It's Spooktober! What are you playing?

The wind blows a chill whisper, pushing leaves red and yellow adust. Windows close and fireplaces crackle as we cover ourselves in blankets and sip hot tea. Do you get into any special gaming habits at this time of the year? Are you booting up that cozy farming simulator you’ve had lying around for a while? Or is Autumn your time for horror games?

Myself, I’ll be hitting up mystery games. Starting with The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, a spooky folk lore point and click adventure set in rural England. And I’m looking forward to Signalis, releasing later this month.

What about you? Are you gaming, hitting up movies, or something else?

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I’ve made it my mission to play some spooky games and watch some spooky movies! The added wrinkle of this is that my girlfriend is very spooky averse and so I have been tentatively trying to get her to dip her toes into some scares. We watched Midsommar and Nope earlier this year and have opened Spooktober with rounding off the Alien movies we haven’t seen: the original(!) and 3. Wow that original is a perfect movie near enough and the 3rd one, well, it sure it has some ideas and Charles Dance.

We also watched Prey which was so sick after an initial weak opening act.

I want to shout out this thread for giving me a lot of good ideas with 150 posts left to read - Horror movie recommendations

games wise I started Resident Evil 2 again the other night and I think we might play through Until Dawn which should be a fun group play.

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I have been planning my spooktober for a few weeks, and right now I have a pretty long list of games I want to complete! Most of them are pretty short, so it shouldn’t be too much of an undertaking. Here’s a screenshot of my Steam queue, because I don’t want to list them all out:

(Please disregard Yakuza 5, it’s just the game I’m currently playing! :stuck_out_tongue: )

It’s a good mix of games that I have have meaning to play for a long time and a few that I just picked up randomly on a sale because they looked creepy. I’ve been wanting to play Yume Nikki for like a decade at this point, so I’ll probably start there.

As for movies, my partner and I have a shared spreadsheet with a bunch of horror movies on it that we’ll work our way through using a random number generator, kind of like that recent email from the question bucket. Last night we watched House of Wax which is the trashiest movie I’ve seen in years. It also happens to have an astonishingly well executed set piece that had my jaw on the floor. I’m not sure I’d recommend it without some pretty big caveats, but it sure was an experience!

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Usually come October I’m up to my eyeballs in whatever the Big Q4 Stuff is but I’ve been waiting for Saints Row to be a little less on fire and I’m far enough in Black Flag that I’m probably going to finish it before picking up Metal: Hellsinger.

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I just finished replaying the Resident Evil 3 remake (a fun ride, still too short) and The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow (straightforward story but the atmosphere of disquiet and dread is top notch). About to go back into the Zone with the zone patrol mode in Adaca which is very fun so far but quite harder than the main campaign.

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I find playing ‘seasonal’ games in the appropriate timeframe much harder than seasonal movies because they usually take so much longer, so most of my spooky season is devoted to the latter (I got an early start this year in September, but got slightly derailed when a 4K set of Jackie Chan’s Police Story movies arrived. Going to pivot from that to Sammo Hung’s 1980 movie Encounters of the Spooky Kind tonight to get back on track).

But! Without really planning to I’ve fallen into what may be a perfect spooky season game: The Sinking City. My day job when I’m not writing leaves a lot of downtime as we get into the last quarter of the year, now that the way-too-busy summer workload has abated. I’d been looking into solo boardgames to pass the time and saw a recommendation for the Arkham Horror card game (which can apparently be played with 1-4 players, up against the ruleset rather than something where you need a human opponent). Looking into that got me thinking about Lovecraftian games and reminded me The Sinking City was a thing that existed, it was only ten quid on PS5, and here we go.

I know Frogwares and their Sherlock Holmes stuff has something of a niche following, that this only got a bit of a mixed reception, but the idea of exploring a flooded Lovecraftian city in a little boat solving crimes is very appealing, especially after having a quick look at a Matthew Gault piece on Waypoint about the way it interacts with Lovecraft’s infamous racism. Looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

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So, against my better judgment I actually bought a copy of the revised core set for Arkham Horror over the weekend. I’ve already got too many tabletop games competing for my time and shelf space, but I decided to treat myself a little bit for spooktober. I’ve gotten a bit burnt out playing Netrunner online, which is such a pale shadow of the in person tabletop experience, so I wanted something card driven that I could solo.

