Welcome to Take Ten, the Rely on Horror series that finds ten games that revolve around a given theme. This month, we are focusing on loss and grief, with a lineup of games that will satisfy everyone from the AAA crowd to hardcore indie players. Let’s jump in!
Through the Woods
Through the Woods is a Norweigan indie game that explores the loss of a child. While there, it touches on many other aspects of familial relationships and delves into forgiveness. The setting is the Norse world of Asgard, so players can have fun encountering the underappreciated monsters of Nordic mythology while dealing with the actual storyline of the game. If you’ve got about three hours and a fair dose of patience, this is a good game to pick up and play in one sitting.
Until Dawn starts out with the loss of a pair of twins, leaving behind a confused group of friends and distraught brother. While the game has three or four different stories intertwined throughout, the emotional drive behind the entire setup is the story of the missing sisters and the effect that has on each of the people they left behind. This one is a AAA offering, even going as far as including Hayden Panettiere in the cast. The entire game is done in motion capture, with a plethora of quicktime events and choices that determine how many characters make it out alive. If you can commit to several hours of gameplay and a likely desire to replay several times to improve your ending, this is a great choice. Fair warning, though: it is really hard to kill the one character you’ll wish you could axe in the face.
The Park is a short super indie, again covering the loss of a child. This game also delves into past wrongs, though forgiveness is not on the table here. Players will take on the role of a mother looking for her young child in a closed amusement park. Things quickly take a turn for the dark, and they never quite bounce back. There is nothing close to a happy ending here, only the shattered pieces of a life. The game only runs about an hour, so it’s a fun grab for players looking for something to do while waiting for a larger download to finish and install.
Silent Hill 2
Surely everyone knew this was coming. While all of the Silent Hill games base their stories in grief and the personal demons it leaves behind, none does it quite as well as Silent Hill 2. What starts as a man on a mission to find the dead wife that decided to send him a letter from beyond the grave turns into a romp through purgatory. This game is an absolute classic, and I’m fairly certain everyone on our staff would recommend it to any newcomer to the horror genre. Most of our readers have probably played it, but if you haven’t revisited the friendly inhabitants of the Lakeview Hotel lately, it might be time to dust it off and play again.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is an upscale indie. While it is short and takes on story matter most AAAs would never touch, it is beautifully developed and polished to a high shine. The game is a series of shorter games within one anthology, each replaying the last moments of a Finch family member’s life. Each story is discovered in rooms left as shrines in the Finch family house, which has been left to Edith as the last surviving member. The stories range from the silly dying dreams of a little girl, to the last moments of a man who lived his life in grief, to an infant whose loss leaves a rift through the family. Each is poignant and lasts only long enough to make you love the character lost within it. If you’re looking for a game that is incredibly well made and packs an emotional punch, you should play What Remains of Edith Finch.
Detention is another true indie, this time from a small group of developers based in Taiwan. The game focuses on the loss of innocence and friendship, with a story about deceit set in a harsh era of Taiwanese history. Known as the White Terror, the period of time between 1947 and 1987 represents the worst of humanity and desperation. Under totalitarian rule enforced by a cruel militia, the people of Taiwan would often report neighbors for minor infractions like speaking ill of the government, only to see those neighbors carried away in the night, never to be seen again. Add in the raging hormones and unstable emotions of a bunch of high school students, and you have a recipe for disaster. Detention is an excellent game that takes on a real period of history and tells its story in a way we haven’t seen before. If any of you are history buffs, enjoy learning about other cultures, or want a story that will shred your faith in humanity for a little while, this is your game.
The Town of Light
Ugh, this game. I reviewed it, and I did not like it. I find its take on sexual assault to be gratuitous and its development to be a bit unpolished. The main redeeming factor within this indie game, however, is the main character’s attempt at a relationship despite all of her suffering. The timing for her blossoming love is all wrong, though, and ultimately leads to profound loss. This loss echoes through the empty halls when the character learns of the passing of her mother. In a game with little else done right, the relationships and response to grief in the Town of Light are done well. If you want to play, expect to spend about an hour and try to catch it on sale.
Life is Strange
While Life is Strange is not entirely a horror game, it does have a chapter that falls neatly inside the genre and adult themes throughout that make it a worthwhile play for any horror fan. Life is Strange touches on loss over and over again, opening with a gut punch to main character Max and continuing the possible body count from there. The game touches on the initial loss several times in different ways, as well, forcing players to make impossible choices and deal repeatedly with the responsibility of survivor’s guilt. Life is Strange is a great AAA title, with polish and length to show for it. If you want a dark, harsh story and have a couple of hours over several days to devote to it, this is a must-have game for emotion junkies. Bring tissues and snacks, you’re going on a feels trip. Players can try the first episode free on Steam.
Few games get horror fans riled up like Firewatch. To those who define the genre by its jump scares and monsters, this is a walking simulator with no real gameplay. To fans of cerebral horror and those who like to pick apart very involved storylines, it’s a treat. I am of the latter group, and I would implore any horror fan to actually take the time to play it all the way through. From the start, main character Henry must deal with the horrifying realities of a spouse afflicted by early-onset dementia. Throughout the remainder of the game, Henry grapples with grieving for a lover who is still alive, and the loss of the life they had planned to live together. Along the way, he encounters a mystery that uncovers the loss of a child, and the different ways others respond to grief. Firewatch is an excellent game with fantastic writing, and its focus on the monsters we face in reality is a refreshing break from wave after wave of zombie games.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
The penultimate game about parental loss, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs explores grief in ways no one else could ever think to do. This one definitely has horrifying monsters, and it deals with strange events set in a macabre world of the main character’s own making. If you want to see the hell that survivors can create for themselves, and have a great time in a surreal and terrible world while you’re at it, Pick up Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. It is as well done as any of the other Frictional games, and as absolutely trippy as its predecessor in the Amnesia series.