It has only been over the last few years that I have properly started to enjoy horror films and games. I put it down to having some horrendous nightmares when I was a young child, but the reality is I was just a massive scaredy cat. As such though, I’ve missed out on a lot. This year I have been focussing on mainly horror games and in particular Bloober Team, who in recent years have really made a name for themselves with their horror offerings. If you’re looking for some scary inspiration during Halloween, but not too much, you can’t go wrong with their best titles.
And to help you out, I have included a scare rating for each title out of ten. Halloween can be fun for everyone, but many of us scaredy cats have our limits:
Scare rating: 4/10
Let’s start with the most recent title to come out of the Polish studio, and one of the earliest opportunities that Xbox Series X|S owners had to flex their new console muscles. The Medium is almost a love-letter to early machinations of the survival horror genre with fixed-camera angles and environmental puzzles. But it did all this with a very modern twist.
In The Medium you play as Marianne who is a spirit medium; able to converse with both the living and the dead and act as a relay between these universes. After receiving a call from someone requesting their services, Marianne travels to the Niwa Resort; an abandoned hotel where an infamous murder took place years before.
What sets The Medium apart from many other horror tales you will play this year is the dual-reality gameplay. Marianne will need to travel back and forth between universes to solve all manner of environmental puzzles. Certain areas can only be accessed in one universe, or crucial items can only be used when in a specific location.
The Medium plays down its scares in favour of telling a story, but there is still the Maw to contend with. This menacing spirit will hunt you down in certain sections of the game, and the voicework done by Troy Baker of the Maws wails and groans will chill you down to the bone. The Medium reduces the number of traditional scare tactics to up your heart rate, but it more than makes up for this with tension and atmosphere.
You can get hold of The Medium on Xbox Series X|S by visiting the Xbox Store.
Observer: System Redux
Scare rating: 6/10
Another game set in Bloober Team’s hometown of Kraków is the dystopian cyberpunk game Observer. Fun fact: The apartment block where Marianne lives in in The Medium is the same block of flats you investigate in Observer: System Redux.
There are two versions of Observer kicking around on the Xbox Store, but we will be focussing on the System Redux version that features better visuals for Xbox Series X|S and a more fleshed out story over the original release.
Featuring the late, great Rutger Hauer in a cyberpunk noir setting will instantly remind players of Blade Runner. The similarities quickly disappear though.
Hauer lent his voice and likeness to Daniel Lazarski, a member of the Kraków police with the ability to hack into other peoples conscious minds to discover lost memories. Through investigating a strange phone call from his son, Lazarski heads to an apartment building and finds a decapitated body in his apartment. It isn’t his son, but he continues to investigate.
It is when Observer enters these ‘Dream Eater’ sequences as Lazarski hacks into other peoples memories that Observer transforms from a detective thriller into a full on psychological horror game. These sections are like a fever dream as you wander through recognisable corridors but with these changed. They are disorienting, loud, unsettling but brilliant too. There is no shame in needing a lie-down after these sections.
Scare rating: 7/10
There is one question which many were asking: What would Bloober Team manage to achieve with an established franchise? Blair Witch, released in 2019, was the first opportunity that Bloober Team have really had to get their chops around an existing IP. And if you read anything into the strategic partnership they’ve entered into with Konami, it won’t be the last time either.
Set two years after the events of the first film, Blair Witch introduces Ellis Lynch into the lore of the world. He is offering a hand with the local police force in helping to find missing 9-year-old Peter Shannon who has gone missing in Black Hills Forest. With his trusty canine companion Bullet, Ellis explores the forest looking for clues and unsurprisingly ends up discovering you wish he hadn’t.
Bullet is obviously the star of the show. For a start, he’s a dog. He can sniff out the trail of Peter, bring you hidden items, be petted and protect you when the night draws in. There is a bit of combat – Alan Wake style as you shine your torch at them – but as they are invisible, you need to pay attention to where Bullet is looking and shine your light in that direction.
Ellis has another set of demons to deal with in the forest. He is suffering from PTSD and this will rear its ugly head at several points in the tale. As well as his inner demons, Ellis will need to face the supernatural as well.
Blair Witch on Xbox is immensely atmospheric with plenty of satisfying jump scares thrown in for good measure. Is satisfying the right word for a jump scare?
Layers of Fear
Scare rating: 9/10
The oldest game on the list, Layers of Fear marked something of a turning point for Bloober Team when it released back in 2016. It marked the Polish developers first major foray into horror games, and helped the team carve out a real identity for themselves.
For a lack of a better term, Layers of Fear is a walking simulator at its most basic level. But there is also a lot more to it. You see, even though there are ways NOT to play Layers of Fear, it has additional “layers” if you will.
You play as an artist suffering from their equivalent of writer’s block as they struggle to complete their latest painting. To get some inspiration, they travel through their old Victorian mansion in a first-person title heavily inspired by the P.T. demo. As players piece together the mystery surrounding the painter themselves and the house, Layers of Fear throws jump scare after jump scare at you relentlessly. These aren’t your traditional jump scares either; there are very few ghosts and ghoulies to actually give you the willies. Layers of Fear is environmental storytelling and scares at its absolute finest.
Layers of Fear is the best example of a game that does the one thing that creeps me out every time it happens. When you are looking one way, turn around to see something, and then turn back and it be a completely different view. This happens constantly and is as unnerving the first time as it is the last time. It leaves you on your toes throughout its entire journey. There is no respite from scares and it will constantly leave you second guessing yourself: Where has that door gone? Is this the way out? Are those paintings watching me? Asking yourself these questions at least a dozen times is simply Layers of Fear doing what it set out to achieve. It’s a videogame, but one that seems to play you a lot more than you play it.
Layers of Fear is present and correct on the Xbox Store.
Layers of Fear 2
Scare rating: 10/10
It’d be awfully remiss of us to mention the first game without mentioning the sequel, so here it is – and it’s one of the best and scariest of all the Bloober Team games. No prior knowledge is required to jump straight into the second one, and if an old Victorian house setting doesn’t suit you, how about a cruise ship?
Everything in Layers of Fear 2 is somehow ramped up; the scares, the atmosphere, the tension and even the puzzles. It really does depend on which setting you would prefer, as they do play very similarly in terms of their standard gameplay elements. If you didn’t enjoy the first one, you won’t find much here to win you over.
Death is more prevalent in this second game. It remains quite a linear game but there are several times where you will be chased down by a horrific monster that will halt your progress if it catches you. That’s on Normal mode, there is an Easy mode if you want to instead just focus on the story and the jump scares without worrying too much about being caught. Whatever this thing is will still chase you however, that cannot be avoided.
Layers of Fear 2 is concerned with collecting less macabre items than the first one. Whereas before you were essentially collecting body parts to finish off your painting, this time around you are searching for film slides and reels to complete the story. The main ‘hub’ area you return to after each nightmarish episode will once again twist and turn into something unrecognisable over time, and it is these smaller moments that make both Layers of Fear games really special.
Bloober Team have recently revealed they will be returning to the Layers of Fear universe in 2022, but what and how that entails remains a mystery.
Sold? Get yourself to the Xbox Store to pick up Layers of Fear 2.
Looking for a good Halloween game to play? Look no further than some of the best from Bloober Team. Hopefully this list has given you some inspiration for a spooky time, but if you don’t want something too scary then the scare ratings will at least guide you to your chosen level. If you are still struggling for ideas though, let us know in the comments and we will help you out.