Halloween is here, and what better way to celebrate than with some seasonally scary games?
We’ve written before that horror has struggled to find a place in the mobile market. It’s a genre that thrives on immersion, which, given your phone's comparatively small screen, mobile can somewhat struggle having a hard time delivering the same level of shock and awe as their big screen rivals. Plus mobile mainstays that are commonplace in other genres, such as in-game advertising, can easily be the death of any attempts to build atmosphere.
However, there are any number of horror games that thrive on mobile devices, and the platform’s accessibility and growing power means that developers worldwide are increasingly releasing their titles on the platform - including the upcoming release of Resident Evil 4 Remake, inarguably a high point of the genre.
From story-driven single-player experiences to multiplayer slashfests, and from jump-scare factories to horrific match3’s, here are five fantastic horror games you can play on mobile right now.
Alien Isolation has a well-earned reputation as one of the scariest horror games of all time, and for good reason. While the films gradually drifted more into the action genre, Alien Isolation takes its cues from the original movie.
Players step into the shoes of Amanda, series’ protagonist Ellen Ripley’s daughter, who travels to Sevastapol Station after the flight recorder of the Nostromo - the ship her mother was on when she first came face to face with a xenomorph - has been found. Predictably, things go awry, and Amanda has to do whatever it takes to escape the station - and the infamous alien stalking her every step.
The game excels thanks to its atmosphere. Amanda isn’t a trained soldier, and her growing arsenal of tools and weapons can’t do more than drive off the alien for a few brief moments. Instead, Amanda has to dash from hiding spot to hiding spot, knowing that at any moment she could walk right into her assailant.
Making things worse are the other inhabitants of the station, whether that’s the hostile androids (the humanoid robot, not the phone) or the survivors fighting for survival. Yes, you can kill them, but this risks attracting the symbolic bigger fish. Add in some truly brilliant AI design and you’ll quickly learn that, while nobody can hear you scream in space, Earth is a different matter entirely.
Where Limbo excels is in its ability conjure up atmosphere. The world is completely monochrome and lacking background music, instead using atmospheric noise in a way that makes the player feel lonely - hopeless, almost. Despite the cutesy design, danger is everywhere, from the giant spider stalking you through the world, to falling trees, electrified rails, spikes, boulders, parasitic brain slugs, or just long falls. You’re not a soldier, you’re just a boy searching for his sister, with all the strength and weakness that implies, and the dreamlike visuals are easy to get lost in. It’s a world that asks far more questions than it answers.
The sidescrolling puzzles are well implemented, and often rely on precise timing or using the environment to your advantage. That hidden beartrap you just died in? Drag it out into the open to cut a rope free of a weight. That spider you’ve reduced to a single leg and a torso? Well, that might just make the perfect platform.
Dead by Daylight
Asymmetrical PVP games are nothing new, but Dead by Daylight is perhaps the most famous of them all, and for good reason. The game is a hit worldwide, with two new games and a movie in the works, in addition to existing tie-in materials such as a board game and comic book.
Dead by Daylight is set in a realm ruled over by The Entity, a god-like being that draws villains and victims alike into its world to face each other in trials, feeding on the emotions they experience.
What makes the game so special? It isn’t just the fascinating lore, it’s the smart use of existing IPs - the game features a variety of killers, survivors, and maps from across the world of horror, ranging from Scream and Halloween to Hellraiser and Ringu. Each killer has their own unique power and counter, meaning that survivors never have a chance to get too comfortable.
Crucially, Dead by Daylight Mobile offers something unique among platforms - namely additional cosmetics and moris (death animations). As such, those that already play the game on PC or console have an extra incentive to check the game out on their mobile phones. This isn’t just a case of a game that’s also available on mobile - the mobile version stands on its own two feet as a juggernaut all of its own, bringing the world of horror to new audiences.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Five Nights at Freddy’s is a simple game, but within that simplicity lies potential. It takes a relatively simple fear - automatonophobia, the fear of animatronics or lifelike robots - and turns it into something unique.
The premise is simple, and with a movie based on the hit game released last week there’s never been a better time to pick up the game that started it all. You play as Mike Schmidt, a night watchman at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a family restaurant with animatronics that turn murderous once the doors are shut. With limited battery power, Mike has to carefully monitor the cameras and door to save himself from a brutal death.
Over the course of the franchise - seven games of which are available on mobile - the gameplay evolves, while the rich lore and haunting backstory are gradually revealed, turning what could initially be dismissed as a franchise based on jump scares to one that has far darker elements.
Interestingly, the game’s simple gameplay and lack of blood or explicit gore has made it popular with younger audiences taking their first steps into the genre, while the jump scares continue to shock older players to this day.
Halloween: A Match Made in Terror
What could be more fitting for Halloween than a game based on the Halloween franchise itself?
While Halloween: A Match Made in Terror may be (relatively) light on scares, where it succeeds is in bringing horror to match3, arguably one of mobile’s most iconic genres. The title takes cues from the likes of Royal Match and Candy Crush. Each level has a different goal, and matching specific arrangements of tiles will create a number of familiar power ups given setting appropriate makeovers, such as molotov cocktails and hand grenades. In between levels, players renovate houses before moving onto the next area.
Finally, the traditional move limit is replaced with a step count. The puzzle is restrained to the bottom half of the screen, with the top being replaced with Michael Myers, the series’ arch bad guy, gradually approaching as you continue to make each move, accompanied by music which gradually grows in intensity. Fail to escape in time, and you’ll lose a life in perhaps the most literal sense in match3 history.
Halloween: A Match Made in Terror is relatively light on scares, not just compared to some of the other games on this list, but compared to the franchise that spawned it. However, it effectively translates the franchise’s imagery and soundscape into a match3 setting in a way which is bound to delight long time slasher fans.