The review that actually convinced me to go to my local game shop was this one on BGG, specifically this line:

I cannot say that I expected the experience to be quite so unforgiving and euro-like mechanically, given what on its face looks like a pulpy game of taking risks and shooting monsters.

I was always a little skeptical that a game like this would have much replayability, and I’ve played the older board game Eldrich Horror, in the same lineage, which is fine but mechanically a bit forgettable. Perhaps because it’s a customizable card game, the mechanics in Arkham Horror feel much sharper to me. The action economy is not dissimilar to Netrunner, in that you have a lot of flexibility but not enough actions, and therefore must be efficient. Because of this it’s fun to replay a scenario, perhaps with a different character or with a different deck, to unlock the puzzle a little bit faster or using a different combination of tricks.

The writing and theme is where it falls flat for me. This is not a game that is interrogating Lovecraft’s legacy very deeply, at least from what I’ve seen in the core box. This revised core set was released last year, and it’s just a reprint of the original box from 2016, with extra cards to make it playable up to 4 players with a single copy. Still, it’s wild to me that they decided to go with straight reprint when that original box contains an entirely white cast of main characters. The story is serviceable for the intro scenarios but not great. I think I might leap frog all the other expansions and buy the new one that’s coming out in a month, to see if it’s doing anything more thoughtful with the setting.

Or maybe I just should look elsewhere for that critical reimagining of Lovecraft… I’ve heard good things about Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy books, maybe I’ll read those later in the month.

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I was gifted a copy of Betrayal Legacy ages ago that I’m really hoping to get into this month with some friends. Other then that I would like to finally play Dino Crisis but we shall see.

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I’ve been keeping up with the Arkham Horror card game for two years and it has been a lot of fun.
The intro campaign in the core box works fine as a tutorial but there is not much story-wise (also the final scenario is way too hard). The longer campaigns are where the game really shines: you get a character arc where your investigators gain experience to develop their deck and “traumas” (wounds) which make them more fragile as the campaign goes on. The story is more involved and scenarios can end in different ways which impact further scenarios in the campaign, with a bit of “choose your own adventure” mixed in the mechanics. I would say the writing veers more pulpy than any interesting critical reading of cosmic horror but at least there isn’t any of the more terribly racist stuff from Lovecraft’s stories. They’ve also made some efforts on this front: the latest printing of the Carcosa campaign corrected some ableist terms that were used. There’s a decent diversity of characters in the laters expansions, race-wise, LGBT-wise. The newest one includes a non-binary investigator I believe.

Some tips to improve first play experiences:

  • Playing true solo (one investigator deck) can be swingy and make you fail a scenario because of one or two unlucky draws. Playing two-handed solo (two investigator decks) lets your two characters rescue each other and also allows you to make more specialised decks. I generally find it more fun.
  • You should experiment with the various classes to get a feel for how they play. The basic gist is that Guardians handle enemies, Seekers find clues (which you need to win the game), and Rogues/Mystics/Survivors do both but each in a very different way. Try playing the same scenario with a bunch of characters to figure what you like best.
  • The best part of the game is starting a new campaign and discovering the special mechanics used in each scenario. But that can get expensive quickly; thankfully, there are free campaigns available in print&play, for example on the Mysterious Chanting website. The ones I’ve played (Dark Matter, Cyclopean Foundations, Call of the Plaguebearer) have been as good as the official campaigns.
  • If you get into building your own decks, ArkhamDB is very useful to keep a record of your decks, and to keep track of the cards available in each expansion.
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Movie-wise I’ve so far kept with my Mystery theme and watched Memories of Murder, a very bleak movie about the hunt for a serial killer in 1980’s South Korea. It’s also pretty funny? The contrast between the grotesque murder scenes and the bumbling (or straight up shitty) detectives who’ll jump kick suspects from out of nowhere gives it an interesting flavor. I quite liked it.

I then decided to catch up on Mannhunting by watching Manhunter. Not quite as good, but a decent enough thriller with some really interesting shots. And hey, I can finally listen to the pod!

