The last two months of the year are a strange time for horror fans. It’s a time when our favorite holiday has already passed and we’re just waiting for the next Halloween to arrive. Yet, there are often many horror games released in these last two months so there’s no reason to stop playing them, especially since many of us just play horror games all year round, anyway.
Horror is a genre that’s had a lot of crossovers across many art mediums. Including the year-end holidays as an element amongst the terror is no uncommon thing and can be traced back to holiday horror literature in 1843 with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and horror movies with Bob Clark’s Black Christmas from 1974. Horror games also took their turn to mix the holiday season into the medium back in the 1990s, and it’s still going strong today, as some quick searches on Steam or itch.io will prove.
However, not all of them may be worth your time or very fun in general, so we’ve compiled some favorites that stand out for us, to help you get through the last two weeks of the year. We’ve put together a list of 10 horror games that take place during or around the holidays or have heavy holiday themes in them and are pretty fun to play in some regards. These games may not all change your life, but they’ll at least be interesting, weird, or memorable while also playing with holiday traditions in a spooky (or spoopy) way.
Alone In The Dark 2/Jack In The Dark (1993/1994, PS1, Saturn, 3DO, PC)
While Alone In The Dark 2 is a strange entry in the series that ditched the first game’s Lovecraftian themes for the strange setting of 1920s prohibition-era mobsters and went for a more action-oriented approach to the game design, it is very much a Christmas-themed game. Not only does it take place on Christmas of 1925 and features Edward Carnby searching for a young girl who went missing, but you can even wear a Santa costume to stop the enemies from attacking you for a portion of the game after solving the puzzle to obtain it.
A year before AITD2 was released, developer Infogrames also released a standalone teaser for the game called Jack In The Dark, which features Grace Saunders, the missing young girl from AITD2, having to solve puzzles to escape from a toy shop full of Christmas toys possessed by an evil spirit to save Santa Claus and escape the toy store. This teaser was only released for PC, which also comes bundled with the PC versions of AITD1 and 2, and is another fun, short little game to enjoy for the holidays.
Blue Stinger (1998, Dreamcast)
Blue Stinger is a somewhat forgotten Dreamcast launch title that features of team of rescue workers sent to the isolated Dinosaur Island at Christmas time to investigate the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Yes, that’s actually the story. However, you soon start to find mutated humans and other monsters that you must take out with all manner of firepower in your quest to find the source of the monsters. On top of the sci-fi horror themes, it also lets you visit all kinds of shops and areas within the city that have Christmas signs or decorations up, and some Christmas-flavored music also populates the soundtrack in these areas.
The game had a troubled development history with the Western version having many major differences in how the game played. There are some major rough edges throughout, especially with the controls and camera, but it’s still a charming and weird game that lets you kill a bunch of monsters with a holiday backdrop, and even lets you dress up one of the main characters as Santa Claus while you’re at it. The developers went on to make the absolutely insane Illbleed for Dreamcast just a few years later and co-developed one other light gun shooter for arcades before their untimely demise in 2002 but Blue Stinger serves as their most successful game, despite all its flaws.
Parasite Eve (1998, PS1)
Released as a sequel to the 1995 Japanese novel of the same title, this JRPG marked the first time Squaresoft made a game that dealt with horror themes, as well as the first time its Japanese and American development teams worked together, and it set a lot of precedents for 3D JRPGs to come. Besides being a noteworthy crossover title that blended a handful of styles and genres, the whole game is set around Christmas in New York City as you follow police officer Aya Brea from December 24th-29th on her journey to stop the mysterious Eve, a biologically mutated woman who wants to wipe out the human race.
PE brought real-time action combat and lots of guns into the JRPG arena, making the battle system something unique among its peers, and the bio/body horror featured within many of the aesthetics makes for some uncomfortable times. The game had two sequels but has been dormant since the release of The 3rd Birthday in 2010. Fans are still clamoring for more, even though the rights to the series are very complicated, as the creators have attested to themselves. The game only clocks in at around 10 hours on an average playthrough, making it a breeze to get through, especially in JRPG terms, and will immerse you in the snowy landscape of NYC at Christmas time.
Infected (2005, PSP)
Another game that oddly takes place in New York City around Christmas time, Infected is a PSP-exclusive third-person horror shooter that sees you blasting hordes of zombies in the snowy streets of NYC, including quite a few zombies dressed in Santa costumes, as you race to find a cure for the virus that’s causing all the mayhem.
You’ll wield a crazy amount of over-the-top weapons and get to listen to a host of the hottest nu-metal tracks from the biggest bands of the era, including Slipknot, Trivium, Chimaira, Fear Factory, and Ill Nino. Infected‘s gameplay still holds up surprisingly well today and serves as a fun way to blast your way into the holiday season.
Deathsmiles 2 (2009, X360, XB1, PS4, PC)
Many horror fans may not be too familiar with the shoot ’em up genre of games, (or shmups, bullet hell, etc.) where players take control of a small ship or character and dodge hundreds of enemies and bullets while trying to take out as many enemies as you can along the way. There has been a surprising amount of crossover between the shmup and horror genres, resulting in some interesting games (which I’ll be exploring more in-depth soon). One of the most fun games that also happens to fit on this list of holiday horror games is Deathsmiles 2.
