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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Amnesia: the Dark Descent (2010)

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1995)

System Shock 2 (1999)

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (2014)

Penumbra (2007)

Alien: Isolation (2014)

Scary games, with creatures from aliens to zombies to ghosts to alien-zombie-ghosts, are common enough on both game consoles and PCs, but there's a case to be made for a subset of these games truly coming to life on a gaming laptop or desktop PC.

Console games, even when played on a big 50-inch or larger TV, are safely situated 10 feet or more away (hence the term "10-foot experience"), taking them out of the realm of the intimate and making them just another piece of big-screen entertainment. Even the recent Guillermo Del Toro short "playable trailer" known as P.T., a teaser for an upcoming game in the Silent Hill series, has tons of atmosphere -- but there's only so scary something living on a device called a "PlayStation" can be.

Caption by / Photo by Frictional Games

True scares are better translated on a gaming PC. Whether a laptop screen or a desktop PC monitor, the PC experience puts the display inches, not feet from your face, creating a zone of intimacy that sitting on the living room couch can't match.

Even midlevel gaming laptops, such as the 15-inch Lenovo Y50 or Razer Blade 14, can run games at higher resolutions, with greater detail levels, than current-gen consoles. It seems crazy to say this, but the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 still struggle to deliver basic 1080p resolution in A-list games. Try Alien: Isolation or Outlast up close on a 4K computer monitor and the difference is obvious.

Caption by / Photo by Gog.com

The near-endless library of games available for PCs gives us access to many more indie and classic games than are found on consoles. And it's those games, much less likely to be found on retail store shelves, that often dare to take dramatic risks and push the envelope, while games designed primarily for consoles tend to emphasize shooting and action.


The following collection is a Halloween-ready playlist of games that offer maximum fear factor for PC gamers. Left off are some obvious choices, such as the Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Dead Space games -- they're simply so associated with console gaming that they don't truly feel at home on a PC. These picks are (with a few mainstream exceptions) a little more left-field. Some are unavailable on consoles, while others simply offer a more compelling experience on the PC platform, with higher resolutions, better controls and the ability to literally get in your face.

Caption by / Photo by Sega

A creepy haunted house mystery made all the more frightening because, despite hordes of monsters lurking around, the protagonist has no access to weapons, only the ability to run and hide.

Caption by / Photo by Frictional Games

Based on Harlan Ellison's short story, this creepy post-apocalyptic point-and-click adventure was an early high-water mark for combining games and literature, and thanks to the author's dark vision of the future, it's still unsettling today.

Caption by / Photo by Night Dive Studios

When sci-fi and horror overlap, you often get shoot-em-ups with slightly creepier alien/monster hybrids, as in the Dead Space series. This classic space RPG (an early ancestor of the BioShock series) is slower-paced, deliberate, and definitely scary. Even better, it's finally available on Steam, Gog.com, and other online game stores.

Caption by / Photo by Irrational Games

Voodoo murders, the seedy underbelly of New Orleans, and yes, a creepy mime loitering in a public park. This reimagined version of one of the greatest mystery games of all time takes a while to get to the supernatural stuff, but it creates a real air of dread along the way, thankfully punctuated, like the best horror films, by a little tongue-in-cheek humor along the way.

Caption by / Photo by Pinkerton Road Studio

An earlier game series from the makers of Amnesia, this episodic series, set in an abandoned arctic research station, makes good use of your GPU's physics engine to create real-world puzzles.

Caption by / Photo by Frictional Games

Yes, this is a mainstream current-gen game available on living room consoles, but it earns a spot here for, first, looking great up-close on a high-resolution PC (if you have the hardware, try cranking it up to 3,840x,2160). And second, for putting together a demo on Oculus Rift, the in-development virtual-reality headset that can really make the game frighteningly immersive.

Caption by / Photo by Sega
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