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I started up Bloodborne a few nights ago! If I started out Dark Souls II feeling confident from my previous From experience, Bloodborne had me going UH OH like I’d just hit Undead Burg for the first time. That first night was largely me finding my legs in what is def a pretty different game. I never thought of either of my DS playthroughs as ‘shield runs’ but coming into Bloodborne has shown me just how much I’d been using one in both haha. Night two I felt a bit more confident and managed to explore Central Yharnam pretty throughly, though I died a bit too often to make much leveling progress. Last night though was REAL FUN and I stumbled into what will no doubt a defining From experience with this particular game. Leveled up a bit and with a upgraded Saw Cleaver (what a great starting weapon, reminds me a lot of my DS fav the scythe) I decided to finish of the last corners of Central Yharnam before tackling the Cleric Beast and moving on. After a particularly successful run I found myself approaching a graveyard that as I was about to step into dredged up a memory. Hey, didn’t this look like that place I saw in the doc on the Bloodborne Demake? Isn’t this a boss aren- and then the cut scene started up

The Father Gascoigne fight was SO GOOD y’all. Super reminiscent of the DS1 Artorias fight in its precision, pacing, and scale I immediately felt like, despite zero prep, this was a situation I could read and learn as it unfolded. I beat him on my first try! Stumbling into the second (sorta) boss, learning to read him, and succeeding shook of the last bits of worry I had that this one might not be for me as I headed back to the Cleric Beast and proceeded to get killed over and over for like 45 minutes only to be greeted by a dead end THATS Dark Souls BLOODBORNE!

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Quick update: Encounters of the Spooky Kind absolutely rules (though CW for animal death, there’s a scene where a chicken is beheaded and I honestly can’t tell you whether it was a practical effect or they just killed a chicken because it’s 1980)

The Sinking City is pretty compelling, but it’s making me think a lot about how we judge games and how small the AA space has become to where playing a game like it is really jarring. A lot of modern AAA gaming is shooting for fidelity, not just photorealism (though that is very common), but a sense of immersion, atmosphere, and character. The Sinking City constantly breaks that immersion, whether through probable bugs or design flaws (e.g. NPCs loading in within the player’s view) or deliberately ‘missing’ features - like the boat you use to navigate the titular flooded city, where there’s no boarding animation, you just walk up to it and interact to teleport in and out, and the boat always spawns in at the nearest waterway no matter where you last left it. I’m sure those are choices made to either save on the budget of such an animation or the annoyance of having to get back to the boat, but they still stand out.

It’s a very slow-paced game where you spend a lot of time backtracking anyway to visit archives to do research on cases and I can’t help but feel it would have been well served by more emphasis on placing you in the world than it being very videogame-y in the way you interact with it. Like Fortnite doesn’t have an animation for getting in a car either, but that’s a fast-paced multiplayer shooter, I’m not looking for complete immersion. But it’s not just the animations - it’s stuff like my hard-boiled 1920s detective character absolutely not batting an eye at weird stuff happening around him in real time, and only mentioning it off-handedly when mandatory dialogue comes up later. My guy, you were just attacked by a spindly amalgam of flesh and hands and teeth! Maybe yelp, at least? There’s very little reactivity or reward for going off the beaten path of a case, but I do have to credit it for having interesting ‘moral’ dilemmas and choices to make in how to resolve stuff.

I’ve also pulled the trigger on the Arkham Horror card game. Looking forward to wrapping my head around it. Many thanks for the tips in this thread, especially the links from @TheFightingDoll.

Do you happen to know which expansion that would be? Would like to check it out (assuming I get along with the base game) but I’m not familiar with the release order.

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It’s the Scarlet Keys cycle. The investigators have already been released, and the campaign should be available next month.
The current release model splits each cycle into two boxes: an investigator box with the new investigators and all the player cards, and a campaign box with all the scenario cards. You don’t need to buy both of them together: any campaign can be played with any investigators. The previous release models had player cards and scenarios split into a starting box and additional card packs, which became really annoying when the card packs went out of print.

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I’m glad they put yume nikki on steam. Running games like that the old fashioned way sure can be inconvenient sometimes

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Bloodborne days 4-5

A quick check in. I’m of two minds on the game right now. On the one hand its really mechanically tight and fun to play. I’ve been loving the depth of the combat and experimenting with new combos as I gain confidence. The boss battles have so far been the best I’ve seen from From. Last night I started out fighting the Blood Starved Beast and once again I was able to learn the pacing of the fight as it went on and beat it in my first attempt. I really think this is cause From just nailed the pacing and animations to such a degree that you can enter Neo bullet time part way through. I also think there’s been a fun variety of level gimmicks (used here lovingly). Avoiding railgun fire in Old Yharnam and later getting captured and thrown in jail were both fun and surprising ways of thinking about how to navigate a space.