The Deathsmiles series features generally cutesy-anime-yet-gothic-horror-themed aesthetics, but in the second game, they decided to also make it fully Christmas-themed for some reason, and the results are a cute but disturbing journey through a Christmas season that’s overrun by demons. The main villain of the game is a giant demon version of Santa Claus with long, razor-sharp claws (named Satan Claws, naturally,) and most of the enemies and locations throughout the whole game are themed after twisted versions of holiday celebrations, and it’s something you’d have to play for yourself to truly understand the madness that is Deathsmiles 2. There are more accessible easy modes included for those that just want to experience the madness without the usual high difficulty level that shmups provide, so fire it up and treat yourself to a one-of-a-kind spoopy experience this holiday.
Dead Rising 4 (2016, XB1, PS4, PC)
Dead Rising 4 may not be a fan-favorite in the series, but it’s still quite a solid game at the end of the day, and one of the most robust games that features the American holiday season as the centerpiece for the horror as well as the silliness that always ensues in a Dead Rising game. Not only is DR4 a scathing criticism of the American pharmaceutical industry, just like the other DR games, but this one takes it a few steps further and is also a scathing criticism of the silly and ultra-capitalist American holiday traditions since the game takes place on Black Friday at the very same American shopping mall that the first Dead Rising game also took place at.
You’ll explore the entire city of Willamette this time instead of just the mall, and the whole city is decked out with Holiday cheer, with lights, sights, and sounds in every direction to remind you that you’re trapped in a hellscape of zombies and the American holiday season. The soundtrack is full of twisted, modern versions of holiday-themed songs, many with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that fit the game in one way or another, and the whole package just comes together to be a compelling examination of what it’s like to kill hundreds of thousands of zombies in the American holiday spirit.
Planet of Bloodthirsty Santa (2018, PC)
Solo developer Puppet Combo has made a name for himself over the last decade by making PS1-style horror games, and along the way, he’s also made a few games that were Christmas-themed as well. The first of these is Planet of Bloodthirsty Santa, which is a sci-fi survival horror title that takes place on another planet where you end up finding that the planet is inhabited by a killer Santa Claus and his elves, forcing you to survive and find your escape.
The game combines Puppet Combo’s usual 1980s slasher VHS aesthetic with Alien, The Thing, and some PS1-era survival horror elements into a fun and humorous romp through this arctic planet. Unfortunately, the game was never fully finished, with the final chapter never being released, so the only way to play the game now is to join Puppet Combo’s Patreon to get access to the first two chapters (of three) but it’s a fun and terrifying Christmas-themed adventure for the season.
Slay Bells (2020, PC)
After Puppet Combo brought the holiday spirit into his slasher games with Planet of Bloodthirsty Santa, fellow solo developer Blake McKinnon decided to try his hand at making a first-person low-poly survival horror title where you also have to escape from a murderous Santa Claus. However, this time, it’s back on Earth instead of in space. On your way home from working the streets, you find yourself ducking into alleyways and corridors to avoid Santa’s gaze as you try to find your way home.
Slay Bells is a short but sweet slasher game that’s such a compelling experience it’s still being played by streamers for the holidays, three years after its release. The game only lasts about 30 minutes, but it’s a fun little trip for the holidays. It’s available for free on itch.io.
Christmas Massacre (2021, XB1/Xbox Series, PS4/PS5, PC)
A few years after creating Planet of Bloodthirsty Santa in 2018, Puppet Combo decided to try the lo-fi Christmas horror game again in 2021, but this time is the reverse of the previous game, putting you in the shoes of the killer who dresses as Santa Claus and the object of the game is to kill as many people as you can on the days surrounding Christmas.
Christmas Massacre is a huge homage to the Silent Night, Deadly Night films, and lets you take control of the killer, Larry, even including his childhood experience as a child in a nun-infested orphanage as a playable prologue stage for the game. The game’s mechanics include some light stealth and planning to be able to brutally murder people in some extremely violent and gory ways to satisfy the whims of Larry’s murderous, talking Christmas tree.
Krampus Kills (2022, PC, Xbox Series)
Bringing in some European holiday tradition, 2022’s Krampus Kills mixes some traditional cat-and-mouse stealth horror gameplay with shooting action sequences a la Doom 2016, and the results are a fun and crazy holiday-themed game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is all the better for it. The story follows an 11-year-old child who is targeted by the evil Krampus. By the end of the game, you’re taking the fight to him by stepping into the hellish Dark Realm where Krampus’ castle lies.
The game has a foreboding atmosphere, chase sequences, tense stealth, and over-the-top action. It also has creepy monster designs, engaging puzzles, and resource management, making it a surprisingly good game that’ll last a few hours on each playthrough. We highly recommend this one to brighten your holiday season with a good time.
We at Rely On Horror wish you a happy holiday season. Don’t miss our year-end articles, including the opportunity to vote for the community horror game of the year.
Let us know if you’ve played any of these games and which ones are your favorites!