Scary movies, spooky stories, chilling tales -- Halloween is a time to settle in for a good fright that comes from a horror movie or novel. But right now some of the freshest scares you'll find come from your Playstation and Xbox.
Horror in gaming isn't new -- despite being undermined by far inferior movie versions, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill games showed that a cinematic style could create plenty of jump-off-the-couch moments.
But the just-released Dead Space takes those survival horror conventions -- a lone, unlikely hero facing off against hordes of the undead, demons or, worse, both -- and brings them to a new level of immersive storytelling.
You play as Isaac, an engineer on a spaceship tasked with a rescue mission of a mining ship where, it so happens, his girlfriend is assigned. Arriving on the ship, Isaac and his team find most of the crew slaughtered. Soon, you're facing off against a veritable army of monsters -- ''necromorphs,'' the mutated corpses of the ship's crew.
Dead Space's gameplay borrows heavily from previous hits Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War with its emphasis on precise aiming and shooting, as opposed to the ready-fire-aim play of most shooters such as Halo. In Dead Space, shooting the monster in the head won't work -- you have to shoot off their limbs to take them down, and some of these monsters have a lot of limbs.
Where Dead Space differs is its interface. Whereas other games fill the screen with HUD information -- health status, weapons, radar, ammo and whatnot -- the information you need here is integrated into the environment. You track your health through the lighting on Isaac's suit; each weapon displays its own ammo count; and when you pull up a menu Isaac's suit projects a holographic screen in front of him without any pause in the action.
Dead Space demands play with the lights turned low and the surround sound turned high. The sound design is an amazing and vital part of the game, from the tantalizing and terrifying whisper of voices to the sudden appearance of a necromorph -- it will have you jumping out of your skin.
If you're looking for a creepy experience of different kind, Fallout 3 may be your Halloween treat. It's not a horror game, per se, but a role-playing game set in a world where the chipper aesthetic of the 1950s never gave way to the '60s or '70s, and its vision of a rocket-pack and robot-maid future would have taken hold, if not for the massive nuclear war that laid waste to the world.
Fallout 3 takes place in a post-apocalyptic Washington where a battered Washington Monument and shattered Capitol dome loom on the wasteland's skyline. From the moment your character emerges from a subterranean vault in McLean in search of his (or her -- you choose) father, you'll find yourself in a fully-realized and immersive world.
Unlike Dead Space, you'll spend much of your time in Fallout exploring the wastelands, discovering make-shift towns and talking to people to find information about your father. You'll also defend yourself against fire ants, radioactive dogs and mutated ghouls. You can even explore the spookily familiar Metro system.
Whichever way you choose, you'll find plenty of chills if you decide to stay home alone in the dark on Halloween.
Dead Space (EA) is available for $59.99 for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, $49.99 for PC. Fallout 3 (Bethesda Softworks) is available for $59.99 for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, $49.99 for PC.