So all that said what I’m not really clicking with so far are the aesthetics of the game. The color palette has been a consistent mix of muddy browns and dark reds where nothing feels distinct, the enemy design has been alright, but I’m frustrated that its not clear when an enemy will have more health, i.e. I can one shot a dog in one area of the game but a dog that looks identical in a later part will take 2-3 hits. And while navigating the levels has been fun they haven’t so far felt distinct from each other or readable in purpose and history. In DS1-2 you could look often at the horizon and see other landmarks on the map that contributed to a sense or orientation, scale, and place. You can still do that in Bloodborne, but its been way harder to pick out, say, the great bridge, from any other bridge, aqueduct, or rooftop running through the city.

Anyways I’m still pretty early in and I’m sure that will change up at some point. The game play will def push me forward but I do wish I had a better sense of this place and what I’m doing here

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Undertale again

EDIT: As the opening paragraph suggests I thought I was posting this in the regular what are you playing thread. Too late.

So! Over in the Spooktober thread I mentioned picking up The Sinking City, and I will resist the urge to complain about Sony’s horrible shop interface (pro tip for PS5 owners: you want “The Sinking City PS5” because the PS5 edition is not actually in the list of ‘versions’ for the PS4 edition like you might expect…). Instead, I’ll talk about the game itself.

I have a fairly long history with Lovecraft. When I was younger and first discovering his writing, the cultural context was absolutely not inclusive of his racism. This is not to say people weren’t aware of it, or talking about it - I’m sure they were, somewhere, but it wasn’t the frame in which I was introduced to it. And when I was younger, I was certainly naive to it, in a way that looking back at it is wild to me, because the man was not subtle about many of his allegories. I grew very fond of his work and then had complicated feelings as I tried to separate art from the artist, and haven’t revisited his writing since I was an undergrad nearly 20 years ago. So first up: what I like about The Sinking City is it takes all that subtext and makes it text. Those citizens from Innsmouth, with their piscine appearance? Now they’re refugees, visually distinct from the locals, and the fear of miscegenation that drove Lovecraft’s work is clearly incorporated into the storytelling. It doesn’t always nail it, but it’s writing that tries to engage with the author’s history rather than elide it.

The other big thought I have about this, and alluded to briefly in the Spooktober thread, is that it’s kinda weird playing a AA game. It so often feels like all games now fall into either the blockbuster AAA category or the tiny indie category that it’s weird playing something in the middle. The Sinking City is pretty ambitious - a big, open world city, lots of side quests, fairly atmospheric aesthetic presentation (though even on PS5 it looks fairly dated). But so often you see the compromises. Repeated interiors, NPCs popping in within the player’s field of view, a general lack of reactivity from the world when it’s not something directly tied to a quest.

But budgetary constraints aside I’m getting pretty into it. I like the evidence system, both in how you spend a lot of time backtracking to records offices and looking things up, and how you have a way of making deductions from your evidence and the choices for how to interpret things are rarely clearcut. The choices generally feel good in that they (mostly?) don’t feel like blatant “this is the paragon option and this is the renegade option”, it’s more about whose testimony you believe, how you choose to interpret a situation.

My biggest complaint is totally separate from the budget, and it’s that I wish there was far, far less combat. So many Lovecraftian games dare to ask “what if you stared into the abyss?” and answer “it’s fine if you have a rucksack full of grenades and buckshot”. Weird, annoying creatures are a constant threat which both kinda sucks and really undermines the cosmic terror of this setting. The rare fights against humans actually feel pretty good - weirdly, they remind me of the nasty, brutish, and short engagements you sometimes have in Red Dead Redemption 2 (at least when the game isn’t throwing a hundred cops at you at once). The investigation system is so robust it’s just kinda sad they clearly felt the need to squeeze some combat in there because that’s what players expect of an open world game.

I think I’m about two thirds through now (I had a peek at a guide because I was enjoying the often well hidden side quests enough that I didn’t want to miss any). Plenty of time for it to go off the rails. But for now I’m pretty impressed, and real curious about the Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu game from the 2000s the dev, Frogwares, is currently remaking for next year.

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Bloodborne Days 6-9 (you’re in the know, right?)

