

The pacing is perfect, and a handful of jump scares never overstay their welcome or feel forced. But the beating heart of Mundaun's horror is the sense of suspense as the game introduces threats and then briefly alleviates you of them, never allowing you to become too comfortable.

You can pet the goats in Mundaun and I now fear haystacks.

I recommend playing with a controller rather than mouse and keyboard. I ran it on Pop!_OS Linux via SteamPlay Proton, using a PS4 DualShock 4 controller.

It costs less than €17 at full price, and you can expect anywhere from 5 to 10 hours' gameplay from it, depending on how much time you spend just hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere.

There's also some replayability for multiple outcomes, with the deciding choices mostly in the final act.

Buy on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/720350/Mundaun/

Also available for Nintendo Switch (for which a limited physical run was released by Super Rare Games), PS4, PS5 and Xbox One.


Cover art for Mundaun - a man and a goat are atop a cliff, staring at a twin-peaked mountain. Although the art is 3D, the textures are hand-drawn.

#FolkHorror #Horror #Maundun #IndieGames #LinuxGaming #SurivivalHorror

Ubi Soft, 1986, 1988, 1990

One of Ubisoft's (née Ubi-Soft) first games, Zombi, was an unlicensed adaptation of George A. Romero's 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead, going so far as to share the film's Italian title.

Zombi box art

Originally released in 1986 on the Amstrad CPC, Zombi is a first-person, flick screen action-adventure game, and is absolutely a proto-survival horror game. Combat against zombies and a hostile gang is real-time.

Arriving on the roof of a shopping mall in a helicopter that's now out of fuel, you control Alexandre, Sylvie, Yannick and Patrick (named after the dev team).

Every member of the party can and must be controlled individually to allow you to survive long enough to collect fuel and get back to the copter.

Collectible objects are marked blue in the CGA DOS version of 1988, which wisely uses a monochrome palette with coloured highlights. Controls in this version are keyboard-based, and involve using the arrow keys to navigate around an icon bar and on-screen hotspots. This can get a little tense during real-time action sequences.

Download the EN/FR DOS version from Abandonware France – just unpack and run the COM file with DOSBox-X (or your own preferred DOSBox fork).

I actually recommend playing one of the other versions – my personal favourite is the Amiga edition, which gives you the luxury of point and click mouse controls, colour graphics, improved sound and very on-point music.

You can find it at MyAbandonware – this download is EN only. Unpack until you find an ADF file and play using FS-UAE.

The franchise was unexpectedly (kind of, ish) raised from the dead in the form of 2012's ZombiU for WiiU, later ported to Windows, PS4, and Xbox One under the title of Zombi.

Lemon Amiga Walkthu – English: https://www.lemonamiga.com/games/docs.php?id=1851

Dokokade Walkthru – French: https://jeux.dokokade.net/2017/01/18/soluce-retrocompatible-zombi-amstrad-et-amiga/


Zombi Amiga screenshot Zombi title screen - Amiga Zombi DOS CGA screenshot Zombi cover art for CPC

#RetroGaming #DOS #Amiga #Horror #Zombie #Zombi #SurvivalHorror #retro #Review