Its such a bummer when you just sort of fail to click with a beloved game. I’m still playing for reasons I’ll get into, but at this point its safe to say this game just hasn’t hit me in the way DS1 and 2 did. While I got my wish of getting out of the city and exploring and have really enjoyed the Forbidden Woods and especially loved Hemwick Charnel Lane I think ultimately the aesthetics of the game just aren’t doing it for me. The thing is, I really enjoy the act of playing most of the time. Figuring out a level, making forward progress, and gaining expertise is just as fun as it was in DS1-2 with the added bonus of some really excellent combat. But without connecting with the world or design that satisfaction often feels ultimately empty; its the same satisfaction of solving a math problem or cleaning the kitchen, I enjoyed the process and am glad I did it, but it didn’t leave me with anything to think on, coloring and bleeding into the rest of my work and life.

Thats a lot to ask from a game I know, but DS1-2 both did it handily, they were also in many ways much more emotional and frightening games, evoking an uncanny dreamscape sense of unease vs Bloodborne’s more surface level horror tropes. I should also say though that part of my frustrations with the narrative is I accidentally missed a bunch of NPC stuff that may have helped fill in some blanks for me.

So yeah its been tough figuring out where I sit on it! I think I’m probably going to take a week away to reset and then jump back in for the back half of the game with a clear mind

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I’m still hoping to finish the Resident Evil series for the first time before Halloween. I had good momentum in the summer, going through REs 1 through 5 quite breezily. And then I hit RE 6. Folks, this game is a slog. Like, it’s just so, so boring. There are four campaigns you need to play, each with significant content overlap. Not only are you redoing levels with minimal differences, the story is generic globe-trotting terrorism nonsense that blends in together with all other Bush-era media, and the characters all seem to be taking stupid pills at every turn. I’m in the middle of the Jake/Sherry campaign (3 of 4) and just can’t wait to be done with this. At least I have the tantalizing RE 7 waiting for me on the other end.

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So, a couple of weeks ago I made some ambitious Spooktober plans, and then almost immediately got a cold! Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad (and wasn’t COVID), but that meant I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open by 9 each evening. By last night I was feeling better, so I started Spooktober in earnest… 10 days late. I played the two Chilla’s Art games on my list, The Bathhouse and The Radio Station. I’ve talked about games by this developer before in the main “What are you Playing” thread, but Chilla’s Art is small, but prolific indie team from Japan that make delightful little horror games. Many, if not most of their games focus on service labor and the inherent exploitation therein. It’s a ripe vein! It isn’t hard to bridge the gap between how small you can feel after being berated by a rude, dehumanizing customer, and how helpless you are cowering from a horrifying evil spirit. The Bathhouse is no different. You play as a young woman who wants to move to the country, but can’t afford it. She finds a place where rent is free as long as she works at the town’s bathhouse each day. Needless to say, spookiness ensues! It’s retread of a lot of previous Chilla’s Art games, but it’s still pretty good! This team puts an emphasis on creating foreboding atmosphere over jump scares (though be warned, there are still plenty of those), and that alone puts this game head and shoulders above most indie horror titles. I won’t go into much more detail about it because I don’t want to spoil the scares. These games are so short (45 mins - an hour) and cheap (like under 5 USD usually) that they’re easy for me to recommend to anyone interested in horror games!

The Radio Station is an expansive (relatively) departure from the Chilla’s Art game. In this game you’re not working a thankless service job. You take on the role of a young man whose radio DJ brother recently died suspiciously on the job. The cops have ruled it a suicide, but you know better. You hop in your little pickup truck and cruise around a mountainous town looking for answers. There is just so much charm to this game! The recently deceased brother ran a late night spooky stories show on the station, which you can spend a good chunk of time listening to if you’d like. This game pulls from that perfect mix of folktale and urban legend that a lot of the titans of J horror did in the early 2000s. Like Ringu, this game eschews traditional scares in favor of tension building for most of its run time, only to hit you with a terrifying sequence at the very end. This has taken the top spot in my Chilla’s Art power rankings for sure! I may not recommend it as a first game from the developer though, as it’s such a departure.

On the movie film side of Spooktober, my partner and I watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure for the first time. What an excellent movie! Pulse is probably my favorite movie of all time, and this movie is at least as good as that. It’s a slow burn for sure, but when Cure decides it’s time for a scare, it goes all out. There are some really captivating performances, and it wouldn’t be a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film without a sequence so striking and intense that I can see it when I close my eyes, even days after I rolled credits. What a film! It was definitely worth finally burning my Criterion Channel free trial for!

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